Shirley Harring

writer, farmer advocate, madwoman

Coffee Drinker

May 26, 2008

When I first was married, I didn’t have much. We didn’t have much. I was extremely naive in the ways of the world, and made it my mission in life to improve myself and become knowledgeable in social niceties. I envied the security, the comfort – the mysterious, glamorous life that other people seemed to lead.

I craved normality.

When we -first husband and I – moved into our own home, married away from home at the tender age of 20, I decided to host a dinner party. This was my chance to prove I had found myself, I was no longer the child of a dysfunctional home, I was an adult. I had MADE IT. See what I am capable of?

See Jane run. Run Jane, run.

I was so sophisticated, you know. I had it all planned out, organised to the last detail. The table was set beautifully, with cloth and candle, place mats of cork. Reflections from the apricot taper candle flame dancing on the crystal candlesticks. I used our sophisticated wedding gifts – Bohemia Crystal champagne glasses, Rodd silverware, Pottery House pottery dishes. Dried flowers, the centerpiece magnifique. The eighties were so tasteful, weren’t they?

The guests arrived, some with gifts, as is often the case. A potted plant – devils ivy, to climb up the brass planter pole in the lounge room. (Living rooms were not an Australian term back then – at least not for Western Australians). A bottle of Matteus Rose, a bunch of dried roses in a cane basket or apricot raffia swag. The Travelling Wibury’s LP. Oh yes, my friends had class.

The food, I believed, was divine. I had worked all day. Shopped all week, stressed all month. The cheese ball served in a warm Cobb loaf. The pineapple cubes and red cocktail onions on sticks. The cucumber soup, chilled to the right degree, to be spooned from the outer edge (I am a slave to etiquette). The main course, chicken with Camembert cheese, sunbeam fry panned to perfection with a salad served in an arcoroc bowl with matching side plates. I probably used the arcoroc punchbowl too.

The dessert, a home made black forest cake. Arcoroc plates, cake forks.

And my very, very sophisticated finish, The coffee, spooned into my brand new PYREX percolator set to brew with love and fill the house with the smell of comfort, a successful relationship, a FUNCTIONAL, normal home with normal people enjoying a normal meal. With coffee that was not a nescafe moment.

I retired to await the coffee with the smugness of one who has provided the ultimate in fine dining, food and service. The hostess with the mostest. Proof that one can rise above their perceived social standing attributed at birth.

After a while, I went to check on my beloved. The water dripped clear. Where was my anticipated, rich, brown aroma of ferking, percking coffee? Where was the divine looking caffeine fix, the ultimate ending to the ultimate dinner? WHERE WAS THE LOVE, DAMMIT?

I returned to my guests, forlorn. I was to inform them of the news. There was something wrong with the coffee percolator. I am so sorry. For all my personal perfection, I could not control the machine. PYREX would hear from me. Ohhh yes, indeed. Their fault had cost me my pride, my dinner party was ruined. I was devastated. I was outraged. I was shamed.

A guest went to check.

I heard a peal of laughter from the kitchen, followed by a second peal in the dining room. Dare I listen? Softly a guest whispered in my ear.

No one told me you had to grind the effing beans first.


  1. Too funny!

    I never drank coffee until probably my 30s. Now I have my morning ritual. And yes. I grind my own beans.

  2. Alice, that’s priceless.

    And I’m a hardcore coffee drinker.

  3. Hillarious! At least you knew what coffee beans were. At that stage I thought coffee only came in a jar which said “NesCafe Blend 43”. Soon I was to discover the poshest of all coffees – Maccona.

  4. I went to a dinner party when I was a student. The host, a charming young man, decided to impress by making fruit salad with KIWI fruit. In those days they were very rare and unusual. I was impressed – but mainly by the fact that he thought we would eat it with the hairy skin on.

  5. Oh Alice – what a riot! I’m sure we all have horrendous stories about our early dinner parties. I remember one stir-fry …

    (And hey, Alice c … you really can eat the hairy skin of a kiwi fruit!)

  6. yes Lesley, but would you WANT to?

    Oh Alice – and it sounded so beautiful, too!!!

    Some times you just gotta laugh.

  7. debby,m,
    I still do not drink coffee – ever. Yet I love the smell. M, I remember when Moccona was new, it was considered so posh, for sure.

    Hi anja, nice to see you :0

    alice c,
    Like leslie, I knew you could eat skin, but like jeanie – who’d want to?

    Lucky I am used to feeling foolish :)

  8. I think we all have some funny Dinner Party stories. Once my mother dropped the entire chicken out of the roasting pan, onto the floor. No one but me saw what happened & I told her to scoop it back & say nothing. It was delicious. She had no pets, & her floor was always spotless.

  9. I remember dinner parties in the 80´s. All the trouble we went to with exotic things. things have changed now. Couldn´t be bothered with all the fuss. Good BBQ is so much better. Re coffee. I usually just give more wine……. In those days, it was definitely Moccona, but as I drink coffee black, I forget about milk in coffee drinkers and never have any.Lovely story.

  10. This story is very funny…except the title has cause me to now have an incredibly irritating song stuck in my head – one that we used to sing at primary school. It went, “All I want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffee pot…” It will be stuck here for days…

  11. LOL. Don’t feel too bad. The first time I used fresh garlic I learned the hard way what a clove was. I’d used the whole head. Lesson learned, but at the expense of some incredibly polite guests.

    And I remember those first dinner parties. I worked so hard at them I was often too tired to enjoy my guests. At some point after I started having kids, I learned that the people who came to see me would rather have me happy and relaxed and eat simpler food.

  12. meggie, the story of your mother and the chicken cracked me up. Heh, too funny, I can just see it happening, too!

    ingrid, I am with you these days, a nice laid back BBQ any day, especially outdoors. But in the 80s, I was young and so clueless… errr…. sophisticated…

    sorry about the jingle, fairlie. I remember that rhyme. Do you remember the commercial that this post was named after?

    mary – I love garlic, and would probably have happiky eaten your dish with no complaints at all. Sounds like you had similar dinner parties to me, back in ‘those’ days… :)

  13. Awwww. So adorable. It sounds as if you really aced it except for the coffee. I would have liked to be there.

    I remember my first married dinner party, too. I started to tell you about it but it was much too long for comments.

  14. hisfs, tell me anyway. Or post about it. I’d love to read it.

    I cannot imagine even doingthat menu these days. It was a true 80’s meal, oh yes!

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