Friday, October 24, 2008

The office Christmas party

Cartoon Fergus Lynch

I am not gregarious by nature.
I work best on a one-to-one basis or in small groups. Put me in a room full of people – even those I know well – and I feel overawed and withdraw into myself.
Alcohol has a similar effect on me. Whereas it tends to break down people’s inhibitions and loosens the screws at the back of the tongue, I tend to get progressively quieter the more I consume.
All in all, I am not the best person to ask to a Christmas party.
This does not deter them however from asking me. I am sure they feel they are doing me a great favour by cajoling me into going and they do not take my protestations that “I would sooner be trampled underfoot by rampaging oxen” seriously.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy – a right barrel of laughs if ever there was one – the author takes a trip to Hell, remarking on the different degrees of tortures prepared for sinners according to their depravity on earth. I was surprised to find no mention in the odyssey of the wretched beings forced to attend an office Christmas party in perpetuity as a punishment for their worldly wrongdoings.
It is a long time now since I ran out of excuses. There are only so many uncles that need to be buried just before Christmas. It is unlikely that my ears would need syringing three Christmases on the trot. Missing the bus and not being able to find a matching pair of socks are excuses that have both been viewed dimly in the past.
Nowadays I just go, on the proviso that I’m determined not to have a good time.
As a professional curmudgeon, I think the thing that horrifies me most about the Christmas party is the camaraderie on show. It may well be a time for peace on earth and goodwill to all men but I find it hard to reconcile the manager who is unapproachable and dismissive for fifty weeks of the year with the New Age reveller who keeps slapping you on the shoulder and telling you to call him Tom.
I think it is an order thing. I know where I stand with this particular individual and react accordingly. However when the lines become blurred and Mr. Burns suddenly metamorphosises into Ned Flanders, life assumes an unreal quality that I find deeply disturbing.
I am at an age now where, to the younger staff members’ disbelief, I do not equate pouring copious amounts of alcohol down my throat in record time with enjoying myself. I watch my less restrained co-workers gleefully pronounce that they are “going to get locked” and hark back to the good old days when I would do the same. Nowadays I know that the following day will be a complete wash out if I follow suit and do not judge the cost to be worthwhile. In short, my hair is not long enough to let down any more.
And then there is the girl – it normally is a girl – who spends the evening taking photographs of everybody and getting other people to take photographs of her. These photographs are then passed around the canteen the following day to those poor souls who were unfortunate enough not to attend. “There’s me and Sheila with a drink.” “There’s me, Sheila and Donal with a drink.” “There’s Donal and me with a drink.”
“It looks like you had a brilliant time,” I remark on these occasions, wondering whether she actually did anything at the party apart from taking photos of various permutations of fellow workers with bottles of drink.
Of course, the one big advantage of being a miserable old sod and observing, rather than participating in, the general mayhem, is that you never get that cringing feeling when you wake up the following day and remember what you said to that girl that you never really noticed before but who had scrubbed up pretty well last night. There can be few tortures currently in use by CIA that are more dreadful than the period between waking up after a Christmas party at which you’ve made a complete ass of yourself and the sheepish and crestfallen entry back into the workplace. During that time, all possible options from emigration to resignation invade your head, for you know that everyone will be talking about you and your lurid antics and what little respect you ever had will be lying on the floor along with the pine needles and bits of tinsel.
Of course, it’s never quite as bad as you feared as most of your co-workers will have been too intoxicated themselves to have noticed your little indiscretions.
Except for me, that is. That’s when I come into my own.

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