I'm going to have to do something pretty drastic about my circulating. It's not long since I suffered from the problem of being unable to detach myself from other party guests. While others all around me would be displaying the kind of animated interest that suggested they were talking to people who fully shared their sensibilities, I would inevitably find myself superglued to the one person who'd been invited because of a serious muddle in the invitation list. In much the same way that the country and western singer Hank Wangford would introduce his lead guitarist as a man who'd just missed the heights of rock 'n' roll fame - "Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please give a very warm welcome to Terry Lee Lewis" - so I would find that I had spent almost an entire evening with failed contenders such as A R Byatt, D K Enright or A B Gill.
After several such unfortunate incidents, I eventually purchased a splendid little primer by the social psychologist Oswald Q Martin, which listed two essential strategies for disentanglement. In the first place, advised Martin, one must accustom one's fellow conversationalist to the idea that one has a wandering eye. "Avoid too much eye contact with the other person and whenever possible give undue optical attention to such other features of the room as the pictures on the wall or the middle of one's half-eaten vol-au-vent. In this way, your co-conversationalist will become attuned to the idea that you have a wandering eye and will find it perfectly natural when you suddenly allow your eyes to focus on a neighbouring guest and make your apologetic departure from their company."
If your fellow guest attempted to thwart this move by shifting themselves like a sightscreen into your new eye-line (a tactic once used very successfully against me by Harry Oldman at a BBC Christmas party), then it was time to move on to Martin's second strategy. "Make certain you arrive with one of your shoelaces partly undone. You may then suddenly appear to notice this fault in the middle of one of your co-conversationalist's monologues, drop to the floor to tie the offending lace, and then, by a subtle shift of weight from one foot to the other, ensure that when you finally rise you have displaced your body several feet to the left and are now standing in entirely different company."
Even if I have not regularly resorted to these ploys, their presence in my repertoire has given me so much confidence that I now never have a moment's anxiety about my ability to escape a tedious fellow guest. But, as I realised last Saturday at Jill and Raymond's house-warming party in Stockwell (which they'd somewhat incongruously decided to hold not in the house, but on a small patch of rainswept garden), I've become so infatuated by my social escapology that I'm now raring to go almost before I've discovered my partner's name. There must have been more than 200 people there (including a small group huddled under a rhododendron bush plotting to dig a tunnel to bring them up inside the invitingly dry living room), but, long before anyone had started asking about minicab numbers, I was on my third circuit.
When I rang Jill on Sunday to thank her for the party, she asked if I'd got home safely. Why did she ask? "Oh nothing, really. But Raymond noticed you standing in the corner of the garden at about midnight apologising for the fact that you must start circulating." "Nothing wrong with that, surely?" "Nothing at all. Except for the fact that you appeared to be offering your profound apologies to our sycamore tree."