A society of friends

2014-09-10 00:00

OUR immediate social circle is made up of four to five families, with others drifting in and out depending on the occasion and who’s around. We are quite a social bunch and spend most weekends engaged in some type of activity en masse: holidays, dinners, concerts, plays, parties and sport. What we all enjoy the most though is meeting up at each other’s houses for dinner or lunch or drinks. Dinner is usually arranged around a rugby match or a birthday or why not, while lunch or drinks usually follow some sort of sporting activity, be it mountain biking, basketball or watching our children play school sport, or why not. There’s never a shortage of participants and it’s always a toss-up as to who’s going to suggest it first with most weekends involving more than one day of planned entertainment. It’s not uncommon to be catering for a crowd of 16 people, including a gaggle of children who seem to disappear into the ether, only to be seen or worried about when the clarion call “grub’s up” goes out and when it’s time to load bodies in the car for the late-night drive home.

There are a few challenges that have to be faced when expecting a houseful of guests — for me the greatest challenge is the weather. As soon as I know I’ve got people coming over, I anxiously watch the weather channel because the weather determines not only what food I’m going to serve, but where we are going to sit and if the children need to be actively entertained instead of being left to rush around like urchins terrorising the neighbours. Of course, “actively entertained” usually goes no further than hurriedly putting a DVD on with instructions like “If you spill Coke on my bed, I’ll kill you, okay?” The children quickly learnt to keep themselves scarce, because the first child who’s silly enough to come within yelling distance is immediately dispatched to fill wine glasses, replenish beers and change the music.

On cold winter nights, fires are lit in fireplaces before everyone arrives to warm the house with a huge bonfire lighting up the garden from the brazier outside, blankets are distributed and it’s not long before we are snug and warm. Hot summer nights are spent lounging on the veranda or standing around a braai, while the children swim until they are completely water-logged. I ignore the wet footsteps trailing over my wooden floors and every so often the peace is shattered by a mother shrieking: “If you run round the pool once more, I’m going to lock you in the car!” A rain forecast always sends me into a state of anxiety: where’s everyone going to sit; what are the children going to do? The dogs are going to traipse mud into the house; I can’t take the stress, let’s cancel. My husband wisely doesn’t say a word and helpfully rearranges chairs and tables under cover. I never do cancel and the evening always ends the same way, whatever the weather — a group of friends spending the evening together, eating too much, definitely drinking too much, laughing a lot, abusing each other, some gossiping here and there and enjoying each other’s company.

Many evenings have ended with someone finally looking at his or her watch and exclaiming: “Crikey, it’s 2 o’clock, we’d better go.” This starts a mass exodus and, in a flurry of cooler-box gathering, yelling for children and hugs and kisses, one by one the cars disappear up the road in a trail of headlights. Then the real work starts — cleaning up. We fill myriad rubbish bags with beer and wine bottles, always accompanied by comments like “Geez, you guys drank a lot”, or “Bloody hell, there’s a whole vineyard’s worth of wine bottles here”. Dirty glasses and plates cover every surface and inevitably the contents of a chips packet have been crushed into the rug. Often, I just close the kitchen door, gulp down a large glass of water and go to bed, knowing it will all still be there in the morning. And these evenings are worth every bit of cleaning up, because not only have I spent the evening engaged in my most favourite activity, but I know that next time, I’ll be the one heading up the road in the middle the night, leaving my friend and hostess to clean up after me.

Of course, ‘actively entertained’ usually goes no further than hurriedly putting a DVD on with instructions like ‘If you spill Coke on my bed, I’ll kill you, okay?’

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