“Do you think my mind is maturing late, or simply rotted early?”

I recently found myself at a party in a club in London. This is unusual for me because I generally make a rule not to go to clubs. I know myself well enough to have finally realised that when I thought I liked them, I was young enough to pretend I did so on the slim chance I copped off with someone. But now I’m old enough to know that I don’t like them and I’m 100% not going to cop off with anybody. In addition, the very fact that I was there was an accident (I thought I was going to a pub) and you can tell I was effervescent with excitement for the evening ahead. Whilst talking to my friend about the night I realised that I was now a complete alien to these surroundings.

At some point in the past few years I had stumbled over the point of no return with all the grace of an elephant trying Parkour. I found that the dry ice, once a heady mix of inexplicable science and MTV, now just stank, choked and unsighted me; the group of screaming haircuts on stage seemed oblivious to the fact that their clothes had the style and glow of something you might have picked up from a charity shop in Chernobyl; and the speakers seemed less about acoustics and more about raping your internal organs through vibration alone. But then I realised that this wasn’t so much a huge shift in my social positioning, from the cyclonic centre of ‘crunk’ to the peeved periphery, and that regardless of my age, I’m always stood there in astonishment at what’s going on around me, through this dry-ice, like a gormless Gorilla in the mist. Only recently have I come to terms with this and stopped making so much of an effort to ‘appear’ to be having a good time when I’m not. And once you’ve finished reading this, you’ll realise it’s for the best. It really is.

Much of my time at parties, especially in clubs, is passed finding the perfect position to spend the majority of my evening. This might sound unusual but for me it’s pretty important that I discover the ‘sweet spot’; a place I’m comfortable enough to get the right balance of enjoyment. Someone, somewhere will have already calculated the exact distance I’m talking about. They’ll probably call it ‘dithermetrics’. The exact distance required to be close enough to the dance-floor that you’re not the trembling party-apologist who may as well paint themselves to the wall, but far enough away that you aren’t pulled into the vibrating vortex of dance. Getting this balance right for a social anomaly like me requires years of experience, and is crucial to prevent either of these situations arising. An ‘Artisan of Avoidance’ if you like.

On the one end of this dividing line you have the moment when you can suddenly find yourself accidentally on the dance-floor. Now I’m not a bad dancer. I’m not great, but I’m not an embarrassment either. (We’ll ignore for one second that my sister once wrote a script with a character loosely based on me who, whilst dancing at a party, was described as “like a Thalidomide dwarf with only stumps for arms trying to swat away invisible flies”). My issue comes with the mood I’m in. On the rare occasion that I am drunk, happy and carefree enough to try, it’s not so much a dance as a rhythmical flail. Like trying to point several strands of cooked spaghetti at all four corners of the room simultaneously. When I’m simply unsure, I always play safe. There’s nothing worse than the moment you find yourself in the middle of a group of strangers and find that you’ve become incredibly aware of your joints and they just don’t fancy it. Like trying to force Punch and Judy to breakdance. Then you can try and stand on the sidelines, about as ‘in and out’ of the proceedings as the Hokey-Cokey. I know, too, that there’s no conceivable way of ‘hovering in time to the music’. I know, because I’ve tried. You simply end up looking like you’re strangely happy to need the loo.

At the other end of this dividing line you need to ensure that you don’t drift too far from the fun. This essentially marks you out the po-faced pariah; from here there is very little return. No matter how hard you attempt to claw your way back into the inner circle now, you have all the ‘street cred’ of a Trappist Monk. One of the first times this happened to me, or at least the first time that I haven’t deleted from painful memory, the panic written across my pock-marked gurn-factory must have been tangible. Having realised too late that I had let this party slide with too little dancing, too few mates and an understanding of narcotics that extended only as far as the word’s Greek etymology, I scuffed my way to the nearest partygoer I deemed at least 3 levels up on the barometer of cool and declared something that, to this day has made every one of my finger’s wince and weep to type: “This choon is phat matey”.

Now, several issues here. Firstly, my public school upbringing has left me with an accent that, despite continuous vocal flagellation to compensate, can only be described as ‘a bit plum’. More ‘Tarquin’ than ‘Ta mate’. So matching this accent to that phrase was like trying to marry the word ‘vaudeville’ to a chip. Secondly, in my trembling haste to fit in, I’d added the all too conspicuous ‘y’ to the end of ‘mate’. ‘Mate’ you can get away with. ‘Mate’ is an unnoticed and platonic nod to your own gender. ‘Mate’ is now so ubiquitous in conversation between men as to be almost indiscernable. It’s a vocal back-slapping. However, add the letter ‘y’ on the end and you may as well have jumped onto Blackbeard’s ship (a place I clearly now thought I was) and hoisted up a sail stating, in 20 foot high lettering, that “I am not one of you stinking, swarthy heathens and would you mind awfully if we toned down the rabble-rousing at ‘lights out'”.

However, the worst, and yes it gets worse, was that, not content with my glittering success so far, I thought it was probably for the best that I clarified the spelling of the words ‘phat’ and ‘choon’, because clearly I didn’t look like quite enough of a chinless dandy already, and exclaimed: “That is, of course, PH and CH, yeah? Phat and choon?”.  Yes, Leo, what you needed there was the additional ‘signpost of twat’ to not so much continue to dig your hole but chew your way to the Earth’s core. Now we all know that looks can kill but this was the electric chair of glares. As you can imagine I went home alone that night and didn’t make any new friends.

It’s a wonder that I allow myself out at all. I should really signpost my idiocy as a warning to others with the social equivalent of a leprosy bell. This way we all avoid the discomfort of assuming I’m worth either dancing, carousing or conversing with. The quote at the top of this post is one by Ogden Nash, the American Humorist, who wrote a short poem called ‘Lines on Facing Forty’. It seems relevant to me, not simply because I’m now closer to that age than twenty, but because, as stated at the beginning, I’m often caught in the headlights of communal discomfort, undecided as to whether I am already “rotted” or still “maturing”. And certainly more than a bit cheesy.