If You Could Invite Any Eight People – Living Or Dead – To Dinner, Who Would They Be? And What Is On The Menu?

If you could invite any eight people - living or dead - to a dinner, who would they be? And what is on the menu?

Whenever I’m put on the spot to choose my favorite song, book or movie, I get flustered and find it impossible to narrow my choice down. It’s much easier to select a group of people to dine with – a lot to do, I imagine, with the improved conditions in my comfort zone whenever wine and good food are on offer.

I stole the idea for this post from an interview I read on The Squiz recently, because I love these types of games – especially now, as time hurtles forward, and I can appreciate the wealth of interesting people that have made an impact on the portfolio of my life.

Admittedly, narrowing the guests down to eight wasn’t easy, mainly because of my insistence on getting the balance right – to ensure that my guests would play nicely together at my fictional dining table – but also because I had to exclude family and friends – for obvious reasons.

Interestingly, as I finalized my selection, I realized how imperative for me it was to mix up the age range of the group, and it also became very clear how much I am influenced by people that touch my life in some way now, in the present, in this new, exciting phase of middle age. It is also noteworthy that I am drawn to people that don’t take life too seriously.

So, here’s my guest list, in no particular order:

Caitlin Moran – Little or no explanation required if you read my blog. Awesome writer, feminist and “ladette,” with a similarly devilish humor to my own. For this lady, I’d have to screw table etiquette and seat her at my side.

Benjamin Law – Australian writer, swimmer, activist and the person I hold responsible for my addiction to Twitter and Instagram. A thinker and a doer, he makes me laugh out loud, think deeper thoughts, and vow to do better.

Barack Obama – The imposter in me (when it comes to politics), would be honored to sit at the feet of this great man at my table with the dog. Sage, humorous, a man that exudes love and trust and who has proven to be an invaluable asset for women’s rights and discrimination, I hope that he would bring Michelle along with him.

Mick Jagger – Mick is there for his raw energy, stories, talent, and unapologetic maleness. He is my “older man” fantasy. I need someone at my table to flirt with, someone who has extracted every ounce of living out of life, with the kind of stories that make everyone’s toes curl.

Russell Brand – More raw maleness – there seems to be a bit of a pattern here. I am full of admiration for the way this man has turned his troubled past around to embrace a more spiritual, altruistic path in the public eye. The way his “different” mind works intrigues me. He reminds me of Kurt.

Graham Norton – He appeals to the undiscovered columnist in me. Secretly, I lap up gossip and gratuitous material about the decadent, torrid lives of celebrities. I have always liked Graham. He has always remained true to himself in what can’t have been an easy start for his career, and I admire the way he has leveraged his innate talent – his charisma – into a profession.

Clementine Ford – I’m Clementine’s fan-girl. I devour everything she writes and I am often moved by the power of her convictions, her bravery, and her transparency. We share the loss of our mothers at a young age, and I admire how she has used that loss to empower herself. I admire how unafraid she is to demonstrate her struggles and the emotional sides to her personality as well as her more well-known public persona, her radical side – a range that stretches from staunch feminist and activist to vulnerable partner, mother, and fellow anxiety sufferer.

JK Rowling – I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read parts of the Harry Potter series. Where the old man will only read books with dragons, I have never been able to get to grips with fantasy or sci-fi. NC read the series before she could walk, and Kurt wasn’t interested in them. But I’ve seen and read enough about this lady to know how much I would learn from her about self-belief, authenticity, writing, and humor.

And for my menu:

I’m will ignore the likelihood that there are more than a handful of vegetarians at my table. However, I would choose oysters for my starter as a nod to sustainability, a medium-rare tuna steak for the main – and creme caramel for dessert – a favorite since my childhood.

Tell me who I’ve missed?

A Guest’s Place Is Not In The Kitchen

Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.

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I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host. 

In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.

Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.

Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”,  I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.

And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.

The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.

And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”

And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.

Midlife Mayhem – Am I A Hypochondriac Or Just Getting Old?

The subject matter of good dinner party chitchat has found a disturbing niche, now that we’ve hit our forties. Although ‘life was supposed to begin’ at this stage of our lives, we seem to be stuck at the ‘recognition of our own mortality’ roadblock far earlier than we anticipated. Whereas in my twenties we used to wax lyrical about alcohol consumption, sexual prowess and the female orgasm (apparently they were mutually compatible then), and in our thirties we circum-navigated career goals, marriage and babies, discussions these days seem to have stagnated around our health, or lack of it. I blame all those self-righteous health magazines and the Internet for our health obsession, but maybe it is just another symptom of the ‘midlife crisis’.

The ‘midlife’ alarm seems to resonate somewhere between your late thirties and mid forties, and serves as a reminder that you’ve reached the ‘half time’ point in your life and there’s not much time left to score some real goals. For some, those goals might be a new philosophy of life (Madonna and Kabbalah?) and for others they might involve a sea change. But at this stage in the game of life, sometimes your fitness doesn’t necessarily live up to your promise. It is a worrying indictment of our age group that in our circle of friends, more people take Statins these days, than drink alcohol.

Take my own health. Over the past six weeks, I have experienced debilitating lower back pain (I’m guessing it’s NOT a sports injury), the cold virus, severe toothache and the monthly peri-menopausal utopia caused by my female reproductive zone being forced into retirement. The old man’s sympathy has extended to ‘you’re getting old’ when I’ve sought comfort, whereas I suspect that I could be the first human, still walking, to suffer from cancer of every major organ. All other ailments aside, I am obviously suffering from mild hypochondriasis.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I have been assigned the ‘time-waster’ label by my GP, although, contrary to popular opinion, this hypochondriac is rarely spotted at the surgery. Consulting a doctor is a double-edged sword – if I go, she might tell me there’s nothing wrong with me (when I know that there is) and if I don’t go, and there is something wrong with me, I’m going to die anyway. A visit will have been precipitated by the ‘doom and gloom’ of self-diagnosis on the Internet, and the standard appointment time invariably stretches to double time as my telephone book of unrelated symptoms are analyzed. All roads lead to cancer when you pump a symptom into Google. 

There was a time, before cancer began ravaging acquaintances and freaking the rest of us out, and when it was fun to smoke, drink heavily and consume vats of any ‘type’ of fat, that conversation at the dinner table covered world politics, the career vs children conundrum or religion. But these days, world news has lost its x factor in comparison to the anguish caused by faulty bodily functions. ‘Man talk’ now encompasses ‘piles’, ‘wind’, and ‘bloating’, while ‘girl talk’ dissects issues of ‘bone density’, ‘vitamin supplements’, and ‘muscle mass’. Can someone explain to me how, scientifically, you can still put on weight when both your muscle mass and your bone density are decreasing? You might want to note that we’re saving ‘death’, ‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘loss of sexual libido’ for our fifties and sixties.

So if I’m not really ill, why do I spend more on health than retail therapy and possess the energy levels of a dying battery? My svelte, septuagenarian next-door neighbour is still surfing, so maybe my physical well-being is being compromised by a poor mental outlook to aging, and my dwindling estrogen is not the culprit after all?

In one of his more lucid moments (Friday night; 2/3 of a bottle of Penfolds, Bin 28), the old man compared retirement to Buddhism. Apparently, once you retire you stop worrying about premature death because your philosophy of life changes and you finally appreciate that it is a positive state of mind that brings happiness, not wealth. Retirement, (and the reason our neighbor is a living advertisement for Viagra), provides the luxury of free time, time to focus on happiness and make yourself that ‘better’ person you always dreamed of being, physically and mentally, rather than focusing on what is missing, when you are a small cog in the large wheel of the rat race.

Hypochondriasis is ‘health anxiety’ in disguise and it’s pretty common for us midlifers. It is a bonafide illness and we can seek help for it; middle age is not, unfortunately.

Dinner Party from Flickr.com courtesy of Alastair R

The 7 Gals of Menopause (back) from Flickr.com courtesy of HA! Designs – Artbyheather