One of the things I have been reflecting on is just how sociable dad was. He loved people, and parties. And he loved conversation. It would be exhausting at times. This year there has been a great absence of parties, and socialising. So for both dad, and the year we have all had, it’s been nice to reflect on past parties. Remember happier times.
There were a number of standing items in the Land social calendar. There were the kids’ birthday parties; we generally could pick a theme and mum and dad would happily oblige. Then of course there is bonfire night. For many years, dad used to invite his students over for bonfire night. Undergraduates in his tutor group. He would get them up to the white house late afternoon, and ply them with alcohol and food, and say things like “the natives are getting restless” as we could hear the bangs and music from town. There would be a few fireworks at home, and then dad would send them off down the hill with some words of advice about where to stand and perhaps a little map. I always wondered how they got on – it must have been a real baptism of fire, that night!
But the annual event I remember most fondly is the Land Christmas party. It was rather popular with my friends, as well as those of my parents.
Great preparation would go into this event. Wine and beer would be purchased and laid out in the kitchen. Wine glasses would get dusted off. Wine boxes would get opened in the afternoon, and everything would be dutifully sampled in advance. Mistletoe would go up in the hall, near the front door, so dad and anyone else had a convenient excuse for some kissing. The dining table would get pushed to the side, nibbles would be laid out, and ash trays would be put around the house. Coats would get put away, and the house would be hoovered. Dad’s party waistcoat would get dug out from the back of the cupboard, and mum would roll her eyes when it became clear that the waistcoat was not clean – with stains from the last party.
Then the guests would start to arrive… the good bottles would go to the back of the wine stack, and cheaper plonk would come to the front and be shoved into their hands. And kept topped up all night. Penny and I would be encouraged to circulate with nibbles… but once a friend or two arrived we would quickly disappear up to our bedrooms – and we would pop out only to collect food, and maybe a cheeky drink. Or fag.
But the highlight of the night was the music. At some point in the evening it would be declared time for carols. I would be hollered for, along with my friend Kate, and everyone in the party would be encouraged into Dad’s study where either an instrument or a song sheet would be thrust into your hand.
And we would play and sing carols – enthusiastically. Some good, and some bad. Sometimes we would get to the end of a piece before realising we were all playing in different keys. We would tussle over what combination of instruments to play. And dad would cycle through lots of different ones… showing off. And I would squirm at how embarrassing the whole thing was, but secretly quite enjoyed it. I had the best seat in the house. And people would sing, and try to squeeze into that room. I am not sure what everyone else made of it. But it was fun.
Looking back, I am so amazed now at my dad’s enthusiasm for everything. Relentlessly making that extra effort to have fun. Every visit, every party. Perhaps this year more than ever, it’s been hard to muster up that kind of enthusiasm. But it’s something I will hold on to, and aspire to carry on.