Before March, having people over for dinner was un-fettered pleasure. Celebration, a union of like-minded friends chewing the fat and glugging the wine.
Effort was required, of course. Glasses to be freshened; the mustering of granny’s dinner service and – steady now – linen napkins decanted from their hiding place at the back of the Welsh dresser where only spiders dare go.
Even the pre-event shopping trip frequently became an indulgent romp around the M&S aisles, or even Waitrose if it was the end of the month.
But farewell those days, entertaining is now not just entertaining but reminiscent of an army assault course.
Similar to our aforementioned self-catering break, so much planning and energy is now required when having people round for dinner that, by the time bewitching hour arrives, you’re so knackered and over-wrought it’s a wonder the event was ever suggested.
First stop, should we go for material tablecloth and napkins (washed at 60o) or plump for inflammable paper ones allowing the scooping-up at the end via disposable gloves, sending crumbs and bacteria to their firey doom? Decisions, decisions.
Paper ones were chosen, solemnly removed before cremation beckoned and sent up the chimney into the cold, night sky.
Fresh air and ventilation are hot topics these days so top of the agenda was the need to warn guests about layering-up. Schoffel gilets proved the perfect antidote to Scottish summer dining, even if they didn’t quite match silk-dresses and Tyrwhitt shirts and encouraged guest to hunch forward against the autumnal breeze, who subsequently reeled backwards for fear of encroaching someone else’s social distance.
Much like runners at the end of a marathon, by mid-evening we sat wrapped in shawls and pashminas, snapped into action half an hour after sundown when, simultaneously, the need for thawing cups of tea and coffee temporarily usurped alcoholic consumption.
Menu planning required more than the usual amount of brain power too. Pre-dinner snacks are banned and current catering options are diametrically opposed to the ‘tear and share’mentality of congenial lunches spent in warm French gardens and picnics by the river. Now, crockery touch-points (veg dishes, gravy pourer, cream jug etc. etc.) and potential cross- contamination must always be considered.
Opting for a massive, table-distributed pie,accompanied by host-delivered veg, seemed to comply with Covid guidance. All good until we realised it rendered guests completing their meal before we sat down, rapidly employing the speed of a wilder beast-consuming crocodile in order to keep pace.
Previous evenings have witnessed a self-service bar and refreshment protocol – an acceptance and nod to the easy relationship between contemporaries, allowing an air of informality and relaxation.
Post-lockdown life and it’s a case of the hosts holding court, multi-tasking with oven gloves, corkscrews and cordial conversation, juggling courses and condiments from beginning to end.
Prior to arrival, all plates and glasses had had a spin through the dishwasher on the highest possible setting. This proved another learning curve for your hapless host: note to self (as Bridget Jones would say) let machine cool for more than two seconds before laying the table.
Despite all the planning, hurdles and hoopla, it all went very smoothly, conversation flowing with the ease of a Highland burn, only the occasional concession to the unpalatable backdrop that’s changing all of our lives.
Of course, there were no warm embraces at the end of this pleasant spell together, no hugs and kisses, just oddly-distanced nodding and praise from afar.
One little light did blink at the end of the entertaining tunnel. Seating plans, so often the bane of every host’s life, are a whole lot easier with current household bubble considerations now producing dinner party layouts not dissimilar to those of the traditional family church pew.
Hoorah, at last, something that is easier than it was six months ago.
Happily ditch that though if only we could turn back the clock.
31 August 2020