“Are you up to anything laters?” The only interesting email all afternoon (forgive me if you thought you were sending an email of interest, anyone else). “I feel I haven’t seen BP for ages!” No – and I hadn’t seen anyone for ages either. So – in these dark, dark days, when we wake up to pitch blackness and when the evening draws in at four in the afternoon – what could be more happy on a Monday evening than an impromptu gathering at my flat, four old friends together again? I light a fire, thank the lucky stars that I’ve got a bottle of bubbly (or two) in the fridge, get out the olives, Parma ham, dim the lights, put on some Beatles Rubber Soul; the buzzer rings.
Are you, like me, hateful of anything planned at this time of year? Two parties I was meant to attend over the weekend – excuses, more or less legitimate, proffered. All I wanted to do was curl up in Dorset in front of the fire (better still, in bed, with a hot-water-bottle) and read, catching up on the Saturday FT, or better still, decoration books from the 1970s, or better still, series two of The West Wing.
But come Monday evening, when nothing at all is in my diary (for the record, nothing is in my diary all week – not a thing – a week before Christmas; dear reader, please feel free to call), and could there be anything nicer than a last-minute let’s get-together now? No, there could not.
One of our company has moved from fantastic Shoreditch to the isolated slow-death far west of London – Barnes. Where? I know; exactly. Why? For she glows with new-found-love, and happiness. Which more than compensates; I have not seen such quiet contentment for an age.
For the rest of us: the quiet mannerisms and manners, finished sentences, unspoken words, happy glances; the fire burns down, the bottles empty, we step to the brink of going on out and step back, plan Christmasses and New Years, wonder about the collapse of the euro and the fear afoot in the world at the end of 2011, compliment one another for losing a little weight, think about holidays in the sun, dream of leaving work, debate annual profit and loss, announce that we are (that is, I am) thinking of finally buying my Palladiana chest of drawers by Fornasetti, drink a little more, light an inappropriate cigarette… how can one measure these fleeting conversations that end before they have started and start before they end?
These are my favourite evenings of all. As much as I loathe a black-tie dinner, and dread a wedding, and fear a Party with a capital P, can I just say: there is nothing, and I mean nothing, nicer than a quiet evening on a dark night in winter spent doing nothing at all, except spending time, with my best friends.