'Tis the season of strangers on the sofa

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The Independent Culture
AT ABOUT six o'clock yesterday morning I went into the sitting room with a tray and a dustbin to clear up after the previous night's Christmas party and found a young man asleep on the sofa. It's a small sofa and he was a large young man. To accommodate this relative disparity he had curled himself up into an untidy ball, knees tucked into his chest, feet still wearing shoes sprawled over my velvet cushions. For reasons known only to himself he had taken his socks off and placed them carefully on the tapestry stool beside him next to an overflowing ashtray and a wine glass half full of shepherd's pie. I vaguely remember someone telling me we had run out of plates.

It was his shoes on my cushions, rather than the fact that I had never set eyes on the young man in my life that affected me. No one minds a chap staying the night. Well I don't, if he has missed his last bus or is too drunk to find the bus stop. But it's only manners surely to remove one's shoes before retiring. It crossed my mind to shake him roughly awake and scold him but he looked so peaceful lying there on my sofa that I didn't have the heart.

Besides, if his socks were anything to go by, he came from a good home. You know how posh laundries return posh socks, sort of half inside out and ready to slip your foot into as easily as a sandal. My late Uncle Archie, who sent all of his clothes to the laundry, or at least to the dhobi wallah as he called it (Uncle Archie was an old Calcutta hand) wouldn't have known how to put on a pair of socks any other way. The strange young man's socks reminded me of Uncle Archie because they were folded exactly as the posh laundry in Knightsbridge that said above the shop door "we clean to a standard not to a price" used to fold his socks.

Stacking plates, emptying ashtrays, scraping cake off the piano, I thought nostalgically of the Oriental Club, Uncle Archie's home whenever he was in England. He used to invite me for dinner sometimes. "I think there's time for a quick Harry Squeezers before dinner," he'd say, signalling to the barman. "Dry sherry for the lady, large pink gin for me and a stinger for old Bagshaw in the corner please Henry."

My reverie was interrupted by stirring noises from the sofa. The young man sat up, stretched, yawned and said: "Morning, any chance of a poached egg?" Possibly, I said, but only if you tell me why you take your socks off but keep your shoes on when you go to bed. "I didn't take my socks off," he said. "So whose are those?" I said. The young man looked at the socks and then at his feet and then back at the socks: "God, I must have had a skinful, they are my socks but I've no idea how they got there like that."

When the strange young man had finished his egg and carried several boxes of empties outside for me, he said, well, he'd better be going. He had to get to Canterbury. "By the way, who are you?" I said. It seemed rude to ask earlier but when you've cooked a fellow a poached egg you have certain rights. "Friend of Chris," he said. "Ah," I said, trying to place Chris. "Thanks, by the way, great party," he said.

You can never be sure if you've thrown a good party. Someone told me about an office party he went to this year where all the waiters and waitresses were completely starkers except for a fluffy white tail. It was the presence of the tail that somehow made it more shocking. Everyone wanted to know how they stuck - Blu-Tack? Superglue? Simple muscle retention?

Curiously, it wasn't sexy. It was embarrassing. You didn't know where to look when they were handing round the canapes. He asked a waiter who seemed to be holding his tray of chipolatas rather lower than is usual with trays of chipolatas why he had agreed to strip. For the money said the waiter. How much? A hundred quid.

There must be less traumatic and exposed ways of earning a hundred pounds. Either that or ask for an extra fluffy tail to stick over your face.