Continuing on a theme, my other least favourite thing about myself is that I am the world's most stressed and neurotic hostess. I just can't take the pressure. I hate this. I want to be a bit more like my mother, who constantly filled our house with people, managing to divide one leg of lamb between 35, while cradling the phone between her cheek and shoulder, inviting more people round. Or like my sister who, when something goes wrong with dinner, just brings out more smoked salmon on tost, opens another bottle of champagne and acts like that eating at 10.15pm, so drunk you can't feel your face, is just the chic thing these days.
My dinner party crises leave me bruised and tearful for weeks. My first dinner at my flat, I made a mess of my mother's Idiot-Proof Chicken Stew (nothing is so idiot-proof I can't spazz it - recipe soon) and my guests were left eating raw onions and flabby chicken. I still actually writhe around in my chair with shame when I think about this. When a guest asked if there was any cheese I snapped "No" because I was so angry and upset and more or less threw them all out. Then, the other day, I set down a pan of potato dauphinoise on my new Corian surface in the kitchen, which you are strictly not supposed to do, and the Corian cracked from one end to another with a loud bang, like a gunshot. We waited weeks for that Corian, and it was magnificently expensive. I nearly comitted hara-kiri right there with Giles' Japanese sushi knife. I think at that point, he might have helped me.
Anyway, I won't have this. I want nice people to look forward coming to my house, not dread it for weeks. And neither do I want to dread it for weeks and be reduced to a freaked-out wreck if an extra person comes at the last minute. So I'm going to keep giving bloody dinners and lunches until I crack it.
Tomorrow, for example, there are 8 people (one pescetarian) coming to my house for lunch. At the moment, I feel quite relaxed about it all because my latest plan for stress-free entertaining (yeah, whatever) is to organise everything weeks in advance with military precision. There are lists all over the house of things to buy (logs, brussel sprouts, cream) lists of what to do when (night before: boil and chop sprouts, lay the table, cook cocktail sausages) and lists of my expanding and contracting guest list. At one point there were 11 people coming, as I was trying to get over my fear of too many people, but then three dropped out thank the Lord, so now I've just got the eight.
I am breaking a promise to myself that I made last time I had a dinner party, which was that I'd never again cook something for the first time for friends. But these two new things I'm doing tomorrow, I don't think can go wrong (can't believe I just said that - the house is going to blow up now). The first thing is a Christmassy cranberry sauce for the cocktail sausages and the second is a steamed pudding. Everything else (Nigel Slater's potato dauph, chilli and garlic brussel sprouts, roast chicken, fish in breadcrumbs for my pescetarian) I've done before.
My dad always says that as long as you can take a coat and get a drink in to a guest's hand within one minute of their arrival, you don't have to worry about anything else. And he's lived with my mother and her non-stop entertaining for 30 years, so knows a thing or two about having people round. Send me your top tips for having friends over without having a nervous breakdown and if I get enough I'll do a post. If I don't, I'll just assume no-one cares and, well, that sushi knife may start to look very tempting. No pressure.