The last few days have all been very Bilbo Bagginss eleventy-first birthday party up here. A huge marquee went up on the lawn, and there was a great sense of anticipation. The Laird and the Lady of the Manor were celebrating 40 years of marriage. Forty years seems to be the proper amount of time for deep reflection. Theres the play by Alan Bennett; its the period of time that Colonel Clive Candy takes us back to as he plunges into the pool in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; and its the number of years since, I was recently reminded, Joy Division were working on their second and last album, and Ian Curtis was on the brink of suicide.
Maybe thats inauspicious. The Laird and Lady are clearly still very happy with each other, and suited to each other, although I cant help wondering whether the cost of a marquee, and the entertaining of 200 guests, will put a certain pressure on the Laird, who likes to keep his expenses to a minimum.
I find myself being dragooned into helping. They decide to put me in charge of the wine, which I concede does make a kind of sense, and involves putting what looks like not nearly enough sparkling and un-sparkling Vouvray into the refrigerated trailer, and opening what looks like not nearly enough Graves for the tables. I am also told to instruct Kelly, who has never done so before, how to open a champagne-style bottle. Matters are not helped when a co-worker shows her how to pop the cork so it flies right across the marquee.
“That,” I say, “is exactly how not to do it.” (Kelly turned out to be a natural.)
Meanwhile, I was nervous, thanks to an earlier conversation with the Lady of the House.
“Id better warn you,” she said, that “H— is coming. With her boyfriend.”
This was not exactly a punch in the stomach, but it wasnt exactly welcome news either. H— was the Ex who had, when we were still an item, introduced me to this place before going off to get a job in Gothenburg for five years. She was not at all happy that I was here now and had recently told me, in a brief but powerful email, that she would not be visiting as long as I was here. I anticipated some Unpleasantness.
At least I was busy enough not to brood. I stood behind the fizz bar and poured and poured. I found I got pretty good at pouring the same amount of wine into the flutes, and was extremely pleased that – so far – I had not knocked the table over or broken a single glass. Also I found that there was often a little nip left in each bottle that I could pour out for myself, in order to ensure a steady hand. But people dont half ask some silly questions when they think youre staff.
“Can I take one of these?” (Pointing at four dozen unclaimed glasses of fizz.)
“No, theyre for looking at only.”
“Excuse me, are these all the same?” (Pointing at four dozen identical glasses of fizz.)
“No, some of them are poisoned.” (Im afraid I did say that.)
Meanwhile, I kept fretting about the amount of wine we had. Even if you discounted the Muslims and children and designated drivers, it seemed to me that there would be barely two glasses per punter. The bottles of red on the long tables, separated by yards, looked awfully lonely and beleaguered. There were six bottles underneath the table to be opened in an emergency.
Eventually, I sat down with Chris and Dick, the all-round handymen (Dick can do handbrake turns in the pickup, and I kept asking him to teach me how), and Aileen, who more or less runs the place.
“We didnt know what to make of you at first,” she said, “but now youre one of us.”
And then there was the dancing. This is normally my cue to hide under the table or feign an ankle injury, but for some reason – well, that wine wasnt going to drink itself – I felt emboldened, and I even managed to dance a bit of a Scottish reel with Kelly. A Scottish reel lasts about half an hour and involves an insane combination of moves which are designed to baffle and humiliate the innocent Sassenach. Later on, the DJ played “Cest la Vie” and Aileen and I did the John Travolta/Read More – Source