Does your Christmas work party fit the template?

Work party

'Tis the season for a festive knees-up with colleagues. Cue bad dancing, ill-advised cocktails and the denouement of a simmering office romance, says comedian and writer Colm O'Regan.

You will have seen evidence of it over the last three weeks. Lots of boister, jinks levels at a yearly high, horseplay.

In the restaurants, side-dishes that will never be eaten are ordered because the company's paying for it. Around the streets, there is laughing and shouting and then later crying and talking to the wall of an alley while having one's hair held thoughtfully by a friend. Perhaps a chip shop scuffle with some others dressed in smart-casual. There are just a few more days to go in the Christmas party season.

Often on big occasions, the real fun is in the anticipation.

The best part of the Christmas party is arguably the day at work that precedes it. There are about two hours of work done before the organisation loses its tenuous grip on discipline. An office that used to hum with quiet conversation now becomes a tableau of people sitting on the edges of desks discussing where to have the pre-drinks.

Highlights of previous parties are replayed - often with wistful reference to boom time largesse. "They flew us all away for the weekend. It's all changed now. We'll be lucky to get a sausage roll."

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Bosses sway awkwardly - you don't get where they are by being good at dancing”

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A conversation about the dresses bought for the occasion is interrupted by the office wise guy with a well-worn zinger: "I'll probably wear a lacy black number meself."

Moving to the night itself, the Christmas party will also feature the denouement of at least one putative office romance. This may have been simmering gently during the autumn via flirty email discussions. More likely though, one side was completely unaware of any simmering while the other side misinterpreted every innocent signal.

Over the course of the ensuing weeks' email exchanges, subtle questions are asked and further answers misinterpreted. Lines are read between to see whether there's a significant other lurking around.

It builds up to an unstoppable momentum that will surely see something happen at the Christmas party. There may even be an absurd manoeuvre to get to sit near them at the dinner table. You'll know if something's going on if you try to sit next to one of the lovelorn. "Anyone sitting here?" "Mary." "But she's not here yet." "She will be. NOW GO AWAY before I plant this fork in your leg."

With so much latent tension, either this will end in a Titanic-like moment of pure romance with both protagonists standing on the front of a ship - before being escorted away by a security guard - or a Titanic-like sinking feeling.

"Who's the guy talking to Mary?" "Oh that's her boyfriend, Gary. Just back from working with orphans in the Amazon." So he can't even be hated, the altruistic [word deleted].

The science of a hangover

Yawning woman in party dress and Santa hat
  • There is no cure, in part because scientists don't fully understand what a hangover is
  • Alcohol affects people in different ways, such as:
  • Suppressing release of an anti-diuretic hormone, causing dehydration which leads to fatigue, lethargy, dizziness and headache
  • May cause rise and drop in blood sugar levels, which can contribute to shakiness and fatigue
  • May relax region of the stomach that controls acid reflux, leading to gut discomfort

While the swain barks up the wrong tree, the tone of the party has changed.

When a large group of people all start drinking around the same time, quite often they will simultaneously reach a tipping point. The room changes from "merry and good-natured" to a vista which resembles the orgy scene in the film The Ten Commandments.

The person with the unenviable task of controlling the bar tab watches with alarm as a junior employee carts away trays of foul-smelling, flaming spirits. He tries to get the attention of the bar staff to shut it down, but they pretend not to see him for as long as possible.

The dance-floor is now full. The bosses who fancy themselves as being "a bit of craic" are swaying awkwardly. You don't get where they are by being good at dancing.

At this point, the "quiet guy" will suddenly appear on the edge of the dance-floor and announce his arrival by sliding across on his knees. The whooping and cheering he receives will be goad him into ever more ambitious moves.

Hammertime, a terrible moonwalk, that break-dancing move where you hop around on one leg. The last one will be the bridge too far and he'll topple headfirst into the groin of the most senior woman in the company. She takes it all in good spirits but has noted it for future reference when picking her change management team.

The music stops. This is the point when everyone should go home. But a hardcore group of people are determined to continue on. They style themselves as "legends" - although their legendary status comes from being able to drink all night rather than fighting dragons or multi-headed dogs.

It is the stories from these people that will filter back over the course of January like stories of lost Roman legionaries on the wrong side of Hadrian's Wall. They'll mutter that "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" and tap the side of their nose conspiratorially.

Meanwhile one young man is misinterpreting an x at the bottom of an email and already looking forward to Christmas 2013.

You can hear Colm O'Regan every Saturday on In The Balance, on the BBC World Service, at 11:00 GMT

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