EVERY so often, you’ll read in the newspaper about a road project that’s attracting protests because it is going to cut through the native habitat of some endangered species.
It always seems to be a lead-bellied or crimson-breasted something – a bird, or possum, or even a mouse-like marsupial – and experts who are concerned about the looming disappearance of the creature will weigh in with dire ramifications for the area in question, and suddenly there will be a groundswell of support from people who hadn’t realised the waddle-bottomed wineroo was on the verge of extinction.
There will be counterarguments about how much money it will cost to save the species, and some people will find it ridiculous, and may complain about “bloody greenies”, while others will not want to live in a world where we put ‘progress’ over preserving the creatures that are under our dominion, and perhaps those folk will quote some ancient Native American chief about how, when the last river is dry and the last tree dead, then man will realise he can’t eat money.
Then, after lots of to-ing and fro-ing, if everyone makes enough noise, and the creature in contention is attractive enough (that is, not a snake), the government will commission a study, and then months later it will be announced that the development is being re-routed, or postponed, or is to incorporate a miniature highway-crossing swing bridge or tunnel for the soft-nosed sniddlewhack to use.
This is a familiar story, and I understand the process as it applies to our natural environment, but what happens if you are bearing witness to the end of a social phenomenon that you believe needs saving?
I am referring to The Dinner Party.
The Dinner Party, I believe, is on the brink of extinction. I realise this contention is initially hard to swallow (ahem), but if I really think about it, I can’t remember the last time I actually saw one in action.
I don’t mean just having people over for a barbecue or casual dinner, though both of those are most enjoyable. I mean an old-fashioned, tablecloth-candles-and-sparkling-glasses event, where you’ve planned it for a couple of weeks beforehand and actually worked out a menu. The sort my mum and dad used to have when I was little, where delicious and forbidden foods would start appearing in the fridge, and where – on the day of the big event – my brother and I would have to tidy up and set the table with the special dinner setting and the ‘good’ cutlery. I would pick flowers to place in little vases around the dining room. Later that night, I would lie in my bed listening to the magical sound of adult laughter and the tinkling of cutlery and glass.
It’s a fairly recent phenomenon, this endangered status. In fact, The Dinner Party has been such a reliable mainstay of social life for so many years that it has become standard comedic fodder, with jokes and sketches about guests who drone on about their renovations. Suddenly, single women would complain that they never got invited to their coupled-up friends’ dinner parties. Publishers issued dedicated cookbooks. Dinner parties were A THING.
And now, though I often break bread with friends, it is rarely at their houses. It seems to be done in restaurants, not in our homes, and I can’t work out why. Are we so money-rich? So time-poor? Is it because we think our houses are too messy, or small, or it all seems too much work? Or is it, as my girlfriend Georgie reckons, because of TV?
See, she’s got a theory that it’s all because of MasterChef. That, and every other cooking show. Because ever since we started watching them, we’ve lost confidence in ourselves. Now we ‘deglaze the pan’ instead of ‘making gravy’. We talk about which ‘protein’ we are going to cook instead of which meat. There are ‘foams’ and ‘plating up’ and blue Band-Aids and scores out of 10, and all that pressure has killed the joy of a group of people gathering at someone’s table on mismatched chairs.
So this weekend I’m launching a counteroffensive. I am polishing my school-fete crystal and getting out the lace tablecloth, in preparation for a pants-down, knees-akimbo, good-times Dinner Party.
But I know my guests have been spoiled by showbiz, so I’m going to start by cooking the contents of the vegetable crisper in my fridge – or, as I call it, “The Mystery Box”.
It may not be the best food. But it will be fun.