I didn’t really want to go to the swanky hotel’s first birthday party – it was too soon after the excesses of the weekend – but K said come on, it will be a laugh, people we know are going, it’s free booze and gourmet nibbles, and it’s a good excuse to put on our smart new trendy gear and pose around a bit. Sometimes, he knows exactly how to speak my language.
“It’s cocktails and beer in the restaurant, or champagne and wine in the lobby.”
What a peculiar way to organise your drinks. We turn right and battle through to the lobby, winding through sprawling clumps of braying flash trash who think this do is the fucking business, mate. There’s a big queue for fizz – except that it’s more of a scrum, as most of the flash trash evidently consider themselves above waiting in line. No-one doing the rounds with trays, except for one lone waitress with just two glasses left; she promises to return with more, and is never seen again.
Awkward, over-calculated postures; fake smiles betrayed by eyes which are constantly scanning the brightly-lit space; everyone is performing, everyone is “on”. (And I choose my prepositions carefully, hur hur.) Playing the game is the only option. Our journalist friend (already battling to suppress his dirty looks when no-one is watching) introduces us to someone of his acquaintance who has wandered into our orbit.
“This is K, this is Mike, this is S.”
She smiles and greets K, swivels her head straight past me in one smooth, flawless motion, then smiles and greets S. In a split second, she has correctly calculated that I am an outsider at this game, and thus am no-one worth knowing.
As we have observed on many occasions, our journalist friend is blessed with uncommonly acute social antennae. He waits a minute or so, and then has another bash at bringing me into the game.
“This is Mike. This man is one of the country’s top bloggers. He’s just been featured in The Observer.”
(In brackets. In the middle of a list. At the back end of Page Two. But now is not a time to quibble.)
In a split second, she has snapped straight back round to face me, arm already outstreched, face wreathed in smiles. “Hi! Very pleased to meet you!”
As I, in turn, make my own calculations and act on them accordingly. Two can play this game, missy.
An enthusiastic, natural networker, our journalist friend has recently taken to talking me up everywhere as “one of the country’s top bloggers”. As I blushingly make to duck and wince – bobbing my face, Lady Di style, beneath an imagined (and long vanished) floppy fringe – I discover with some surprise that the old reactions of bafflement, condescension or total disinterest have all but vanished. People actually look impressed. Post-BdJ, her book deal, and all the attendant guessing games in the national press, everyone in these circles now knows exactly what a blogger is. Or thinks they do, at any rate. We’re the phemomenon du jour, don’t you know. We’re really frightfully au courant. No longer viewed as sad little loudmouths, bleating away to nobody in particular, we’re getting respect. What a richly ironic proposition – that the lascivious diaries of a call girl could finally be conferring respectability upon us all.
Back at the swanky do, I am slowly drowning. Our friend from the boutique hotel is regaling us with mischievous gossip about the boy band who checked in this afternoon. (“Our masseuse says that X has such stinky feet!”) For me, this should be conversational home ground – an easy lob. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more of an effort of will to focus on what is being said. An overpowering sense of disconnection is taking me over. The people standing around me no longer seem quite real; it is as if I am observing them through a bubble. Even their voices are sounding muffled; words reverberating inside my head, but their meaning failing to reach my brain. I keep zoning out, staring into the middle distance, longing to be anywhere but here – and then frantically snapping back into the room, trying to arrange my facial features into some semblance of the requisite brightness, failing badly, and then zoning out again. Insulating myself with ever-thickening layers of guilt.
As the cycle repeats, panic starts to rise inside me, causing my heart to race and my temples to pound. I even feel slightly sick. I have to get out of this room. NOW. Handing my glass to K, I mumble an excuse and flee for the sanctuary of a toilet cubicle, where I sit for several minutes, trying to calm myself, waiting for the pounding and the throbbing to stop.
If I stay in here any longer, people will wonder where I am. A fresh wave of anxiety hits, pushing me back out into the lobby. I try and flash a look at K, but we are in uncharted waters here, and there is no meaningful signal which I can send. Besides which, he is playing the game to perfection, networking all around with his customary apparent ease, attracting people towards him with that understated charisma which he doesn’t quite know that he has. I have no wish to put him off his stroke. A new anxiety hits me: that I might be letting him down in public. The pounding and the throbbing return, even as a couple of goons in matching white sportswear suddenly materialise next to me, tumbling around on the lobby floor in an ill-conceived display – half judo, half breakdancing – which is presumably meant to be the evening’s “turn”. It is a staggering misjudgment. No-one quite knows how to react. Even the flash trash are looking uncomfortable.
And I can take no more. Another quick mumble to K, and I am out of the door before he even has the chance to react. Ten minutes later, I am back at home, sitting semi-catatonic in the dark in my Marc Jacobs pea coat and my too-tight Prada shoes, breathing in and breathing out, and finally understanding why K sometimes has to leave noisy gay clubs in a hurry.