All My Friends in One Place

I’m turning 40 in less than three months. I wanted a big party. Then covid happened.

The idea took shape in January. I told myself that if I was serious, I had to start planning in spring at the latest if I was to get what I wanted. It can’t happen now, not in the right month or right year. But I’m keen to get this down so that maybe at 42 ¾ or more likely 45, it might. 

I need the people I want there to know, I want them to see what’s in my head, to be ready.

The decor, rooms, songs and embraces populated this vision at an accelerating rate since myself and the #ACFM crew recorded the Friendship episode mid lock-down. Things were said, feelings ignited, thoughts jolted into a thousand vignettes giving shape to my party.

When you’re with your friends it feels like a holiday. 

When you’re with an old friend, you’re suddenly a version of yourself you’ve missed, animated, there in real time. 

What would it be like to have all my friends in one place? I think I’ve spent most of my life keeping them away from each other, dosed in the insecurity that they would just not understand. But understand what? I had a fear perhaps that a part of me one lot know, would be exposed to those from another life, and then people I love would think who is she? That they’d feel alienated and wouldn’t love me anymore and it was all my fault.

I’ve grown out of that, like a poppy bursting its bud. I want all my friends in one place. I started wanting it nine months ago and I want it more now.

The more I think about this, the more I realise what I want is a wedding. Not the man or the marriage bit, but the once in a lifetime party where everyone would make a gargantuan effort to be there because they know it’s not going to happen again. Something between that and a fake farewell tour. A festival of sorts. 

My friends mean more to me than they will ever know. I’m partly writing this to tell them this, as we are separated by lives, miles and restrictions. I often say that I only exist in discourse. I am me because of the space between you and I, the soup, the potion only we can create. And I want to drown in all those flavours, I want the intoxication of it all at one gathering. I want it, I want it.

I have to organise this event. No one else can do it. This is for several reasons. One. I’m a control freak. Two. I am an experienced event organiser, discerning and particular about the crafting of atmosphere. 

Three. Deep sigh, look down at keyboard. There is no way of putting this that doesn’t appear self-absorbed and pompous on the page, but no one really knows me. Some, know a lot about me. Some know parts of me much better than I know myself. But I have had many lives.  In both literal and psychological terms. But most significantly, you can’t fully know me because two dominant languages and their cultures embody me. Most people have met me with only one of those buttons switched to On. 

I’m a different person in Arabic, I just am. In English, I’m articulate, intellectual, pensive – a reflection of my twenty years as an adult here wedded to The Struggle. In Arabic, I’m mostly apolitical and stuck in the 90s. I trip over formal language, but I’m fucking hilarious. Of course there is crossover and many aspects of my being are consistent, but there is a different vibe to me in each set of interactions. Wherever I am, there is always a part of me missing, a lurch so strongly felt by the many of us who occupy the plethora of diasporas we inhabit.

Like many others crossing class and cultures I subconsciously adapt so that I can communicate, find friendship and commonality. So I’m hardly ever, fully there at the table. But who is, I hear you cry! True, I respond. But when it comes to a party, without knowing both bits of me, you can’t know some of the fundamentals that tickle me. I am a particular undocumented mash up and I want that mash up enacted at my party.

Here is an illustration: I know very few people, in fact I can think of only one, whose body would be moved into uncontrollable and spontaneous movement and on-beat clapping if Ah we Noss or El 3einab burst through the speakers, AND who also finds Peter Kay’s biscuit sketch so tear-streamingly funny.  If you’re a friend and are reading this, you will get one and not the other. Who cries over both Om Kalthoum’s bitter-sweet laments AND any mention of Hillsborough /Orgreave/the film Pride on the radio? No one I know. Who reaches the palm of their hand out after making a joke AND feels the poetic melancholy of the industrial North in their veins? Not you.

There are, those people. But I do not know them. So they are not invited.

Point is, when it comes to my epic party, there needs to be some melange of stuff going on to satisfy me.  Nobody can design this thing but me.

So let’s get stuck in. I’ve tried composing this into a neat form with some kind of logic but it’s not working so here is a random unorganised list of what it will look like:

  • Think cabaret and English variety show for the dominant feel. Indulgent but rough round the edges. Colour and glamour, but also dark dusty corners. Bits of it will feel very Rumpus, but other bits won’t
  • The Pub.  This room will be fashioned like The Army and Navy on Newington Green – a proper old boozer- complete with a mini stage with drooping tinsel and shit karaoke. Instead of the war memorabilia, it will be smothered with communist tat and random macabre creations. There will be an overbearing seedy-looking sign complete with a couple of fizzing red light bulbs, exclaiming Embrace Your Shame*. Every hour on the hour, the Internationale will play in a different language
  • The bar will be well stocked but you can smuggle in your cheap Tesco voddy if you bribe the door-people creatively
  • A Cocktail Corner serving unpretentious classic cocktails in the correct glasses
  • A uncomplicated hang out area where people can just have an a3da – like a comfy living room
  • A campfire, instruments
  • A more stylised chill out area with lower lighting, a bit psychedelic but conducive to conversation. You can sleep, take time out here.
  • A BBQ and spit roast. This will be run by the London Arabs and Greeks
  • A giant effigy will be burnt at some point. This will be run by The Avebury Camp Crew
  • A buffet or kitchen area with food available 24 hours – The idea of having a party without everyone having food available at all times is just so anxiety inducing I can’t abide it
  • I’d love it if you do a speech, but I’ll be doing the biggest speech
  •  A proper tournament of Flip Flop Boules
  • I will have at least six costume changes. Everyone else can wear what they want. But there will be a big dress-up box with wigs for your convenience
  • I don’t know how any venue will be suitable because there will be at least one fight
  • I hate people leaving suddenly all at once, it’s so soul lurching. After all that, you’re going now? Some people will come for a few hours, some will stay till the glorious end and that’s fine. But you’re not allowed to leave all at once. This party will be at least 60 hours long. I’m thinking Friday late afternoon to Sunday early evening. You should definitely take Monday off though.
  • You will be able to have a decent sleep and a shower, should you so chose
  • Massive communal fry up on Saturday when people get up
  • The joke is definitely on you, not me. There will be a slow dance with ALL of my exes in chronological order. Maybe to the Titanic theme tune, not sure yet.

Few things will be banned at my party. Here are three of them:

Things I haven’t decided on yet:

  • Where the dancefloor will go in all this
  • How the DJ/playlist will segue between Spandau Ballet, jungle tracks and 3adaweya
  • Whether there will be samba. The rule of partying with samba people was always NO FUCKING SAMBA
  • Five friends will have special status. I’m not sure what special privileges they will be afforded or how their status will be marked yet.

Things I’d really want but even the most plentiful resources couldn’t make happen:

  • The indoor bit melding into a fairy-light covered actual forest.  But on Saturday morning it’s not what it was, it’s transformed into the Red Sea. South Sinai, east coast please
  • Having all my friends from Egypt there. Wrong passports for the political age, they won’t all get visas, they just won’t. We’ll have to have a sister party in Cairo on linked up on a big screen for at least part of the gathering

As I get older, a need for synthesis develops. The people I’ve shared my life with, are all the chunks that make me who I am. This party is the external expression of all those bits that nestle in me. If a memoir was an event, it would be this, so I want it: All my friends in one place.

*If I remember correctly this became Barking Bateria’s motto after our catastrophic yet hilarious gig in Hastings fire festival circa 2013/14

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