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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 66 - Polishing sparkling platitudes and repartee

THE party season has begun, and I have been arranging my conversational topics that include the influence of Edward the Confessor on the later works of Proust, Winnie the Pooh and the Marxist theory of surplus value, the place of the toothpick in Periclesian Greece, the question of whether Hamlet was gay, and the outlook for etching in the Shetlands.

These, along with my ratio-cinatory repartee, sparkling platitudes and ceaseless conveyor belt of facts have, in previous revelries by night, established me as a magnet to draw the iron filings of the middle-aged and elderly from the mulled whisky, washing sherry and toasted cheesesticks and younger guests from discussing Aristotelian ethics in the broom cupboard and latest DVDs in the back bedrooms.

I am with the novelist and playwright, JB Priestley, who delighted in the idea of a party but found no pleasure in the reality. "The result is that I can neither keep away from parties nor enjoy them."

As an old party hand, I consider it my duty to create a cordon sanitaire of conversational uplift among the hubbub. Guests thirsting for information about triple-expansion engine development in the Turkish fleet (1895-1914) or wishing to eradicate doubts that they may have about the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews would be directed to me.

I have been to parties that sounded like a seething mixture of Walpurgis Nacht and the storming of the Bastille, where, through the din, a neighbour could be heard shouting: "Did you not hear me banging on the ceiling?" And the host replying soothingly: "We did, but don’t worry, we’re making a bit of a noise ourselves."

I have also been to other parties that were more boring than a North Sea oil drill, where the hostess might say with baleful brightness, "we’re having a George Orwell night, here’s your pencil and paper", and others where the conversation was like a gear that would not engage, where a large group would form confined to those who had done a Phd or wore the purple of the civil service, where the wine and spirit supplies ran out early and the pear and pine-apple punch tasted like a blend of sea-water and battery fluid.

Most parties I attend are stereotypical. Guests usually come in recognisable categories. There are the lost souls, grateful for anyone who will spend more than three impatient minutes with them without leaving for someone more interesting, the life and soul who, according to the journalist, Katherine Whitehorn, "will never go home while there is one man, woman or glass of anything not yet drunk", the predator - "Is that your husband in the kitchen? He’s a very lucky man, married to someone as attractive as you" - the romantically-entangled couple whose eyes have met across a crowded room and who will be oblivious to all around them such as riots, revolution and even greater cataclysmic events like the Scotch running out and sweet sherry substituted, the destroyers - those who spill drink and food on the carpets, snap the stems of wineglasses and knock over piles of unwashed plates - and the stayer who is inert at dawn’s crack among empty glasses and other partying detritus, leaving only when the hosts appear in bedclothes, and sometimes not even then.

Hosts, I find, make Herculean efforts to please guests, although not one couple who, on their invitation card, wrote: "Bring your own drink and jokes."

Recently, one hostess, delivered successfully of a baby son, greeted new arrivals with: "Bill’s got the entire birth on video; would you like to see it?"

Hosts sometimes complain that if they hold an early cocktail party, guests scoff the food and drink and leave quickly for dinner parties somewhere more interesting without inviting them. The great fear among many revellers is that there is probably a better party going on elsewhere and they might be missing it.

Jane Austen said sniffily: "The sooner every party breaks up, the better." And Bernard Shaw, asked if he was enjoying himself at a party replied: "Certainly, there is nothing else here to enjoy."

For myself, I am ready to face the partying fray. An outline of banking in Ghana, new on my lips with freshly-minted facts should confirm my "unmissable" status.

There is nothing more irritating than not to be invited to a party you wouldn’t be seen dead at.

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