And so, as London coughs and slides its way through another winter, and the disastrous Marmite-themed Oxford Street lights bleat out the faces of random Londoners, we find ourselves coming to the end of a momentous year for London and all of a sudden Christmas, which, unless I am getting older, seems to come earlier every year? Nothing beats the smack of icy blue air on the winter lips made slick by Cocoa Butter Vaseline at this time of year, and the constant phlegm-ridden cough that seems to stick around for 20 days and which everyone from the office and everyone on the telly seems to have come down with. The danger point is always monitored by MiLady Alcohol. I invite you, dear readers, bloated with mince pies and Christmas cheer, into The Bluebird’s Guide To How To Have A Christmas Party.
You cannot avoid the tinselled extravagance of Yuletide, lest you be accused of Scrooge-like miserliness by office friends or family foes. You must jump in, legs akimbo, antlers trembling, with some degree of joy. This is doomed to feel forced and arduous after the age of 34 but the sustaining of Christmas jollities year after year appears to be vital to the social fabric of our communities. If it is to be done with the appropriate boom and verve, you must do it wisely, not to pepper the evening with anti-Christmas obscenities or saccharine cover versions of Adele ballads, but rather to slip sylph-like through the Christmas party haze and emerge – unmolested by the mistletoe or seasonal mawkishness – on the other side. At which point everyone will turn around to each other, bloated, reaching for the Rennie, disgusted and probably about to get divorced from each other – to say “How? How does she do it?”
1. Light the iPod touch paper and retire. Prepare your playlist. Play your playlist. Do not break off from conversations in the middle of your soiree to tell everyone how you selected the songs, how brilliant you are at this sort of thing, or your opinions on why this version you have chosen for the iPod is better than someone else’s version. You’ll turn the power of the evening over to the musical anoraks, incite riots and break the sumptuous spell of welcome, mulled cider and badly cooked vol au vents that you have been spending the afternoon trying to conjure. To bore at your own party is only supplanted in the bad taste charts by your attempting to mock / wife swap / slap a guest whilst dressed as a Christmas Elf. No one will thank you. Maintain these rules : four upbeat songs to one slower one, four tenths disco and a healthy smattering of Capitol Era Sinatra.
2. When I think about you, I touch my elf. Now, this is a sensitive one, and one which is entirely dependent on whether you are single or not. If you must attempt sex at a Christmas party do not do it in the toilet, if it is your own party, if it involves religious role play or in front of the entire street which has collected with biblical horror in your front room. If you are too drunk to remember your 12 times table you are too drunk to successfully judge whether someone should be allowed to touch your vagina. Dressing as Santa / reindeer-themed other will play havoc with your antlers and make you a pitiful laughing stock, particularly if, by accident, during the initial seduction stages, you inadvertently got someone of the wrong gender due to the wearing of seasonal Gin Spectacles.
Which brings us onto….
3. Gordons Gin Spectacles will take you one way or the other. Gin is a fickle mistress with an unsavoury dark belly. She governs you and you do not get to govern her. Some women can drink it until the cows come home and sort of carry on until the cows go out to pasture again, or when someone reminds them they have to get up to go to work in three hours. Others are taken down a road full of thorns and intolerable rocky things which ends up in tearful depression. This is turn means that one by one the women from the party will disappear into the kitchen, like some elaborate party game, to mop up the crazed mascara tear-tracks of another woman who is having a psychological breakdown by the fridge and refuses to leave the kitchen all evening because her life is over and her boyfriend is a twat. Now, neither of those things would be true if said lady was to remove the Gin Spectacles, and instead choose to wear the Mojito Monocle, or the Beajoulais Binns or the BabyCham Shades. But where Gordon’s goes in, very quickly logic can go out. Force feeding drunken hysterics with Christmas pudding is usually successful, as Christmas pudding is so heavy and disgusting that no one has the energy requisite for lunatic hysterics when they are full of candied peel and brandy soaked sultanas. Put the gin away. You’d have happier partygoers if you put windscreen de-icer in the punch, to be honest.
4. Age can wither you, and customers can stale your infinite variety. “Loooook!” – says the 22 year old ingenue in the corner, dewy-eyed and peach-perfect, despite living on a diet of Marlboro Lights and lime-flavoured alcopops since 2008, “there’s a really really old lady who thinks she can dance!” she exclaims, pointing at a 37 year old attempting to roll with her homies in a M&S skirt having bored for Britain by talking about the lack of mortgage funding available in the UK for the last two hours. You have been warned. Allure will only forthcome after the age of 36 if you do not wear primary coloured tights or glitter on your face. Avoid cod ironic takes on teenage crazes. Never flirt with your friend’s sons or your son’s friends. The trick over the age of 35 is to dress like a home counties school matron with one choice of Slutty Flair. The Slutty Flair can be a killer heel or a drastic lipstick or a voluptuous echo of quivering cleavage that’s trapped like blancmange in a basque but attempt all three and you’ll end up looking like a cross between an ageing Strictly Come Dancing contestant and a Picasso painting gone wrong. Or, as I call it, a Picasso painting.
Customers, or indeed your guests can destroy your life if you let them, and sometimes if you don’t let them (Oh, how I have fond memories of Michael Portillo clambering naked on the roof shouting about the fiscal dangers of a single currency Europe. Such fun. But it did ruin the party. And his career wasn’t the same after we had to call Richmond upon Thames police out at two in the morning. He ended up making programmes about TRAINS, for God’s sake). The trick is the same as interior decoration. You know they say 70% one colour for a room, 20% another colour and 10% a further dramatic colour which can be expressed in soft furnishings or cocktail cabinets? Have the similar approach to guests : 70% tried and tested, regular nights out, Cafe Rouge evenings, sort of met everyone they’ve ever slept with etc friends, 20% interesting people who cut against the grain and who you haven’t seen for 15 years, and 10% psychotics. The psychotics in my experience, are indispensable when it comes to washing up. A congealed baking tray that once held cranberry and goats cheese tartlets doesn’t half give them something to get their mad hands stuck in to. The 20% is your Magic Component. This should be your glamour. These are the guests that the singletons will want to try to sleep with, guests who carry a special flair and who always make you feel young again. They should be well-preserved and a little odd. The kind of people you’d baulk at the idea of inviting to dinner with your nearest and dearest but who are perfect for this kind of evening. It is particularly effective if you have not seen these people since before you had children, grey hair or believed in taking multi-vitamins rather than vodka shots. Because the friends who think they know you well and who you have seen every day, drunk tea and and eaten digestives with, before sharing baby sick stories, will imagine you have a secret, varied life and that you are slightly fabulous. If you are struggling with the 20% Magic Component element, instruct your most interesting friend to bring another interesting friend of their own. Whatever you do, break patterns and don’t invite the same people who you have seen every year for 15 years.
5. Don’t give the wife of the Editor of a tabloid newspaper Archers Peach Schnapps. I saw this happen in 1989. I don’t know how it happened. Empires fell. Dynasties crumbled. Someone hit someone. Guests are still recovering.
6. Ban the two toxic conversation topics immediately. Housing prices and schooling. It is now an unbearable social cliche that when middle class people get together they inevitably discuss housing prices and state school catchment areas. This will ensure social suicide. No one really wants to be that boring, especially at Christmas. Most people didn’t like schools when they were forced to go to them. Now as grownups, are people speaking of little else? School is a ham. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing because they are run by despots and fools and drooling sadists. And talking about how much houses are worth is poor taste in a rent-riddled economy where redundancies are popping up all over the shop. My policy is that whenever these two topics crop up I am rendered catatonic and opt to put my head in the oven and End. It. All. I usually start screaming and throwing my shoes about. And I can’t begin to tell you what I do when people start discussing home improvements. Usually I take up heroin abuse. Keep conversation lively, row about books, scream about songs, introduce a party game. Of course, it’s a party – you shouldn’t be discussing little Willemina’s Scholarship to the local independent school run by repressed lesbians with fashion bypasses anyway. What should you be doing?
7. I’m in the mood for dancing. Pogo-ing is due a comeback this festive season. Particularly useful for using your head to knock out boring guests of the discuss-the-house-prices-variety. Once you have provided your guests with an excellent playlist and sound system, add clogs or tap shoes to the mix. If you have a friend who hasn’t had a date in 7 years, get her dancing with the local male trollop. Bridge social gaps with lunges and high kicks once you’ve cleared the sofa back against the wall. This is the season where cheesy songs and dances are mandatory. Get rid of the chairs unless you have invited octogenarians. Encourage dancing but don’t become one of those party dictators who leer drunkenly at guests whilst screaming “Get up and DANCE! You were always like this. You are so BORING! I can do the splits look! – oh whoops.”
8. Food, glorious food. You’ve heard it before. You heard it when you were fifteen. Line your stomach. Line their stomachs. Serve small dishes that won’t stain the furniture when paraletic acquaintances misjudge the hand to mouth distance ratio at 12.30am. Avoid fish utterly. Keep food coming at regular hourly intervals. You cannot have enough napkins or paper cups. Chocolate is always pleasing, as are individually wrapped penny sweets that remind us of Christmases past. Leave them in bowls dotted around the house, just like the composer Lionel Bart used to do with £50 notes and cocaine. This links us to…
9. The Verve were right. The drugs don’t really work. Although some drugs work at Christmas parties. The best drug for a Christmas party is aspirin. Take it before the party. If you really want to indulge in crazy rock and roll behaviour, have an ibuprofen before bed – crazy! Hash is comical in cakes, but unlikely to be successful if you haven’t warned visitors first: “Why did you put that in the mince pies? I have to drive to Doncaster later. And now I can’t remember my name. I don’t know whether my shoes are still on my feet. Can you see my shoes? Are you thirsty? I really really want some orange juice. Oh my God. ORANGE JUICE.” Ecstasy is best avoided unless you want everyone to embrace you and completely polish off the posh Hildon Mineral Water you got in for Christmas to impress your mother in law. Ecstasy also can, occasionally, bring about the most appalling, disgusting acts of honesty. If there’s one thing that’s entirely inappropriate for a social gathering it’s everyone telling everyone their true feelings because honesty is just a disaster waiting to happen and basically should be banned. Cocaine I would leave to the dotty, over-enthusiastic 20 year olds who sort of have empty spaces where a soul should be. Of all drugs, cocaine is the most annoying. Put simply : you will never get rid of your guests. There you’ll be in mid-February, trying to do a spot of gardening and some dreadful competitor for the Danielle Westbrook Nasal Cavity Collapse Award is still sitting on your sofa, smelling of stale sweat, frothing at the mouth and bleating on about how wonderful curtains are and that curtains are spelndid, and did you know they come in little patterns and I like the colours and I just adore curtains etc, where they have been since December 23rd. On the plus side, you might get your DVDs put in order.
10. The tree. You have to have a tree. Not a synthetic one but a real one. You have to have it covered in lights and you have to have a Father Christmas on the top to which you have Pritt Sticked a picture of George Clooney’s face. It can also be used as a weapon of attack against unwanted partygoers. Beware dancers careering into it and knocking it over. Have you ever tried to get a fir needle out of a man’s retina? I have and it was awful. Neil Kinnock has yet to forgive me. If you attend a Christmas party that does not have a tree, I advise you to leave immediately. These are not your people. I have a Christmas tree in the shape of a menorah which is festive for Hannukah, but many may have a Frosty The Snowman / The Wire / Downton Abbey themed Christmas tree, all of which can be very successful. The Downton Abbey Christmas Tree is particularly useful for the concealing of servants under its lower branches and permeating the air with a riotous seasonal smack of Edwardian certitude.
In the 1930s depression many people were so poor they couldn’t afford to believe in Father Christmas. Instead they dreamed of Santa Claws. Here he is looking festive and carrying some presents and a funeral wreath.
Here is an example of the 1950s Christmas craze for inviting dwarves in suits to parties. The lady on the far right is moving in to the dwarf near her in an attempt to knock him into the punch, another popular parlour game during the Eisenhower years.
“Bet you can’t guess what’s in the box, there, Gracie.” “Is it another hash cake, Mike? I do hope so. I’ve only had 6.”
John F Kennedy had to have a big one covered in tinsel, Democrat-friendly blue ribbons and small soldiers. He also liked big Christmas trees.
Merry Christmas one and all.
How, where did I put that gin?
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