Dinner parties...

Dinner parties. A slightly middle-aged pursuit, I always thought. When my husband and I first lived together, I recall having dinner parties which felt entirely like playing grown-ups. We even bought a fondue set, which now strikes me as a bizarre dinner to serve; here is plate of raw meat, cook it yourself. Or to take the Alpine variety; have cheese and bread as your main course.

I couldn't resist a 'Mad Men' image...

Over the years though, dinner parties have become the primary source of weekend entertainment. Without us even noticing. We go out to restaurants for dinner, we go out for a drink, sometimes someone has a party or better still, my all time favourite: a wedding. But on the whole, its dinner parties where we catch up with friends.

It started almost imperceptibly when we had babies. We were not free to go out, so taking the baby, in a carry-cot was a way to rejoin the human race, to feel social, without having to commit to going to  public place - what if the baby cries?! When I was pregnant with Boo 1 we stayed in Boston with friends and went to a restaurant there called 'Olives'. There was a couple at the next table who had a newborn and when it stirred and murmured, the mother very discreetly got the infant out of the car seat that she had placed at her feet. She proceeded to breastfeed it effortlessly and quietly, concealing it under a cashmere pashmina. I remember turning to my husband and saying '...this is how it will be, we will be just like we are now, but with a scrumptious, tiny addition'. Ummmm? Not quite!

We have some great friends with whom we can be utterly ourselves, so a dinner with them is easy, happy, non-stressful. We book one in every month or so just to keep ourselves sane. But we now also enter the time of proper, grown-up (as we are no longer playing at it; this is for real), get-your-best-china-out dinner parties. This can even involve tactical invitations to couples who will mix and match. And so it is. My husband cooks, he is the trophy chef; he does the dinner party cooking and I flit around making the house look pretty and topping up drinks. Being an effortless hostess is a gift, I am not sure I have it. Some of my friends can entertain for twelve or fourteen without a hitch, for me its not quite that easy.

When I do it though, I enjoy it and wonder why I don't do it more...not least because we put on our best front, the house looks its best and we all scrub up for a social show.