It is often said of me that I wear a number of different hats when it comes to earning a living. Though the hat swapping can be sometimes confusing to others, and even to myself, in that I never quite know which one I am wearing at any given moment, it does have some advantages. At Christmas in particular, I really enjoy my multiple bonnets. The reason is that I get invited as a guest to a number of parties. I don't quite belong to any one group, but I am attached to many, and am only too happy to give each party my full attention.
The festive season began with the Masterpiece party. Getting away from the West End of London we gathered at the home of our leader Nazy, who plied us with Ruinart whilst her daughter amused us with tales of rivalries at school. We nibbled as we opened our Secret Santa presents. This is a great system for offices where each employee only has to buy one gift, and no one knows who is their donor. It works well and everyone has the fun of guessing who gave what. Then dinner at a local hostelry, all great fun and not too much talk of Masterpiece. The evening was gentle and started the season off well. We had a slight tinge of melancholy as our team has changed, with our brilliant vetting coordinator Bess heading off, newly wed, to live back in her home nation of the USA. Her fellow compatriot Elizabeth, who helped me get the fair going in its earliest days, has also moved on, in her case to the Masterpiece PR team at Gong Muse. But it was melancholy tinged with excitement, as both are raring to go in their new lives. Masterpiece is growing and developing and we had to have some staff changes; it was remarkable that we had such a stable team in these first 5 years.
Then Mallett had its evening and we all dressed in black tie. I had planned to cycle over but the wind was blowing hard and rain was trying to add to the gruesomeness, so I lost my nerve and set off on the underground with the Princess of Nebraska, one of the key talents at Hatfields, the restoration business. We discussed the possibilities of mayhem. The Mallett party has been legendary over the last few years for good fellowship and an entertaining mix of guests. The senior board directors sit alongside the van drivers and secretaries, and everyone gets on fine. Occasionally there is a memorably amusing distraction, but mainly it passes with decorum and civilisation, more is the pity. Giles, the CEO, has made a tradition of doing a quiz, ably assisted by my colleague Francesca. This always causes a lot of shouting and cheating and this year was no exception with many guests crying foul. But it all ended happily and we moved on to a very silly game where you have to pick up a box with your teeth without touching the ground with any other part of your body, other than your feet. The more competitive members of the team got into this with a little too much gusto; in parallel, a couple of the girls were so supple that they could do it without even trying. The old men struggled and some triumphed as others fell by the wayside. The girls won easily.
Then a detour from Christmas excess. A friend has found a red lacquer cabinet on stand and, as we are both going away for Christmas and New Year, I decide to run down to the country to see it. We meet at the station, which is a miracle as he is always late. He has been around the business forever and though he finds the most marvellous, unseen, things, he is not the most reliable in terms of time keeping. With most people I know, it would be irritating how late he is; with him it is almost loveable. He gets incredibly involved in all that he does and there is never enough time for all his passion and intense focus. The next thing just has to wait. It is a bit tough if you are the next thing, but it is wonderful if you are the current thing. We drive to his house and look at the cabinet. It is, as anticipated, very interesting. It has a red lacquer exterior and a black lacquer interior. I have seen this kind of thing before but it is very rare. The boring thing is that it has big splits in the doors. I am too afraid of the restoration to pursue it. He is not bothered and he pours me a glass of Champagne. Never was a difficult moment so elegantly and charmingly overcome. He remembers everything and I forget everything. I had made some casual promise which I had now failed to fulfil. He took it well and though I know he will remember, I think he will forgive me, as we want to do business again. The Champagne was followed by the most delicious repast, string cut root vegetables roasted to crispness in the Aga, accompanied by the most succulent partridge I had ever had. He split them and covered with oil and salt, a tiny browning in a hot pan and then into the oven for seemingly no time at all. To accompany, we had quartered Brussels sprouts with lardons cooked in stock. A delicious Aga-warmed bottle of Crôzes-Hermitage went down all too easily alongside, the dusty bottle a perfect moment in this house of perfect dusty moments. A tiny piece of perfect creamy stingingly-strong stilton finished us off. I went to bed replete and forgiven for not buying when I had promised to; the early train was waiting as we arrived at the station and my fleeting country run came to an end.
Back in town, I pay a swift visit to Thomas Dane who provides me with coffee, chocolate, iphone charger and wifi, before a brief discussion. Refuelled and ready for action I head down to Clapham for the Hatfields Christmas event. Another quiz, lots of jokes and teasing, another festival of rich food and even more booze. Swaying slightly, I venture to the neighbors', more drink, more snacks. Then dinner with further neighbours. Exhausted by excessive jollity, late at night, I complete my packing.
Sunday dawns and after a punitive hour or so in the gym with my scarily fit and strong oldest son, the whole family head off for our Christmas and New Year adventure. The airport provided its usual social humiliations. The holes in my socks being the least of a bad bunch. Then we were on board and 5 hours later we landed in Jordan for 10 days of material and social culture. The brand new airport beckoned us and we knew we were in a totally new and yet totally ancient world.