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