In the last gasping decades of the 20th century, at the acme of the gossip columnist Felicity Ferret's calumny, to be captioned "a visitor from Hawke's Bay" in Metro magazine's party pages was instant social death.
You were officially a nobody. Some random whose name the photographer hadn't even bothered to check.
You might have been having the time of your life, a right old knees-up, but nobody gave two hoots.
You were from the provinces, or you may as well have been. Half-pickled from the free piccolos of Deutz, you were caught for posterity with an overly-chilled salmon blintz halfway between platter and open gob.
Recently I have attended a flurry of social events at which I was not on the guest list, at least not in any capacity of my own. I have been someone's plus one.
And belatedly I have realised that there is no shame. In fact, there is much to be praised. There is none of the expectations incumbent upon either invitee or host.
Unaware of the minefields to steer clear of (that a. the host's husband is recovering from a serious addiction to online porn, or b. the woman with the unusual cleavage is in the middle of suing her Thai surgeon for medical misadventure), you may tread with gay abandon across a wide open sea of subject matter.
Unburdened by duty, you are free to be scintillating and mysterious, to endear and impress. The fresh company may even prove to be charmed by your tired old party trick; your signature dance move.
In order to fling back the curtains on the real life and times of a plus one, I kept a small diary of my many social triumphs.
Restaurant soft launch
The invitation comes by email, from a colleague and dear friend. It's for lunch. At a new restaurant. The chef is a celebrity. Would I like to accompany her? Yes, please. I plan an outfit to thrill, yet not overwhelm.
With an elastic waist to allow for all the on-the-house ricotta gnudi, duck fat potatoes and lemon panna cotta I plan to avail myself of.
On arrival I compliment the PR. The celebrity chef. (Love your parmigiano-reggiano.) The other guests. During lunch I take a sincere interest in the PR's offspring; the celebrity chef's; and the other guests'.
I am patting myself on the back for being an exemplary plus one when I realise that there is also a hard
launch later in the week - a proper party with proper famous people and proper champagne - to which I am not invited.
The invitation comes by email, from a former-colleague and dear friend. It's for a brunch. She is allowed to bring someone. Would I like to come? Yes, I say, yes please.
With its mid-morning time-slot there is something wholesome about brunch. Wholesome yet potentially libertine, with all the possibility of drunken antics spilling over into the rest of the day.
I decide to dress appropriately with plunging neckline. My decolletage may be at best advantage but it is
entirely lost on the all-women invitees.
Why are we here? I have no idea. Oh, it is to promote a particular varietal of wine. I love wine. I hate talking about it.
Charmingly I blank out the presentation. Endearingly I text during the speeches. I scoff the food and make off with my two complimentary bottles.
The invitation comes by text, from a colleague and dear friend. Have you been invited to the Oscars lunch? No.
I am mildly peeved. I have never been invited to the Oscars lunch. I'll see if I can wangle you an invitation,
she says. Got you one! '
I swallow my pride. Plan my outfit. I decide to dress appropriately with plunging neckline and elastic waistband. My decolletage is not lost on the photographer. I am gratified by his attention.
And mildly peeved when I realise he has no idea what my name is, even though we once worked together.
We critique the red carpet attire of the proper famous people on the big screens. I stare down a badly dressed woman who fails to comprehend the genius of Pharrell William's outfit.
We take our seats. The young man sitting opposite me tells me he's my fangirl. He hopes I don't mind. By all means, I say. Be my guest.
The invitation comes by phone, from my mother. Will you come with me, she asks, to a wedding down country?
By all means, I say. I'm on a roll. I plan my outfit. A scrap of fluorescent silk and a fur coat. Perfect, I think, for a country wedding. I look like a prostitute from Belarus. I know nobody. How liberating, I think.
My mother and I spend a while talking to a woman about fine art auctions on cruise ships. She makes her excuses and escapes.
What an interesting conversation, my mother says to me. I look at her. I think she thought we were quite mad, I say.
No one under 60 talks to me. They clearly think I am a prostitute from Belarus. I tell an older woman I have
been admiring her lovely long legs.
She looks at me like I am quite mad. Bonkers. Like a crazy prostitute from Belarus.
- Sunday Star Times
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