Tim Key: ‘I’m in the midst of an office Christmas party. I feel like such an outsider’

One asks what I’m writing and I pretend I’m German

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The Independent Online

I am writing from ‘the field’. It’s a Wednesday night and, thirsty and in need of inspiration, I have slipped from my bike and poured into a pub. And I have lucked out. I’ve bought myself a pint of Sagres (a Spanish lager with a thick, unpleasant taste) and I have found myself embroiled, if that’s a word, in an office Christmas party. It is a fascinating arena, and I have sloped quietly into a corner. I am now observing the festivities.

It’s not like I’ve never been to an office party before. I worked in offices tons in my twenties. Back then, these dos were my bread and butter. I’d be there, tie off, shoes gleaming, getting lashed off me tits on wine and having a crack at some poor engaged girl from HR. But since hitting my thirties I’ve been starved of this nectar. Self-employed and reclusive I have lived my life in parallel to these things. But now I am immersed. The action is all around me. It is like I’m watching Gravity.

They haven’t changed, office Christmas parties, since the turn of the century. The shrill squawks of young ladies fill the air to bursting. A goon troops round in a pair of reindeer antlers. He finds a girl with short hair and a lady’s version of a suit and dances with her to “Crazy Right Now”. A 40 year old is sat, in his outdoors coat, staring impassively forward like the Lost in Translation poster. A man with a wedding ring on reduces a girl with no rings on her fingers to hysterics. Occasionally her head rocks back with laughter and he takes the opportunity to tilt his eyes down to her throat.

I’m not denigrating office Christmas parties, of course, far from it. I’m in the midst of one, and you can barely move for red-cheeked merriment and delighted whoops. In my job there’s none of this. If you think that all the different columnists come together at Christmas and chase down WKDs, guzzle mini pork pies and dance ironically to Take That, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. These days, my office party involves me, at some point in December, buying about 200g of Cathedral City extra mature Cheddar and a four-pack of Staropramen, nailing it in my study and then wandering down to the Post Office to photocopy my arse.

This one’s getting spicy. Now two members of the company are sitting right near where I’ve set up. One of them is in management and she’s bellowing that she trusts a girl in her team. Some others join and they down some sambucas. One asks what I’m writing and I pretend I’m German. I get the impression that someone they work with is called Peter and that he is dirty. “Return of the Mack” starts and there’s some ear-drum-popping squealing and I am left alone again. I become aware of a sober guy who seems to be photographing all the girls. So, thankfully, there will be a record of the events. I move behind a girl and smile. I want to be a part of it.

I think I can see the boss. He’s responsible for all this and good luck to him. Full of bitter, he leans against the bar and occasionally wipes sweat and satisfaction from his forehead with a hankie. He has found the bar manager and he is being fawning about the quality of the spread. He’s clearly plunged a lot of the company’s margin into this shindig and he feels he’s getting value. I couldn’t agree more. I steal a Scotch egg and wink at the photographer. I sip my Beck’s Vier. I feel like such an outsider. I long to be a part of something like this. I feel an acute sense of my own mortality. I rue the day I walked away and became freelance. I leave, shoulders sloping, for a fag.

Outside, two administrators discuss someone called Carla. One is upset. The other assures her that Carla means nothing by the things she says in the heat of the moment. I offer them both cigarettes. I just want to be involved.