Although I often try to offer helpful suggestions about how the world could be a better place, I don’t see it as part of my wide-ranging remit to set out the standards society expects when it comes to social situations.
Pippa Middleton and I have a loose agreement – she’ll have a clear field on blindingly obvious party planning tips and I’m free to tackle anything else, as long as I resist the temptation to slip on a figure-hugging dress and steal her thunder.
But this week I have to take a step onto unfamiliar ground in order offer the following simple guidance, which I hope will prove of use:
1. If you are attending a family gathering for approaching 30 people, and you are expected to bring a dish, just bring the dish that was expected. Please.
2. If you had agreed to provide a trifle, arrive at the appointed time with a finished trifle, in a bowl, with cling film on it. If you insist on hundreds and thousands, it’s your call. Leave out the banana, though, because it’s disgusting.
3. Resist the temptation to just wing it, having seen a finished conversation-stopper dessert in a picture in some glossy magazine and decided that it’s just what will help the party go with a swing. It isn’t. Particularly if you haven’t even got the recipe.
4. On arrival at the gathering in question, if the host is manfully laying out a buffet spread of sufficient size and range to satisfy a small town do not expect to be able to monopolise large areas of the kitchen at a moment’s notice.
5. Do not, on any account, produce a whole watermelon, some cartons of cream, and a selection of chopped fruit and set to work.
6. If you can avoid it, don’t buttonhole the host as he dashes from bread-chopping to salad-tossing to drink serving and ask him for a large knife, a chopping board, an electric mixer and bowl and two large plates.
7. Try to anticipate that, once you have hacked away at the watermelon, whipped up the cream, and arranged the fruit to your heart’s desire, creating something that looks like the bastard child of a baked Alaska and a pavlova, that your hard-pressed host – having carefully catered for a large group, with a range of main course and dessert options, may not easily be able to set aside about half the available fridge space to accommodate your double whammy surprise so that it doesn’t disintegrate before serving time on the hottest day of the year. The fridge is already full, and he’s got bread to chop.
8. Guinea pigs do not like watermelon. Well, they might like watermelon but not when it is covered with cream.
9. If you are hosting a family event in the near future, and you request similar support, be prepared for surprises. Revenge, as we all know, is a dessert dish best served cold.