I was recently shortlisted in the 'best blogger' category at the UK Dating Awards. Let me start by saying I did not win. I did not even get a 'special mention'. My writing received no recognition whatsoever. In terms of debauchery and self-ridicule, however, I swept the board.
Attending the event seemed like a good idea - a good networking opportunity, I thought. I will talk to media people about my blog. Perhaps, I'll get some actual paid writing work. It all sounded perfectly reasonable, of course. Unfortunately, this dream would be obliterated in a firestorm of mid-range wine, offensive patter and staggering lechery.
I was accompanied by my old friend Luron. We served together in the Royal Navy some seven years ago. He remained in the service while I joined the corporate world. It should be said that since abandoning my shipmates (and the seedy pubs of Portsmouth) my drinking prowess has greatly diminished. I know this. And yet, this knowledge did not deter me from slurping buckets of booze at the awards like some barnacle-covered sailor.
I rented a suit that afternoon and headed to Kings Cross to meet Luron. He had traveled up from Plymouth especially. As I drank cocktails in my tieless tuxedo, I looked like someone who had attended an event yesterday. We met, embraced, bought drinks and talked down the significance of the night. Naturally, I hoped to win, but I did not expect to. This was not modesty so much as the realisation that my 'dating blog' is far too downbeat to be acclaimed in any popular sense.
The awards were held in some kind of military installation off Old Street. Watching the card-exchanging PR types, it was evident that I had walked into an industry event. This rather obvious fact had been lost on me previously. As a blogger, I wondered where I fit. I supposed I was a consumer - I certainly didn't have anything to peddle. Perhaps I am some kind of resource. After all, I am periodically approached by dating websites who want me to write for them (for free, naturally).
There was no food at the event. If I can attribute my debauched behaviour to anything, this would be it. Drinking on an empty stomach is one of those life rules I have always ignored. From swilling firewater in foreign seaport towns, through to wrecking business networking events, I have lived by the naval mantra 'eating is cheating'.
Luron and I were on a table with two other bloggers. One girl, one boy - both perfectly friendly. Unfortunately, I would go on to rant at one, and spill a full glass of wine over the other. I clapped and cheered my way through the announcements with gusto. This was generous considering I knew no one. Afterwards, I hit the networking trail. This entailed swaggering around aimlessly and high-fiving strangers. I hugged someone. I was rude to someone else. In a moment of clarity, I recall being scolded by one of the winners. Presumably, this was deserved.
Luron then reminded me he had to catch the last train to Plymouth, prompting us to hit overdrive. We started swilling wine like Viking sea lords - and while we had their manners we lacked their wicked charm, leaving us exposed as nothing but boorish amateurs.
The final stop on our barbarous tour was the cloakroom, where I learned that my bag had been lost. At this point, my transformation into full-tilt Norse berserker was complete. As I shouted, somewhat unreasonably, at the minimum-wage staff a crowd of guests gathered behind me. Presumably, there was tutting and sighing. I was far too distracted to notice. Luron interrupted my whirlwind of rage to tell me he had to leave.
Alone, and ultimately bagless, I stumbled to the station. Like some shambling Westerosi wight, I prowled the streets in search of food - the night is indeed dark and full of terrors. I would eventually smear chilli sauce across my white shirt as I devoured a kebab with savage abandon.
After falling asleep on the train I awoke in East Croydon - four stops after my destination. In my dishevelled evening wear I resembled a survivor from the Titanic, washed ashore in that most dreadful of London border towns. From here I took a taxi. The driver made me pay up front, inevitably.
The next day at work I paid the price in stomach churning remorse and low productivity. As I checked Twitter for evidence of my humiliation, I wondered if it was worth it. I had ridiculed myself in front of strangers and squandered opportunity. Perhaps not such a departure after all. At least I could go back to hiding behind my avatar. I could resume my online life as a sardonic corporate commentator, and pretend nothing happened. That was something at least.