Of seating plans, turtle doves and symphonies in watered silk – Part 1.

From a distance, it looked like a simple floral pattern: a series of large circles, each ringed by a series of smaller circles. Only upon closer inspection did it reveal itself as the seating plan for my colleague’s wedding. We huddled round her desk, marvelling at the precision of it all.

“Was it all very political? Are there people that you’ve got to keep apart at all cost?”

“Yeah, a few. You know, ex-partners…”

God, the flashbacks. I was instantly reminded of the hours that K and I spent, drawing up a seating plan for my 40th birthday party. It was like a very complicated logic puzzle: one false move, and the whole structure would collapse. Ex-partners weren’t even the half of it; there were people in the same room who hadn’t spoken to each other in years. Not just the odd one or two, either; there must have been at least seven or eight potential major flashpoints to defuse. When good cliques go bad, and all that.

We were awfully proud with the finished product. One of my finest ever pieces of Excel-manship, if I may be so bold. OK, so shoving most of the married couples together (with just the one Token Gay, for seasoning) did look a leetle bit crass (*), but we were generally delighted with each table’s carefully weighted balance of common interests, and its finely tuned blend of pre-existing friendships and potential new alliances. Indeed, when speculating upon all the new social connections that might derive from this one luncheon party, we could get quite starry-eyed. Thingy and thingy: they’ve got so much in common! And thingy, two seats away: he’ll have the whole table in stitches!

Which would have been great, if the diameter of each round table hadn’t been about twice as wide as estimated. This meant that, rather in the manner of a formal court banquet, each guest could only comfortably converse with the person immediately next to them. The whole premise of our plan had been that guests could talk freely across the table, with anyone they pleased. Thus restricted, it was now revealed as woefully wide of the mark. All over the room, people were left picking at their meals in silence, as adjacent pairs of old friends went into impenetrable huddles. (Such table etiquette would never have held sway at court, but what can you do?) Alternatively, people who had met maybe once or twice before, maybe in a pub or at a party, were forced to spin out their brief acquaintance into many hours of strained chit-chat, with no reprieve in sight.

Still, at least we knew the names of all our guests, and at least we invited both halves of each couple. Unlike some weddings in the 1980s which I could mention. Ooh, I feel some unresolved bitterness coming on…

(*) Update. Our office bride-to-be, this afternoon:

“I’ve put all the gays together on the same table. Do you reckon that’s all right?”

“Of course it is. Basic rule of social engagement: in any large gathering, ALL the gay people WILL automatically seek each other out, and WILL form an Exclusive Gay Huddle in one area of the room. It’s a sort of natural process of self-ghettoisation. You can’t buck the laws of nature, so why stand in their way? Besides, you want one table to be leading all the whooping during the speeches, don’t you?”

Congratulations on your forthcoming wedding, S. Hope it all goes wonderfully for you.

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