I promised a report on yesterday's Christmas party today, so here it comes...
I opened proceedings a t 12:35 with a small sherry reception. This year I decided to offer both dry and sweet sherry, following complaints on previous occasions that I was being a bit 'tight'. The staff were all present, except for McCavity, who was still en route from London. He had phoned previously and told me to expect both himself and 'friend' around 1pm. Dolores, who doesn't like sherry, was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the menu.
Being Christmas, I took the opportunity to put on my favourite Christmas album. It is a collection of cover versions by singers from the 1980's that never fails to get me in the Christmas spirit. Ravel appeared to enjoy the electronic beats and drum machine rythms almost as much as me. He wanted to know about each of the artists when their song began, and I was entirely enthusiastic in reciting their (abridged) biography. I admit that I may have become a little too animated, as at one point I heard the kitchen door slam heavily. 'Dolores is pooping the party, eh boss?' said Ravel.
'No Ravel, Dolores has heard all this before. I think she needs to focus on basting the turkey. She'll be OK in a little while.'
'OK Boss, so carry on with your story about Jason Donovan. He seems like a groovy guy...'
I was just about to tell Ravel about Jason's groundbreaking performance as Joseph in 'Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat' when I heard people approaching the living area. Moments later, McCavity and his guest literally stumbled into view. 'Hello everyone!', shouted McCavity.
'Watcha!' shouted his companion, a twenty-something lady with long brunette hair, tight jeans stuck into leather boots, tight t-shirt and short jacket. Her left arm was wrapped around McCavity's waist, whereas her right hand contained a half drunk bottle of white wine.
I diagnosed immediately that both McCavity and his companion were inebriated.
'This is Chloe,' said McCavity, propelling his friend into the room. Chloe made as if to curtsey, but then seemed to think better of the idea, and merely waved. She looked around at the occupants before finally pointing at me and exclaiming, 'you must be Dr Crumble!'. Without waiting for confirmation, she came up close and planted a kiss on my lips. 'Pleased to meet you. He's told me ever so much.'
'I'm afraid I haven't had the reciprocal pleasure,' I said dryly, wiping her saliva from my lips.
'So this is the famous Insitutue of Parasychology!' said Chloe as she stepped back towards McCavity. 'I never knew it was done scientifically these days. When my mum had a reading it was in a tent somewhere near Margate and I reckon the woman was doing, what do they call it - a cold reading? Yeah! Wow. Thanks for inviting me Dr Crumble. When Angus said where he worked I just knew I had to meet you all!'
I looked over to McCavity expecting him to correct this gross misunderstanding. Nothing came forth. 'McCavity?' I asked. He lifted his head and completely blanked me. Just stared. No words at all. Not even the slightest hint that he understood his own position. I was baffled, and in turn could think of nothing else to say that would ease the tension. Anyway, it wasn't up to me to shatter the poor girl's delusion!
Dolores came to the rescue a few moments later. She opened the kitchen door and brought out a plate of handmade party sausage rolls. McCavity recovered himself and introduced his friend to Dolores. My wife made a sufficient number of pleasantries to diffuse the situation, and I turned the volume of the music up, slightly, so as to animate the ambience. I also made sure that I stayed out of range of Chloe, lest I be asked to read her rather sweaty palms.
The conversation ebbed and flowed for the next twenty minutes. Chloe seemed to want to mingle, whereas McCavity seemed content to keep his arm firmly round her waist whilst he nuzzled her ears. Ravel was talking with Denise about going hunting in Bulgarian forests, and it was up to me to chat to the rest of the staff (our cleaner - Jennifer, junior technician - Ian,) and invited guests (two shopkeepers from the village, the local vet, a friend of Dolores called Brenda). Each one of them asked me who the girl was, and how she could have made such a mistake. I could only smile, shrug my shoulders and offer them more sherry.
It was probably because of this unseasonally generous application of alcohol before the meal that, within about twenty minutes, everyone in the room was looking a bit flushed, and the volume of conversation had increased quite substantially. I was even forced to raise the volume on the hi-fi to compensate.
Dolores emerged from the kitchen to let us know that the food was ready. As in previous years, we decided to have a buffet rather than a sit-down meal. In my view, at least, this approach not only facilitates the party atmosphere, but allows people to eat at their own pace. I remember from childhood how I was forced to eat quicker whenever we had a sit-down meal, and since then I have been determined that others should not have to follow such a regime.
The guests filed up in front of the table. By chance, Chloe and her super-glued boyfriend managed to be just in front of me. Chloe turned her head to see who was behind, and upon seeing me she blew a big kiss before taking another slug of white wine. She offered me the bottle and seemed offended when I refused, as if to decline was some sort of insult. 'Angus!,' she cried, 'your boss doesn't want to take a drink with me. You tell him!'
McCavity either didn't hear her, or didn't want to respond. Instead, he picked up a plate and started loading it with food. I didn't really want to talk any more with the girl, so I pretended that I had forgotten something and moved out of the queue. Behind me was shopkeeper #1, who didn't seem to mind being next to the young brunette, so I left them to it.
Dolores was still in the kitchen, taking a break. I closed the door behind me and gave her a hug. 'How's it going out there?', she asked.
'As well as can be expected, I suppose. McCavity and his friend appear to be annoying or amusing the guests in equal measure. I think one of the shopkeepers fancies her, but the vet is just keeping out of her way. Brenda sat down about ten minutes with her third glass of sherry and hasn't moved since. The girl still thinks we are a bunch of paranormal investigators. Ravel tried to tell her the truth but she wouldn't listen.'
'Oh well, I'm sure you'll keep control of things. You haven't had too much to drink have you?'
'No dear. I'm keeping to my side of the deal, don't you worry.'
'Good. Now get back out there and make sure everyone is having a good time.'
'Don't you need a sit down, love?'
Dolores patted her bump. 'We're fine', she said.
The party proceeded in a light hearted fashion for a while. Everyone ate their fill, and a round of applause was offered up to Dolores, who graciously emerged from the kitchen for a moment to take a bow. She didn't seem to notice her friend, Brenda, who was still sat in the same chair she had occupied for the last thirty minutes, only standing to help herself to more food or wine. In fact, she fair swigged it back. At one point she carried a half empty bottle back from the table, only to have it snatched back by Chloe with the words that Brenda should 'not take from others what you don't want taken from yourself'.
Now, it is traditional at the McCrumble Christmas Party that we all play Pictionary (other party games are available, but I've always enjoyed this one in particular). I normally wait until people are about to fall asleep after lunch, so as to liven things up again. But this time, because of the extra alcohol, people seemed keen to carry on talking. I asked our guests in turn if they would perhaps like a game, but received no affirmative responses until I reached McCavity and Chloe. 'Oooh, Dr Crumble! I love Pictionary. Where's the box Angus? I'll get it!'
'It's OK, Chloe', I said, patting her shoulder. 'Angus doesn't know where it's kept. I'll go.' With that I stood up, clapped my hands and shouted 'Alright everyone. We've got some takers for Pictionary over here. I'm going to get the box, so please arrange yourselves into teams of four. Chop chop!'
I returned two minutes later with the box under my arm. Chloe first clapped, and then insisted that she help me set up the game. I had to push people a bit more into forming teams, but eventually we were ready. The die were rolled, and Chloe's team (herself, McCavity, Brenda and shopkeeper #1) were the first up to draw something. Chloe insisted on being the 'drawer'
'On your marks, go!' I shouted as I started the clock. Chloe picked up a pen, thought about it for a moment and then began to draw. But, what she actually put on the paper stunned the whole room into silence...