Last night I attended the sixtieth birthday party of my brother at a tennis club he’d hired for the purpose. It wasn’t actually his birthday – that had occurred a month previously – but presumably this was the first and/or most convenient date upon which his chosen venue had next been available.
First, I must declare an interest, or more accurately, a lack of interest.
I am not a great fan of social functions and never host any of my own. Ever since I was a small, shy, boy I have had an aversion to them. It seemed to me that there were two types of people in the world – those who did things and those who talked about them.
Over time, this developed into the conviction that time spent hob-knobbing with others, not least the phenomenon of making small talk with people you had just met but were unlikely to come across again, was wasted.
Why attend a cocktail party, yakking away about nothing in particular, when you could have been at home, painting something Van Gogh would have been proud of, or alternatively writing something that would have prompted Shakespeare to put his quill pen away forever in a state of dark self-loathing because he would never be able to match it?
(Or even just lying scrawled across the sofa watching the midweek away cup tie between Spurs and Manchester United that had rather taken your fancy?)
Inevitably, there are complications when you meet up with your brother’s friends – some of them going back as far as his student days, others being moss he has gathered, in one way or another, over the intervening period.
Last night, meeting a couple of chaps in the former category that I once knew well but have seen perhaps twice each in forty years, was a strange experience.
One was instantly recognisable, albeit that for some reason he had dyed his hair – well at least he had a full head of it – shock-white with a tinge of salt & pepper.
Though the other greeted me like a long-lost friend, I didn’t recognise him at all because he had mysteriously transmogrified into a dumpy, bald little git – a Roy Kinnear-look-alike wearing glasses of a garish type that (I can only assume) he was wearing for a bet.
As problematical a group are my brother’s more recent pals, whom I tend to meet once a year at his annual golf tournament. With them, I am in the ever-awkward ‘name and face’ territory. I know either their name – or their face – well enough, but cannot put the one and the other together.
As a result, I sometimes find myself in conversations with people who are all too aware that I don’t know who they are. On other occasions, it can be with people who don’t know who I am (last night, one cove enquired of me “And how long have you known Harry?” to which, of course, the only answer possible was “since birth”).
The fun really cranks up when you begin chatting with someone and neither participant knows the other’s identity or relevance, whilst being acutely aware that he ought to. The conversation devices that human beings have developed in order to skirt around this thorny social dilemma are as legion as they can be all-too transparently awkward.
Last night, after the hog-roast, came the band – a group of fifty-or-sixty-somethings who could play acceptable pastiches of classic rock (and other genre) songs from points going back all over the past half century.
They received a metaphorical thumbs-up from your reporter for pumping out long form versions of Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer as two of their first three offerings and there was scarcely a piece I didn’t recognise … which probably tells you more about my age than anything I’ve so far mentioned.
The start of their stint on stage was the cue for the bolder members of three generations to begin dancing. Based upon last night’s efforts, I can report that modern young ladies in their teens and twenties still tend to move in the style of their predecessors of my distant youth.
Inevitably, perhaps, the gyrations of older citizens are a degree more disconcerting.
Ignoring the isolated example of outrageous ‘Dad-dancing’, the majority of seniors of both genders traditionally sway back and forth inelegantly whilst moving their legs and feet first forward and then back, or alternatively side to side. The naffness of this pretty-universal routine (which incidentally I deploy myself whenever forced onto the dance floor) is perhaps best appreciated if you imagine watching it in the cold light of day and in silence.
However, most notable – and not necessarily in a good way – are the performances of ladies of a certain vintage and now decidedly galleon-shape figure who delight in strutting their stuff with, on the face of it, commendable verve.
I felt rather as I suspect a rabbit in headlights must in beholding three or four of them, gyrating their hips and arms in a manner that thirty years ago would have been described as beguiling if not horny, sashaying with intent into the mass of gyrating bodies.
Sadly, the spectacle was more reminiscent of Hattie Jacques in Carry On Matron than Fiona Richmond at Raymond’s Revue Bar.
Still, I’m one to talk, of course.
Having spent four hours masquerading as an observing alien at last night’s party, I had the equivalent of a cold shower-shock when I reached my home again, visited the bathroom and caught my own image in the mirror before going to bed. The person looking back at me was as ancient as the hills, quite the equal of those I had been pitying all evening …