I make mini mix-ups all the time (although I usually call them f*ck-ups). I’ll go shopping and realise I left my bank card at home. I’ll forget the word for aquarium and call it a water zoo. I’ll arrive somewhere early (or, more likely, very late) because I heard a different time. For about a year I called someone by the name of their dog, and the dog by the name of their someone. But I never normally f*ck up in a serious way, and I guess this is partly why I never learn, and why I keep messing up. It’s a character trait that has gotten me into a lot of mildly inconvenient situations. But one time, it led to me meeting someone who would become one of my greatest friends.
We’ve all been invited to something that we can’t politely get out of, and also really don’t want to go to. On this particular occasion, I had been invited to dinner at someone’s house, but from the moment she (let’s call her Mary) referred to the meal as ‘dins’ I knew I wasn’t going to have a good time. Ever the polite and practiced hostess, she must have noticed the slight change in my facial features, and how they had instantly become stale. ‘You have to come! It will be so much fun!’ She said, trying to reassure me. ‘It’s always such a laugh, and my boyfriend cooks, so the only thing we’ll be eating is cheese!’
Now, whilst I might be bad at social situations, I am really good at cheese. Unlike her boyfriend, it might not be the only thing I eat, but there was a fancy cheese shop round the corner from where I was living, so I doubled down on my decision to go, and I even promised to bring a starter.
Fast forward to the day of the dins, and I was not having a good time. I didn’t live anywhere close to Mary’s flat, so I took the cheese with me to work. Unfortunately, the only place I could keep it was in the one, very small, very communal fridge, and I was extremely unsuccessful at hiding the smell of it. From memory, the aptly named Minger was particularly pungent. But it would all be worth it when I arrived, and uncovered the smelliest of artisanal cheeses to rapturous applause.
However, when I got there, entering the living room with a high-wattage smile, I noticed many things. Homemade focaccia. Grapes. Dried apricots. A selection of sliced meats. Chili nuts. Sweet potato falafel. Deep fried tofu with peanut sauce. Chicken skewers. Very mini quiches, each containing one tiny asparagus tip.
But what I didn’t notice was any cheese.
I looked at Mary, and asked for clarification. ‘Oh, no.’ Her eyes frowned, and her forehead remained smooth. ‘The only thing we won’t be eating is cheese.’ She nodded towards someone who I quickly realised must be her boyfriend. ‘Freddie doesn’t eat cheese. Can’t stand the smell.’
At this point, I hugged the bag to me, hoping to mask both my faux-pas and the scent. I was about to make up a terrible excuse and leave, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone who must’ve just come out of the bathroom. She was looking around the room as though it might be booby trapped, all the while drying her hands very unceremoniously on the front of her light grey dress, making it look as though she had completely missed the loo. In that moment I decided to stay for her, and I am so glad that I did.
The dinner was actually quite enjoyable, although I have never been invited back. Even Freddie had a good time once the cheese had been locked away in two airtight containers. But the best part of the whole evening was tucking into the cheese on a bench on the way home with my new best friend and mutual-saviour, Sara. As we ate the cheese we laughed and talked about books and friends and boys and jobs and dreams and worries. To this day we have an annual cheese and wine night in memory of our meeting. We still laugh, and we still talk about books and friends and boys and jobs and dreams and worries, and it is one of my most favourite nights of the year.
The Mix-Up by Holly McCulloch is available now.
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