It's been a while since I last made a fool of myself at a school shindig, thank Mary mother of Jesus. Nowadays I'm resigned to playing the native speaker monkey
to the school owner's organ grinder, sipping fruit juices and repeating to each student one by one that I'm not a yank, I'm British, that I'm from a small town on the south coast, near the Isle of Wight, which is famous for staging the rock festival that turned out to be one of Jimi Hendrix's last live performances, and no, I don't live in London, though I used to... By this time their eyes have normally glazed over, so I move on to the next questioneer eager to pursue their jumbled investigations.
School parties are something of a double edged sword. Whilst they are great for promoting international harmony and inter-cultural experiences, the temptation is always there to really let loose and show the students that there's more to you than a comprehensive knowledge of non-defining relative clauses and mixed conditionals. The urge to reveal our engaging, drunken side becomes more pressing with the presence in one of our classes of an attractive Valencian wench with smirking eyes that hoarsely whisper "Olé!" I have always had a healthy obsession with Latin women, perhaps because they're everything I'm not - and that's probably a good thing.
We Britons (well me, at least) often display a compulsion to draw attention to ourselves, to shake things up
, to drink ourselves off the end of the earth, to raise hell, as if we're proving some point worth making. The irony is that, in doing this, we are making ourselves a target for virtually all the other young men around us, who love nothing more than giving a hearty beating to anyone who dares to raise his voice, let alone laugh, in public. Let this be a warning to all those who plan to go to Britain and have a good time.
The last time I was dribbling drunk was at a party at the school in Bournemouth where I worked. I was twenty-six. We'd organised a national stereotypes
-themed party, a whimsical event that provided the very language school-esque spectacle of Turkish belly dancers, fur hatted Russians, flamenco-dancing Spaniards all bopping away to the latest sounds, with me staggering around as a historically accurate English football hooligan
. Draped in a Union Jack, with an Alan Shearer T-shirt and theatrical blood streaming from an imaginary head wound, I terrorised as much as I amused, and looking back it was perhaps the least appropriate disguise in which to attempt to beguile a pretty Spanish girl.
I was also still in the throes of my adolescent literary infatuation with Charles Bukowski, and had taken to carrying a bottle of cheap whisky around with me, from which I would regularly swig irreverantly in memory of the crude old dipso. By the end of the evening I'd knocked back about half the contents and was in no position to do anything but drool. My friend D later informed me that I'd spent the last moments of the evening swaying and staring at the Valencian girl, as if trying to hypnotise her at a distance. Clearly unable to think rationally, let alone talk, I'd eventually been manhandled into a colleague's car and driven home. When I'd got out, I'd tripped over a parked car in the driveway and lain on the ground for an inordinate time, during which my colleague had briefly thought about getting out to help me, but as he himself was dressed as Charles II
, he thought better of it and drove off into the night, leaving me to my ruin.
When I awoke the next morning, I wondered from whom I had received the frenzied knife attack
. It felt like I had a dagger in my head, and there was red blood all over my pillow, which of course was the theatrical blood I'd been using for added authenticity. I phoned in sick and lay down again, mastigating the aftertaste of whisky in my mouth and wishing for a quick death. My friend D, who is probably the friend I most respect for a variety of reasons, asked me later that night in the pub, as I gingerly sipped some hair of the dog, why I had behaved as I had the previous night. I mouthed a response, but no sound came out, as it dawned on me that there was nothing I could say at that moment that wouldn't make me sound pathetic.
And that was the most chilling intimation I'd ever received of my own absurdity
, though it certainly wasn't the last.