There are several things that aren't much fun about being a grown-up: paying bills, doing the ironing and cleaning the oven, for starters.
But the one grown-up activity that I dislike more than any other is the dinner party.
These days, nothing fills me with dread quite like the words, "You must come over for dinner."
That's because experience has taught me that the dinner party is usually just a thinly veiled opportunity to show off - whether that's a new house, a new partner or a new recipe.
Perhaps I'm just really immature, but I still don't see the fun in spending the evening talking about Farrow & Ball, range cookers and loft conversions - and I probably never will.
And, given that my social life has dwindled rather dramatically since becoming a mum, on the rare occasion that I'm able to go out I'd rather hit the town than swap a night at home for a night at someone else's.
Don't get me wrong, I love a house party. And it's great to share a bottle of wine and a takeaway with some mates. But there's something about the dynamics of a dinner party that is guaranteed to rub me up the wrong way.
First: a confession. Before I was old enough to know better, I threw a couple of dinner parties.
But the stress and expense of buying the food, cooking the food, dealing with everyone's complex food requirements and then clearing the whole lot up afterwards just seemed like maximum effort for minimum return.
I was always too rushed to actually enjoy myself, worried that the food would taste bad and so irritated by the friends who turned up two hours late, said they weren't hungry, announced they'd given up meat/wheat/dairy the day before or did a runner the minute we finished eating that I accepted I was never going to be The Hostess With The Mostess and was better off catching up with friends in bars and restaurants instead.
Although Nigella and Jamie make informal dinner parties look like a lot of fun, I think we only have to watch an episode of Come Dine With Me to discover the unsavory truth.
Yes, CDWM shows us that people who like hosting dinner parties usually think they are really good cooks. Sometimes this is true. Often it's not.
I still shudder at the memory of the enormous stuffed marrow that was brought to the table on an old tin tray (it was stuffed with raisins and breadcrumbs, drenched with oil and tasted every bit as good as it sounds) before being sliced up with an electric knife and served with cabbage.
Or the time that the chicken, which was carved at the table, started bleeding.
And let's not forget the whole baked fish that I discovered, rather too late, hadn't been gutted. I had to remove it's squiggly bits with a teaspoon and leave them on my side plate. Yummy.
Of course, when the food is bad, everyone feels obliged to say, "mmmm, this is so delicious,' while moving their food around the plate and muttering about being full.
Another tricky thing about dinner parties is that there is always seems to be at least one guest that you've never met. This person will inevitably be either deathly dull or just plain weird/offensive and seemingly on a mission to to annoy everyone else at the table. Worse still, they will almost certainly be sitting next to you and you'll have to make polite conversation with them all night.
By the time dessert arrives, everyone starts looking at their watches, muttering about taxis and wondering how quickly they can make a polite exit. This is so that they can get home, have a stiff drink and catch up on X Factor before bed.
Despite the myth, the dinner party isn't even a recession-friendly way of having a social life. If you're hosting, the food and drink costs more than dinner at a restaurant. And if you're a guest, by the time you've paid a babysitter, bought some wine and got a cab at least one way, you could have covered the cost of a proper (fun) night out.
So these days, when I'm invited to a dinner party, whenever possible I politely decline.
Sometimes I run out of excuses and have to grin and bear it.
But after writing this, I have a sneaking suspicion that the invitations might start to dry up. And for that, I can only be grateful.
By Ceri Roberts
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