Bird in a Black Tie

I tried something different on New Year’s Eve. I dressed as a bloke. I didn’t actually beard up or pad my pants with socks or anything, but I took what I thought would be the easy way out of a black tie soirée. I don’t mean I shinned down the drainpipe when the canapés ran low. I mean I opted for a low stress option. I took it literally. I wore a black tie. And a man’s white shirt.

That afternoon I had been on a charity shop spree with the girls, and when I joked that I was tempted to go as a bloke to save the anxious lady trussing, they said “why don’t you then?”

Charity shops are the right places to take your friends up on a sartorial challenge. Need a man’s white shirt that doesn’t gape at the boobs and a thin black tie for a 10-12 year old boy? Look no further than this potluck bin, madam.

Thus was it decided. No dress for me. No laddering of tights, no rotating strapless bra. A white shirt and a bar mitzvah tie. I didn’t even wash the shirt. I got it home and when I realised it smelled clean and not of geriatric puke, I just whacked it on.

Initially I whacked it on with a skirt and tights, thinking I looked a bit preppy, like a prefect with a hipflask. But when Matt’s eyes popped out of his head and he said, between fondles, that it might be a bit ‘risqué’ for company, I got a bit huffy about outdated saucy connotations ruining everything for us non-prostitutes. So I put some black trousers on and thought I’d feel better.

But I didn’t. I felt like a nob. I felt like I had tried even harder in not ‘trying’, even sluttier than if I’d worn the slurpy dress that once popped a nip out as I suckled at a vodka luge. I was cross that my solution hadn’t solved the problem. Cross that I should feel just as uncomfortable in a dead man’s shirt with a ripped elbow with no bits, no obvious femininity, no ‘effort’ on display.

The little bell in the feminist ward of my brain rang out: “Oi. Dipstick. It’s because you’re not supposed to wear the timeless power garb of men – you’re supposed to be sculpted in a dress pleasing to the eye and hurtful to the waist.” I shushed the little bell. I didn’t have time for feminism; I was running late and Matt had got ready in a man-typical five minutes and was casually strumming his guitar while I stood, hating myself.

Then I realised something. There is something about any kind of ‘proper dressing up’ that always makes me feel naked. In both expensive dresses and cheap dresses comes the same awkwardness. In revealing dresses or modest dresses, a similar feeling of exposure. In costumes for telly or plays, always a strange displacement. The fact is most sane people feel a little daunted when they think people might really be looking at them. Like, really looking. And in ‘dressing up’, you’re sort of inviting the society of glances, the culture of being watched. Which is a bit bonkers when you think about it.

I think, really, I mostly got cross with myself that, despite all my maturing and emboldening, I might still not be ready for the statement that is “I am bored of dresses and shall tonight be wearing the same as you, Big Bob McManfist.”

I wonder if it will always be that way or if I’m due an enlightening period in my late 30s of totally not giving a dog-doo. I hope so. I have a fancy for waistcoats and pocket-watches.


Auld Lang Syne: Not Enough Hours In The Night

As a kid, New Year’s Eve was just a strange thing I watched adults doing; some strange ritual of exuberance and doilies that descended into the sloshing of booze and haphazard indiscriminate kissing. I sat, impatiently waiting to break in my new diary. It was the pencil concealed in the spine; it did things to me.

Now, New Year’s Eve is that vaguely annoying import-laden mark in the social calendar when I can never quite decide what I want to do, and always end up being a bit disappointed. You can never do everything or see everyone, there’s not enough hours in the night, and you end up worrying that where you choose to spend your midnight is not what best defines your heart. Your friends are scattered and can’t be collected together in the same room. You love too many people. In thinking of all the people you won’t see, all the things you won’t do, you have to just… let it go. Be where you are, and be there fully. You will never do your whole heart justice is such a short and silly night.

Perhaps we’re not supposed to truly enjoy ushering in a new year when we’re not sure we did all that we could with the old one. It’s like throwing out dead flowers. It never quite feels right; their buds had held such possibilities.

The best New Year’s Eve I ever spent was the first one I was allowed out alone with friends, chancing it under-aged to a pub, which ended up with me getting bundled into an old telephone box by five men who should have known better. Naturally I was wearing DMs so they paid for their lascivious joie de vivre. That night was a revel; it was freedom. Now I see it as the year I took the baton of my own time. After observing adults flick off the years like fluff from their sleeve, I was now counting my own years for myself. I never knew as I roared Wonderwall into a throng of madmen that some part of my brain was taking a snapshot of it for later. I never knew that, later, New Year’s Eve wasn’t as casual as the adults made it look.

If one thing has become clearer from all the years of merrily ticking off another annus along the road to death, it is that nobody bloody knows the words to Auld Lang Syne. No one. I suspect it is at the moment you learn the last verse that you die. It is the bell which buzzes you through to the waiting room of eternity. “And there’s a hand, my trusty friend…” BOOF. Gone. See ya.

Chancing the invitation to my own demise I googled the words, and found that most other columnists around the globe are writing something quite similar to this. Columnists talking about Robbie Burns’ famously unknown lyrics, about new years customs and resolutions, about traditions with friends. I worried that Christmas slothdom might have stolen the last wisp of originality from me. But then I felt comforted. Writing a New Year’s Eve column and feeling the trite pull to mention Auld Lang Syne is almost as unavoidable as the passing of the year itself. The song is the twine that stitches our years together; it’s as culturally innate to us as Happy Birthday, and is a darn sight less annoying.

What was strange about reading the lyrics to the song that everyone sings but no one knows was the fact that, despite never having heard them in a collected entirety amid the mumbling of drunken fools, I knew the feeling of the piece. It had made it through all the years of wrongly translated Scottish verse. It had made it through the weird cross-armed hand-shaking and ill-pitched droning – made it even through the mulsh of drunkenness.

It’s about friendship.

Allow me to paraphrase:

Cor. Life’s been a bit of a tinker so far, hasn’t it?
Let’s have a ruddy drink.
I’m glad you’re here, old chum. We’re in this together, right?
Yes. But it’s your round, you cheeky tyke.
Oh, give us a cuddle. We could die in five minutes for all we know.

And that’s pretty much it. Sort of.

Naturally, I’ll have forgotten any lyrics I’ve inadvertently taken in by the time I come to sing it at midnight tonight. But I’ll feel its sentiment coursing through me with the wine and the time. I’ll cross my arms against my chest, and link palms with the people by my side. I’ll shake hands with Time itself; make some sort of uncertain deal. We’ll all be holding hands, humming the tune, but never quite knowing the words; not knowing what the next year will have in store for us, but together in our not knowing. And then there’ll be awkward messy kissing, and we’ll have another drink that we don’t need, but want.