Class conscious

The drinks party season is upon us once more. The drinks party is a phenomenon rarely encountered in upper-working/lower-middle- class York. Drinks, yes. There are plenty of those; parties, too. But not drinks parties.

I didn't go to my first one until I was at Oxford, and I remember being shocked by the timing of the thing: 6.30pm until 8.30pm. As a youth in York, I had tended not to hit the pubs until 8pm, so 6.30pm seemed scandalously early to start drinking. It was particularly worrying because clearly you're not going to do anything after a drinks party except carry on drinking, so if I accepted this invitation, I would in effect be forced to spend the entire evening boozing. It was a challenge I was willing to accept, however, so off I went.

I can't remember what happened but I'm sure I made complete prat of myself. As a consequence of not being quite au fait with middle-class etiquette, I make a faux pas within ten seconds of walking through the door of any drinks party. For example, a woman might kiss me on both cheeks by way of greeting. I will then lumberingly kiss her back on one cheek, and if I accomplish this without standing on her foot, I'm so relieved that I might forget about the second one until a while afterwards. But if you only essay the follow-up kiss belatedly, it tends to look like a sexual assault.

Either way, I end up feeling like a brute. I also cannot make small-talk. Even after 15 years of London drinks parties, I have to force myself to say "How are you?" to people. The trouble is, I guess, that I don't really care how they are.

Lacking the confidence to prise my way into existing conversations, I adopt a strategy of looking as though I am just about to start talking to someone. I do this by purposefully striding towards a clutch of people, only to veer away at the last moment. It can be quite a strain keeping this up for an hour or so - which I often have done - until I hear the welcoming tones of another non-plummy voice, at which point my strategy becomes clear: I move towards the owner of this voice, and bore him or her rigid until the party ends.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 1999 issue of the New Statesman, My night with Mad Frankie Fraser