I have something of a minor phobia about going to parties where I'm not sure I will know anyone.
This goes doubly if I'm expected to deviate from my normal wardrobe of... black stuff.
Some people might say this is ordinary behaviour (nobody likes to make small talk with strangers) while others might blame my occasionally crippling shyness or a personality defect.
Personally I blame my childhood. And one incident in particular.
When I was about 10 (or possibly 11 or 12) I was invited to a friend's Halloween party. This particular friend was older than me in more ways than one. She and her other friends, for instance, had already grasped the idea that the purpose of fancy dress parties was to make yourself look as hot as possible.
Accordingly they went down the 'sexy goth witch' route almost to a girl (or boy). I, meanwhile, was struggling along in my pre-teen way, amusingly supposing that the purpose of fancy dress parties was to wear a kick-arse costume.
And I dressed accordingly.
As a pumpkin.
There was nothing sexy about the giant orange shirt I filled with stuffing before cinching in somewhere around my waist, nor the snug footless tights on my bottom half. Even less provocative was the green ice cream container I wore on my head, with a single green felt leaf flapping sadly off one side.
I did look a fair bit like a pumpkin - that much was true. Certainly I drew my fair share of glances as I breezed into the party, momentarily confident for about as long as it took me to look around. To my credit, despite my innocence, I realised almost immediately that I had made a false step when I saw the other slutty-sexy costumes in my vicinity. Then again, more or less anything looks sexy by comparison when it is standing next to a pumpkin. It didn't help that I was still waiting for that growth spurt and was centimetres shorter than anyone else I saw that night.
Other than my friend I did not know a single one of the people crowded into her backyard and, with two feet of padding around me in every direction I wasn't feeling incredibly chatty. Nor did any of the strangers seem particularly interested in passing time with what they presumably assumed to be an orange helium balloon let loose in the house.
I spent my time trying to look as inconspicuous as a walking, talking vegetable can look.
There was only one up-side to this mortifying experience and, as silver linings go, it was pretty lame. But, because almost nobody had any idea who I was, where I had come from or what I was doing there very few people appeared to notice an orange blur flying in the direction of the door when the first game of spin the bottle was proposed. Though some long-time residents of Subiaco still swear they can remember the night when a five-foot pumpkin ran past their house, leaving only a green felt leaf and a lingering scent of vanilla bean in its wake.