My brutally minimalist Christmas decor (it's the same shit every year!). Shame this photo isn't Smell-o-Vision: the Muji Christmas candle is Cinnamon and Mandarin-scented. In the background: the damned, DAMNED stereo that died mid-party.
For the past few years I’ve been holding intimate but swingin' Christmas cocktail parties chez moi at my tiny studio flat in Archway. (See photos from previous parties here and here). This year’s fell on Saturday 10 December 2011. On the Facebook events page I created, I warned potential guests in advance:
Food will be minimal, so make sure you EAT FIRST. I live in a tiny studio flat (in the heart of London’s glittering Archway) with limited seating, so you will inevitably be forced to stand and mingle. I will be playing kitsch, abrasive Christmas tunes until you beg me to stop. (Do you still want to come?).
It sounds like I was setting the bar kind of low, huh? Looking back, here’s what I learned from my 2011 cocktail party:
1) Nobody really likes snowballs, in the same way very few people actually like mulled wine or mince pies. Snowballs are so intensely sweet they’re not exactly more-ish. So in retrospect I wish I’d only bought one bottle of Advocaat. I also bought a jar of maraschino cherries to garnish the snowballs with, and wound up only using a handful of cherries. Decades from now when the police recover my decomposed remains from this flat, that jar of cherries will still be there untouched in my cupboard.
My inspiration: Nigella Lawson knocking up some snowballs
2) Campari is definitely an acquired taste! I first had it in Rome and have come to love its extremely dry, bitter almost cough syrup flavour – but I was definitely in the minority. After the snowballs were drained, rather than open the second bottle of Advocaat I switched to another Nigella Lawson Christmas cocktail recipe (not sure if it has a name): Campari, blood orange juice and cranberry juice – it makes for a festive deep blood-crimson colour. Later on, I realised most people had barely sipped these and then set them down untouched. (I mentioned the unpopularity of Campari to my glamorous Roman friend Laura Casella and she fired back via Facebook, “Campari e' molto buono!”). So next time I’d stick with flutes of icy cold Cava or Prosecco – which everyone loves. (Nigella can steer you wrong: she once suggested buying the gingerbread-flavoured syrup that Starbucks flavours their Christmas gingerbread lattes with and adding a drop to glasses of Cava, claiming it tastes like “Christmas in a glass.” In fact it instantly turns a perfectly good glass of sparkling, clear Cava murky, flat, opaque and sickly sweet! That sticky bottle of gingerbread syrup – which wasn’t cheap, by the way -- sat untouched in my kitchen cupboard for a good two years before I finally chucked it out).
3) It was also just my luck that my CD player finally broke down the night I was having a party! It’s a faithful old 1990s relic which has lasted – and sounded great -- for ages, but it’s been gradually acting increasingly erratic and unreliable. The internal “eye” has stopped reading CDs properly: they either won’t whirr into action at all, or they’ll skip in a way that’s so annoying it’s like an audio torture device straight out of Guantanamo Bay. So I had to play my lovingly-selected Christmas CDs (all my atomic era Ultra-Lounge kitsch Christmas ones, Christmas albums by everyone from Mae West to Elvis to Chet Baker, etc) via iTunes on my PC instead, which sounded muffled and tinny.
At one point I put on a “joke” Christmas tape I’ve had since my student days at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario – a cassette called Christmas Party Dancing (the cassette part of my stereo was still working. Yes, it has cassette decks. I did say it was old). It's the kind of ultra-cheap budget cassette you would have found in a discount bin at a gas station in the 1980s. I wish I could scan the cover or find an image of it online: it’s a photo of a smiling young Afro-Caribbean woman with cornrow braids (she’s meant to signify “disco") wearing a red hooded fur-trimmed Santa’s cape (which signifies “Christmas”), with the title Christmas Party Dancing in zany red and white lettering and really bad old school clip art of a burning candle. It’s the most jaw-droppingly awful collection of Christmas carols re-interpreted as the naff-est possible disco music. Anyway, I put the cassette on as a camp-y joke but people seemed to think I actually thought it was good, so after a few uncomfortable minutes, I took it out again!
4) The entire first part of the night I was so busy mixing drinks I barely got to talk to anyone! The first set of guests had to leave by midnight to catch the last tubes home (they lived as far flung as South London and West London). The next shift of guests arrived circa midnight and stayed until 2 am (one friend -- my old mucker, French rockabilly Dominique -- helped me polish off some remaining bottles of Cava until 5 am!).
In spite of the above, my party was mostly a blast, if I do say so myself. Here are some shots of my elegant guests. If you want to see more, check out my flickr page.
Julian, Mari and Anthony (just to clarify: those curtains came with the flat, OK?)
Mari, Anthony and Rob
Christopher and Lauren (who are in the art-punk band Matron together) and the unpopular Campari cocktails
Christopher and Damon
Welsh people unite: Julian and Lauren
Who knew mixing drinks was such sweaty work? The blotchy, sweaty hosty and the glamorous Mari
Were two people ever more photogenic? Julian and Mari
No, he's not giving her the Heimlich Maneuver: Lauren and Julian