When I was a teenager growing up in Port Elizabeth, our house was one of the places (the other being Al’s cabin) where my friends and I liked to congregate. My parents did not employ a domestic worker so the unused staff accommodation which adjoined the garage was converted into a den. I decorated the room with posters and magazine pictures (and the odd pilfered road sign) and my parents contributed their old record player and a few bits and pieces of furniture. It became known as “The Room” and that was where the gang (aka “the Central Dorks”) hung out when they visited. And, as I recall, my parents never set foot in the place – which was really just as well! When I look back on those days, it seems as if life was just one long jol.
When Peter and I moved into our first house, in Durban’s Shuter Road, it also became a popular gathering place. We seemed to have a steady stream of people visiting and staying with us and it often happened that a small get-together would spontaneously burst into a full-blown party. We didn’t so much entertain in those days, as provide a springboard for some great shindigs.
In 1987 we moved to Morningside and by then Pete and I were both working in the NGO sector. The steady stream of visitors continued but life became a little more earnest. The visitors were mostly overseas donors or colleagues from other NGOs and although the parties continued (we lived a kind of work hard, play hard lifestyle) intense, and often heated, political discussions around the dining room table became more frequent.
Then it all seemed to fizzle out; the foreign houseguests, the wild parties and the raucous debates. And so our grand entertaining days came to an end and were replaced with less frequent, more sedate, intimate lunch / dinner parties. The kind where no-one has a point to prove and you can wear your slippers if you want to. And we share these occasions with people that we’ve known for years; friends with whom we simply pick up where we left off, no matter how long the gap has been since we last saw each other. We all know each other’s history and share similar worldviews and we know we won’t be judged, no matter how badly we behave!
Of course, since we moved to the country we get to spend even less time with friends and lately I’ve been missing the kind of conversation that goes on around a dining room table after a couple of glasses of wine. So I plucked up the courage to invite two couples that we don’t know very well at all, as well as another couple that we are friends with, to a lunch party. I was anxious about how this was going to work. Would there be awkward silences? Would they look down their noses at our modest home? Would I get drunk and start singing “Don’t Stop Me Now”?
I really needn’t have worried. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. It is always interesting to hear where others have come from and how they got here and to discover we even have things in common (like being fans of Neil Young). So my confidence in people being essentially kind, as well as my hostessing abilities, has been restored, and I’m actually looking forward to doing a bit more of this entertaining lark in the future.