The combined masses of the Women's Institute eye me quizzically.
"We've heard so much about you," they say. I wonder if they have ever seen a male under the age of 50 at one of their events before. "Would you like a stuffed olive?"
I have accidentally arrived in the village on the weekend of the annual WI Safari Supper. Four courses from starter to dessert, in four different locations, sequenced according to which committee member has the biggest conservatory. Only ten pounds a ticket, and husbands and hangers on are welcome. How better to spend a Saturday evening?
I find myself standing in a thatched cottage surrounded by women in flowery blouses. I stick close to my Mum, because in this environment she's the only coherent identity I possess. As each new couple enters through the low-beamed dining room they look at me with temporary bemusement, then turn to talk to the regulars. I sip my sherry a little faster.
A dear lady, who I later discover is 90, beams at me from the wicker chair in the corner. I am briefly introduced to the elegantly coiffured chairwoman as she and her husband glide past, effortlessly meeting and greeting. Maybe wearing Reeboks wasn't a good idea.
I attempt to make endearing smalltalk with our hostess. "Lovely garden you've got here." I think I'm winning.
The safari progresses. Prawn cocktail is served in the big house up the lane, in a room packed with ornamental owls. I find it nigh impossible to scoop up the saucy lettuce with only a small teaspoon. Thankfully everybody else is having similar difficulties. I can only smile and nod as the assembled company discuss ten bob notes and Marion's operation.
A yomp across the village green builds up my appetite for the main course. "Are you the last?" asks a man in the driveway. He's wearing an algae-green suit and clutching a choice of wines. I am ushered into the garage to sit at a cloth-covered picnic table. All the lawnmowers, hacksaws and jamjars full of nails are carefully hidden behind a makeshift screen of clothes-pegged blankets. I await my chicken.
"I've booked the peacock man as one of our speakers next year." This is not going to be an easy conversation to take part in.
Eventually the headmistressy lady to my right attempts to engage me in dialogue. "You're from London, then?" I hope she hasn't deduced this because I'm holding a knife in my hand, even if it is only lightly serrated. We discuss the treasures of the British Museum until our plates of gravy-soaked poultry arrive.
One last stop, for dessert. The spread of creamy pavlova, creamy gateau, creamy trifle and creamy profiteroles (all with optional additional cream) explains why so many husbands have agreed to attend tonight. We sit in the conservatory and go back for thirds. It is going to be a long night.