Invited to dinner by a colleague who I didn’t know too well, but who was involved in some project with me, I entered the house bearing a bottle of reasonable wine and a smile which I hoped would mark my good intentions.
Small talk is never one of my strong points but I groped around the outer fringes of football and gardening plus a few work topics while his wife finished preparing the banquet in the kitchen. She seemed a pleasant enough women, although a bit withdrawn. Possibly she felt put upon by her husbands habit of inviting little known colleagues back for ” a meal at his”. He was a strange mixture of the smooth and awkward but I had felt unable to refuse his offer of a meal as it might have jepodised the harmonious progression of the work we where mutually involved in. It felt a bit like a picnic on the Somme as I struggled to maintain an urbane smoothness in an atmosphere which was not entirely harmonious. Still worse things can happen.
At last the wife bought in the starter, some sort of ham, fruits and sauce concoction which sat bravely on the plate waiting for its death by fork moment. The first mouthful was not encouraging, but not as bad as the second: the full force of the sour lemony flavour took some time to threaten the eyes with unexplainable tears but I managed to nod my appreciation in between softening the impact with large gulps of water. Conversation continued to flow with the smooth rhythm of cement on the edge of setting but I clung to the thought that only two courses remained before I could escape into the night.
“So what do you do ” I asked the wife bravely. It’s a question I dislike but nerves had got the better of me and I was stumbling round clutching at cliques in a weak attempt to maintain my social ease. “I cook his meals” she replied waving her knife in the direction of her husband. “Excellent, excellent” I murmured as I steeled myself for another mouthful of my overpowering hors d’oeuvre. The whole occasion was just getting better and better.
Some sort of steak pie followed boasting a pastry which might well have come from some bullet proof steel manufacturer. The pastry was dark and forbidding to the eye but neither host nor hostess remarked on it. It demanded firm treatment with the knife and I soon found careful fork work was required stop the slice of pie sliding off the plate when you attempted to pierce the crust. “Can’t beat a good pie” I said and the husband shot me a look asking me what planet I had recently returned from. It crossed my mind that I had been invited to lighten the burden of his wife’s company rather than for any other reason. This might have been unfair but I was gradually losing my ability to produce light-hearted pleasantries
In moments of stress I can find myself grinning vacantly and I realised I was doing this quite a lot. A weak question sprang to mind and I said, “Have you lived here long “?. “Too long” the wife replied and I coughed weakly attempting to display an air of relaxed amusement
Finally the pudding arrived, a strawberry cheesecake, which looked remarkably professional. The first mouthful revealed a pleasing combination of flavours and textures. Delighted I said, “This is really delicious”.I fear the surprise showed in my face. “I bought it from the supermarket” said the wife and the dark glower she rewarded me with suggested the compliment had not had the effect I had hoped for”. Sometimes searching for the right words can be harder than you think.