Fat­ten­ing friends

‘We only ever eat like this when we have guests. It’s just that we have guests all the time’

Cotswold Life - - MORE THAN A MOTHER - con­tact @claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­tosh.com

When you move away (that is, any­where more than two hours from your friends and fam­ily, when pop­ping round for cof­fee is no longer fea­si­ble, and a leisurely Sun­day lunch to­gether all but im­pos­si­ble) peo­ple will in­vite them­selves to stay. This is par­tic­u­larly the case if you move some­where pretty, tran­quil, or hot (friends of mine in the South of France have a con­stant stream of guests) or in any way dif­fer­ent to the place you left be­hind. City to coast, val­ley to moun­tain, and so on.

I never en­vis­aged this as be­ing a prob­lem; in fact, it was surely part of the ap­peal, some­thing to salve the pain of tear­ing one­self from fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings and friendly faces. “You will come and stay?” I begged of ev­ery­one in my ad­dress book, and the prospect of reg­u­lar vis­i­tors from back home helped min­imise the blind panic ris­ing in my chest at the thought of mov­ing away. Some peo­ple move to Spain, we re­as­sured each other. To Aus­tralia. The Outer He­brides. Nor­wich, even. We re­minded our­selves that, in the States, a three-hour jour­ney to visit fam­ily is pos­i­tively round the cor­ner. Nev­er­the­less, I mourned prox­im­ity to my friends long be­fore I lost it. “Come as of­ten as you like,” I in­sisted. We’ll come, we’ll come, they promised. And boy, did they come…

We are now two years into our Snow­do­nian ad­ven­ture and en­ter­tain­ing is tak­ing its toll. There are beds to be stripped and re­made, sheets to iron, meals to plan and ac­tiv­i­ties to con­sider. The Tesco de­liv­ery man, never used mid­week when we shop on the high street, stag­gers up the drive­way two Fri­days out of four. “Friends stay­ing again?” he’ll ask, as I di­vest him of a case of wine, two dozen eggs, four packs of ba­con and six crates of food I prob­a­bly won’t need but feel ner­vous not hav­ing. “Have fun!” the Tesco man says cheer­fully, as he waves me good­bye, and my heart sinks a lit­tle be­cause al­though my mouth is wa­ter­ing, my stom­ach is al­ready groan­ing.

You eat dif­fer­ently when you’re en­ter­tain­ing, don’t you? Cau­tion flies off to the winds, and you crack open the cham­pagne, lay on a cheese board, dust off the port. You pass round bowls of honey-glazed cashews and hand-cut veg­etable crisps, and cook lav­ish, cream-laded meals with in­gre­di­ents rarely seen out­side of Nigella’s kitchen. It’s like Christ­mas. And there-in lies the prob­lem. Chez nous, it’s Christ­mas ev­ery other week­end.

Ev­ery week­end, in sum­mer months, plus a good por­tion of the week­days. All the half-terms. Easter. Bank hol­i­day week­ends. “You’re look­ing…” a re­cent house­guest hes­i­tated. “Well,” she opted for, eye­ing my strain­ing seams. “The moun­tain air ob­vi­ously suits you.” I pic­tured Aus­trian yo­dellers, plump in their leder­ho­sen. This is your

fault, I told our vis­i­tor silently.

We only ever eat like this when we

have guests. It’s just that we have guests all the time.

“We need to take it in turns,” I told my hus­band, as we awaited that week­end’s guests. “We can’t both ab­stain when we have friends stay­ing – it’d be rude – but one of us needs to be on the wagon, oth­er­wise we’ll have to get a spe­cial winch to haul us up to bed.”

“Good idea,” he said, open­ing the wine. “What’s dessert tonight?” I scanned my notebook. “Goose­berry fool with homemade ice-cream.” We looked at each other. “Toss for it?” In the end we both had the fool. And the ice-cream. And the cheese, and the port, and the… you get the pic­ture. We have no willpower, that’s the prob­lem. If it’s there, we’ll have it.

“Maybe we could put to­gether a dif­fer­ent sort of menu,” my hus­band said. “Knock the cham­pagne on the head. Quit with the cheese plat­ters. We could say we’ve em­braced a sim­pler life­style; no meat, no fats, no al­co­hol, no dairy – just whole­some grains and veg­eta­bles.”

I looked at him, con­fused. “But who’d come and stay if they knew we ate like that?”’ He leaned back in his chair, a tri­umphant beam spread­ing across his face. “Ex­actly.”

ABOVE: ‘We have no willpower, that’s the prob­lem. If it’s there, we’ll have it’

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, pub­lished by Sphere, is out. Book Four is on its way!

Clare Mack­in­tosh

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