Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Dropping in for dinner

Last Saturday's dinner party, as the snow fell outside and the council closed the road behind us.

I hadn't been to a dinner-party for years, and now I have been to 2 within one month. Somehow, the dinner-party circuit has been broken for me, but maybe it's not only me - I don't know many others of my generation who still give them - which is probably why I am not invited too often.

There used to be about one every two weeks, and I would host one about three times a year, excluding autumn sunday lunches - cosy affairs preceded by a long walk in the country. The average age of these parties was about 30 - 40, just old enough for the children to be left alone or (as in the case of my two main friends who sadly died of cancer one year apart) just young enough to have avoided having children until later. The main man was as old as I am now, so was always available.

I have to admit that I would sometimes use these parties to get off with the hostess, if the hostess was single, but I don't feel too guilty about it - sometimes the whole dinner was engineered to get me round - or so I believed at the time.

One such dinner was held at a massive country house where the hostess rented a converted stable-block from her titled friends (Viscount and Viscountess, no less). She had visited my workshop on behalf of her landlord, and I ended up making something for them (I forget what). Having ascertained that I was educated enough to spell the word 'Viscount', she came back later and invited me to dinner that weekend.

It was a very jolly evening, and as it came to a close, all the other guests went off in their horseless carriages as she detained me in conversation until it became too late to leave, so I stayed.

The following day, she booked me in for another dinner the next weekend - this time just the two of us.

About two weeks went by before I realised that I had completely forgotten the assignation and - I am ashamed to admit - I was too cowardly to call her up to apologise. How could I have explained simply forgetting? So I lay low and pretended it didn't happen.

About three weeks later, I was flying in a very large hot-air balloon (I had friends who owned them at the time) along with many other paying tourists - it was one of those double-decker baskets which took about 15 people.

We were heading in the Chippenham direction, looking for a place to land. The pilot spotted a clear patch next to a road, and as he descended, one of the ground crew radioed up to tell him to climb again - the farmer who owned this land was notoriously hostile to balloons, and locked them in fields until a large ransom had been paid.

So we climbed up to about 1000 feet again and - to my horror - began approaching the large country house where I had 'dinner' about a month previously. As we approached, the two owners and my hostess could be seen running from the rear of the house to stand on the grass outside, waving cheerily up at us as their horses went mad in the nearby paddock.

"They look friendly enough," the pilot said, and began the final approach toward a patch of open grassland right next to the house. I began panicking.

When a balloon lands gently, it is still very buoyant, so nobody leaves the basket until instructed by the pilot, and I watched from about 100 yards as the pilot chatted away to the lord and two ladies before being given permission to get out. I thought about running toward a nearby bush and hiding, but that would have taken some explaining, so I just walked up to the group on the lawn and showed myself.

"Hello!" I said to my hostess. "Sorry I'm late!"


  1. Very suave, Tom! How did that go down?

    1. Remarkably well, under the circumstances. I was never invited again.

  2. You old charmer! I hope you had the box of Black Magic as well!

  3. I love the sound of your life! You would make such an interesting character for a book.

    1. I leave out 99% of the rest of my life, and I tend to repeat myself too - I think I have already told this story, but cannot remember.