Wheaton’s Way

Wanna throw a party? Learn from the master.

Throwing a party can be a lot of fun. It can also be extremely stressful, if you take on too much and allow preparations to spin out of control.

Of course, my habits fall into the latter category, otherwise why would I be writing about the subject this week?

When my best friend Lynne and I scouted our present dwelling last year, one of its biggest draws was that the layout officially categorised it as a ‘party house’. I would hate to admit that it was the deciding factor in us moving in – knowing that we could finally become the cool-kids-on-the-block – so I won’t. It was the bidet in the master bathroom – honest.

At our previous residence, six people in the living room would have broken every one of Boris Johnson’s present social-distancing rules. Therefore, the only place to hold soirees was the back garden. The sun shone mercilessly down until about 5:30pm, when it dipped behind the trees, and then the mosquitoes would come out to play. There was also the rain factor.

So, basically, we could use the garden for about two months of the year – that was the sweet spot – otherwise, it was pretty intolerable. Naturally, that didn’t stop me from buying endless patio furniture that slowly sat and rotted, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s just say the vision and the reality were two different things.

Now, we have a large, air-conditioned room to play with and I have finally installed my dream bar (see: ‘cool kids’).

With no one able to travel for months, starting with a long period of lockdown, it seemed time for us to plan a few functions at Chez Vicki and Lynne.

Mercifully, I had learned a few lessons over the years. The first (and most important one) is: get help.

In my early days of entertaining, I thought I could do it all. I bought the groceries, set up the bar, and ran back and forth, serving people constantly. By the time we had bade the last guest fare-thee-well, my feet were screaming and my lower back felt like someone had been relentlessly beating it for hours with a large, green coconut.

Emily Post would have wept at my appearance. No elegant hostess was I (“More tea, vicar?”). Clad in sweat-drenched clothes with bedraggled hair clinging to my forehead, I looked not unlike a plane crash survivor who had finally found civilisation after crawling through the bush for days.

The grocery bill was always eyewatering, and with no experience in catering, I had completely overbought. The fridge and cupboards were crammed with leftovers for a week. Here’s another tip: do not try to save white bread sandwiches.

I recall, for one brunch, I was determined to create a proper Bloody Mary/Caesar station. I arranged everything beautifully, with every garnish imaginable on the table. I was going to put The Cheesecake Factory out of business.

Four hours later, the onions, olives, celery, horseradish and tomato juice were getting more action from the flies than guests, and the shrimp were salmonella-warm. Note to self: never again.

These days, I get the professionals in. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just tasty and blessedly easy. Caterers know their business, in that you can tell them how many guests you’re expecting and they can estimate how much food you’ll need. I’ve actually saved money going this route because when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll buy 200 chicken wings to serve 10 people.

I also hire a bartender for the evening. Francoise ‘Frenchie’ Minzett has become my lifesaver since I realised that mixing anything beyond a rum and coke was above my pay grade.

Many’s the time she’s shown up at my house as I’m buzzing around like a bottled fly, subsequently telling me to take a breath as she calmly slices up limes and lemons. She has two rules. I am not allowed to have plastic straws in the house and she refuses to open the jars of maraschino cherries I faithfully put on the bar every time. “NEV-air!” is the default opinion.

Love that woman.

The only thing I still have to master is my timing when preparing to greet guests.

Three parties ago, I was in the shower when the door knocker went. That ended up being a no-makeup night.

Two parties ago, I made it out just in time, but that’s only because I gave up trying to colour my hair for the occasion.

For the last party, I sent out the email invitations, and one of the first questions was whether there was a dress code or a theme.

Another invitee quickly replied (as a joke, I assure you) that it was a bondage theme.

Everyone in the email thread LOL’d heartily, and no more was said.

In the meantime, a plan hatched in my tiny brain. I would dress up for that theme and surprise people at the door. I had a PVC coat, could wear my snake-print swimsuit, go bonkers with the eyeshadow and lipstick, and pull on those suede, thigh-high boots I hadn’t worn since 2004.

Well, in the lead-up to the evening, I was harried as ever. The clock was ticking, but I was determined to get into that outfit. I put the makeup on first, apparently so I could immediately sweat it off as I wrenched the swimsuit past my thighs (still more Weight Watchers to go, Wheaton).

The PVC coat resisted me a little, but I got it on. And now, for the piece de resistance – the boots.

In my enthusiasm, I had forgotten that when one gains weight over the years, one’s calves do not escape the expansion.

I cajoled, dragged, twisted and yanked the first boot up the bottom of my left leg, as my perfectly applied face started to run down my chin. By the time I managed to get one foot properly in the shoe part, the thigh portion of this constrictive instrument of torture was firmly jammed at my knee, leaving me with a bulging zip and folds of material at the ankle. Nothing sexier than cankles.

There were 10 minutes left before official start time, and suddenly I heard a knock at the door. Ugh – people were early.

At that moment, I gave up on the Frankenfurter entrance, and hopped around the room, trying to extricate myself from the clinging boot in which I found myself trapped. The cat, crouching, leaping and swiping for this fun game, added an element of excitement.

Off came the coat and the swimsuit and into a comfortable two-piece I jumped. No time to fix the makeup. It was an interesting combination.

Final lesson for throwing a party: If you go with a bondage theme, make sure everything fits or get some Vaseline.

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