Well, it’s landed: the annual invitation to a Christmas party that I’m almost certainly not cool enough to attend. Every year, I wonder if it will come, or if they will wisely leave me off the list this time around. The problem is that I’m always slightly beguiled by being asked at all, and so I tend to RSVP with an enthusiastic ‘YES’ and then don’t turn up on the night. It’s terrible behaviour, and I know it.
I absolutely hate parties. They are noisy and visually chaotic, the lights do unpredictable things, and the guests are often drowned in perfume. It’s a perfect sensory storm. Far too often, I’m invited on my own, and don’t know anyone else in the room, which means agonising, uncertain small-talk, and trying to remember not to cling to the first person who shows the tiniest spark of interest. Forget ‘you will always find me in the kitchen at parties’ – in my case, I’ll most likely be locked in the loos, reading something good on my Kindle. In my younger days I occasionally resorted to hiding under the pile of coats in the host’s bedroom. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
But parties are a skill that everyone ought to have, and in an industry like publishing, they’re a fact of life. Those fleeting acquaintances made at parties are useful, and the the people you meet are interesting. I’m not completely hopeless at parties: I can make small-talk, and I can smile and laugh along to jokes. The problem is that mostly I can’t hear anything because my ears cut out when there’s too much noise, or, more accurately, I can hear the barman clearing up the glasses just as well as I can hear the person yelling in my ear. I can’t filter anything out. It all comes at once: the chatter, the music, the perfume, the lights, the smell of the cheeseboard, the itchiness of a formal dress and the agonising social pressure of knowing that you’re not like the rest of the people in the room, and that you’re probably embarrassing yourself in ways that you couldn’t even guess. In all honesty, I find it pretty hard to be there at all.
But at the same time, I hate to be left out. I always try to come, even if my nerve fails me at the last moment. I’ll probably be drunker than I ought to be, just to steady my nerve. Every now and then, I might just enjoy myself. Who knows: perhaps this year is my year, when I’ll finally work out how to dance to Last Christmas (or, indeed, how to dance at all), and I’ll wow the room with my fascinating repartee. Maybe. Or maybe you’ll have to hunt for me under the coats.
See you next week,