Perhaps I should explain. A house dance is organised so that senior members of one single sex public school my mingle with those of the opposite sex from another school. Thus, young ladies and gentlemen may meet members of a similar class and disposition, engage in polite conversation and then get off with each other.1
The day of the house dance is always very tense. Will today be your lucky night?2 Everyone is hurrying around with barely contained anticipation, though I am, as you will see, not the world's greatest fan of these things3. The dance is invariably on a Saturday night, and lasts at least until twelve, which is particularly galling, because it destroys my pub time for that week. Hard as you may find it to imagine, I have better things to be doing at that time than ritual humiliation.
So anyway, everyone is all geared up and, with about two hours till they arrive, the top three years of the house (the others not being invited) begin to get ready. You shower, you make yourself fragrant, you shave4, and you get into your best outfit5. The air is full of cheap deodorant, caustic hair gel and gushing hormones. Then you realise that you are ready half an hour too early, and you are worried. You begin to sweat. It's a vicious cycle.
Then, all of a sudden, and more often than not an hour late, they arrive. The news spreads, seemingly by osmosis, and gradually adolescent boys, like particularly timid rabbits in the headlights of a tank battalion, watch the milling crowd of pashminas6 and expensive frocks, listening to the voices, not so much chatting as braying and watching out for any lesbians7. From this distance, they all seem to be ugly8. Slowly but surely you walk up to the leaderless crowd. You look at them, consider an attempt at contact and then, at the last moment, your nerve breaks, and you break right into the changing room and the open arms of the bar.
Oh yes, the bar. Boys, whatever you may think, the bar is not your friend. There's no such thing as dutch courage, but there is such a thing as making a drunken tit out of yourself. Avoid it. And the beer. Oh yes, the beer. For the ladies, there's plonk, in both red and white9. for the boys though, it's Heineken. Not your usual, run of the mill, mud-decanted-into-water Heineken. Oh no, we get the special brew. Heineken light, with a minimal percentage, provided in quarter size tins, with a flavour the like of which you have never tasted. I genuinely believe that somewhere in Denmark is a big warehouse full of row upon row of dogs held in vices, being fed nothing but watermelon on a conveyor belt.
Full of the devil's own homebrew, then, you step into the corridor once more. By now, the braver souls have attempted some form of communication, transmitted in grunts, and have settled themselves into the comfy room. The comfy room smacks of young man trying to make an impression and look sensitive10. The library is full of every cushion, beanbag, drape and throw that can be scavenged. And, incomprehensibly, every single lava lamp that can be found. What image are we trying to present?11 At this stage, I'm still more or less sober. I enter the comfy room. It's a press of bodies. Anything to avoid the DJ. For some reason, my best friend, within twenty minutes of their arrival, is on the floor, with not one of his shirt buttons still attached. He will go on to spend the next two hours in this position. No, he's not comatose, but I don't know how they manage to breathe. Maybe they suck the air through each others' ears or something. I sit and watch forlornly for a moment, before getting up and leaving for the dancefloor. Later, one ill advised young man, on hearing how the recipient of my friend's tongue maneouveurs is bisexual, will attempt to pry her away by claiming that he was molested in the first year by a top year, and enjoyed it12.
We move to the dance floor, or, the dining room with tables moved. Movement between rooms will happen a lot throughout the evening, with the process slowly accelerating until I'm just walking backwards and forwards without stopping13. The way this works is very odd indeed. The boys stand at the back, some of them occasionally bobbing up and down to the phat tunes layed down by the DJ, or whatever old tosh is playing. The girls stand at the front, in little groups, screaming, giggling and swaying. I have no idea why they look like they're enjoying themselves. During the evening, these two groups will circle each other like polar opposites, never actually coming into contact. At the end of the evening, everyone will finally come into the room and the DJ will play 'I will survive'. The girls will sing enthusiastically. The boys will think that they know the words and end up mumblingling them because they have momentarily forgotten that bit14. The only other remarkable event in this room will be the compulsory playing of the previously requested (by the boys) 'Who Let The Dogs Out'. Comedy doesn't get much better than this, folks.
Then there is outside. This is the only place to smoke, and there is always a hardcore of naughty ones there who think that members of staff don't know why it smells of Marlboros from over the hedge. The less said about this place the better. Oh, imagine it for yourself.
And so, like all good things, but not that much like them, the evening comes to an end. By this time, it's hard to see, let alone stand up straight. I've managed a bit of conversation15, which is a first for me. Everybody acts sad, as if they are actually missing leaving each others' presences. Everybody acts familiarly and swops phone numbers, as if they had meant to speak to anyone else from the event again, and hadn't simply meant to add to their collection of body fluids. They climb into their coach. We wait outside and wave. Then they leave, and all that remains to be done is count the cost.