Something strange and unwelcome is happening to me: I am turning into a non-party person. Whereas once I would turn up, as the saying goes, to the opening of an envelope, last week I stayed home first, on Friday, for the launch of an Extremely Famous Author’s book (name removed in order to protect your ears from the harsh clang of a name being dropped) and then, the next day, for the annual party of an old colleague and friend, which I haven’t been able to go to for the past umpteen years, simply due to diary clashes and/or childcare duties.
This was different to a big literary party. This was going to be a shindig attended by many people I love and have known for years and years (and yet still love them).
There were two snags, though: (1) it was being held south of the river, in Lewisham, and (2) I was feeling lousy. That kind of non-specific exhaustion lousy, where the eyes feel weighted in their sockets, like those of a creepy doll in a horror film, and there is a marked disinclination to travel to parts of London if either a train journey or a ruinously expensive minicab journey is involved. (You know civilisation has
taken some kind of wrong turn somewhere when you discover that you can now fly to an airport roughly near Venice for less than the cost of a taxi ride within London.)
So I get out my large-scale map of the city and, with the Hovel as the centre, draw a circle indicating the furthest border at which this party, which I really have been looking forward to going to, would have to be for me to haul my carcass out there. The circle’s boundaries are around Swiss Cottage to the north and Soho to the south.
Still, I reckon that maybe a spruce-up will help and I am disgusted with myself for such feebleness, so shower and shave and dress reasonably smartly . . . but no. I find that it is not enough to wash the tiredness from my bones. I try that old wheeze where you say to yourself something like: “It is much better to have done something and regretted it than not done something and then wondered for the rest of your life, blah, blah, blah.” You know what? That saying is a crock and anyone who believes it or, worse, lives their life by it, is operating under profound self-delusion.
I can think of any number of things I should not have done but have and very few things I have not done that I should have. Even the unambiguous pass made at me decades ago by a multimillionaire’s daughter – on whom, moreover, I had the most enormous crush – I was right to turn down. Even more relevantly, I can think of many parties I have gone to that I have deeply wished I hadn’t.
So, the clock ticks, the half-hourly trains to Ladywell trundle away from Charing Cross and the window of opportunity slowly closes – and besides, Doctor Who is on and I am alone in the Hovel . . .
It is that last that is the clincher and, I suddenly suspect, the real underlying reason why I am so reluctant to leave. For it is all very well living in fun Bohemia in central London but the downside of that is that I have to share accommodation. Yet, this evening, I have the run of the place to myself.
You know what? When you’re going to be 50 next year, living in shared accommodation, even with the most delightful companions, isn’t fun or something to be particularly proud of. There are only four people on earth I would really like to live with and three of them are my children. One of the basic definitions of acceptable shared living arrangements is this: that you live with people who could, without their asking, use your toothpaste and you wouldn’t mind in the slightest.
Decline and fall
I have been trying to pretend that this place is more my own these days: buying things to hang on the wall, tidying up, and so on. It is a mockery, a simulacrum of domesticity. As the autumn approaches, not only of the year but of my life, I start worrying about where I can really cosy up in without fear. (It’s the prospect of new life that brings out the nesting instinct in women; it’s the prospect of death that brings it out in men. Discuss.)
So, what with one thing and another, I decide to stay at home, if an expression of humiliating inertia can be dignified with the word “decide”, and spend an evening in, enjoying that exquisitely bitter cocktail of emotions – remorse, regret and self-pity – and by the time I realise I really ought to have gone to the party, it is too late.
Still, Doctor Who was good, wasn’t it?