“This can’t be just shagging – a mini-break means true love.” So wrote Bridget Jones (or rather Helen Fielding) in her titular diary, on the cusp of her first “full-blown mini-break holiday weekend” away with roguish boss Daniel Cleaver. And, subsequent plot developments aside, fair enough: the first time you go away with each other is a big deal. Like getting a puppy before kids, or co-renting before a mortgage, it’s one of the very first toes in the commitment water. But while you may not have the pectorals of Hugh Grant’s Cleaver to Renée Zellweger’s Jones, nor the vintage Mercedes drop-top or even the budget for a weekend at Stoke Park, you can at least plan things smoothly and not fall into the boating lake. For a start, keep it spontaneous, run away and don’t tell anyone. Safety reasons aside (probably best someone knows if you’re going wilderness camping) there’s no greater feeling of togetherness when nobody else knows. Secondly, dropping her a “pick you up 5pm Friday, pack something skimpy ;-)” text message before springing a surprise is all very debonair, but it can be fun organising something together. It’s a great way to learn more about your partner, and it avoids the pitfall of taking her somewhere from your past, rather than sharing a new discovery. (If you do insist on surprising her however, ‘something skimpy’ simply won’t cut it – hell hath no fury like a woman realising she’s packed insufficiently). Finally, as cheesy as it might seem, make sure you organise a Saturday-afternoon activity – preferably after a long pub lunch. Getting silly and then horribly lost around a toy museum is what the grandkids really want to hear about.
Prawn cocktail starters, Demis Roussos playing in the background, car keys in a big bowl… The Seventies have a lot to answer for when it comes to domestic soirées. But it needn’t be all Abigail’s Party, or Come Dine With Me for that matter. The middle classes are destined to sup together, at home, in unusually formal clothing, for all eternity – so accept the fact, send that invite to Phoebe and Marcus and book the babysitter. But then what? Food first of course, and make damn sure it’s something you can cook, preferably well. Shop for everything the day before (for there will be emergency runs on the day of) and keep your menu simple and two-course – a salad to season immediately before serving (yes, prawn cocktail is fashionable again), then a main that cooks low and slow like a spiced pork shoulder, which also ensures your place will smell amazing when guests trickle in. This means you’ll be calm and entertaining upon arrival, rather than brandishing knives in a soiled apron. The only thing you need do after guests arrive is dress, toss, carve and plonk on the table. Let guests help themselves – this will encourage chat and break the ice. (Speaking of which: stock the freezer with plenty of it.) And always buy in too much wine – there’s nothing more embarrassing than that a late night dash to Tesco Express for two more lukewarm bottles of sauvignon. As for the music? Release your inner DJ and go with the vibe – but stick to full albums, and start with something upbeat and instrumental, like St Germain, Röyksopp, or anything mixed by Gilles Peterson. The modern-day Sadé in other words. You smooth operator!