Dining out

marriage de convenance 

I have been dining out in the past week.  Three very different dinners.

On Thursday, I dined at Glebe at the home of my former high school music teacher E and her husband, R.  L was there, and I think I was invited as a substitute for her husband G, who had jetted off that day to New York to spend 5 weeks travelling around the USA with his son H, who, I had previously been amazed to learn, is doing a HECS-funded exchange year in the USA whilst still receiving Austudy (or whatever it is called these days).  H and her husband, I, friends since university/high school days of E and R, were there also.  E, R, H and I have often travelled and holidayed together.  I believe that H and E talk to each other on a weekly basis by telephone for half and hour or so and have done so for more than 30 years.  

I was the youngest present by almost 20 years. 

L and G have taken a house in the Dordogne for a month in May 2009, and one of the topics of conversation was who would be interested in sharing this for all or part of that time. 

L, E and R also belong to a reading group.  The latest meeting was revisited and contributions by others to the group were subject to a degree of criticism.  H is also a great reader, and quite a lot of the conversation entailed what novels were being read and what was thought of them.  I was considered bitchy for the (rather wild) accusation that Mary Wesley was a “low brow Iris Murdoch” (a pretty inaccurate charge really, and based primarily on the general wealth and glamour of their characters, though Iris’s plots had greater philosophical pretensions). 

Edna O’Brien came in for consideration as well.  From this I think you can gather that novel reading is a bit of a chick thing in these circles.  I (a retired surgeon) reads mostly politics and non-fiction.

At one point, E, who has recently (and to me surprisingly) been received into the Roman Catholic church, joined me outside for a cigarette to avoid the fairly general antagonism to such matters being expressed inside.  One story on this topic involved L’s sister’s husband, who, after 25 years of marriage and 3 children (and a divorce), managed to have his marriage anulled in order to remarry in the church – notwithstanding the opposition of his (former) wife and adult children, who made their views known to the church authorities – including and up to Cardinal Pell (they are a well-connected family).  Just to put this in context, G (her absent husband) is an ex-Jesuit.

There was universal despising of John Howard.   

On Saturday, I dined chez K and S, in Arncliffe.  They are an “east-west” (or rice-potato)gay couple.  In fact, I introduced them – which so far (5 years on) appears, at least from the outside, to have been a success.  D was busy and did not come.  The other guests were A and P (another “east-west” couple).  P, originally from Indonesia, seemed vaguely familiar. I vaguely thought we must have met at K and S’s place before.  

Rh, who is currently conducting a long-distance relationship with a man in Singapore, arrive later.  Rh always seems to be in a long-distance relationship with someone – perhaps because he lives with his elderly parents.  He had spent a busy day working and then visiting his mother who is in hospital.  She has dementia and has, just to add to this, broken her thigh as a result of a fall in the hospital.  Apparently, she thinks of the nurses as waiters.  Another patient in the ward, who suffered a fall on the fourth floor of David Jones (my vision was of the Men’s store but on reflection I guess it was the Elizabeth Street store) still thinks she is in David Jones.

This dinner went for much longer than Thursday’s, and the topics of conversation ranged far wider.  Catholicism cropped up again, because Rh is a rather right-wing Catholic (he reads the Spectator and both Daily Telegraphs), and he is wondering whether he should, when the time comes, give his mother, born Catholic but lapsed to Anglicanism, an RC funeral.  Cherie Blair came in for a trashing, including her relationship with ER II.  I suspect from the conversation that most of us were working off The Queen for the bulk of our information on this.  

I think everyone present except me had been educated by the Catholics (though going to a private school in the 1970s, I was taught by my fair share of post-Vatican II former religious who were unable to work in the state school system because they lacked formal teaching qualifications.)

Work choices and claims of difficulty in hiring good sandwich hands (and firing bad ones) were another topic (Rh supports Howard on this). Managerialism and the public health system also came up for discussion.  Everyone was unenthusiastic about the Iraq intervention, which Rh put down to the iniquitous confluence of Zionism and evangelical fundamentalism in American foreign policy vis-a-vis Israel, and the influence of the Jews.  He also made claims about the racism (or otherwise) of Judaism (here opinions sharply differed).  There was also an excursus on whether Saddam Hussein, but for his end, was more like Edward I or Henry II.

Other topics included gyms (and gay gyms in particular) and the relative advantages of personal trainers, and some of the things which mortgage brokers get up to. 

Four novels were mentioned, but three of these only because Rh had heard about the TV adaptation of Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and the scene where Nick dances with Margaret Thatcher. This brought forth recollections of the steamy scenes in The Swimming Pool Library. Only I had read The Folding Star.  (I have also read The Spell but it didn’t rate a mention.)

There was keen anticipation of the return, tomorrow night, of Kath & Kim (“at 7.30 on 7”).

There was a little surprise just before the end of the evening, when P suddenly realised that we had met 8 or 9 years ago on Oxford Street.  Later he had met me again and I had given him a little legal help about a tenancy problem he had at the time.   I suspect rather more went on than that, and that my guilty memory has covered a bit of this up.  This was potentially not a little embarrassing.  I still don’t know if I treated him well or not, but he didn’t seem to bear me any grudge.  That was when the fourth novel or series of novels, Tales of the City, was referred tp.  Someone said to  K or S “You’re quite an Anna Madrigal.”  Once again, it could have been the TV seres.

Rh isn’t eligible to vote in this country, but even he was forced in the end to retreat to the position that Kevin Rudd was no better than John Howard.

On Sunday I went to dinner at Mx’s place, in Newtown.  Mx had gathered together a bunch of former colleagues for a kind of reunion.  J and A still work at the law firm where we all worked together, and had just returned from a group love-in (which was why J was in Sydney: she works in Perth).  P, A’s husband, was also there, as well as Ix, now retired from the law.  So that was 4 solicitors, a barrister (me) and a social-worker currently occupied as house-husband and father to a baby and a four-year-old.  Originally there were meant to be 10 of us, but D declined the invitation (he finds large gatherings of English speakers linguistically impenetrable, and wouldn’t have had much to contribute to the potential legal small talk), another young couple cancelled on the grounds of one of them  being ill, and M, Ix’s partner, had to catch a plane at some ungodly hour to Melbourne before flying to Perth for the rest of the week (all for work), and was also guarding his health in the face of some incipient symptoms.  As a result the six of us sat around a table which had the leaves extended for ten, and it felt just a little like the picture at the head of this post.

We talked about buying flats in Elizabeth Bay, old firm gossip (including the dire dinner at the group love-in and a recent judicial appointment in Victoria which none of us thought very much of), Mx’s anticipated new job (and how she landed it), Ix’s studies (he is retraining for a non-legal career), the various travels (Morroco, all sorts of places) of those present and absent partners.  Chris Meney’s spray in the SMH last week (the Catholic case for marriage to the exclusion of other unions) and the much-hated Cardinal Pell got a mention (both adverse), as did Kevin Rudd’s (forced) confession that he had visited a “gentlemen’s club” in New York in 2003.  John Howard didn’t rate a mention.  P related that he sees Hugh Jackman working out at his gym (he and A are the ones thinking of buying a second contiguous flat in Elizabeth Bay with a view to expanding into it when their 2 children get a little older), and that Jackman’s personal trainers make him work pretty hard.  I remembered just in time to remind D (who didn’t come) to tape Kath & Kim in my absence.  I won’t say (having since watched it) that was worth the trouble.

A certain amount of reciprocal entertainment will now be required, though I cannot even approach the culinary skills of E, S or Mx.

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