On Saturday night, home alone and fed up with revising Comprehensive Service Assessments and Compulsory Purchase Orders, I decided to go round my flatmate’s girlfriend’s house in search of feminine comfort and company.
Most of us had been out together the night before and I think we were all in the same state of mind: that weird, alcohol-induced place which lies as close to being miserable as you can get without actually having any reason to be sad. Self-indulgent, I suppose.
I’ve often thought that the reason people like being drunk is because if feels a bit like when you’re a kid. Everything’s hilarious; you lose you adult sense of self-consciousness and restraint; you lose half your vocabulary and love nothing more than standing about in rooms gazing vacantly at the pretty, bright lights. People fight over stupid stuff or chase girl‘s about for a kiss. The whole thing gives you the same thrill as when you had too much orange squash at lunchtime and spent the rest of the afternoon at school being really naughty.
But if the night before is childhood, the morning after is definitely adolescence. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and all the horribly adult things you have to deal with (like talking to your parents or deciding what you’re going to wear to the shop) feels just like life at 15.
I guess this is why Channel 4 on a Saturday and Sunday is so popular. Repeats of cartoons and sitcoms and soaps we’ve all been watching since we were 14 represents the perfect level of mental engagement. During the days at weekends, half our nation is reduced to our teenage selves, wallowing in tea and paracetamol; finding solace in watching yet another crazy escapade of the kookie but good-looking six from Manhattan. This is infinitely more appealing and manageable than facing the real world.
I have to say, girls seem much more adapt at surviving hangovers than us members of the stupid sex. Perhaps this is because their teenage years have given them much more experience in the area. All those heightened pressures of conformity and bitchness; really, really sore backs and stomachs; pregnancy scares and getting dumped for not putting out. It must have been hard. But if there’s any silver lining to that cloud, it’s that, compared to us, you’ve become experts at staying in and dealing with hangovers or illness.
The girls’ living room seemed lined wall-to-wall with soft furnishings; you couldn‘t move for cushions and duvets. There were piles of takeaway curry and buckets of expensive ice cream in the middle of the room. They all seemed to be wearing jumpers designed specifically for such a situation; soft and big, with hoods for when even peripheral vision becomes too much to deal with. Whilst of course remaining dignified, one of them was even sucking her thumb. It felt like a sanctuary, set up by some international charity to aid those suddenly affected by unexpected sobriety.
This was much, much better than the ham sandwich and can of coke I’d mustered up at home.
But the final ingredient of the survival plan was yet to be revealed. A video. And not just any video; we watched a film called ‘Miss Congeniality’ with Sandra Bullock and Michael Cane. Initially, I wasn’t keen, but as a self-imposed guest and a male minority of one, I was in no position to nip back home to get ‘Coventry’s FA Cup Dream’ or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I found my place under one of the duvets and settled in for the night.
The film was, at heart, a predictable story of how an unattractive and boyish FBI agent who snorts when she laughs is forced to go undercover at a beauty pageants, and in the formulaic twist that they fortunately reveal pretty early on, is of course so stunningly beautiful with a bit of war paint and a tiny skirt that she almost wins the competition, claiming the heart of her ladies-man FBI partner whist simultaneously foiling a terrorist plot.
Similarly to McKellen in the Da Vinci Code, Caine plays an clichéd, old-fashioned British chap, but relies far less on caricature. I’m a stereotypically big fan of Caine’s early films but don’t resent him in the slightest earning a bit of money out of this kind of venture. It seems he’s managed to do so with much more grace than De Niro.
I’d forgotten Bullock existed to be honest. I remember quite fancying her in Speed from when everyone was obsessed with that film when we were about 15, but when it became clear she was only going to make bad films I sort of lost interest. It was nice to see Winston (the fourth ghost buster) pop up as the angry Police Chief and William Shatner turned up playing, well, William Shatner.
Obviously, the film is absolute rubbish but I was determined to participate fully in my host’s native customs. Of course, I don’t want to make out that the girls were taking the film at face value. They were all perfectly aware that the whole thing is rather silly and conforms to all kinds of rotten capitalist stereotypes of how women should behave in order to be respected. Nevertheless, they were still capable of enjoying the film by suspending their moral disdain for such pressures and laughing whenever Bullock got her high heels wrong and fell on her face; a perfect tone of entertainment when you’re sat in your oldest Donnay tracksuit bottoms and haven’t bothered doing your hair. And their lives are probably better off for being able to do so. So I tried to do the same.
After a couple of hours under the duvet, picking at the takeaway and being wowed by the chorus of airbrushed beauty that sailed across the stage as Bullock made it through more and more rounds of the competition, I felt quite at home. Perhaps it was partly the emotional vulnerability caused by the previous night’s indulgences, perhaps it was the subtle powers of Hollywood’s subliminally pro-capitalist messages, but in my new muliebrial surroundings it even got me thinking that if I just stopped acting like such a tomboy, bought myself a new pair of shoes and got my eyebrows done, I too could be transformed into an all-American, pageant-winning stunner.
It was obviously time for me to go home, where I immediately opened a can of John Smith’s and turned on Eurosport in search of the most obscure and difficult to watch sport I could find.
It’s nice to know how the other half lives, of course, and I suppose it’s both beneficial and inevitable that as we get older, we start to understand each other’s customs and habits more. And I think there’s quite a lot a value in being able to turn any lingering teenage elements of self-pity into a lazy, communal, contented experience.
Next weekend, I want to return the favour. I’m going to invite them over to watch football, drink beer from the can and swear at whoever comes on the telly. Somehow I think it’ll be more difficult to find value in the return leg of our cultural exchange. Maybe I’ll get some Haagen Dass in…