Dreaming of dinner parties.

Is your social life suffering? Are you looking for a solution to Covid lockdown blues? Put aside the commercial and political arguments about the rights and wrongs of the situation; forget Zoom, for a moment, and follow me.

I’ve been inspired by a BBC Radio 4 programme called My Dream Dinner Party. In each episode a host invites a selection of their long-time dead heroes to join them for dinner. The menus have been varied, and occasionally worrying.

Here’s a tip though, in case you are ever invited to feast with Jack Whitehall: stick to liquids and avoid the solids. As a barman, he sounds spot on, but the malfunctions in his kitchen included a cavalier attitude to mould on food.

All of the hosts are skilled conversation starters. This week Shappi Khorsandi invited Maya Angelou, Kenny Everett, Richard Burton, Dr Edith Summerskill and Amy Winehouse to a Persian feast.

‘I’d love to do that,’ I thought. I could create a virtual feast. The technicalities of cutting and splicing sound clips, however, is far beyond my technical abilities.

It only took a little lateral thinking to connect this series to Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play, Top Girls, where Marlene’s dinner guests are real and fictional women from history. No technology necessary.

But, there are so many fascinating historical characters I’d like to meet. Churchill had a purpose, an agenda. I needed to find mine. It didn’t take long, though narrowing that down needed a lot more thought.

I’ve sent my invitations into some fictional worlds. There really are so many characters I’d like to spend time with, but eventually I came up with a theme that helped me to narrow my list down.

Tristram Shandy’s reply arrived first.

Madam, it would be a delight to partake of the fine company and good victuals you describe.

Permit me, as a humble guest, to supplement your table with some choice delicacies that I happen to have at hand. In short, I can supply a fine keg of claret, and several prodigious pies garnished with a ponderous mass of judicious trimmings, richly baked this last sennight.

Madam’s most obedient,

and most devoted,

and most humble servant,

Tristram Shandy.

Dora Chance sent back a very old postcard of Big Ben, with an out of date stamp on it. I paid the extra postage, though she seemed to have written it in khol, and a lot of the words were smudged. In between some of the smeared hieroglyphics I thought I could just make out, ‘Got bubbly, ducky?’ I presume that means she will be appearing, but it’s possible she’s sent me the wrong reply. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed that she hasn’t received a better offer.

Nellie Dean’s reply covered two pages of fullscap, and she’d crossed it. It took me a couple of hours to decipher all of the content. A lot of it was domestic, and seemed to be concerned with Joseph’s refusal to wipe his boots before entering the back kitchen. Though there were also two sides about Cathy and Hareton. It seems they are still billing and cooing like a pair of doves. She finished, ‘You’d never think that they are about to become grandparents. But I believe they can now safely be left in charge, so I’ll be glad to repair to another region for a short time.’

Rebecca de Winter’s reply came in a thick cream-coloured envelope. Inside was a single heavy sheet of mono-graphed notepaper. Her handwriting would have brought a smile to a calligrapher’s face. It said, ‘I should be delighted to accept your kind invitation. With kind regards, R. dW.’

Piscine Molitor Patel phoned me to get directions. “Could you name me a few notable landmarks? I don’t have much faith in technology.”

I promised to meet him at the railway station.

“How will we know each other?”

I told him the station was not so very big that we could make a mistake, but he said he’d learned to take precautions when travelling. “We’ll both wear carnations, and I’ll carry a rolled up beach mat. Who else will be there?”

I told him.

He said, “You don’t expect anyone to believe this, do you?”

“I know,” I said. “Brilliant, isn’t it?”

Piscine Molitor by Getfunky Paris – Flickr: Plongée urbex, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org