There's nothing like a good dose of venue anxiety to make you doubt your sense of self, taste and sophistication. It's the reason that I normally prefer any self-organised socialising to take place in my own house – either on the sofa or a make-shift dancefloor in front of the telly. It's not that I'm agoraphobic, just that I don't trust myself not to choose anywhere that isn't a rip-off or a cesspit.
At least at home I can, depending on the crowd, arrange the cushions either mathematically or artlessly, and bring to the fore either my vast selection of historical novels or my one-off, limited-edition, obscure fashion monographs.
But my house wasn't really suitable for my book launch a couple of weeks ago, so I left the decision for the after-party address in the hands of my flatmate, who is Good at Choosing Venues. She recommended some places, then went on holiday, wishing me all the best.
The main event, earlier in the evening, was held in a large store in the centre of town and seemed to go off without a hitch – barring a rather short, rushed, sweaty and strangle-voiced speech from me.
"To the pub!" I cried as the security guards tried gently to make us leave without resorting to swear words or rude gestures. Buoyed by the success of having spoken not only to people I didn't know but also to people whose names I had forgotten – not to mention the dubious thrill of my mum meeting my boyfriend's parents for the first time – I joyfully sent the remaining guests off to the nearby hostelry that I had, on the advice of my flatmate, selected as The Venue. "I'll meet you there!" I promised, on a sweaty post-speech high.
"Old-fashioned boozer," she had said in her email, "but quite trendy." I am not particularly trendy so I wasn't sure what this meant. But I knew for sure it didn't encompass the dank, subterranean pool bar that I skidded to a halt in front of that evening. The promised boozer above ground looked lovely – all carved walnut and stained glass – but thanks to numbers, we'd been allocated the downstairs chamber, more Phil Mitchell than Philippe Starck.
"I've ordered a sausage platter!" shouted a friend as I walked in, carefully lifting my full-length dress up out of the way of the aeons-worth of fag butts and beer mud in the stairwell. "A what?" I felt faint with anxiety that people might think this was a place I had chosen because it was a regular haunt of mine. Where were the soft lighting and frosted glasses? In their place: flickering strip lights and sticky bits. And blackboards everywhere covered in bubble writing.
There was also, I discovered to my dismay, some withered St Patrick's Day colour-schemed balloons decorating the outside smoking area. That's no slur on the Irish, I might add. But the sign of an institution that welcomes the one day of the year upon which you are sanctioned, nay encouraged, to drink so much that you can't remember your own name is a sign that the institution probably has no interest in a book about minimalism. "I don't play pool!" I wanted to scream. "How can I, when I have no spatial awareness or motor skills?"
"You are the only person who is bothered by this," explained my sister in the tones one might use when addressing a stampy child, as she bit into a soggy potato wedge that was the size of her fist. "Everyone's here because they want to see you, so just relax."
And so I did. Apart from little jolts of shame every time another sausage platter (Wall's bangers cut into arty chunks, arranged on a breadboard to look like tubby bison around two watering holes of mustard and ketchup) sailed over the bar.
"Congratulations!" declared a chum I hadn't seen for a while, delicately wrinkling his nose as he spoke. There was an unmistakable waft of raw sewage in the air (this is what happens when you party below ground level). "It was a lovely event," said a colleague, whose hair was blowing in the gusts from the greasy kitchen's extractor fan above her. "Well done on your speech," offered my best friend, "I thought you did really well. Want a nacho?" She proffered a plate that held a pile of salty, yellow crumbs.
After several bottles of wine, none of this mattered. "How amazing," said my boyfriend in our taxi on the way home. "I'm so proud of you. That mini-pie tasting selection was terrible, though.
"It was strange," he continued thoughtfully, "because the pub smelt like a toilet. But the toilets smelt like a pub."
"At least it didn't smell of fish," I said. "I can't bear the smell of fish."
"Yes," he said. "That's good, isn't it?"