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Sam Delaney's guide to surviving a family party

At a relative's birthday party, Sam makes a stealthy escape, only to find himself at an impromptu disco for one

Balloons at a birthday party

Image: Pixabay CC

I might be a washed-up, 47-year-old recovering addict and self-professed weirdo, but I still know how to party. It’s nice to get out of the house once in a while. But these days I am careful about the way I approach social get-togethers. Whereas my younger self would have just rocked up, smashed into the drinks and just waited to see what happened next, the middle-aged me has a well-crafted strategy to maximise the pleasures and minimise the pain of parties.

I call it ‘The Sam Method’, and it works every time. Let’s take my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday party last Sunday as an example. It was an afternoon do, staged at my mother-in-law’s house. I scoped out the guest-list in advance: just close relatives and plenty of kids. Good. I don’t like a soiree with too many variables. 

I made sure to arrive on time. If people are boozing, it’s good to speak with them during the first drink when they are starting to relax but are not yet boring and repetitive. I worked the room methodically, sharing a warm, informative and entertaining catch-up with each adult attendee. I kept each exchange brief enough to be efficient but not so fleeting that it seemed rude. Next, I made some of the children laugh. Nothing fancy. No magic tricks or juggling. Just a couple of poo jokes. You know, standard stuff.

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After all this was out of the way, I moved on to what I call ‘phase two’ of The Sam Method. I took a plate and worked my way along the buffet that had been laid out on my mother-in-law’s dining table. I piled it high with salad, sandwiches, crisps and bits of quiche. As much as I could fit on. And then I fucked off into the other room.

This is what I always do at family dos. Get the chit chat out the way then disappear somewhere quiet to stuff my face in peace. In this case, it was my mother-in-law’s lounge. As the best room in the house, it is usually empty. Her best furniture is in there. The carpet is spotless. It’s not a room that’s appropriate for ordinary human occupancy. That’s why I hid there with my plate of food. I knew no other fucker would come in and bother me. 

I shut the door, removed my shoes, lay on the sofa with a little cushion placed behind my head and covered myself with a blanket. All cosy like. Then I stuck Sky Sports on my phone and began tucking into my big plate of grub. That’s living alright. 

After about half an hour, I was discovered by my five-year-old niece. I asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted a disco. “Fine,” I told her. “But I’m not dancing.” She didn’t seem bothered. She just began to build a dancefloor made of pillows and blankets, then organise an imaginary bar, stocked with milkshakes and fizzy pop. I listened politely to her commentary of the whole thing while keeping one eye on the football.

We were perfectly happy in our respective netherworlds; her with her fantasy disco and me with my lonely, peaceful side-party. Eventually, my team lost the game I was watching so I switched it off and sulked for a bit. My niece asked me why I was sad. I told her it was to do with football. She laughed. 

I tidied up the sofa and re-entered the main party where all the other adults were. No-one seemed to have noticed that I had been AWOL for a couple of hours. That’s what makes The Sam Method so bulletproof. The key is to make sure you have such a big impact early doors that the other partygoers are almost hypnotised into thinking that you’ve mingled with them for much longer than you actually have. Or maybe I was just so boring and forgettable that they didn’t notice or care where I was? 

Either way, I find my approach to parties very relaxing. Socialising is great, but only in small doses. Most conversations can be completed in under five minutes. In order to benefit from the company of others, words aren’t always necessary. Just being in the same building as people you love is often enough. 

Read more from Sam here

Sort Your Head Out book cover

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney is out now (Constable £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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