This column first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post.
I am at a party and I don’t know anyone.
It’s my friend Tom’s 40th and after the shattering grief of realising I have friends turning 40, I calm myself enough to attend his soirée.
We arrive at the fashionably late time of 8.15pm – just my girlfriend and I, armed with a card and a night of possibilities ahead.
‘The cool thing about this,’ I say to my girlfriend, ‘is that I could become anybody I want to be. Create a whole new identity. They don’t know me. I could tell them I’m John and that I work as a postman.’
‘You could be anyone you want and you’ve chosen a postman called John?’
‘Fair point. OK. I’m Barnaby, the martial arts expert.’
‘Better. But still weird. Be yourself. You are wonderful. People will love you for who you are. And it would be a lot less embarrassing for me.’
‘Fine.’ I conceded and stood Barnaby down for the evening.
The speeches are made. Mum and Dad are thanked and sister is given a jovial ribbing. Drinks are flowing and the mood is jubilant. The conditions are perfect. My task simple: to crowbar my way into a conversation, win over new friends and become the hit of the party. ‘Did you meet Darryl?’ Tom will ask over breakfast. ‘Ah, yes. What a smashing chap. Likeable. Warm. Witty. A real asset to any social situation.’
There is a skill to this. Crowbarring your way into a conversation is a fine art that I once learnt from a wise, old, heavily scented man on a bus. The way he manoeuvred into a discussion about kettles was extraordinary. ‘Wait for the laugh point,’ he’d said, ‘then laugh your way in.’
I stalk the room, plotting my entry. Listening from a safe distance and learning about my fellow party-goers:
- Eleanor and Andrew have a new pantry but there was a leak and it ruined their leeks. That pun got more of a laugh than it deserved and I wasn’t prepared to lower my standards.
- Scott has joined a new accounting firm. Nothing about accounting has ever been funny. I move along.
- Annabel’s dress is new. She’d bought it for tonight. She’d ordered it online and it took over two weeks to arrive. Fashion. Dangerous territory and taken very seriously.
No hooks. A slow start. But the night was young.
To the bar. Two men locked in conversation. Football? Current affairs? I stake it out for a while and wait for my moment.
‘… and Jeremy can really divide opinion,’ one of them says to the other, ‘but he was a hit with the nurses that day.’
Politics? Surely. Jeremy Corbyn? Must be. A campaign visit to a hospital? Perhaps one of these men works as a doctor or nurse and is recalling a meeting with the Labour leader. I can slide into this. I read the newspaper this morning. I am briefed. This is it. This is my chance. The old, smelly man’s words echo through me. ‘Use the laugh, Darryl.’
‘… then he slipped and cracked his head really badly, poor little guy,’ says the man as I inhale and spit out a thundering howl.
Hang on. That wasn’t in the paper. Or on the news. Why hadn’t I seen this obviously huge news about Jeremy Cor… wait. Time slows and the room around us washes into a blur. The two men turn and I catch a glimpse of a tattoo. ‘Jeremy 2009’ wrapped in a love heart. His son. No doubt about it. His precious, loving son. And I had laughed square in the face of his suffering. Disaster. What will these men think of me? A reputation for laughing at injured children will spread through my friend’s group. Schadenfreude of the worst kind. ‘Did you meet Darryl?’ Tom will ask over breakfast. ‘Ah, yes. You mean the one that finds injured children funny?’
‘Sorry. Do I… know you?’ said the tattooed man as the room jolted back into focus.
‘Hi, I’m Barnaby,’ I say with an outstretched hand, ‘I’m a martial arts expert.’May 20, 2018 | No Comments