Of course, invitations to dinner from neighbours and other well-meaning folk whom one doesn’t know are fraught with potential dangers. Because, to put it Sartre-paraphrasingly, hell is other people’s bad dinner parties. Attempting polite small talk about the length of your commute to the office whilst tackling an over-chewy chicken breast and pretending that you didn’t hear the neighbours downstairs have a blazing row on Thursday night followed by blazing make-up sex on (or, even more embarrassingly: their hearing yours).
But it’s bad form to decline and so the invitation was accepted as gracefully as an invitation can be accepted, given that the first thing done on receiving it was a check that proposed date and time didn’t clash with the first episode of the new series of Mad Men.
Naturally, The Writer and I had the inevitable concerns: would the hosts be nice? Would the other guests be nice? Would they be able to cook? Would they be racist/ sexist/ otherwise politically objectionable (ie, Lib Dem)? Could we actually be bothered to go and make polite small talk with a load of people we don’t know given we’d both put in full days at work where a large part of both our jobs is making polite small talk with a load of people we don’t know?
But, manners being the better part of valour (that’s how that phrase goes, right?) and having been asked to bring along some pre-dinner nibbles, we laid out a board of M&S’ finest easily assembled stuzzichini, and headed on upstairs.
Of course, as is nearly always the case in these situations, our worst fears were unfounded: everyone was very nice; the hosts turned out a perfectly respectable butternut squash risotto; and the discussion was very pleasant.
There were, as should probably have been expected, a couple of awkward moments: one chap present was extolling the virtues of his many years of intensive psychotherapy and recent conversion to Freudianism; and it turns out that, in non-media circles, if someone admits to being a journalist, the first thing everyone else will do is raise their eyebrows and ask if said person has ever hacked a phone.
There were discussions about the upcoming Mayoral elections; whether or not we could organise a successful street party for the Diamond Jubilee; and a fairly strident discussion about what constitutes art, why Twombly may or may not be acceptable on a sitting room wall, and whether his work is or isn’t categorically better than Turner. Which is a discussion I’m usually more than happy to have – as TW found out the other evening when we had something verging on a row about whether or not videos games can be considered ‘high art’. I still say nay - but not at 9.30pm on a Thursday night with four other people I hardly know, and definitely without quite enough wine in the system to make it halfway bearable and not deeply self-conscious.
Still. At least Mad Men’s back.