Never a joiner, I’m usually left cold by the prospect of a fancy dress party. It often ends up feeling either silly or pretentious. What’s wrong with a night out that involves nothing more than turning up, having a few drinks and staggering home again? As with the modern curse of the three-day hen do in Barcelona, it seems a bit presumptuous to expect your friends to make all that effort on your behalf.
Yet I have to admit, I loved Saturday night’s Great Gatsby party. It’s not often you see a group of middle-aged people infused by excitement and glamour, their paunches concealed by sequins, tassels and elegant three-piece suits. For a few precious hours we downed cocktails with youthful enthusiasm, danced like demons and flirted with no real danger of transgression. It was a euphoric two-fingered salute to our responsible daily lives – we may be in our forties but, hey, we can still do it!
Of course, this is the sort of thing youngsters get up to every weekend. A couple of years ago I saw the photograph ‘Girls’ Night Out’ by Martin Parr in an exhibition at Bristol’s M Shed. It depicts a group of young women on Whiteladies Road in Clifton, known locally as ‘the Strip’ and famous for its throbbing student bars. It could easily have been a tawdry scene – four raucous women wearing short, tight skirts and too much make-up – but instead there’s something exuberant and joyful about the image. Perhaps it’s just the effect of the street lighting but a transformation has taken place, making the scene seem magical and full of possibility, the women transcendent and lovely.
The reality is somewhat different. Come Sunday morning, all the locals know that you have to sidestep broken glass and puddles of congealed vomit on the Strip. And so it was after the Great Gatsby party. At school drop-off on Monday, the glitz and glamour had evaporated. Once again, we were just a group of harried parents with grey skin and crows’ feet. There were tales of late-night escapades in taxis and on bathroom floors, most of them involving losing personal possessions, being violently sick and falling asleep in one’s party clothes. A fair number of us had spent Sunday dry-heaving and dozing on the sofa.
Perhaps, after all, there’s wisdom in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue, and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care.’ I’ll raise my glass to that.