There's been a lot of this about recently.
Last Saturday I attended my sixth 'do' in the space of three months. By 'do', I mean a party organised by a family member or friend to celebrate whatever happened to be worth celebrating that week. Prior to this period (which in my dotage I shall probably look back on as a Golden Age in my social life as I struggle to find the energy and motivation to go out of my front door) I had not been required to attend this type of function in as long as I can remember.
These things are pretty formulaic to begin with, but there is still an unnerving sameness developing in the detail. Arriving between 8.00 and 8.30 in a doomed attempt to be fashionably late, you roll up to the bar and order a half. Or maybe even a soft drink to start with. This is a family do, and you're absolutely not here to get ratted in the manner which you might do if you are suddenly left alone in Wobbley Bobs at 1.30 on a Sunday morning.
But it never lasts. And here's why. Whichever relative you are here to celebrate with has hired the same DJ who banged out the tunes at the last one. Worse still, he's a karaoke DJ. Over the last few years you have developed an unstoppable if slightly turgid taste for karaoke, and I'm not talking about just listening. You're in it. Up for it. A racing certainty to spend at least some part of your evening grasping the mic, belting out tunes for no other reason than because you can do so adequately at best. And because your mum/sister/cousin/friends/cat/debt collector keeps asking you to 'do that song you do'.
Ok. But I'll have to have a few drinks first. So you hurriedly finish your soft drink and set about the task of getting innebriated enough to get up and prove that you have the drunken wrecks factor. And I have it in great big, man-eating, blood curdling, eye-popping spades. I do a pitiful five or six songs in my entire repertoire, but mercifully my tough audience is restricted to only two or three at the most. I'm not the only one lubing themselves up on a mission to inflict their vocal venom on their unsuspecting nearest and dearest. Besides, if I do five or six songs that would be three more than Jason Donovan did when my girlfriend went to see him at Chicago Rock a few years ago. No, I don't know what she was thinking either.
They're all at it anyway. And one or two have a songbook which far outweighs my own and are not afraid to prove it. A considerable number of them are better than me too. Or should that be less crap? Mostly I step aside and let them get on with it until someone asks me to sing. Not through modesty or a misguided notion of dignity, but because I know fine well that a room full of rotten drunk aunties, uncles, cousins and friends are bound to ask me sooner or later. If I wait I can blame it on them, and maybe people won't groan inwardly while thinking 'oh bloody hell, here comes Uncle Frigging Kracker again' when I begin my wankered warble. Some hope.
In between the first alcoholic drink and the wankered warble, there is always at least one instance of meeting someone you don't remember but who knows you by name. In my case, they often seem to know what I have had for breakfast, and could tell you my top ten favourite books, albums and films. This happened to me twice on Saturday and I am still none the wiser about who I was talking to. Grimly I tried to avoid embarrassment by sticking to the three basic principles of surviving this kind of ordeal;
1. Never address the person by name
2. Keep the conversation in the present. Do not try to reminisce in any way.
3. Keep it brief. Any conversation longer than two sentences must be abbreviated by a sudden desire to urinate.
This plan of action avoided what could otherwise have been a hugely embarrassing episode, which you don't need considering that you are already planning to belt out the greatest hits of Ronan Keating and his mates in four lagers' time. In any case, these long-forgotten souls have an unfair advantage. If they are at an Orford/Carey do and they see a bloke in a wheelchair, they are not going to need to be that ginger guy from CSI to confirm my identity. All of which is enough to make me long for the days when I used to drink heavily with other wheelchair using friends while watching the more ignorant members of the St.Helens public try to work out how one wheelchair user could have multiplied into two, three or even four since last Friday night.
In the end what saves family dos from complete carnage is the mercy thrust upon us by the management. Last orders for this one was as early as 11.00, allowing the majority of us to slope away from the older generation without having to be so rude as to leave early. But where do a group of thirtysomething brothers, sisters and cousins head to try to release the strain of having to tone down behaviour slightly for the benefit of the elders?
Well, another karaoke of course.
By Stephen Orford
18 August 2008