Tuesday 22 February 2011

The sooner every party breaks up ...

How I ever made a living out of public relations is as huge a mystery to me as it must be to all my current and former clients.

Once again on Saturday I found myself at a party where a succession of people came up to resume conversations we had apparently enjoyed in the past, while my face all too clearly proclaimed that I did not have a clue who they were.

The fact that it was a private party made it worse. At least at a business event I would have issued all attendees with name badges which I might have stood a chance of reading, if they had not put them on upside down, back to front, inside their coats or hung unhelpfully from their belts, so that the absent-minded PR has to grovel for a non-existent contact lens to take a surreptitious glance.

It did not help that it was my wife’s 40th birthday bash, and all those present were her closest colleagues and dearest friends. She had drawn up the guest list herself, and booked the splendid room in a local hotel, when it finally became clear that her heavy hints about how much she would enjoy a 1930s themed surprise party in a marquee in our garden were destined to fall on stony ground.

Mrs Hann prepares to greet her guests, and Master Hann begins to nag his grandmother to take him home
Because I hate parties, me. Always have, since I was a child and we had to play musical chairs (now mercifully banned by Elfin Safety) and spar with someone’s faintly sinister uncle, who would desperately try to inveigle us into saying a forbidden word like “sausages”.

My favourite character in the whole of English fiction is Jane Austen’s Mr Woodhouse, for his pronouncement that “The sooner every party breaks up, the better.”

Bring on a bowl of gruel and a nice warm blanket over my knees.

The trouble is that I married someone who is not only vastly younger than I am, but also infinitely nicer and more sociable. This makes me, I am constantly reminded, a very lucky man. The question that periodically exercises me is: what on earth made her do it?

It is not as though I am particularly rich or successful. After 55 years without any dependants, I don’t even have a decent life insurance policy she can look forward to cashing in. Later this week we are going to London to see the Royal Opera’s new production, Anna Nicole, about the tragic 26-year-old Playboy model who married an 89-year-old Texan oil billionaire. You do not need to be a genius to work out the attraction on both sides there. My own case seems considerably harder.

I endured my utter social ineptitude for a couple of hours, and three pints of bitter, then went for a little lie-down, from which my poor wife had to rouse me to propose a toast while she cut her own birthday cake. Then I went back to bed until the joyous hour when the taxi arrived to take us home. I believe that the young people devoted the intervening period to dancing. I shudder at the thought.

The birthday cake, making it a bit pointless to lie about her age

The birthday girl and friends, apparently having a Good Time

The really worrying thing from my wife’s point of view is not so much my own miserable behaviour, which she has come to expect, but the fact that our son matched it with an equally urgent desire to be taken home and put to bed at the earliest opportunity.

The puzzle is that we sang “Lord of the dance” at my mother’s funeral in memory of her youthful enthusiasm for a good party. She was nearly 45 when I happened along so I never saw this side of her character. Perhaps that is where we have been going wrong. Clearly I must encourage Charlie to marry young in the hope of eradicating the Hann anti-party gene before it passes on into the 22nd century.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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