To tell you the truth, I didn't want to go - not because I didn't fancy it, more that I was shattered by a general malaise, a lack of vitamin C, and probably B and A too, and being kept awake at the weekend - the sleep catch-up days - by a neighbouring Pole who likes to blast out Radio 2 at 9am. It was all playing havoc with my delicate state of mind.
Nonetheless, Kate, the wife of my old Uni mate Dan, had invited me to her birthday party. I was in two minds.
'You might meet someone,' said Large Northern Flatmate.
'Ha!' I ejaculated. "Fat chance."
Large Northern Flatmate stopped short of recommending I stay in with him. After all, his girlfriend was coming over - which is why he wasn't going himself - and nothing more could put the sexual dampeners on their relationship than the sight of me watching telly in a towel.
'Fuck it, I'm going to go,' I announced. Despite having all the energy of roadkill, I couldn't face the idea of returning to work on Monday morning having done nothing more with my weekend than drinking cheap wine, chainsmoking, and playing Spider fucking Solitaire on the computer.
When I got to the pub, I was spaced out, an exhausted fish out of water. Dan was pleased to see me, but then he's pleased to see everyone. His birthday wife Kate was obviously chatting to all the other guests, and I only knew Stuart, another friend from University, there with his 8 week old baby daughter and new wife.
I tried talking to her at one point while she sat in the corner with her babe in her arms, facing her.
'Is she asleep?' I offered.
'Huh?' she said over the music.
'IS SHE ASLEEP?'' If she was, she wouldn't be for much longer.
I leant in, grinning, and staring at the back of her child's head.
'I said, 'IS SHE ASLEEP?'
'Uh, no. She's feeding.'
I grimaced. Suddenly I could see tit. Oh god, social awkwardness, social awkwardness.
Brilliant. I've known her for three minutes and already I've seen her nipple being sucked.
The other guests were older than I expected; this was a Fortieth birthday party after all. Even Dan's father was there. I last met him at Dan's stag party - my first one - almost a decade ago. Everyone else seemed to be coupled. Brilliant.
Then I saw a cute girl nearby. Very cute. Probably someone's girlfriend. With nothing else to do, I sauntered closer to the buffet table and wolfed down some chicken on sticks when the girl came towards me to grab a chair.
Strangely, somehow, she looked familiar.
'I know you, don't I?'
'Yes, we met at Dan's Thirtieth.'
I searched my mind. Possibly.
'I'd arrived late; you were very drunk.'
I recoiled at the suggestion. Although it is not unknown for me to get very drunk, I am incredibly good at hiding it. My 'very drunk' doesn't involve rolling around, slurring, smashing things, vomiting, and joining AA the following morning. It's similar, but on a much smaller, more socially acceptable level.
We sat down and chatted, and I pieced together the details of this ambiguous meeting; it was in the East End. It was the upstairs of a pub with a DJ. I was there with Hippy Dave. Yes, I was drunk, but I prefer the term 'Merrily Controlled'. I did remember it.
Apparently, I had told her that she looked like Liv Tyler. I could see why. And I recall, back then, being gutted that she had to leave so early as she was lovely. Chatting to her properly this time, I realised how fabulous she is. She has a great laugh. She's cute and intelligent and self-deprecating, like a Peep Show girl. ("She knows about cubits, she's not comfortable in her own skin, she's one of Me!")
So naturally, as we talked, I braced myself for the word 'Boyfriend' to invade the conversation like the German Army marching into Paris.
Casually, I checked out her left hand - no rings.
I offered to buy her a drink but she was insistent - genuinely, resolutely adamant that she should buy me a drink instead. Jesus! (I politely refused.)
As we sat and talked, the minutes turned to hours. We found ourselves not bothering to mingle, preferring instead to chat in the corner about all manner of things. I decided not to go outside for a cigarette as I guessed that she'd be forced to chat to other people and that would be the end of our conversation. Regrettably she no longer lives in London but bloody Leicestershire some 100 motherfucking miles away. Still, it beats New York's 8,000 mile round-trip.
But there was one thing I couldn't understand. How the hell did she get to 31 without being snared by some swaggering arsehole??? She's like an unclaimed lottery ticket; one with charm and looks and intelligence and a sense of humour. It's only a matter of time before other men discover she's the female equivalent of a four-bedroomed townhouse in Kensington that's come on the market for a tenner.
Things were going fine until we had to leave. I said I would escort her to a tube station and, as we said our goodbyes to the other partygoers, Dan grabbed me conspiratorially.
'She's a lovely girl,' he said. 'I put in a good word for you.'
I looked around. One of the female guests was staring at me with the same affection one might feel towards a puppy that would normally have shat on the carpet, but hasn't. We had been the object of scrutiny the whole evening.
Oh no. This was becoming the Goodbye Walk to the tube. Don't Goodbye Kisses happen at the end of the Goodbye Walk? Oh Fucksticks. I'm going to crash and burn.
We seemed to get on, but is she just being friendly? Maybe she's like the Unicorn, or God, one of those mythical, non-existent creatures; The Woman Who Seems To Like Me. But is she actually keen? She's not particularly tactile. She rates highly on the chatometer, but gets nil points for actual flirting.
We left the pub and out into the cool night. I lit a cigarette on impulse and soon gathered that she didn't smoke. My male intuition (78% less accurate than the female one) gauged that I'd gone down in her estimation. On extinguishing my cigarette, I reached for my chewing gum and offered her one, which she took.
Fuck, does this mean a goodbye kiss is on the cards? Oh Buddha.
Suddenly I began to shit it. Our long, easy conversation in the pub was beginning to elude me as I realised the Enormity of Everything. I was going to blow this all to smithereens.
As we got to Holborn tube, I realised it had gone midnight. Now I had another reason to panic as we were minutes away from missing the last tube. We got deep underground to the Piccadilly line where I was going west and she was heading east. Here we go...
'Well goodbye,' I said.
'Goodbye,' she replied.
Is she being aloof here? What bodypart is coming towards me? Aha! A cheek. I can handle a cheek. I gave her a kiss on it and gave her a small hug, hoping I didn't smell too much of cheap cigarettes.
Then I ballsed it up at the very last hurdle. There were only ever two options:
a) Tell her I had a great time and, coolly and calmly, leave, probably forever.
b) Tell her I had a great time, and ask for her number - despite time being of the essence - then coolly and calmy leave.
Instead, I opted for the middle way - the stupid, non-existent middle way.
As we were about to walk off, I found myself saying 'Oh, just one more thing...'
She stopped and turned.
'I, um... Oh.'
I realised I had something vitally important to tell her, but I didn't know what it was. My mind was absolutely empty; a vast, expansive tract of fuck-all.
'Umm, you see... ah! I don't quite know what I'm trying to say. It can't be important, obviously. Never mind.'
She looked confused. I was eighteen and inept again.
I think I was after a number, or some opportunity to meet up, but I was also aware that she's not local anymore and we were going to miss our trains at this rate.
'Forget it,' I said. 'Goodbye!'
I ran off.