Progressive suppers can be eventful as Rupert Bridgwater found out when he knocked on the wrong door

We once went to the wrong dinner party. It was on a progressive supper where you set off in search of your meal at a house you’ve never been to. We found the right road but being dark the numbers were hard to spot. Ah… this one looked like it. There were balloons tied to the garden gate and lights beamed out of the front windows where early guests were sipping wine. Laughter rang out as we rang the bell and were welcomed in by the hostess who I failed to recognise and so took to be one of the host’s friends. Was it Sue or was it Beth, or someone else? Anyway we entered.
Glasses of wine were pressed into our hands as we were ushered into the drawing room and we were quickly engaged in conversation about whether Val-d’Isère is a better French ski resort than Les Menuires with a group of well-groomed young people who we didn’t know.
Hang on I thought, I’ve never been skiing, and I’ve no idea which is the best place to go off piste or where you can get a decent glass of Genepi in Ischgl. Something was wrong. There seemed no hurry to sit down to our main course and there were far too many people here anyway as more and more people flooded into the spacious room lit with chandeliers. Courses on a progressive supper are usually devoured by eight people not 32.
“So where are you going for your dessert?” I ventured to the skiers. Blank looks. “You know,” I persisted, “the progressive supper?” The question hung in the air. It went quiet.
Something’s not right
My wife whispered in my ear. “It’s the wrong house, we’d better leave.” And we did.
It was the night of the progressive supper in the town where we lived at the time and we’d gate crashed the wrong do. Well it was dark and on a progressive supper anything can happen.
Misunderstandings, mad moments and amazing food. An evening where a community’s population looks like they are off to the opera or a cocktail party. Charity shops are raided for old dinner jackets last worn by Governor Generals of former colonies and ball gowns not worn since 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down are squeezed into – all in aid of an annual fund raising for local charities – and chance for a bit of snooping around the homes of strangers.
Wikipedia neatly describes it as: “… a dinner party with successive courses prepared and eaten at the residences of different hosts…” and, “…this involves the consumption of one course at each location. Involving travel…” At the start of the evening names and addresses are drawn from a hat to discover where you will be dining. Most people provide one course at their home, so at least they know where they will be for that part of the evening: it’s a starter, main or a sweet. But they don’t know who will be knocking at their door for the course they provide or who they will sit next to them at the other courses.
The unexpected and unpredictable can happen with the really odd events that stick in the memory. Like the time when two dinner guests at our home insisted on arm wrestling each other to prove who was the hardest worker. A mechanic, or a helicopter factory worker? A piece of male logic that even I couldn’t follow. The old mechanic won. Then there was the woman who came to our house and went to the loo. Forty minutes later she hadn’t come out. She was in labour. And there was the female guest who earlier had fallen into a river. She had climbed out of a taxi and fell into the water. Or the two neighbours who’d exchanged solicitors’ letters over a boundary wall who found themselves sat opposite each at the dinner table.
With unknown guests coming to visit the progressive supper prompts a mad cleaning of downstairs loos, vacuuming hallways and stairs, and the polishing of kitchens. I’ve know some people to complete entire DIY projects ahead of the evening rather than be shamed into strangers seeing their half painted lounge or incomplete built in wardrobes.
With only an hour to eat each course there’s an element of speed socialising involved – or perhaps speed conversations. Niceties are quickly dispensed with and rather than beat about the bush I’ve known guests to launch straight into questions such as the intrusive: “how often do you have sex?” the contentious, “How much is your house worth?” And the insulting: “Why did you paint your house purple?” OK, the sex one I’ve made up. But with the food, the drink, the shortage of time, there’s one thing that can be guaranteed – you’ll forget everyone’s name and end up saying the next day something like, “we had the starter at a couple called… er… I think he was called Billy… and she was called Cuddles… or was that their cat?”
And then of course there’s the food. Few will skimp on quality or quantity – indeed some of the best food I’ve had has been on a progressive supper. It’s Come Dine With Me times 24 with everyone pulling out all the stops – determined that you will enjoy their cuisine. As long as you don’t call at the wrong address or go into labour, progressive suppers will be a night to remember – unless you fall in a river.

Axbridge Progressive Supper is on Saturday, November 18, 2017. To take part and book a place visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/axbridge-progressive-supper-tickets-28231289547 or visit their Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/AxbridgeProgressive/?fref=ts
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