I'd stood outside my lounge window, looking in, and took a photo. It had seemed cosy enough.
Off to the left in the photo above was my conservatory, which tonight would be my dining room. There was a connecting door. I left it open, so that the warm air in the house could circulate. This was a sound idea: it proved unnecessary to turn on the electric heaters in the conservatory.
Jackie next door was already there: she had provided extra chairs, cutlery, glassware and her prepared nut roast, being of the vegetarian persuasion.
At 6.30pm exactly, the first guests arrived. Jo and her husband Clive; Valerie and her husband Mick. Big hugs all round in the kitchen!
The remaining guests, Sue and her husband Dave, arrived soon after. I managed to steer them into the lounge for gin and tonics and beer.
I should perhaps remark at this point that I grabbed shots as I had an odd moment in between my ongoing kitchen tasks. As a rule, nobody had time to pose, and I caught my victims wearing natural expressions that at times looked serious, even moody. It crossed my mind that (a) while everybody appreciated my willingness to buy and cook something different, there might be much less faith in my ability to deliver an edible meal; and (b) geese need carving, and the thought of being asked to do that was weighing on more than one mind...
Back in the kitchen, I was still inspecting the bird, the gammon ham, and the stuffing, and tending my improvised and simmering tomato-courgette-and-garlic wok-cooked side-dish. Jackie was popping in and out to make sure her nut roast was doing nicely.
Suddenly it was 7.00pm, and the goose was due to come out of the oven and rest. It looked OK, although I didn't really know, never having cooked one before. I placed it in my study, with a cover over it. Jo now took a turn in the kitchen, making little round toasty things to spread her salmon mousse starter upon.
Then it was time to get people to the table. We began to open the wine bottles.
Then it was time to carve the goose. 'Which of you men is going to do it?' I asked. None stepped forward. They prevaricated. I suppose they all felt that tackling the bird was likely to court disaster and possible humiliation. That goose was no turkey! Clive was the man who eventually agreed, after being assured that my carving knives were ultra sharp. (Brave fellow, we all must have thought. I certainly did. Thankfully, nobody suggested that I might do it. I was the cook. I'd done my bit)
Well, Clive set to in admirable fashion. And believe me, that goose needed careful handling. I gazed on in trepidation. Would the first slices be properly cooked?
Yes - definitely OK! Phew....
While Clive carried on, I adjourned to the kitchen with Jackie and Valerie. Time to put the cooked vegetables in dishes and onto the table. But also time to see how the gammon ham had turned out. This was another vital component of my Goose Dinner, a meat backup, in case (as was all too likely) even a big goose wouldn't provide enough for seven (thankfully not eight: Jackie was having her nut roast).
Hmmm...it looked all right on the outside. Valerie started carving it...
Quel relief! Back to the table then! Surely we must each have felt like a conspirator, making it all up as we went along. But the meal was coming together. Clive was making manful progress with the goose, aided by Jo.
But for a bird of its size and weight - and cost - there really wasn't an awful lot of meat on it. All seven meat-eaters did indeed have a couple of very decent slices, but there wouldn't be anything left over, and I wouldn't be enjoying any cold goose meat next day. Still, there was plenty of gammon ham to add. (In fact, after the Dinner, half the ham was left - and I did enjoy that, cold and sliced, over the next two days) Jackie made gravy two-handed...clever...
And then we all settled down to toast each other, and to eat.
Dear me! Everyone was concentrating on the food, and not on smiling inanely for the camera!
This was my own plate.
It wasn't the most artistically presented meal there had ever been - but hey, it was hot and tasty, and on a trendy square dinner plate!
Valerie eventually served up her yummy apple and mincemeat tart for dessert.
All in all, everyone ate and drank sufficiently and had a good time. We all knew each other well, and I'm sure plenty of allowances were made for the things I hadn't thought to serve or provide. I make no pretence at being the perfect hostess. But thanks to my fabulous friends, and the help they gave, it went rather well. Afterwards I was congratulated on my small part in the affair - cooking the goose, entirely without assistance. My home-made stuffing had been a big hit too. And the gammon ham had been considered perfection itself, but I was quick to rebuff that praise by explaining that I had followed Clive's advice to add half an hour to Waitrose's recommended cooking time.
A few days later, over at Jo and Clive's on Christmas Eve, I discussed the economics of that goose quietly with Clive. They didn't add up. £84 for so little cooked meat, however succulent...no wonder so few people ever bought one! I said I wouldn't do it again, but it had been well worth the experience. And I had so wanted to take my overdue turn at entertaining! Well, job done.