OPINION: ROBERT INCE
At every party there are two kinds of people – those who want to go home and those who don't. Robert Ince wonders why he is always one of the former.
I recently read an interview with someone in the literary world admitting to a peculiar aversion to parties. This was instantly relatable, thinking of my own rocky relationship with le rassemblement festif.
This mild party phobia is, I'm certain, a vestigial symptom of marginalised school days trauma which means even 20 odd years later I still approach parties, at best, in the same way most would a job interview. The prospect brings about a riptide of anxiety, the type of which can only be assuaged by finding some restorative nook like a bathroom cubicle to hide.
Despite this, I was recently compelled to attend the birthday party of an acquaintance in London, despite not knowing anyone else there. I gingerly enter the function room above a pub in Bermondsey to find myself amongst mainly men in checked shirts and beards trimmed perfectly to the jawline. I notice my arrival is not even met with a cursory glance. So I ask someone through the din the host’s whereabouts, to which he produces a pen and offers it with a look of pity, or possibly disdain.
“What's that for?” I ask.
“You asked for a pen?”
“No, I asked where is Ben…?”
And with a shrug, his back is turned and that's my signal to move along. So I do, shuffling through the throng to the long table at the far wall and find salvation in a pork pie.
Quentin Crisp once observed parties as the smiling and nodding racket. I can't think of a better description. What else is one to do other than politely feign interest at a stranger’s banalities. This I do for an hour listening to an intergenerational gay couple's stultifying conversation with a Hugo from Bushey on the palliatives to be found in modern architecture. After becoming aware I'm not part of the discussion at all, I hector myself for having left the sofa where I could've been watching Coronation Street.
Small talk is an art form anathema to many, and my lousy attempts border often on the egregious. Being inebriated helpfully loosens the tongue, and then thankfully dampens the regret at letting said tongue ramble to an ignominious punchline.
But the triteness of small talk has always seemed to me masking the truths about the bigger universal themes of life; love, fear, death. So hours later, and after my sixth whisky chaser, I’m indulging a complete stranger in how a friend cancelled our holiday plans and I’m declaring friendship armageddon to that usual leonine face of apathy. Which could've just been because he's South African. Now, he either took pity on my woeful tale or he simply wanted an end to my noise, but he offered his Cornish cottage for the week. For free.
A week later and I'm cycling along the far western coast of Cornwall to Marazion, rejuvenated by the sea air and a superb sun setting over the sodium yellow horizon of the bay. And it dawns on me, perhaps parties aren’t that bad after all.