When I remember that evening now, it seems to me that the adults were far noisier and more badly behaved than the children. I can see them all, Uncle Nick sitting very close to Alex, Aunt Sarah frowning at them. Alex’s kind husband Charles was trying to make my aunt laugh and when that didn’t work, he made his napkin into a puppet to nip Sam’s ears and fingers. My mother looked elegant but anxious and my father poured drinks frequently.
“I told you there wouldn’t be many takers for bunnikins, Caroline,” my father laughed, as yet another plate of her Elizabethan Rabbit was declined.
“Of course you’re always right, David,” she sighed, passing plates of the simple chicken dish she had prepared as an alternative down the table.
By the time the main courses had been served, my mother no longer seemed to care that only half her carefully cooked food had been eaten. As the dinner progressed, the conversation became louder and the jokes more raucous, allowing us children in our sober states to observe the increasingly bad behaviour of our elders and betters. Most of the guests were laughing and joking with growing volume, but my mother’s artist friend Helen Grant was very quiet in her modest grey dress and her husband Simon was swigging his wine in large gulps, his brows heavy with an everlasting frown.
“You know what they call these in Italy,” Nick suddenly shouted above the hubbub at the table, as he held out the little chocolate biscuit topping his portion of the Olde English Trifle. “They call these little darlings the nipples of Venus.” He licked the cream from the biscuit with his fleshy tongue and wiggled his bushy eyebrows.
“Nick, you’re just dreadful, and you’re embarrassing Caroline,” Aunt Sarah said, sitting very straight in her stiff high-necked green velvet. She always seemed to be telling him off, I remember.
“I’m not embarrassing you, am I Caro?” Nick appealed to my mother and reached out for her hips as she passed by him in her backless satin dress. “I’m just showing my appreciation of all your efforts tonight,” and he patted her curves as she glided past.
“If I’d known you were going to be so childish Nick, I’d have put smarties on your portion.” My mother looked annoyed, the way she did when we all ran in from the garden with muddy boots.
“Touche,” cried Charles, laughing and waving his napkin. “But give me nipples any day!” He winked at his wife Alex across the table and she pouted at him with her full red lips and licked the cream from her spoon.
“Charles, honestly, you and Nick are just dreadfully naughty.” Alex giggled, resting her full breasts on the edge of the table. She too was drinking her wine rapidly. I could see Simon Grant sitting opposite her. He was still frowning but his eyes were on her bosom, oblivious to his wife Helen, who was trying to draw his attention to the dessert wine my father was offering.
Next to Alex, Nick leant across, cupping his hand over his mouth as he whispered into her ear. That produced shrieks of mirth which raised an eyebrow from Sarah and a sigh from my mother, who chose that moment to make her announcement.
She stood up at the dinner table and clapped her hands, then declared, “Now darlings, listen, I have another surprise for you all.” She looked around at the half-eaten desserts, the crumpled napkins and the flickering candles, waiting until she was sure she had everybody’s attention. “I think this is probably the right time, before everyone gets even sillier, to tell you that I am going to ask you all to make a little contribution to our millennium celebrations. Nothing too serious, I can assure you,” she laughed. “Just a little idea I’ve had to mark this significant date.”
to be continued