book excerpt

How to Survive a Party Alone

Photo: Caitlin Moran

(Excerpted from Caitlin Moran’s new YA novel, How to Build a Girl.)

A party is definitely a collaborative effort, I observe, looking at all the other people having conversations, and dancing together, and in the corner, kissing. Oh, kissing. I watch the kissing until it’s obvious I’m watching the kissing, and then I walk away, quickly. It’s bad to be seen watching kissing.

By now, my unkissed kiss feels like gunpowder on my lips — if anyone comes near me with even the vague heat of attraction, I will go up in a sheet of flame — mouth first. I feel a sexual fury for a moment. Oh, God — why won’t you let me fuck you! All of you! Everyone in this room. I have a feeling I’ll only ever properly make sense in bed, on my back. You would understand what I meant if we were there.

Anyway. Over the next ninety minutes, I try a variety of different tactics to make it look like I’m not lonely at this party. My findings on how to “party on your own” are as follows:

1.        The buffet. There is a fabulous spread here, and no girl can truly say she is alone if she is standing next to a plate of honey-glazed miniature chipolatas! I eat six, thoughtfully — then worry that I simply look like an abandoned girl eating a lot of small sausages. Under the common teenage misapprehension that anyone is (a) ob- serving and (b) gives any kind of a fuck what I’m doing, I then take two paper plates and load them up — as if getting food for a friend, who is over the other side of the room. I give this scenario all I’ve got — deliberating over slices of miniature quiche, and then rejecting them, because my friend — “Claire” — does not like quiche, “remembering” that, unlike me, what “Claire” really likes are Scotch eggs — then walk across the dance floor, “looking” for my “friend” “Claire,” until me and my two loaded plates reach …

2.        … the toilet, where I bolt the door and eat both plate- fuls. When I finish them, I can’t fit the two paper plates into the Bin of Shame with all the sanitary towels in it, because of the uneaten Scotch eggs, so I leave them neatly stacked on the floor instead. By the time I leave the toilet, a small queue has built up outside. The woman at the front of the queue looks in and sees the plates, with their Scotch eggs, on the floor. “They will hatch soon!” I tell her cheerfully. “They are dragon eggs! Good luck!”

3.        Being a very busy journalist. If you’re  a writer, are you ever really off duty? The human condition never has the evening off — it must be reported upon, 24/7. I sit in the corner with my notebook, and write down all the aston- ishing observations that  are occurring to me. When  I find the notebooks, years later, I see that this consists of a drawing of a cat wearing a top hat; my bank account number — which I am trying to learn by heart; and, on a page all on its own, “I wish Krissi was here.”

4.        A conversation with a stranger! “Do you know where the toilet is?” “Yes — over  there.” “Ha — thank you.” I’m glad I look like the kind of person you can trust to tell you where the toilet is. Whenever Krissi gets asked at a party, he always points people toward a cupboard, and then watches, laughing. God I miss Krissi.

5.        And finally, smoking. There’s no two ways about it — this shit is useful. I have long observed its application in society, and concluded it to be needful. Everyone smokes — it just has to be done. Having finally acknowledged this, last night, I had bought a packet of ten Silk Cut from the newsagents uptown. This shop is legendary for its relaxed attitude to selling cigarettes to children. Until recently, they used to vend a single cigarette, threaded through a Polo Mint, for 15p — in order to capture lunchtime smok- ers who needed to freshen their breath before going back in for PE. Sitting on the grass outside St. Peter’s Cathedral, I doggedly taught myself to smoke. I’m impressed by how determined I am, because it is — and there’s no two ways about this — filthy. It tastes of the worst brown ever. It’s like sucking in everything you’d ever put in a bin — ashtrays, burnt pub carpet, yellow snow, death. Dadda at 2:00 a.m. As my lovely clean throat and pink lungs sucked in the smoke, I felt very, very sorry for me: this is not what a child should be doing. In a right world, I should have needed to do nothing more than spend that money on eight Curly Wurlys and a couple of Refreshers.

But here, now, at the party, I am glad I have the cigarettes in my rucksack — because I now have a little task to attend to, and keep me busy. I go over to the window, take the packet out, light a cigarette, and smoke it whilst looking thoughtfully out on the street below. I try to remember how I’ve seen Elizabeth Taylor holding cigarettes, and hold it up by my face. In my reflection in the window, I see that it looks less Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and more like I’m doing shadow puppets of a swan. I put my arm back down, and cough a bit. Jesus, it is disgusting.

How to Survive a Party Alone