Note to self: always remember to invite at least one secondary school teacher to any future barbeque I might consider hosting. I was stood there, swaying slightly, attempting to flip blurry burgers whilst not losing the blurry sausages to the coals beneath, feeling catastrophe breathing right up my arse, and not in a nice invigorating way. Gaz was being of little help. "Take over for a second" I said, but he feigned deafness. Then he stopped feigning deafness and laughed openly in my face before tweaking my balls and scuttling away. The ginger bastard.
I am no stranger to drunken cooking. Having spent much time awake at sour and unreasonable hours of the night I am fully capable of flinging two half-cooked sausages between stale bread before wolfing the sorry lot down in about a quarter of a second. But that's just me on my lonesome. I don't mind poisoning myself but a birthday barbecue of twenty people is a different matter. That kind of story sticks.
Then, like the angel Gabriel, she appeared at my elbow, all jollity and sensible jumpers. Ellie, teacher at Anthony's school, ex-chef and all-round good egg. She took the tongs and flipper from my unresisting hands and the evening was saved. Plus, she did in a manner that shaved about 15 years off me. She chatted to me and gave me stuff to do that wasn't too challenging and it was like I was a kid again, running around after her like she was my favourite teacher. The one you fantasise about humping in a stationery cupboard. But the amiably wrecked are similar to children in many ways; uncoordinated, easily distracted, prone to pissing in odd places. If Blair really wants to stop Britain's binge drinking problem then he should install primary school teachers in town centres on Friday nights. Instead of puking and fighting everyone will be finger painting and riding around on tricycles, it'll be great.
A tarp had been erected that covered most of the lawn. The wind had spent the afternoon whipping it around in an alarming fashion, while the sky had frowned down at us with clouds. Karen had spent the previous week alternately pleading, cajoling, bargaining with and just plain threatening the weather, demanding sunshine on pain of... something bad, as yet unspecified. But seeing her there, standing in the garden shaking her fist at the sky like a mental, vile insults spewing forth, I had been sure that she could deliver. She really meant it, and so far she was ahead.
It is a sad fact of life that there are groups of people who can hold parties and there are groups who just can't. We, alas, are of the second sort. It's not that no one turns up. That I could handle. It's that three people turn up, and they're never people anyone knows well, so they just stand around while we do exactly the sort of thing we normally do only with slightly louder music and a bit more drinking. It makes us look like social retards. Our parties are among the worst parties I've ever been to and I say that as someone who helps organise them. Luckily we know some guys who live in Easton who hold excellent parties, really top notch, so we just go to theirs. On that day, however, the gods smiled down on us and tickled our collective chin. There were...let's see...17! 17 people in attendance, an all time high, at least since our uni days. It was different from a uni party, of course. Everything is different nowadays, and getting differenter all the time. This is a fact of life. We're well into our mid-twenties now and on some days I'm not sure if I like it. But let us not venture into that dark bungalow right now; we'll concentrate on the garden, with the blue tarp that reminded me of cub camp and the warm lager that made me think of possibly moving on to the punch. I'd done Karen a birthday CD, and not a bad one at that. It got played quite a few times, and not just by me... I'm the sort of person that hogs the music at any party where I can get away with it, but this one was being played independently. Very gratifying. So, to the strains of Joy Division and Blondie we ate and drank and mingled and saw Karen in to a new year.
But it's a slippery slope, downhill all the way from congenial and witty to stumbling and pissy. Or, as Rancid put it: black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac, the boy's a time bomb. Too many evenings have been despoiled through my overindulgence; too many potentially fun hours have been lost to the dreaded blackouts. Too many mornings have needed apologies and a shame-faced demeanour. Experience has taught that it is only a matter of time and that the question is not if but when and how. The knowledge that at some point you will morph into a drunken and objectionable asshat who will be mean to his girlfriend, rude to his friends and violent towards the furniture is not conducive to a pleasant evening. Tick tick tick tick...
But the sounds coming from the kitchen suggested that someone had beaten me to it. There is a reason why many pubs operate under a ‘no politics or religion' rule and that reason is argumentative bastards like my mates. Here is a group of people who truly appreciate the cut and thrust of debate, the nitty-gritty of point and counter point. One or two could argue at club, county and maybe even international level, their only weakness being a tendency to fabricate statistics and generally make stuff up. Thrilling at first, these events tend to drag after the first three hours, by which time the original point has been slightly mislaid. Thankfully, I wasn't present for this one so I cannot vouch who won, or even who the combatants were. But the volume of noise and the disjointed, confused reports I gleaned from innocent bystanders suggested that it was bad one, a Tet Offensive of quarrelling.
But there was still time for one more alcoholic tradition: the drunken phone call. Traditionally the unfortunate pisshead chooses the worst possible person to hector by phone, usually someone they fancy but who has so far remained unobtainable. They then jabber down the line while the call-ee rues the day they gave out their number in the first place. Luckily, I have no such person so I just called Denyer, having remembered that his birthday and Karen's are very close together. In typical Denyer fashion he'd actually forgotten all about his upcoming special day, so it was a pleasure to remind him. So happy birthday Mr D, and happy birthday Karen. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
The events described above took place a couple of weeks ago. So why the delay in getting the piece out, Pete? Well, it's because these days I find completing anything a huge, gargantuan effort, on a par with having a baby or doing one of those really painful shits that feels like its got corners on it. So sorry about that.
But the delay also gives me time to offer warm congrats to my brother Glyn on passing his driving test at the first attempt. Well done indeed, sir. As soon as you've mastered motorways and the like I expect a visit.