Regular readers kind enough to chortle at my restrained rage last week – you’ll remember that thoughtless family function guests, watermelons and guinea pigs were involved, but I don’t want to scratch that scab again if you don’t mind – have suggested that there are far more pressing problems facing anyone organising a decent-sized get-together these days.
The biggest headache, they say, is the clearing up.
It was ever thus, you might think, but no, they have a point.
Time was when you could fill the house with far-flung friends and relatives, ply them with drink and a goodly spread of cold cuts, and when they had all cleared off home it was a simple enough job to sweep the various leftovers and empties into the bin, jam the lid down and wait for the good offices of the local authority refuse disposal team to do their bit.
But that was then, and this is now.
There’s enough confusion and complication to furrow the brow in everyday sorting of the household rubbish – but when you suddenly have a mountain of extra detritus and a need to dispose of it, what to do?
Those little food caddies won’t cope with that stack of leftover pasta salad and all those chicken bones, will they?
The limited bin space provided for a fortnight’s worth of recycling just isn’t enough for all the bottles and cans generated by a Dee family congregation on a hot afternoon.
I think the only way to tackle the problem is to take inspiration from a throwaway line in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, penned more than 30 years ago by the far-sighted Douglas Adams.
He wrote about a planet with such a fragile ecosystem that all visitors were weighed on arrival. If, on departure, they were found to be heavier then the excess was surgically removed, but if they were lighter they had to take stuff away with them to maintain the delicate balance.
I’m afraid that’s how it should be at family gatherings from now on.
When you arrive, what you bring with you has to be checked in, whether it’s a six-pack of beer, a couple of bottles of wine, a quiche or a bumper bowl of mixed salad.
And when it’s time to take your leave, you don’t just get your coats – you commit to removing equivalent amounts of recyclable rubbish with you, as well as taking your fair share of any food which has proved surplus to requirements.
This, to my mind, has two distinct advantages. Not only would it mean that the host does not have to deal with a mountain of rubbish sorting and correct disposal, but should also ensure a far higher quality of contributed food and drink.
Who, after all, would bring an own-brand value range dessert if they knew that the niggardly scale of their offer would be clear to everyone present?