If Andy Williams’s lyrical old adage is to be believed, we’re barrelling towards the most wonderful time of the year. And true, the festive season does seem to bring out a certain welcome wonkiness in people: high fashion gives way to novelty knitwear, posturing playlists lose out to kitsch Christmas hits, and the milk substitute of choice no longer seems to be oat or almond, but Baileys.
November ebbing into December also marks the start of party season, a run of about three-and-a-half weeks of high spirits fuelled by either prosecco and paracetamol or champagne and codeine, depending on whether it’s you or expenses paying. Glorious. Ish.
These are not, after all, calm waters. Parties — especially any at which one’s attendance is professionally mandated — burst at the seams with potential horrors. Bad food and drink, offered without obligations, can be politely declined. Bad chats, on the other hand, have the lethal trappings of quicksand: once you realise you’re stuck, it’s too late — and the more one tries to wriggle out of it, the worse it is. Bores never know they’re doing it. That’s the trouble. Politics, the weather, their kids — no unmentionable is off the table.
There are two cures that I know of. One is mastering the art of the pithy rejoinder. Out-and-out rudeness won’t cut it; too much risk of argument and what if that’s boring, too? Escaping conversation is a subtler thing. The writer Debora Robertson offered a perfect example on Twitter yesterday when she mentioned an old acquaintance — wife of an ambassador and therefore well versed in these things — who, to quietly kill a convo, would deftly smile and, hand patting hand, deliver the ruinous: “I mustn’t monopolise you any longer.” The monster.
There is an elegance in this kind of brutality though, where, if you’re lucky, the victim doesn’t sense the poison until it’s too late. Still, if Dorothy Parker-like witticisms aren’t forthcoming, there is an alternative — stick with the quicksand theme, don’t move a muscle, and wait for rescue. Someone will be along in a minute. It’s a tedious world out there. Godspeed.