To Manchester for the week, where this blog found itself in a room full of old people. We were all there to mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the (now deceased) Greater Manchester Council and were hell bent on drinking half pints and decaffeinated coffee and generally having the best of times. Mrs Blog had declined the opportunity to be my “and partner” – she’s met some old people before and, anyway, there was the second half of Shetland on telly. (Have I already mentioned that Mrs Blog is Scottish like Michael Gove is an idiot – that is, all the time.)
This was, you understand, not some random event we had selected from a publication entitled “Anniversaries ‘R’ Us” – like the third reading of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act 1935, say, or the discovery of putty. We had all actually worked at said Council. Or, at least, been on its payroll – I make no specific comment about individual work output. (I don’t think we had actual targets or annual appraisals in those misguided, disadvantaged days before the advent of corporate bollocks governance, but somehow we got by.)
The invitation to the party came round in a suitably large font for our age group, posing the kind of tricky questions you might have thought you’d left behind once they’d passed the brown envelope round the office, signed the card (“Who was he again?”) and shown you the door:
“Would you like to be seated near to someone in particular?”
Now, what sort of poser is that? If I say that I’m keen to sit with X and Y but, on arrival, find that I’m allocated to a table far away, what does that tell me about their response to the same question? Is 40 years simply too soon to hint at a degree of camaraderie that may not be reciprocated? I decided to settle for “Anyone but Norman”. (You know who you are. Let’s just accept it.)
I guess I could have turned down the invitation – aiming to create the impression (erroneously) that I had more interesting things that I could be doing on a Tuesday night – but the hope that there might be someone present with greater hair loss or even more disturbing waist line proved too strong.
On arrival, aware there would be former colleagues that I would struggle to recognise, I opted to avoid the prospect of being met with an anxious, unknowing stare, by shoving out a hand towards the nearest guest and announcing who I was – while I could still remember. The recipient looked slightly startled, but informed me that his name was Ivan and he was pleased to welcome my friends and me to the restaurant.
I began to circulate. This was not, I was aware, the kind of group where it was appropriate to ask someone, by way of greeting, how they were. At our age, they’re inclined to tell you. Nor is “You’re looking well” necessarily a helpful gambit, implying as it does, “Because we’d heard you were, you know…” And any drug scene there may have been when we first knew each other 40 years ago (I’m speaking theoretically here, officer) is more likely now to involve us comparing notes on 75 mg aspirins and statins.
Occasionally I would feel that I half remembered something about an individual from the distant past and hoped that my ability to recall that detail would demonstrate what a decent guy I was:
“Hey, I may be a million miles out here, but wasn’t it you that had that really embarrassing incident in A&E with the…”
“Oh, ok. But I guess at least it’s better that I can remember something like that about you than nothing at all!”
“Oh. Oh, look. Over there, someone else I must go and speak to…”
Buying a round of drinks can raise issues of course, especially at a celebration likely to take place once every decade or two. “Oh, thanks, yes. Just a pint then. Let me get the first one next time – ha, ha.”
The evening passed very pleasantly. We failed to get any of the quiz questions right, whether recalling a colleague’s old phone extension or the reference number of the thickest correspondence file; we harked back to great lines from Christmas parties; and we congratulated ourselves on outlasting Mrs Thatcher.
And the seating plan? You’re right of course. I headed for the table to which I had been allotted. “Hi Norman!” I cried, “Great to see you after all these years! How are you??”