Arriving at the office party is like waking up in Oz, a trippy, off-kilter place where everyone looks familiar, just a lot more disturbing and a lot less tolerable.
Susan from accounts has shed her beige work slacks and now stands before you, throat to ankle in scarlet sequins with a skirt slashed to the thigh. Silent Keith from IT has developed the bravado of a Chippendale and is regaling junior members of staff with the continuity errors in the latest Star Wars movie. The chairman has forgotten himself and is flirting with the girls from marketing, their obvious discomfort compounded by their industrial strength Spanx. There is more flesh here than in the office.
You neck the welcome fizz and chase the waiter down for a second glass. You’re going to need it. You’re already exhausted and your feet are shredded and bleeding because, fatally, you opted to schlep across the city in your party outfit, rather than change in the toilets like a underage drinker pulling a fast one on your parents.
You limp to the seating plan and whimper audibly when you see yourself flanked on the left by ‘Wacky Helen’ and on the right by the quietest man on the planet. The rest of the table is made up of people who can make or break your career. There will be no fun and there will be no relaxing tonight.
You spot some people from your team and hobble over to them, looking for solace and a friendly face, but they are barely recognisable in sparkly Debenhams partywear that would not be considered acceptable garb under any other other circumstances.
Claire, in what appears to be a bridesmaid’s dress is already half cut and slagging off bosses within earshot while the others look on wide-eyed, clutching their barely sipped drinks. Mike asks you where you’re spending Christmas and you remember you have nothing in common with your colleagues besides occupying the same office space and breathing the same recycled air.
You stop the waiter as he drifts past and grab two drinks from his tray, just in case he doesn’t come back around again for a while. You ache to go home. Someone detonates a glitter cannon in your face.
There’s dinging of glass and you’re all ushered into the dining room and made to listen to speeches that rewrite the last 12 months as a success story full of excitement and highs, rather than the unproductive, penurious drudge it was for everyone below c-suite.
Awards for mediocrity are handed out and you clap. The waiter pours the wine for the table. You pat him on the bottom and tell him not to be shy when he stops pouring your drink. With a wince he fills it to the top and moves on as you point, wink and click at him.
You probably shouldn’t heckle the CEO when she gives her speech but you’ve got quite a lot of funny things to say now you’ve started to relax. You holler witty observations about the recent redundancies and executives’ bonuses. Everyone around you is laughing, which emboldens you to make more risque comments about the intellectual capacity of senior management.
You’re about to launch into a really good heckle based on the sales director’s extramarital affairs but the food arrives and you’re starving. Around you everyone is in shock and no one the table speaks for the whole meal but you don’t notice.
You’re woken by a thumping and a ‘zig a zig ah’. You peel your face off the plate and see that everyone is on the dance floor moving awkwardly to relentlessly cheerful music that is so old it might even be out of copyright.
Your mouth is dry so you wave at the waiter for a drink. He gets a different waiter to bring it over. Revitalised by the wine you weave your way to the dance floor swinging your hips and punching the air like you’re being attacked by a monkey.
You dance like your life depends on it. You wonder why no one dances as well as you. There’s no energy in them, they don’t feel the music like you do. In fact there’s not enough room on the dance floor for you. You need to get up on a table.
That’s better, you think and watch with satisfaction as people gather around to take photos and videos, clearly in awe of your slick moves. You’re an exuberant firework surrounded by dreary charisma-free drones. You’re a queen, an emperor, a warrior. You’re glorious. Until your heel skids on a butter dish, you lose your balance and come crashing to floor in a shower of china and glass.
You gaze up at the concerned faces looking down at you. The booze mist clears. You’re not an exuberant firework surrounded by dreary charisma-free drones, you’re a drunken old lady surrounded by mortified and largely sober children.
You sprint out of the disco, spraying blood and taking out chairs, tables, colleagues in your wake. It’s bright in the foyer and your don’t want to be seen so you crawl into the street on your hands and knees until you’ve put 100 metres between you and the entrance. You hunker in the gutter and call an Uber.
You notice that your cream shoes are now ruby red with blood. You click your heel three times, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” And like magic, a Prius materialises.
As you gulp cold air through the car window in a bid to keep the nausea at bay, you ask the Uber driver where you are. “I don’t know,” he answers, “But I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kensington anymore.”
Think that’s bad? The morning after is worse.