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11 June 2023

I went to a party so magical it could have been a dream – and I didn’t disgrace myself

You know it’s going to be a cut above a standard summer barbecue when guests have a choice of two meadows to park in.

By Nicholas Lezard

And the glamorous lifestyle continues. But I think that’s it for now. Maybe for good. The weekend before last I was in the Bystrzyckie Mountains of south-west Poland; the week before that I was at the book launch of Cleo Watson’s hugely entertaining novel about horrible Tory politicians, Whips (Theresa May was there too – but I did not speak to her, for even though her successors as PM were worse than her, we must not forget that she, too, was dreadful); and last weekend I was at one of those parties that you feel took place in Fäerie and that, when it is over, leaves one feeling lost and miserable and bereft.

It started with the lift I got there. The party was given by my friend J—, the second of my three best Brighton friends, and his wife, G—, whom I do not know so well but she is also extremely pleasant. I knew they had a gaff out in the countryside, about a 40-minute drive from Brighton, and that they rented it out for the weekends for some vast sum. I had seen some photos and gone “Oh how lovely”, in a way that suggested mild as opposed to hostile indifference, for who can tell what Avalon looks like from a photo? So J— stopped showing me photos, and that was fine by me.

[See also: Among my life’s highlights is the time I made Martin Amis slap his thigh with laughter]

My envy started with the lift, in the back of a spanking new Peugeot convertible. I don’t know for certain that it was spanking new because you can’t tell the age of a car from a glance at the number plate any more, but I do know that it was newer than any car I have ever had. It was also more convertible than any car I have ever had. It was a sunny day and I insisted on the roof being taken down, which was a bit of a problem as the boot was full of tents and drinks and things for the party, including a watermelon. These were all piled around and on top of me on the back seat so the roof could fold magically into the boot. I didn’t care, but have you any idea how heavy a watermelon is? You’d think they’d be light but they’re very much not so.

I first had an intimation that J—’s place was going to be bigger than I thought when it became clear we had a choice of two meadows to park in. I don’t know about you, but I have always found one meadow more than enough. I mean I do love a meadow, but I couldn’t mow a whole one. And at the end of one of them, some quarter of a mile away in the distance, stood an enormous white cuboid structure – the kind that splits open to reveal a Bond villain’s missile-launching lair. Not the kind of place owned by an art lecturer at [redacted] University.

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J— does not present, to use the medical verb, as rich; in fact, everything about him is delightful, apart from his support for Spurs, and even I can forgive him that; but he doesn’t act like someone who has managed to rob Fort Knox and get away with it. Am I going to have to start calling him Blofeld or Drax or Goldfinger? The drinks are definitely on him the next time we go for a pint.

As for the party… This was the first proper party I’d been to since – actually, I’ve been to two parties lately, but while they were lovely they were not on this scale. This one had barbecues and enormous tables laden with booze and finely made grub and a fire pit in which one could have burned a whole branch of Timpson without it spilling over. There were beautiful people there, including one woman in a huge floppy distressed straw hat which I borrowed while chatting to her in order to stop her husband looking at me Like That. I’m not sure it worked. I met the auntie of my eldest child’s best friend and various other people I could play the oh-so-you-know-so-and-so game with. I drank, not to obvious excess, yet enough to loosen my tongue and release some of my most scandalous anecdotes. Not being in an enclosed space made me feel as if I could talk louder.

And so the time came when I started boring myself. And if I’m doing that, then what must other people be feeling? It was well past midnight, and I would have to start thinking about the tent I was going to be sleeping in. I had a berth, but the owner was getting deep into what looked like suggestive conversation and I didn’t want to impose. And if I stayed at J—’s place I’d simply never leave. So, on the spur of the moment, I took up a young man’s offer of a lift back to Brighton and I reflected on how J— and G— have lived their lives so well and I have not, and it is too late for me to do anything about it.

[See also: On a trip to Poland, I am reminded that my heyday has been and very much gone]

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This article appears in the 14 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Over and Out