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