Seasonal soirees - a survivor's guide

AS a charming young man about town, I'm used to the demands of a hectic and exciting social diary.Well I say hectic what I mean is I've had a lot on recently.

AS a charming young man about town, I'm used to the demands of a hectic and exciting social diary.

Well I say hectic what I mean is I've had a lot on recently.

I enjoyed further success in my acting career; regular readers will know of my involvement with the Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society.

At the IODS Christmas party and hidden talent evening this week, I won a special award for special people.

This picture commemorates the moment when I was celebrating with my diva friend Stephanie Brown, after performing a monologue with some aplomb. That was despite downing three rather strong gin martinis mixed for Dutch courage, which turned out to be more of a hindrance then a help.

That aside I've been frightfully busy at parties of the festive nature.

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A bevy of requests for the pleasure of my company at a number of “at homes” has left me terribly tired and in the need of a nice night in in front of the television with a bar of Dairy Milk and a mince pie.

You see my problem is I always have to go.

I daren't miss anything and curiosity along the lines of:

“I wonder what her house is like?”

“I'll be interested to sample their canapés”

And “It's about time they poured it down my throat for a change. The times I've had them round my kitchen table.”

is a sure way of getting my company, pleasurable or otherwise.

So at a “do” this weekend I found myself in a large pink Suffolk farmhouse with a roaring fire, wondering where on earth my hostess found the time to whip up a mini tartlet with such panache, as well as make her own Christmas puddings.

I suspect the Nigella Lawson effect.

“And this is James,” said my glamorous hostess Beverley, 49, who had very thoughtfully provided an outside brazier for the more determined smokers among us, exclaimed. “He's a journalist so we all better be careful what we say. Ho ho”

I wish I had a pound for every time I'd heard that opening gambit. I'd be living it up in the Caribbean if I did.

Indeed, telling people to be on their guard, despite the unlikely likelihood their words would be of much interest, isn't particularly conducive to light-hearted conversation.

As a result of this recurring introductory method, one of the few downsides to my chosen trade, I find myself a master of turning round the situation and talking to people anyway.

Here are a few pointers.

Start with the weather-everyone else does and as long as you agree with whoever says “Gosh isn't it cold/mild/windy/cyclonic”

Ask who they arrived with. It's not only interesting to watch them leave with someone else later, but always handy to know who's married to whom in case you trip up by asking the chap in the corner of the room “Who is that awful woman?” a question which, though avoidable, can elicit the response “My wife/girlfriend/sister/mother/mistress.”

If you find yourself talking to a lady admire her shoes/hair/earrings/trouser suit. One good turn deserves another and after one compliment she'll make sure you're not without a canapé when they finally come round.

Talk about yourself, I often find it's the most interesting subject in the room. At least it's better than hearing where a complete stranger is going on holiday in February.

Smoke. Always handy to get outside to get away from someone turgid. Since no one permits smoking inside nowadays, it's a ready excuse to leg it.

I find this formula works for me.

Strange though, I haven't got quite so many invites as I did last year.

I've finished my Christmas shopping.

Thank God for 'buy one get one free' I say. Whoever invented that deserves a medal.

My sister Claire who enjoys a jigsaw, hasn't finished and keeps dropping hints at things I might like.

I'm making it very difficult for her partly because there's a limit to what I can fit in my little Ipswich sitting room and I daren't ask for a red Maserati - too heavy on petrol.

I've told her I could do with some Maraschino cherries and an ice crusher, just in case I fancy a January midweek cocktail.

Have you watched any soap operas recently?

I'm having trouble television-wise, since they took the transmitter thingy off the Civic Centre and left me watching a snowstorm.

I'm surrounded by tall buildings you see, and I can't get a decent documentary at the moment which is a shame as I enjoy a Sunday afternoon leopard.

I ask about the soaps, as I last saw a man called Ian and a woman in what appeared to be a wedding dress rolling around in mud when I switched on to find out I'd missed in Murder She Wrote a couple of Sundays ago.

I'm not sure if my eyes were deceiving me though, as I hardly thought it a credible story line. Who goes mud wrestling in the East End nowadays?

Let alone in a white frock. They should be having a jellied eel and a proper knees-up surely?

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