Well, things have been a little busy recently. Busy is, of course, a relative term, as I've not actually been working, and so have not been part of the daily schedule that so dominates people's lives until their cycle of monotony finally ends in retirement, insanity and death. No, I've been on holiday (though let's not pretend I was grinding at the mill beforehand) and have been busy with such events as Varwell's stag night and wedding, and then last week's poker night followed by a dinner party for the cousins from my maternal side. In amongst all this, I decided to move to Edinburgh, and so have been getting ready for that, and get the keys to a flat next Tuesday.
Despite all this pretence of being busy, I've still found plenty of time to have a few quiet drinks. In fact, you may argue, excuses to drink have been pretty much the cornerstone of why I've been busy. And so let's wind back to the Saturday morning just past...
...where I find myself awake in the stiflingly hot living room in my flat, slumped on the sofa, with the winter sun streaming through the window. The electric heater is on full, pumping out sickly warm air, my body is still awash with sherry, the smeared remains of a baked potato with chicken tikka filler sits by my side, and the room is strewn with debris from the poker mayhem of the night before. I'd had a poker evening, with the poker regulars (Green, Poker Mark, Stan, Julie) plus other assorted luminaries who fancied their hand at winning some money: Vizzy, Kitchen Mark, and two colleagues, my Polish colleague, as seen last year on a boat, and Bigboy, as seen during our mini-lifetime together in Azerbaijan earlier this year. Booze (tellingly, the two non-drinkers failed to win anything back) and stupendous poker skills thrust themselves about for almost eight hours and two poker games (£10 entry each), with the conclusion of the hyper-aggressive Vizzy winning the first and coming second in the second, won by Green, with myself a very respectable second and third place, to on overall profit of £10.
It was a very enjoyable evening, and an interesting change to our regular poker played on Tuesdays, without alcohol or money, but none of this took priority in my waking brain in this baking room.
No, all I could think was, "Oh God, I've got less than 10 hours to learn how to cook."
Because later that day, my sister, my brother and his fiance, my two maternal cousins plus their respective romantic associates, plus my two younger second cousins, were all coming round to enjoy a dinner party, the first ever Forsythian (as it's been dubbed, though the two second cousins weren't actually generated by a Forsyth) cousins' dinner party. Plenty of stuff was all worked out - where everyone was staying, the various alcohols ready and waiting, coal and wood for the fire in my living room to debut, and plenty of plates and cutlery for the occasion - but one big problem remained: I can't cook.
Or perhaps that should be, I don't cook. Because in my modern life, cooking is something that doesn't feature. One notable attempt 18 months ago some may recall, but otherwise when I'm onshore, I go round to Green's for his culinary sensations, or if he's not about I just eat out or get takeaway, or maybe shove a pizza in the oven. But actual cooking is rare, so to have to cook for ten people was quite an undertaking for me. But luckily, I'd had time to decide upon a couple of dishes, deftly chosen by my brother's fiance, and I'd practised them - successfully - earlier in the week.
Here was the menu.
So, I rose from the sofa, got a few hours of rest in my bed, and then showered myself to a waking health. By mid-afternoon my brother and his fiance had arrived, to quietly watch over me in case the effort got too much. But I was feeling fairly relaxed, and there was plenty of time to get the dinner table prepared, and the lamb dish basically involved getting a bunch of ingredients and shoving them into a casserole dish then the oven for 3 hours. Only the soup and the (made the day earlier) vegetarian dish for the token awkward vegetarian required any effort.
And so, by 7pm, all had arrived and were stuffing wine into their mouths, and by 8pm it was time for food, and round one: some soup. Tomato and basil soup, to be precise. And mmm, it was actually not bad. The key, for me, is not to aim for subtlty, just cram a bunch of stuff in a pot and make the flavours wrestle with each other. Wrestling is of greater mass appeal than opera. So lots of tomatoes, basil, cream, garlic, and whatever else ended up in there. The main course, the Cypriot lamb and potato casserole, also turned out pleasingly well for the same reason - flavour bombast rather than delicate orchestral movements. The next three courses I could coast through then, as they were alcohol based and therefore back in the realm of what I know. Amaretto and ice-cream were a nice combination, cheese and port is a no-brainer (and there was no subtlty with my port pouring), and the finale, cognac and cigars accompanied by a choice of housecoat, which also double as smoking jackets. Around the dinner table, us ten family members gathered in a selection of high-quality housecoats, and smoked cigars with a tipple of cognac by our sides (or, at least, the gentlemen did - most of the ladies found both components too manly for their taste).
And so went the dinner party. Everything then descended into hours of drinking, gathered round the coal fire, and reminiscing about all the times the older members of the family would upset and make cry the younger members of the family. It is a twist of cruel fate that of the five Forsythian cousins, the three males are the oldest and the two females the youngest. Thus my sister and Esme, my cousin, were regularly beaten. I, as the oldest, escaped all beatings, until reaching about 16 when my brother caught up with me in size and I realised it was time to quickly leave home and go to university.
It was a terrific evening, and happily only my cousin Malcolm was sick from it, though consensus is that it was due to all the port and not a rogue element in my food (as all else escaped poisoning). And this Saturday, it's the same again, except with the cousins from my paternal side. And I've got to figure out how to do a Christmas dinner rather than just some easy casserole. Yikes.
For those of you who prefer the pictures to the text (i.e. the "Heat" as opposed to the "Classics" readers) I'll leave you some photos taken by sister, from The Facebook.