Sunday, December 14, 2008
Let's go down to a party
(And I said)
If that's not good enough
Then we'll both end up in
So crooned Paul Haig, late of scowling Scottish songcrows Josef K, before embarking on what for all I know is his current career as an impersonator of Ward Cooper, evil genius of the Genesis album market. The resemblance is canny.
A jolly number, the video of which reminds me of how splendid 1980s tailoring could be, "Never Give Up (Party Party)" had all the ingredients for becoming a hit - not least of which was a title with brackets in it.
This always works. Think of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine", "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" and "I'm The Pope (You Know What I Mean)". MC 900 Ft. Jesus's "Truth Is Out Of Style" could have moved mountains if he'd added some parentheses.
And, on that subject, isn't Your Lord 6 Ft. Blonde Blue-Eyed Jesus about to enjoy His celestial birthday party? How He must delight in the demented diversity with which we mortals join in the celebrations. Poles mark the occasion by adopting a carp and letting it cavort in their bath, if they have one. Tagalogues nail themselves to trees in a sincere form of flattery. Catalans pay homage by naming their yule log after bowel movements.
Here on the feral high streets of Albion we have work Christmas dinners. These epitomise the British devotion to enforced cheer in confined spaces. Paul Haig's equally tuneful compatriot the K Man is a devout Calvinist who will not snub The Creator's yuil, especially if Management is paying, and so he developed a technique for dealing with these horrors at his various place of employment.
"I developed a technique for dealing with these horrors," he bellowed thoughtfully at The Tethered Goat the other day.
"Source a few sociable, chain-smoking bastards like yourself, get pished in a nearby bar, then rock up at the restaurant on time. Your boss and his cronies will already be up one end of the table, so you can grab the other. All the bores who've been parking their cars or hiding from drunks will fill the space between and leave you alone. A triumph for Scotland!"
"I'm looking at an empty glass, by the way," he added.
I nodded in regret at how things can go wrong if you heed not the words of the K Man. My own immediate colleagues, it must be said, are a bateau ivre heaving with wit, poise and beauty, so all of our frequent works outings resemble an En Vogue calendar shoot in Oscar Wilde's drawing room hosted by John Cassavetes.
The same could not be said for one of my previous places of work. There I broke the K Man rule, and ignorance was no defence. I made the common Christmastide mistake of taking pity on a lonely soul. Let us call him Feargal.
This fellow had recently joined our team, and was looking forward to getting to know us better at our Christmas dinner. So all the warning signs of his insane venality were already there, had I the eyes. Like Renfield I escorted this vampire to the '70s sitcom trattoria where the gang had gathered.
Sure enough, Feargal kept me waiting a crucial ten minutes while he knotted his scarf. We then pushed aside the wicker-clad chianti bottles to expose the open leaves of my personal Doomsday Diary.
Two places remained at the table. The first was at the smoky end nearest to us, where a blonde and a brunette were demonstrating their novel resuscitation methods on a bottle of barolo and an International Finance editor amid raucous drumming of pipes on primrose waistcoats.
The second lay at the other end of the table between - between! - a married couple who had met during their final-year exams in Censorious Silence at the University of Disapproval, where they both graduated pursed lips cum Birkenstocks.
He was a Green Party councillor, she played the bassoon. I had a feeling they both thought of me during their monthly bout of joyless coupling. Otherwise their chief interests were solidarity with the Castro régime and opposition to smoking and children. Oh yes, and they were Esperantists.
Feargal did not hesitate. He slid betwixt blonde and brunette with a Sid James swerve and cracked open a pack of Major. I couldn't escape. The look the other couple gave me mixed yearning with contempt in a way that only cohabitation has accustomed me to. I sat down, ordered a bottle of grappa and asked them how the Havana Philharmonic's wind section was doing.
I trust you will now run through the checklist as you approach the restaurant doors. How late are you? How drunk are you? How many of you are there? Do you smell of perique soaked in rum? Why not?
You will leave at the end of the evening either with an unlisted phone number smeared in lipstick on your cuffs, or much wiser about Turkish police interrogation methods. In the best of worlds, perhaps both.
In the meantime, enjoy the awkwardness of Paul Haig's performance on "Never Give Up", and ask yourself why the brackets didn't work for him on this occasion. Perhaps he hesitated on the threshold too sober and too long: