Stephen and I talk a lot about the positive aspects of living with either set of our parents and do our best to either work round or ignore the bad stuff - none of it is forever, after all. We've started to refer to "our town house" (Stephen's folks' place) and "our country residence" (my folks' place), although neither of us goes by Earnest, wherever we are. Quite unexpectedly, apart from the company of Stephen's parents and the poodles, one thing I really love about life at our town house is saying Grace at mealtimes.
Everyone sits down together, the room falls quiet, someone thanks God for the meal and everyone begins to eat at the same time.
Mealtimes are very different at our country estate. At my folks' house, you're summoned to the table a full ten minutes before being presented with food, then seconds later asked why you haven't started because it's going to get cold, even though nobody else has sat down yet, there are phone-calls and political debates going on and at least one person rollerskating around the dining table, if not an entire conga line. If you're the one to have prepared a meal, then you have to give several verbal warnings that it's almost ready before physically shepherding everyone into place ready to eat it.
It's not that I find the chaos irritating, I just can't cope with the stimulation. My digestive system requires at least some degree of peace and stillness in order to concentrate on the task at hand, let alone what I need to taste and actually enjoy my food.
And I do enjoy my food and am very grateful that I can. These days, I have a healthy appetite and always seem to have lovely tasty and healthy things to eat. I've had periods of my life when, due to all kinds of reasons, food has had little potential beyond fuel. So I'm grateful for my good fortune, that I get to break bread with people I love and everything is all right. And of course, together with music and love-making, food provides a rare opportunity to snatch some sensory delight from a body that rarely musters comfortable.
So Grace works for me and I've been trying to think up a secular version. After one big family Christmas years ago, a cranky aunt complained of Grace, "Typical that they should all thank God, a man, for their dinner, when nobody has a word of thanks for the woman who's been slaving away in the kitchen all morning."
In our families, there are always thanks for whoever cooked, and indeed anyone else who contributed to the meal, but maybe a formalised version of that is the way to go?
Once everyone is settled at the table with food in front of them, one person says, "Thank you to A, who cooked the dinner and B who peeled the sprouts."
and instead of "Amen," the remaining company say, "And thank you, C, for laying the table. "
Something like that. Not, I hasten to add, that my gratitude ends at the people I'm eating with. All kinds of good fortune conspire to provide me with good food and company in a warm house. But it's a start.