So we had our last Christmas Party yesterday at the Alma Tavern – yes, the Alma Tavern – you know the one, it's just outside Wandsworth Town's train station – and no, we are not connected in any way with that establishment, nor are we branching out in other, merrier forms of entertainment.
It was a very good evening of drinks and food with our staff (which can be counted on one hand) and some of our authors – all the ones who were not stuck somewhere else because of the weather or were brave enough to face the one and a half inch of snow that has brought the London airports to a halt.
It was a shamelessly self-celebratory party – this was by far our best year and we felt we had to splash out a little bit. But after my introductory Alma speech we also talked about Italian politics, Russian literature, computers, dying pets and the credit crunch. No, I'm lying, we didn't talk about the credit crunch, but somehow Wakefield was mentioned, and one of our editors said that it was Gissing's birthplace. At that point I turned towards Tibor Fischer, who was sitting next to me, and asked him if he liked Gissing. There was silence around the table. I repeated my question and everyone looked on even more puzzled and embarrassed.
"Do I like 'kissing'?" Tibor asked.
"No – no! Gissing, with a G."
Everyone swore I had said "kissing". It's true I had drunk quite a bit by that time and I may have slurred a bit.
First thing this morning I wrote to Tibor and confirmed in writing, being totally sober, that – much as I admire him – I had said Gissing, not kissing.
He replied that he was extremely disappointed.