Class conscious

We gave a dinner party last Saturday. As usual, everyone who came said, "How wonderful to be asked, we never go to dinner parties any more", and so on. They could be saying this for two reasons: 1) because it's true; or 2) to make me, me especially, feel better about very obviously being the sort of person who doesn't get many dinner-party invitations. I used to think the correct explanation was number 2. As it is with celebrities and drug-taking, I would frustratedly muse, so it is with the middle classes and habitual dinner-party attendance: they will only admit to having done it in the past.

But now I wonder. The massed middle classes of north London may be laughing around convivial candlelit tables as I make this pronouncement, but I actually do think that dinner parties are on the way out. One of our guests on Saturday gave two plausible reasons: people are too busy, and the culinary standards in our food-obsessed era are too high.

By implication, this guest was congratulating me on not being put off by these high standards, and going into battle armed only with a Delia Smith recipe for sausages in red wine. This is my standard dinner-party production, allowing me to allude, with becoming lack of pretension, to my working-class origins (the sausages), while also hinting at the cosmopolitan sophistication that has subsequently overtaken me (the red wine). That recipe always seemed custom-made for me, so much so that once, when I left the book in which it appears on a bus, I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to "follow that bus". As we sped through the West End, the intrigued cabbie asked why. "Because I've left a cookbook on it!" I yelled, and he seemed faintly disgusted by this - at any rate, he slowed down.

But now I'm sick of sausages in red wine - one reason why I really do hope the dinner party is dead. Another is the social paranoia that manifests itself in my wife's not sleeping the night before, for worrying about what might go wrong, and my not sleeping the night after, for worrying about what did go wrong. Obviously, all invitations to other people's dinners will be gratefully received none the less.

This article first appeared in The New Statesman Essay - Democracy can be bad for you

2001-03-05