I'd say parties, being sociable and all that, is something I don't find easy. If I was single, I'd never dream of leaving my house to go and stand in someone else's kitchen, drink insane amounts of liquid and follow all of these spiralling conversations that seem to round and round but ultimately end up nowhere.
Except that it isn't true. There was a time when I found parties to be something that were very easy. In fact, I even longed for them to come around. Someone, like, for example, the clinical psychologist I was talking to last night could probably make a great deal of that. But, I think, the explanation is simple. I was young, had an endless appetite for beer and loved loud music. I still like loud music. But I haven't drunk anything stronger than tea in the last four years. And I don't like inflicting loud music on those who don't want it. These days I confine it to the headphones.
If you don't drink, parties – worse still, being invited to someone's place for a 'quiet drink' is an interminable bore. This isn't ungenerous of me. I have heard others in my position say the same thing. There's only so much fizzy water a soul can take in one evening.
So, it was with a heavy heart that I heard the words 'oh, Claire's having people round for drinks on Saturday night. We're invited.' Emphasis was placed on the 'we're' bit. This bad news was broken to me on a Wednesday which is sort of okay. Saturday feeling like a million miles away. But by Friday night, the oppressive weight of the quiet drink began to drag at my heels. As Saturday morning dawned, I felt about as jolly as a man invited to his own funeral. All day, I racked my brain to try and think of a plausible excuse to get out of it. There wasn't one. I considered being a man and putting my foot down but the consequences were too frightening. I wrote a poem full of vitriol but decided I couldn't publish it for fear that someone responsible for organising the quiet drink might be upset about it.
As evening came around, I considered murder but soon realised that the relief would only be very short lived. So, after taking an age to shave and pretending that I couldn't make up my mind what to wear -well, it works for women so why shouldn't it work for me? - we finally set out for the party/quiet drink whatever.
I gave it my best shot. After all, when the game is up, there isn't much else you can do. I'd tried sulking and being miserable when I was in my thirties but this still didn't work. So I gave it my best shot. I talked and smiled with the help of a friendly wall. Cracked jokes with the clinical psychologist. Somehow, we'd got on to the subject of superstition. I told him that I had this peculiar peccadillo but, being a psychologist, he'd probably worked that out already. The foible I have is that when adjusting the volume on the TV, I won't have it on thirteen. Which is damn annoying because thirteen is the perfect volume. Fourteen is a hint too loud. Twelve is a bit of a strain. Despite being just right, I won't use thirteen. The psychologist brightened. 'I'm just the same', he said. His eyes clouded. 'It's such a shame. Thirteen is such a good volume.' I moved my back from the friendly wall. I'd grown tired of impersonating the paintwork.
I said I was going now. I'd served my promised two hours. This seemed to meet with approval so I ran while the going was good.
When I got home I turned on the news. Adjusted the volume to thirteen and tried to hold my nerve. Then quickly thought better of it. Didn't want to push my luck too far.