’Tis always the season to be jolly. As invitations for the glittering parties come thunking down on doormats, many of us feel the hibernating urge overwhelming the social one. Box sets, baked potatoes and bubble bath exude their siren song, lulling us with promises of early nights and wintry cosiness. Nevertheless, this is the time to put your best foot forward. Parties must be attended, acquaintances made, canapés consumed and carol concert tickets purchased. How to survive the gruelling round of pre-Christmas parties? Think of attending as performing a social service.
Time was when guests at a party – be it dinner, drinks or weekend – were out to please. They would arrive at the door shiny and charged-up, like a newly unwrapped iPhone. There was no nonsense about emails detailing various food fads and changes of plan. Can you imagine Patrick Leigh Fermor – not incidentally the most popular man of his generation – calling ahead to announce he was gluten intolerant and would be two hours late? Or Nancy Astor flaking at the last minute with a feeble excuse? Of course not. These old-timers recognised that all a host wants is for her guests to bring merriment and cheer in their wake.
When you close your front door, you should leave your troubles firmly locked up behind you. There’s a reason why therapy exists: so you don’t bore your friends to death. Whining is not acceptable: laugh and the world laughs with you, moan and you dine alone. All too soon, the serial complainer will find themself isolated and outcast, wondering why the invitations have dried up.
It’s perfectly all right to admit to calamity, so long as it’s in anecdotal form and you grin broadly while relating various woes. Or take a tip from top social arbiter Mary Killen, of this stable, and when asked how you are simply say: ‘Passable, thank you.’ A concerned close friend can question and probe; a busy hostess can giggle and carry on passing around the champagne.
Nicky Haslam has been known to attend ten parties a night, so great is the demand for his company. Why? He sprinkles good cheer like fairy dust, wherever he treads. He would never show up anywhere looking less than delighted to be there. Twinkling with irony is good; scowling is bad – unless you’re under eighteen, a pop star or pathologically shy.
Likewise the Johnson siblings, particularly Rachel and Boris, whose very presence at a party shows they’re out to have a good time. This doesn’t mean get roaring drunk, mind you. It’s more about being entertaining and entertained, making it worth your hostess’ while. And the more you make your presence felt, the happier your hostess will be. The Marquess of Worcester roams around parties roaring with laughter and gesticulating wildly: he is one of the most invited men in England.
Warm is the new cool. Thank God. The artic chilliness of Andy Warhol’s factory has given way to the mega-watt grin of Cara Delevigne. Selfies and Instagram have both played their part: they are celebratory and silly, not sneering and snide. It’s no longer acceptable to sit sulking in a corner, aggressively thin and trendy. You must thank your host, have a good store of amusing anecdotes and be prepared to sing for your supper. Wouldn’t you rather be at a do with polite, engaged and amusing people than a so-called hipster gathering with a lachrymose crowd? Exactly. It used to be called being ‘life-enhancing’. Time to enhance our lives once again.