Went to a party the other night. Not one of those with paper hats and gooey chocolate but a proper, grownup sixtieth birthday party. Which made me realise why I really don’t see myself as much of a party animal. Gordon’s tea was available in abundance, as was a visitation from dear old uncle Jack Daniels and various Scottish and fortunately distant relatives such as Mr John Walker, inter alia. Watching people in social settings where disparate people groups who know some but not all of the assembled multitude is interesting. Everyone is, it seems, trying quite hard to forget sorrows and to have a good time, and the bonhomie often has a sickly, cloying sweetness about it which is endurable only in quite small doses, like cough medicine. Alcohol has a tendency to loosen the fabric of neatly woven social infrastructures and if people have a wee drop too much the whole garment has a habit of unravelling with remarkable speed which turned out to be my experience on this particular evening. As a non-drinker, the accelerated effects become all too obvious and I found myself promising a ride home to a number of people, one or two of whom had divested themselves of their customary carapace of politeness and had no compunction in picking a (fortunately verbal) fight with some of the others. I’ve never quite seen myself in the guise of a referee, but I was tempted to show more than one or two red cards. Inveterate observer that I am, it was both challenging and uncomfortable to be drawn in to a situation which could very easily have ended in tears before bedtime. It was salutary, nevertheless. I was reminded with sharp clarity of the fact that I had done much worse and had had forgiving friends. Once, I strolled into a bar with breezy insouciance to be met by a gravelly silence. One brave soul then reminded me that on the previous evening, brimful of the smooth and blushful, I had, without provocation picked a fight with someone who outweighed me by close to 50kg and could have snapped my neck like a carrot. Saying ‘sorry’ didn’t seem to quite cut it, since the unfortunate man had spent a painful morning at the dentist having a chipped tooth fixed. In addition, I had no memory of the incident at all. The rose-hued dawn had brought a measure of reconciliation in the present case as well. Fortunately. All’s well – as the man said – that ends well and my clumsy and plonking efforts at arbitration appeared to have met with a measure of success and Nepenthe seemed to have worked her magic.