Opinion Robert McNeil: Venting about vol au vents and the hell of house parties

HOW confusing to read the latest hot news that sales of vol au vents have risen at a time when house parties are being discouraged, or even banned (I’m far too busy to keep up with the latest regulations).

I should say the 25 per cent rise in sales, and indeed selling out of the controversial comestible online, has taken place at Waitrose, the sort of place that would attract the “dinner party” type. The sales have occurred throughout the year, though we assume that, latterly, they’ve also been for family-only Christmas parties, which my researchers tell me are allowed as long as no one talks or wears a paper hat.

Before I think of – I mean come to – the substance of my argument, we note that vol au vent is French for “flight of wind”, referring not to meteorological phenomena erupting trouser-side, but to the wispy snack’s light puff-pastry case.

The v au v blew into Britain in the 1970s, the era of Abigail’s Party, Mike Leigh’s masterful play satirising the aspirational tastes of the new suburban middle class which flourished in that grim decade.

It’s thought nostalgia lies behind the rejuvenated fad, but clearly there’s also been miscalculation. How sad, in an amusing way, to picture the new Abigail drowning her sorrows in Liebfraumilch as no one has come to her party because of the latest Covid directive.

However, the vol au vent revelations got me to thinking – here it comes, folks – about why people held house parties at all. Nobody likes them. These awful invitation cards were always as welcome as envelopes marked Inland Revenue or NHS.

Wedding invitations were just as bad. Why not hold your nuptials in private? Why make such a big deal of it? And don’t get me started on kilts.

At least kilts aren’t normal at house parties. Nothing is normal at house parties. Seriously, who enjoys these? Presumably, it’s the sort of person who shouts “Party!” in an uproarious tone, someone related to the individual who says “Enjoy!” in a sinuous, sybaritic tone, which I find inappropriate on being handed my fish supper.

Folk – usually including the hosts, bizarrely enough – are always glad to get parties over with, Relief is palpable that there wasn’t a fist fight between the women and no one vomited in the goldfish bowl. Today, when everyone is a political philosopher, it’d be hard to avoid rows about Brexit, independence or gentlemen dressing up as ladies. Fingers are pointed, voiced are raised, someone gets a vol au vent in the face. Disgraceful, all of it.

Driving us daft

I’M not really a car person, not a natural driver, though I am a polite one, never driving up another car’s bumper, always giving cyclists plenty of space.

I can’t reverse one yard in a straight line, and would particularly love to do it using that man-dad thing of putting my arm across the front seats and looking back round through my rear window. Apparently, women find that right sexy and want those who can do it to father their children. Funny old world.

I witter in the wake of Tory junior transport minister Trudy Harrison saying that owning a car was outdated “20th century thinking” and calling for “shared mobility” to cut carbon emissions. A Tory minister calling for an end to private transport!

During the many years when I lacked a car, I’d have sympathised with this. Now that I own one, I’m not so sure. Recently, I was on a train for the first time in ages and found the experience … disturbing. Other people – brrr!

But one wants to do one’s bit for the environment, ken? I’ve argued before, dispassionately and unconvincingly, for a massive increase in bus services in rural areas, where they’re negligible at present. Even I’d use these, provided I got six seats to myself.

More widely, cycling was once thought the answer, until its debilitating effects on the personality were realised. It’s fair to say, however, that scientists are still trying to discern whether you have to be demented to become a cyclist or whether becoming a cyclist makes you demented.

In the latest jargon, cycling is also “classist”, as sociologists estimate the number of working class pedallers in Britain at three. No, there must be an answer for all, not just bourgeois fitness supremacists.

On closer reading, I see Ms Harrison doesn’t mean necessarily sharing a car in person, but sharing the ownership, and booking slots to use the vehicle. This already exists in embryo, but hasn’t caught on as widely as hoped.

I guess folks like to personalise their cars, make a mess in them and give them pet names like Sir Anthony Eden or Sir Harold Macmillan, unless that’s just me.

In the past, futurists envisaged pods on overhead rails, but I couldn’t see a national network of these taking off, particularly in the country.

Ultimately, the answer will come from a new form of electricity, created by sub-atomic wibble voodoo, or rubbing two sticks together. At any rate, I am confident that, by the time it is too late, we’ll have thought of something.

Five things we learned this week

Scammer grammar

The latest scary spam doing the rounds says your Netflix subscription has failed, and that billing details associated with your account may have expired “or was otherwise changed”. Hmm, not sure about the grammar there, but it looks all official like. Uh-oh, wait a minute, the message is headed as coming from … “Netlix”. Sloppy.

Day of the jackals

Jackals are heading towards Britain, in a massive land invasion that has seen them appear already in France, Norway and Austria. Like smaller versions of the vicious, wicked-faced Wargs in the Holy Bible – sorry, Lord of the Rings – they attack people, cattle anything. Still, not to worry.

Low blow

Sales of low-alcohol drinks have soared and are set to suck joy from many Christmas dinner tables this year. The Grocer magazine says Gordon’s 0.0 gin made sales of £5.58m in its first year. However, top topers say this is because the bottle looks like the proper one, suggesting many of these sales are accidental.

Thinking big

As is the case every week, scientists could be on the brink of understanding the Big Bang. A massive space observatory is being blootered into ooter space with the aim of looking back in time to … the beginning. Let’s hope it doesn’t all end in tears, with the discovery of the Big Damp Squib.

Cape fear

Superheroes face a miserable old age, Spiderman through lack of sleep, the Hulk with heart problems caused by rage, Iron Man through heavy drinking. That’s before we consider injuries incurred in action. The University of Queensland study also noted deafness caused by explosions. Don’t be a superhero, folks. Step away from the cape.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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