The New Socialising

I went to a party on Saturday.  I don’t often get invited to parties.  It was a perfectly good party: in a bar, with food and drink and company and though I didn’t know many of the people there, they all seemed nice and friendly.

The day after the party I finished the book ‘The Teleportation Accident’ by Ned Beauman, where the narrator of the tale states:

“Compare the Venice of the late renaissance … to the Berlin of Weimar … to whatever city would turn out to be most fashionable in 2012, and you would find the same empty people going to the same empty parties and making the same empty comments about the same empty efforts, with just a few spasms of worthwhile art going on at the naked extremities. Nothing ever changed. That was equivalence.”

If that’s his definition of equivalence then Saturday’s party gave me a sense of equivalence.  It was very similar to parties that I used to attend in the days when I attended more parties than I do now.  I wouldn’t suggest that any of my parties bear much resemblance those that went on in Isherwood’s Berlin, but they certainly bear a great similarity to each other.  The parties haven’t changed much, but the people at the parties have changed quite a lot.  I used to go to parties with other teenagers when I was a teenager myself.  I then went to university parties, then parties for people in their mid-twenties.  I am now more likely to attend Christening parties, 40th birthday parties or divorce parties.

  If one defines parties by a rather all-encompassing definition that involves a reasonable number of people who get together at a specific venue for the purpose of eating, drinking, chatting and perhaps dancing, then this is what I mean by the fact that the parties haven’t changed very much, certainly from when I was a teenager and probably from way back in the days of the Weimar.  A graph of time (x axis) versus change in party-style (y axis) would look very much like a flat-line.  If I plotted a different graph of my age (x axis) versus suitability for this kind of socialising (y axis), it would look more like the parabola above.  The far left-hand side would be me at School the far right me now aged 36 and the peak represents me around 25.

School socialising was terrible.  I knew it at the time and I know it now.  Being at a Boarding School meant that Saturday night was the only night with potential for socialising.  The pressure one felt on a Saturday was acute.  Add to this pressure a lack of funds, lack of any real social skills (especially where members of the opposite sex were concerned) and a likelihood of not being served alcohol in any decent establishment and you created a potent cocktail to guarantee social failure.  It’s not a though it was just pubs that wouldn’t serve us; we were lucky to get served alcohol in one of the local curry houses.  An order of 5 poppadoms and 5 pints of lager was common and there wasn’t much chance of making contact with the opposite sex in the window table of Amran’s in Bedford.  Likewise a lack of funds meant that one had to nurse each pint for around 90 minutes to make sure you weren’t left dry by 9pm.  The second half of the pint tasted how I imagine the dregs of lager being poured down the sink the morning after a party would taste if one were curious or desperate enough to take a sip.

By my mid-20s, I was at party peak.  Funds were no longer an issue, getting served was no longer tricky and with the ‘Loaded’ version of the New Lad dead by 2002, it was fine to wear fitted floral shirts out in public.  Many contemporaries remained incapable of talking to members of the opposite sex, instead employing the tactic of ‘separate a girl from her group of friends and then grind like there’s no tomorrow’.  It wasn’t successful.  But doing what we were doing felt about right.  Quaffing a bottle of absinthe before taking a bus to Loop bar felt like the right thing to do, with all problems associated with youth, finances and shyness removed.

But I’ve come out the other side now and I’m nearing the bottom of the parabola again.  The parties are the same but I’ve changed.  Frankly I feel a little embarrassed doing the same kind of socialising that I used to do (albeit unsuccessfully) aged 17.  I know this is my problem and few other people seem to have similar concerns, but it still leaves me pondering: What’s next?  What’s the new socialising?  Is it only canapes, dinner parties, kitchen suppers and Burial on the ipod if one wants to socialise in groups?  Or can I spend my time walking round Victorian graveyards on my own without feeling weird?

What if there’s no future?

I was asked this morning, just in passing, which decade I would most like to have lived in. It’s a question I’ve been asked surprisingly often, but which I mean it’s been asked approximately once every six months for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those questions people use to find a way in to another conversation, about the music of the ’60s, or the family values of the ’50s. No-one seems to be very interested in my response, which is why my standard answer of the 1920s provoked little more than a shrug this morning. Mind you, I wouldn’t be very interested in anyone else’s answer, whether it was the 3010s or the 1290s. I’ve come to justify my answer with some ramble about Fitzgerald and glamour and other such things, but the point is that it’s not interesting because it’s not possible. None of us ever get the choice of which decade we’re born into, and so it will forever remain a little ice-breaker, along the lines of ‘would you have sex with the Corrs, if you had to do the bloke too?’, which I seem to remember was an important dilemma for a while, probably when the Corrs were big news, so a little while ago.

I quite like living my 30s through the 2010s, though I can’t imagine that my life would be significantly different if I was this age in the 1990s. I’ve now reached an age where I’ve got about as much future as past. It’s an ideal age: the past is recent enough that I can remember it, I can revel in my triumphs and I can learn from my mistakes. There’s a quite a bit of future too, and I reckon I’ve still got quite a lot to look forward to. I asked one of my classes at School to write about the future or the past, from any point of view. All by one pupil wrote about the future. Of course they did – they’ve got far more future than past, and even though the future is uncertain, it’s also exciting. At age 16, you’re pretty bullet-proof, and there’s a myriad of paths in front of you. Even if you take the wrong one, you’ve got time to return to the junction to take another, and it might just lead you somewhere exciting anyway. Time passes very slowly when you’re 16; there’s not even much past to remember, so you can recall things easily.

Being old doesn’t interest me, which is a puffed-out chest way of saying it scares me a little. I remember waking up one night when I was about 8 or 9 years old, literally in a sweat from the realisation that I would die, and that it would be forever. My life would be as a flash of light between two eternities of dark, and even at 8 years old, that was a worrying thought. When you’re old, you’ve got a very limited future, and most of what you have is past. When you’re young, the future is uncertain, but that’s exciting, and it’s brimming with possibility. When you’re old, even the past is uncertain; there’s so much of it to remember, so much to regret and so much on which to ponder. You’ve had your one chance, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’d like to remain in this state of middle-ground for a while. I acknowledge both what’s gone before and what’s still to come. I like my memories to remain vivid, not seen through frosted glass, and I like to think that my mistakes yet to come won’t be un-correctable.

Dan Wheldon, the Indy car driver, died yesterday in a crash at the Indy 300 in Las Vegas. I have a picture of my School year in 1991, and he’d been at School only a month by then. His future was uncertain, and it was certainly exciting, though ultimately tragic. I wonder if he’d have swapped the excitement for a long uneventful life, Achilles-like?