John Self, asks an interesting question about what we expect when someone invites us round. "Once you're invited, what kind of hospitality is ideal?"
I guess we all have our own ideas about what makes for an enjoyable evening and what doesn't. I've been to a few agonisingly tedious get-togethers in my time but also plenty of witty, exhilarating ones I had to drag myself away from. So what's the difference, I wonder? Here's a few suggestions for the ideal formula:
1) A relaxed, informal atmosphere. As opposed to that uncomfortable feeling that the place has been specially cleaned and tidied, there'll be a big frost if you accidentally spill wine on the priceless Persian rug, and too many subjects are taboo in case they embarrass or offend the assembled company.
2) Original ideas and witty comments. As opposed to hours and hours of banal, predictable, deadpan conversation about property prices, childcare, the weather, holiday cottages and the price of heating oil.
3) Disarming personal confessions. There's nothing so riveting and touching as someone unexpectedly revealing that they get awful panic attacks, or they're terrified of the dark, or they used to go shoplifting, or they talk to themselves.
4) The other guests being genuinely intrigued by my own life and interests. As opposed to asking me a few polite, indifferent questions and then continuing to hold forth about themselves. Or ignoring me completely while finding someone else utterly fascinating.
5) Following from 4, an absence of those self-absorbed individuals who find their own lives totally mesmerising and could talk about themselves till dawn the next morning unless you forcefully shut them up or show them the door. If allowed a free run, they kill the conversation stone dead.
6) Positive, optimistic people who enjoy their lives. As opposed to the permanently-depressed moaners and whingers who never stop complaining about their bad luck, their overwhelming problems and burdens, and how everyone else is sabotaging them and undermining them.
It's not often that these things come together and you go home feeling quite deliriously entertained and inspired. But it does happen sometimes. And when it does, it's worth all the dreary, interminable occasions that preceded it.