Yesterday we participated in that quintessential English institution, Sunday lunch. This one was a belated birthday celebration for M., our resident raconteur, barman, writer, painter, and gallery owner. It was hosted by his ex-wife and, like all good parties, took place largely around the table in her farmhouse kitchen. After pheasant pie and potatoes dauphinoise but before almond cake and coffee, snowflakes started dancing outside the kitchen window which was already framing a picture perfect, winter white landscape. I was pretty sure Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson were about to walk through the door and join us for the cheese course.
An entire cast of Richard Curtis characters wouldn’t have been more interesting than the assembled company. In addition to the charms of M. and his lovely ex-, we were joined by a another couple. The husband is a journalist whose work I know from my favourite paper, The Weekend FT. This fact alone would have been enough to sustain me for the entire afternoon, but he turned out to be only too happy to further oblige my stereotype of an idiosyncratic former Fleet Street journalist. He looked like Paul Bunyan in a tan leather, safari style waistcoat, and, while the rest of the table drank Rioja, he steadily drained the bottle of The Famous Grouse and a small pitcher of water that had been set out at his place. (Unaware this arrangement was intended solely for his consumption and being American and in need of hydration — British people consume an alarmingly small quantity of water — I helped out with the pitcher of water. Husband only pointed out my faux pas after the lunch.) Between courses he smoked hand rolled cigarettes and told me stories about his early years in Los Angeles with his old friend, Robin Leach, and New York as a correspondent for The Times.
Neither did his wife disappoint. She was dressed in what I call Toff “I don’t give a shit” – a ripped hot pink cashmere v-neck, jeans, and leopard print loafers. I think it was my compliment of her ring (Fabergé) that sparked the conversation in which I learned her father had been a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who, while stationed in the A.P.’s Moscow bureau during the Stalin era, eloped with her mother, a ballerina in The Bolshoi. Have you ever wondered who would play you in the movie of your life? Well, Clark Gable played her father in the film version of her parents’ romance.
I ended up feeling a little sorry for her. How on earth are you ever supposed to live up to parents like that? It’s enough to make me grateful for my own parents’ mediocrity. Just last week on a phone call with my dad I had to explain to him what Cava was. He seemed downright fascinated to learn about this economically priced, Spanish sparkling wine. “How do you know about things like that?” he asked, his voice filled with genuine wonder.