Dabbler Diary – The Critical Point of the Party

In every party there comes a critical point when the sober and the pissed have diverged so far that they can no longer communicate with each other. I found myself on the wrong side of the divide at about 10.45pm on Saturday night, staring at the bonfire and sipping a non-alcoholic Sainsbury’s lager. It was a pretty wild garden party: a 40th birthday, strong hint of midlife crisis. Three trestle tables heaved under a quite mind-boggling array of budget booze. There were restless, cider-sipping teenage boys dressed as superheroes and drunken men letting off fireworks. A fourteen year-old Bristol lad with tribal-style stretched earlobes performed an astonishing feat of fire poi to music by The Prodigy. “Lowdurrr!” he kept shouting at the DJ. I could see his arms were getting tired and it occurred to me if this minor maimed himself we cheering onlookers could all be done for some sort of negligence. Luckily he didn’t.

It was a cold night and for most of it I stood eating chilli from a paper bowl and chatting to various characters while enjoying the interesting calefactive cycle of the bonfire: for a time it would be pleasantly warming and you could take off your hat; then it would fade a bit and you’d have to put your hat back on again; then an old man in a neon jacket would heave on a fence or half a shed, after which the furnace-like heat would start melting your face and you’d have to pull your hat all the way down to your chin for protection. While I was talking with some middle-aged women a shaven-headed giant called Jim insinuated himself into the group proffering cans of Blackthorn. “A toast!” he cried. “To the foive of uz!” “And screw everyone else,” I added. Proud Mary blasted from the music shed and the women suddenly started dancing with embarrassingly wobbly exuberance. Jim and I edged away. “Jeeshushchroisht,” he said, and I could tell by his eyes that he was nearly gone. “Never moind ‘kin wood, should throw women on the foire.” I chuckled obediently, as men regrettably will when another makes a statement of grotesque sexism. He stumbled port-a-loowards, roaring a swear as he sliced his hand on some branch that lurked in the gloom. Later I heard him repeating the joke to others, only he was now substituting ‘women’ with ‘immigrants’.

As the critical point approached I slumped into a chair. On the opposite side of the bonfire the old man in the neon jacket and a teenage Robin the Boy Wonder were also sitting and staring morosely at the flames. Other youths with sculpted hairstyles stood in a bleary group like a tubby One Direction tribute act. Teenage girls screeched like One Direction fans because that’s exactly what they were. A lady came out with a plastic pint glass containing brightly-coloured test tubes of absinthe, which she passed around her friends including our hostess. The birthday girl didn’t look 40: photos from her infancy and youth pinned about the place showed she’d hardly changed since the age of 12. Yet there it was, four decades gone like smoke.

Don’t Stop Believin’ came on and mothers and daughters screamed onto the dancefloor, which was an old carpet on the grass. The daughters knew all the words because the song is in Glee, but the mothers were singing the Journey version. They all hokey-cokeyed around in a wild circle. The teenagers were having a fun party; the forty year-olds were trying to feel as they did when they were teenagers and all the fun was ahead and there was nothing behind to be nostalgic about. Maybe in that spinning blur they looked from mother to daughter, and from daughter to mother, and from mother to daughter again and could no longer tell which was which. But I could, and it was time to go home.


Dog bites man. Pope turns out to be a Catholic. Comedy Guardian columnist writes comedy Guardian column opening sentence: “Whenever there’s a 99.8% yes vote in a referendum, it’s a pretty safe bet that something dodgy’s going on.” (Seamus Milne on the Falklands).

Talking of comedy left-wingers, I recently came into possession of a publication called The Ethical Consumer. Basically it’s like a lifestyle supplement of The Socialist Worker and it lists all the evil capitalist shops and brands you must boycott on various points of righteousness. (Turns out you have to boycott more or less everything except Oxfam bookshops, and it can surely only be a matter of time before they’re found to be genetically modifying things, or in possession of an unacceptable carbon footprint, or American). Anyway, proving itself to be bang on trend, The Ethical Consumer now has a tax avoidance section, with Amazon as top villain and a column by Richard Murphy, whom they describe as a ‘Tax Expert’. I don’t really blame them for this as the BBC regularly invites Murphy onto Newsnight and Today and uses the same description. But I happen to know the man and I can tell you that ‘Tax Expert’ isn’t quite adequate. To give the idea: describing Richard Murphy as a ‘Tax Expert’ is approximately equivalent to describing George Galloway as a ‘Middle East Expert’ or Nick Griffin as an ‘Immigration Expert’ – i.e. it rather misses the point.


A while ago I spotted Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright at a motorway service station and noted in this Diary that he appeared to remain in character as himself even when off air. Well I can now report another service station celebrity sighting (is this now a series?) and it’s The Big One. There I was in the Starbucks of Michael Wood Southbound on the M5, when who should stride regally across the carpark, his paradigmatic coiffure oscillating exquisitely in the breeze, but the one and only Richard Madeley! He’d stopped for a wee and a can of Pepsi. At least I think it was a can of Pepsi; it was certainly blue, anyway.


In principle I don’t approve of all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. All-you-can-eat is anti-dining: you don’t talk to your fellow diners because you’re always hurrying to the buffet and you don’t enjoy your food because you’re always thinking about what to eat next (I think Alexei Sayle defined this as something like “All-You-Can-Eat Panic Syndrome”). There’s also an irksome atmosphere of competition. But I have to admit that Za Za Bazaar is the apotheosis of all-you-can-eat. Situated across the top of three other eateries on Bristol’s watershed, it is vast. It looks like a street market from Bladerunner, with a clattering din and each of the international ‘stalls’ manned by ethnically appropriate cooks. Countless servers buzz around – not so much waiters as medieval kitchen porters ferrying trays of booze and pushing tottering trolleys of soiled plates. I did the place justice, consuming, in order: a pile of steamed mussels and prawns, a Brazilian beer, a clump of sushi, tandoori chicken, jerk chicken, piri-piri chicken, Szechuan chicken, crispy duck with pancakes, sweet and sour pork, crispy beef, a Singapore Sling which I drank through a straw, saag paneer, a chocolate torte, some ice cream and a tiny wee bit of apple crumble. I think next time I won’t be quite so appallingly gluttonous as the novelty factor will be absent and I will be able to relax and just enjoy my favourite bits. Which is to say, I’ll probably skip the sushi.


Which debut novel was described by Dorothy Parker as ‘the picaresque novel to stop them all. Lusty, violent, wildly funny… a rigadoon of rascality, a bawled-out comic song of sex’, yet was praised by John Banville for ‘the sense of sweet and delicate melancholy that clings to the pages’?

The answer is The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy, a mysterious and troubling book about which I write in the latest issue of Slightly Foxed. A version will appear on The Dabbler soon, but in the meantime please go and buy your copy of the superior literary quarterly here.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – The Critical Point of the Party

  1. Worm
    March 18, 2013 at 11:48

    Your Bristol tableau sounds very ‘Jerusalem-esque’ Brit – but then Bristol always was the most Mad Max of our cities – even more so than Brighton don’t you think?

    Holding an outdoors party at this chilly time of year was a brave move though

    re. The Ethical Consumer (shudder) – I thought that Oxfam bookshops were in league with ‘The MAN’ as well – by being too successful and taking money and footfall away from other less well stocked charity shops?

    • Brit
      March 18, 2013 at 15:10

      You’re probably right about Oxfam, Worm, though their bookshops were suggested as ethical alternative to Amazon. The Ethical Consumer had also helpfully looked at the tax paid by John Lewis and a few others and decided they “looked about right” – thus proposing a tax system that bypasses the rule of law and just allows companies to pay what seems ‘about right’ to the metro left i.e. the Starbucks method.

  2. zmkc@ymail.com'
    March 18, 2013 at 12:01

    Having accused you of happiness some weeks ago, I now diagnose a touch of ‘sweet and delicate melancholy’ about this column – but spring is just around the corner so there should be no need to rush to A&E

    • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
      March 18, 2013 at 13:01

      zmkc, perhaps a new literary genre. Le blog noir.

  3. bensix@live.co.uk'
    March 18, 2013 at 12:11

    Man, the opening story was poignant. If Philip Larkin had lived long enough to encounter the Prodigy and non-alcoholic Sainsbury’s lager…

    We used to have a Chinese restaurant round my way that offered an all-you-can-eat-buffet option. For reasons unclear to me, they used to serve chips. Being kids, then, we would pass over the curries, stews, noodles, seaweed and egg-fried rice and pile our plates with fried potato.

    It closed down a few years ago. A friend of mine, who worked in a neighbouring shop, claimed that the UK Border Agency used to send its agents round and he could see all the restaurant’s staff haring out of the back door.

  4. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    March 18, 2013 at 13:27

    What is mysterious about The Ginger Man? (The troubling, I have no problem identifying.)

    • Brit
      March 18, 2013 at 15:11

      Buy the magazine to find out.

  5. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    David Cohen
    March 18, 2013 at 14:57

    Hmmm, leave off the sushi and exchange your Brazilian beer for a Molson and you’ll be closing in on the coveted “Eat the Empire” challenge.

  6. info@ShopCurious.com'
    March 18, 2013 at 14:57

    Wherefore non-alcoholic lager, Brit? Ugh!

    I confess to falling in love with The Ginger Man in my early 20s. Very charming, witty and Dangerous… despite being mainly pissed.

    Oh, and I heard the Catholic church has been rebranded as Frankie and Bennys.

    • Brit
      March 18, 2013 at 15:12

      Driving, alas. It was actually not bad.

  7. jgslang@gmail.com'
    March 18, 2013 at 16:32

    Maybe it was because I read this first thing this morning with an insufficiency as yet of sinew-stiffening coffee, but that party sounded as if it lacked only Edward Woodward in a cage and Britt Ekland in the altogether. Yet again I remind myself: never get the wrong side of the Shepherd’s Bush roundabout (and even that’s pushing it).

    • Brit
      March 19, 2013 at 19:46

      It’s worse the further west you go, too. You should see them in Cornwall…

      • Wormstir@gmail.com'
        March 19, 2013 at 21:06

        True. In Cornwall there would also probably be some livestock wrangling

  8. becandben@gmail.com'
    March 19, 2013 at 08:53

    All the parties I’ve been to lately have featured Fanta-crazed under-eights going Gangnam Style, this sounds quite sophisticated by comparison.

  9. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    March 19, 2013 at 19:00

    The current Vikings exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland mentions the thing, as their meetings were called, they appear to be the only sign of communal activity in a society with no obvious structure, possibly they, as the glug was glugged, covered topics such as “whose head shall we bury the axe in next.” It did occur to me whist reading your post Brit that the twentieth and twenty first centuries round of party going is what the communal gatherings of yesteryear have morphed into. They are the post thing thing. Replacing the henge and hilltop pyre, the woodland glade and bardic knees-up, stone circles made redundant by B&Q barbeque, fold-up chair and firkin, fornication and fumble, let the good times roll, no more the cast rune, bring on the mother’s ruin.

    Gave up partying, loss of stamina and patience..”who was that prick” outnumbering the “oh, they were interesting people.”

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