There is pleasure to be had from a terrible hangover. Put aside the dizziness, lethargy, and creeping sense of internal putrefaction and I could almost be enjoying this. There is a Russian word for savouring these particular symptoms, only, being rather groggy, I can't remember what it is. Whatever. Small details are nothing to the gloriously hungover person. Instead, we exist in an altered state. Our minds are on higher things. Such as the best place to be sick.
There. Time to rejoin the family. We are sitting about on sofas being cosy and playing parlour games, as we have been for what feels like several months but is in fact about four days. Happy New Year, by the way. I am attempting to lie down under the sofa but someone is speaking to me. Asking me something. Do I want to meet myself as I really am? Not likely.
But it is too late. The game is about to begin. A small book is being passed round. It is a battered but rather beautiful Penguin paperback from 1936 entitled Meet Yourself As You Really Are. Its preposterous authors are Prince Leopold Loewenstein and William Gerhardi. "Made-up names, of course," I say, in a world-weary manner. "Not really," says my boyfriend Will, gently. "Gerhardi was a fashionable novelist of the Twenties. Into the occult, I think." "Aha," I say, burying my face under a cushion.
"Answer the questions as truthfully as possible," my mother reads aloud from the book, adopting a commanding pre-war voice. "The function of this book is to 'X-ray' your fundamental character." We eye each other nervously across the tea things. Will looks uneasy. Perhaps he is not ready to show himself as he really is in front of my parents. I on the other hand am beginning to get into this. It is dark outside, and warm within. The perfect setting for a spot of post-Christmas introspection. Time to look deep within ourselves.
The first questions are straightforward. "As a child were you, on the whole, treated with kindness?" "Were you equally fond of both your parents?"
We tick off our answers dutifully on bits of paper. Then the questions begin to grow stranger. "Do you like milk? Very much?" "If you are not a sailor, would you like to be one?" "Does it happen that, having written several letters, you are very much worried by the thought that you might have put them into the wrong envelopes?" The room is beginning to spin. "Do you ever feel like you might go mad and die?" I murmur an assent.
After one more penetrating question - "Do you like your bath very hot?" - we tot up our scores. We are then told which river we most resemble (I am the Thames; my mother is the Neva) and given a speech about our real selves. First it is Will's turn. I feel slightly anxious on his behalf. My mother sits up straight and intones his true character loudly and clearly. "You consider yourself a conqueror of women..." Will looks astonished. "Without question, you are disposed to sexual precocity..." Why, oh why, did we not stick with playing Pictionary? "There is, however, nothing about your erotic experiences which would astonish the average Parisian or Viennese male..." We all dissolve into laughter. The book is a quaint period piece, a witness to early psychological theory - but it hardly dazzles with its insight. It has equally bizarre things to say about the rest of us. Will is visibly relieved when we put the book away for another year. For my part I am feeling almost human again. There is nothing like someone else's mortification for curing a hangover.
Enough hibernation. Off the sofa and out we go, to Duckie's cabaret at the Barbican. We are dressed up in tiaras, bow-ties, and pearls - because tonight, Matthew, we are going to be toffs. The cabaret is one of those experimental larks, a meditation (with dinner thrown in) on social mobility. Audience members either buy an Upper, Middle or Lower class ticket, and then dress accordingly. We, of course, are Upper. This has nothing to do with our natural distinction and everything to do with the fact that there were no other tickets left.
In the theatre foyer, toffs in cravats are talking gently among themselves ("Have you come far?" says my mother, already in character) while the plebs punch each other on the shoulder and express loud admiration for one another's shellsuits.
Does Duckie's cabaret show up the pernicious class barriers still dividing our society? Or does its very existence confirm that class is just a camp joke nowadays? Either way, it's lots of fun. "My Lady, this way if you please..." a butler says obsequiously, before shouting at the Lower Class Scum "Over there, you lot!"
It is easy being Upper. We act like Lord Snooty and enjoy opera and a dish of pheasant. It is easy being Lower. They have a riotous karaoke singalong and get second helpings from the carvery. It's the Middle Class that's lost. Bossed about by officious waiters, they have to eat cold tapas and sit through an experimental dance troupe. Meeting yourself as you really are? It's a painful game.
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