BACK in October, Rachel and I went clubbing in the premier (and only) nightclub in Beaconsfield. It was a Wednesday night, I had work the next day, and I was taking antibiotics. I hadn't been in a nightclub since the Woolshed in Cairns, Australia, a year previously, and before that since 2006. Clubs just aren't my scene - I'd rather be somewhere that requires you to be less self-conscious, and able to hear what people are saying to you. In addition, the last year has done much damage to my ability to handle social situations. I knew next to nobody, and I just couldn't find a way to converse and fit in with them. I had forgotten how to dance. I couldn't drink, but somebody lovingly spiked my Coca Cola anyway. Plus the music was terrible.
I really was quite upset about my inability to cope.
So imagine, then, my trepidation when it came to the office Christmas party. Not only have I only just started to relax at work, but I had the stresses of getting home, fancy dress and, well, a late night to contend with. I'm getting old, you see. And did I mention I've forgotten how to dance?
At 5.30 the entire office moved to the atrium for 'champagne' and end-of-year speeches. There was a lot of fizzy wine. The Christmas lunch had been served over the last two days in different sittings, with sandwiches provided on the alternative day. Having gone out for lunch, we now had our spare sandwiches to line our stomachs to offset the cava.
But as we boarded the coach that had been put on to take us to the club, things momentarily got a little bit strange. The bus driver actually told me off for having food on the coach. Suddenly feeling twelve years old, I protested, saying: "I won't eat it on the bus, I promise!" and hid my sandwich in my coat. But, just like every twelve-year-old, I got the sandwich out again once out of the eyeline of the driver.
The club was actually rather fancy. Free bubbly was handed round at the door and the bar was free all night. Canapes were brought round by waiters and waitresses, and a chocolate fountain and vodka luge kept the punters happy.
The club was in Soho. I hadn't really known what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find it a rather respectable place. However, while the waiters wore waistcoats and looked rather dapper, the waitresses were, to quote my colleague Isobel (who is very fond of gin), "dressed like prostitutes". It was an odd and somewhat amusing experience when one such waitress - in hotpants and basque - thrust a plate in front of us and enquired: "wedges?"
The theme of the party was 'Glamourama', a pastiche of all things celebrity. Many made great efforts to glamourise themselves or to indulge in various celebrity desires, but no efforts had been made by our team. Unfortunately, however, the copy editors decided that the ultimate sign of celebrity culture is when boys wear make-up. I may have been attacked. Twice.
So, wearing eye-liner, I found myself on the dancefloor. By this point I was actually relaxed. I wasn't worried about being drunk on the tube and not being able to get home, because I was in control. I wasn't worried about fancy dress, because the girls had seen to it that I looked beautiful. And I wasn't worried about not knowing how to dance because, finally, I remembered how to be the Simon of last year, before I turned into this ultra-reserved loner that I have regretably become. Katie and I warmed up our dancing shoes near the entrance and then stormed the dancefloor, tearing it up and getting on down and doing all those other things I've read about but can only assume we were doing. Satisfyingly, the whole team danced together, not caring what they looked like, just so long as they had fun. Craig seemed to particularly enjoy The Prodigy's Out of Space.
I left at half eleven, at the same time as Elizabeth. I didn't mind leaving then - in my worry about the evening my exit strategy had been to leave much earlier, but I had had fun and stayed for my fill. But I was tired, and had a busy day the next day. As I was leaving, I could just make out Isobel shouting "more gin!"
The following morning, a circular email from reception passed through the office. Sixty-two champagne glasses had gone missing from the atrium function.