It doesn’t really enter my mind, as I’ll bet it doesn’t enter yours. I’m mostly thinking of things in the run of: Where shall I put the cat? Are six bottles of gin enough? Is there sufficient loo roll? And where can the stragglers sleep when they are seeing dawn from the wrong end?
When I do think about food, it is usually just to confirm to myself that I will, as ever, follow the Nora Ephron School of drinks parties and put a can of nuts on the coffee table.
It is not that I wouldn’t like a chef, bartender and lots of waistcoat-wearing staff doing a minuet with the martinis; quite the opposite. Who wouldn’t want the luxury of pros turning up at your house with the flatbreads already baked, the beef carpaccio sliced and ready to serve, and all the alcohol you are going to need for those disastrously complicated cocktails you plan to attempt? Answer: not many.
The problem is, for most of us, it just ain’t going to happen unless we charge admission. And you don’t have to be Guy Pelly to know that “tenner please”, as you walk through the door is going to kill the festive spirit.
But then I agreed to host the food and features staff of The Independent for a Christmas party that quickly changed. A new vista opened in front of me. One in which it was possible, expected even, that a company would be entrusted with the task of providing all the glasses and ensuring my desk mates weren’t “exceptionally tipsy” an hour in. I was outsourcing my party – and I was quite enjoying it.
An hour before The Independent crew arrived, the Alexander and James “mixologists at home” team was already at work. In came the bartender, Matthew Soares from Cloud 23 at the Manchester Hilton, with the booze.
Then came the food, along with with two nice waiters who would ensure it wouldn’t all be eaten within 10 minutes. Mathew commanded operations in the kitchen like Eisenhower at D-Day. They were models of efficiency. No one got drunk on the toothsome “forgotten classic cocktails” in the first hour; the food lasted right through; I didn’t have to run to the Co-op to buy more mixer.
Playing at being a society host is not without its problems, however. Because when you’re not whirling around the lounge like a dervish making sure everyone has got white wine, I soon learnt you take on a much more exhausting role: conversationer-in-chief.
I found myself unwillingly approximating Truman Capote at his Black and White ball (if only he’d hosted it in Dalston too, we could have compared notes). I weaved around the room, trying to orchestrate absolutely everything, ensure the serve-and-volley of conversation never dipped. “Oh x, do you know such-and-such?” There was no excuse, nowhere to hide, I couldn’t even pop off to “get another bottle of wine”.
And then there was the staff to think about, too. For most of us, the natural reaction to having strangers in the house is to be hospitable. So, without even thinking about it, I began to worry about them worrying about the party. Were they ok? Could I get them anything?
That base worry about getting enough gin for everyone was supplanted by a different, higher torment which never usually enters the head until the next day: Was everyone happy? Was the party a success?
Playing at being a social lion is fun, I soon concluded, but the roaring doesn’t half wear you out.
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