I recently filled in a meme thing on a friend's journal. It was one of those 'getting to know you, likes and dislikes and a few random questions' ones. It's fun doing those, everyone likes to talk about themselves. One of the questions got me thinking. It was, 'Name three people in history whom you would invite to a dinner party.' I thought about it, gave it due consideration and chose three names. I think they were all sound choices, all chosen for different reasons and made in an attempt to strike an interesting balance for the occasion. But, I also started thinking about who else should be there, what the occasion might be, what form the meal should take and how many other people I should invite.
Of course, I soon dismissed the idea of a special occasion. There doesn't have to be an excuse, there shouldn't need to be a prod to get something like this off the ground. It should just be able to happen.
Now, the three people I chose for the meme are all dead. That is not a barrier to being part of my occasion. So that's one obstacle overcome and one rule set. The unfortunate side-effect of that is that dead people tend not to eat very much, on the whole, and I would like to wine and dine my guests to the best of my abilities, so, again, for the purposes of this - the dead eat and drink. I would like to be able to hold a dinner party for everyone I know and like, but that is not practical or possible and it would need to be held in a field. So, please don't be offended if you don't get the invitation from me. It doesn't mean that I don't want you there (because I do), it's just a practical consideration I'm going to have to make. And, I'm sure I will have other opportunities to be your genial host. For this one I will invite people who will, in my opinion, compliment each other and the occasion; people who would give a fascinating mix of backgrounds, talents, good humour and conversation.
I'm going to settle on thirteen people for my dinner party, including me. This is out of pure, unadulterated perversity and cussedness and to fly in the face of all that ridiculous superstitious nonsense that we get rammed down our throats. My guests and I are above all that. We will sit round the large table in a room in my house which is, honestly, known as The Restaurant. The artworks on the walls are not the most scintillating but there is a pukeko, so that's okay.
So, we're all set. I have a menu in mind and will use a timeturner to be able to cook it whilst still being able to spend time with and entertain my guests. I could have got staff in, and I may do when it comes to serving, but I'm cooking.
My first guest has already arrived, in fact she has been here for a while, visiting, soaking up the perfect Somerset days. Julia (ilmera ) brings Russian refinement and class to my dinner party; the style and majesty of her native Saint Petersburg mixed with her own poise, intelligence and warmth. She is the perfect star to grace such a wonderful event as this and will sit at the head of the table.
The doorbell rings and my second guest stumbles across the threshold, a beard in fancy dress. Vivian Stanshall is a longtime hero of mine. The absolute eccentric English humourist. Probably the cleverest, funniest writer, musician, performer, actor, poet England has ever produced. He is a very welcome guest and soon has a fine Amontillado thrust into his outstrectched hand.
Coming up the path is Karl Marx, a sombre counterpoint to others on the list but someone for whom fascinating conversation and interesting ideas are commonplace.
Behind him, walking as sprightly as ever he did when he was alive is Sir Edmund Hillary. Ed is a man of action, a doer. He was one of the first two people to climb Everest, he later went on to establish lots of schools and other amenities in Nepal, as well as lending his name to a host of walking tracks and access to the wilds of his native New Zealand. A true colossus and a great humanitarian who during his lifetime had his picture on the New Zealand five dollar note.
There is a bit of a pause in proceedings. Vivian Stanshall, Karl Marx and Ed Hillary are the three people I named in the meme. A pause, that is, until Florence Nightingale breezes in, all crinoline and disinfectant. Up for the first time in a hundred years, I'm proud to be able to welcome such a luminary. Her talents go way beyond the thing she is most famous for, bringing new nursing methods to the treatment of wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. She invented the pie chart!
The next to arrive is the only other literally vital member of our gathering. Stephen Fry is, in my opinion, the greatest living Englishman. He should have railings built around him and be worshipped. Like Viv he is a writer, actor, wit and blisteringly intelligent. On top of all that, and the thing that makes him a perfect addition to my guest list, he has 'views'. I like his views and agree with most of them. The ones I don't agree with I can laugh at heartily.
Charles Darwin has, unnoticed and unannounced, crept in and is helping himself to the peanuts. Though, slightly surreally he is causing them to evolve into Bombay mix. He is very welcome, a man who has placed us firmly in our own world, free of superstition, blind belief and the triumph of hope over experience. I've got lots of questions for him and I'm sure others have too; it's an opportunity not to be missed.
Emma Lazarus, nineteenth century poet, translator and beauty has arrived and is sharing a welcome drink with Julia. They have much in common and I hope they will hit it off; the fact that they are already deep in conversation suggests that I needn't have worried. Her most famous lines adorn the base of the Statue of Liberty, though she doesn't actually know this because she died many years before that particular gift was bestowed.
In the corner, already boozily winking at the ladies, sits Serge Gainsbourg. His Gallic charm and magnetism, allied to his slightly coarse vocabulary will help to bring everyone down to earth and put them at their ease. If anyone can puncture the pomposity of such a gathering and bring those inestimable egos into line, this French rake should do it admirably.
Although I am steeped in music and what music does to me, and although I have guests like Viv and Serge I feel I need some refinement in the conversation about that particular art form. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky should fit the bill nicely. Having flown in from Saint Petersburg only earlier in the day, he is still sparkling and keen for a good nosh. I hope he will neither be disappointed nor, indeed, disappoint. It does give me the excuse for sticking on the 1812 Overture as the evening wears on.
Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, my oldest invitee by far, will be a welcome fellow guest for Fry. They will have so much to discuss that I doubt the rest of us will get a look in, but the cannons in the 1812 might just bring them back to us in the conversation stakes. He seems to like the sherry too and has a large schooner clutched dramatically to his robes.
My twelfth guest knocks, not being used to the kind of doorbell I have, and is ushered in. Jane Austen should be used to such gatherings. She ought to be well-steeped in the refinement and etiquette expected at a dinner party like this. And I just know that the Frenchman will shock her just a little. He is certainly no Mr Darcy. I think they ought to sit together.
The final guest, no greater or less than any of the others; probably only arriving after everyone else because of the dearth of taxis in this part of the world and his own personal wonder at how his unsung invention has changed the planet we live on beyond all recognition, is Richard Pearse. Who?, I hear you ask. You haven't heard of Richard Pearse? The clue is in my use of the word 'unsung'. You may not believe this but it's true; it wasn't the Wright brothers who invented the aeroplane as we know and understand it. Some time before them Richard Pearse designed, fashioned, built and flew a machine that we would all recognise as an aeroplane on his South Canterbury farm. He was just too polite to shout about it. I would like to use this opportunity to put the record straight. I'm glad he's accepted the invitation and managed to get here.
So, all are safely gathered. An interesting mixture of fascinating people. All worthy of inclusion in the greatest dinner party ever held.
For the menu and how the evening goes, you will have to tune in next week.