Ireland, 1987, when we adored Le Piat D’Or

Hilary Fannin: A dinner with old friends led me to reflect on past and current concerns

‘I wondered if I too might have a life of air-kissing and candlelight and tinkling laughter over the vin de table.’ File photograph: Getty Images

‘I wondered if I too might have a life of air-kissing and candlelight and tinkling laughter over the vin de table.’ File photograph: Getty Images

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1987: Johnny Logan won his second Eurovision with Hold Me Now, Kylie Minogue wore out our eardrums with I Should Be So Lucky, Thatcher was re-elected again in the UK, while in this green and muddy land we got a minority Fianna Fáil government with Haughey at the helm. What larks, eh?

It was also the year, you might remember (but most probably don’t), of a TV commercial for Le Piat D’Or wine that featured a French couple enjoying some downtime before their dinner guests arrived. Ring any bells?

In the ad, the couple are depicted relaxing in their tasteful apartment while la souper simmers on the hob. L’ homme is splayed on a chaise with a petit chien by his side, reading le journal, while, in the couple’s très splendide bathroom, la femme soaks in a clawfoot bath full of milky bathwater, one French leg in the air.

Then the doorbell rings. Merde!!!

Bath-towel pandemonium ensues, the panicked couple running around the tasteful apartment, the dog scampering back and forth across the antique rug. The couple quickly dress, the dog takes a Valium, madame tucks in monsieur’s shirt, and when they finally open the door, breathless and expectant, there’s a bottle of plonk on the mat. Mon Dieu!

And then their dinner guests appear. So it all turns out right in the end, the closing sequence showing four elegant friends clinking glasses around an equally elegant table because, as we all knew by then, “the French adore Le Piat D’Or”.

Strange fascination

I was 25 in 1987 and strangely fascinated by that commercial. Maybe it was the bathtub, maybe the chic little dog, maybe it was the way that panicked Pierre pushed his spectacles up his nez, but deep in my shallow conscience I wondered if I too might have that kind of lie-around-in-the-tub life, a life of air-kissing and candlelight and tinkling laughter over the vin de table. 

I arrived to my former housemate’s home for a small birthday dinner the other night, late and inelegant, wrapped up in my parka with a pair of trousers on under my dress to stave off the freezing night.

I remember watching the familiar faces of those old friends and feeling grateful for our imperfection 

My friend hobbled to the door to greet us, her leg in a cast, having recently broken her ankle. She’d texted earlier in the day to ask me to pick up a carton of slimline milk, as she’s basically immobile. I forgot to do so. I brought wine and, for no good reason, soap. 

“Soap is nicer than milk,” I told her. 

“You can’t put soap on your cereal,” she retorted. 

Our other former housemate was already there, reclining on the sofa in a thrilling shirt. He hadn’t been asked to bring milk. 

There were four of us for dinner, just like in the Piat D’Or ad. We sat around eating cheese puffs and moussaka and talking about the past, our hostess resplendent in her big surgical boot.

Lean years

We talked about the lean years of the late 1980s when we, and my friend’s sweet young daughter, had shared a shabby old Dublin house together. In that decade, when so many of our cohort were obliged to emigrate, we’d just about managed to stay. We’d had dinners together then too, sharing a roast chicken on dole day or payday, pooling our resources on the long days between.

We talked about the pressure, once more, of staying afloat in the current housing crisis. We talked about ageing parents and the wild joy of grandchildren. We talked about illness and love and death, and, later in the night, in a sudden change of tack, we asked Siri to translate our kilograms into pounds (into old money), to figure out how much of our more recently accumulated selves we should attempt to jettison.

And then our hostess limped back into the kitchen to stick a sparkler in the birthday cake she had baked for two of our number, their combined ages amounting to 120.

“It was supposed to be fluffy,” she said.

I wasn’t drinking that night – I’d a bit of work on and couldn’t really afford a hangover. Maybe it was my sobriety, but I remember sitting back and watching the familiar faces of those old friends and feeling grateful for our imperfection, our ordinariness, our blatant lack of elan.

At midnight I managed to drag two of the drinkers away from the table to give them a lift home. We hugged our friend goodbye and put out her bin for her, revellers reluctant to reclaim the frosty night.

Unlike the French, the Irish abhor the beckoning door.

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