The art of ligging: How to blag your way into a VIP party in Dublin
It's a Tuesday night in cold, windy December.
Although it's office-Christmas-party season, it's a rare boss that would choose a night like this for a staff get-together. It's a night for ducks (or hardened Christmas shoppers), but as I enter the lobby of a flashy new hotel on Dublin's southside, it's clear that for some, that's no excuse not to party.
I'm greeted with trays of Prosecco, canapes, air kisses and thumping music. Because, if you know where to look, there's always a party to be found in this fair city - even if you're not strictly on the guest list.
As a journalist, I'm often invited to glitzy soirees to celebrate this launch, that brand or those new spokespeople. More often than not, they're elaborate affairs - more so lately in this Celtic Phoenix space we currently occupy.
It's a nice perk of the job, especially when all the organisers want from you in return is a nice social shot, or maybe a tweet containing their carefully crafted hashtag. And you'll always see the same old faces: the ones who'll go to the opening of an envelope if the invitation promises free booze.
This is a practice known as ligging - the quest for complimentary tipple and a fill of free mini sausage rolls. It's common practice all year round, but rampant at Christmas when we seem to have the excuse of being mildly inebriated all month long. And we Irish are a nation of blaggers and chancers; we like any excuse for a celebration (hello, Arthur's Day) and think it rude to refuse a free pint. Dubs and ligging go together like birds of a feather.
I'm a self-confessed ligger when the moment is right, but I've been laying off the scene this winter due to a self-imposed fitness regime. The problem with copious amounts of free Sauvignon Blanc is that, over time, they add up and begin to stick to your thighs in a most unbecoming way.
Yet, more and more, I'm noticing that it's not just media luvvies that take advantage of these supposed networking opportunities - and it's the plus ones, hangers on and sneaky gatecrashers that are far more interesting.
I know a girl that works in accounting, but manages to attend every store opening, screening, cookery demonstration and cocktail party in the city through her "internet famous" pal.
I suspect Ms Accountant has aspirations of celebrity herself, and in fairness to her, ligging is a very good way to meet every public relations professional in the city. There are promoters, restaurateurs, make-up artists, sales assistants and IT professionals at every event, perhaps first invited with a pal or as a returned favour and then becoming part of the furniture on the scene. Heck, I know a woman who manages a free night out once a week by entering competitions.
All of this is proof that you don't need to be somebody to go on the lig. There are ways to get in to even the most fabulous of events without being invited - and once you're part of the set, it's easier every time. If you're that way inclined, there are some simple rules to live by:
1. Act like you belong
Unless it's a ticketed event, or one with a celeb in attendance, the guest list isn't set in stone. If your name's not down, it's very likely you'll still get in if you have the right attitude. Don't panic, and don't seem desperate - for God's sake, free whiskey sours aren't worth your dignity.
2. Don't overdress
You can always spot the competition winners at a movie preview a mile off - they're the ones in the ballgowns and high heels. This isn't an actual premiere love. And even when it is, as exemplified by Mark Wahlberg this week, it's okay to wear a jumper in December.
3. Be friendly and polite
This should be a rule for life anyway, but you'd be surprised. Don't complain if there's only free vodka on offer when you're a gin drinker, don't moan when the free bar closes at 9pm, and don't stand in the corner on your phone all night. Rudeness will mean you're always left off the list in future.
4. Do what's expected of you
Smile for the social snapper, send a tweet, even get in the specially set-up photo booth. Playing ball doesn't mean you're selling out - and it's not like you're Kim Kardashian, they're hardly going to sell the pictures on the strength of your name.
5. Don't go wild
It's always the person that wasn't strictly invited that ends up making the biggest show of themselves - like the time someone's sister sat on a decorative display and brought the whole thing down around her.
Pace yourself. Some people think that free canapes mean there's no need to eat dinner beforehand. Proper liggers call these people amateurs.
6. If all else fails, blog
It's only one letter away from the word blag, coincidentally. Of course, there are those who blog very well, have legions of loyal followers, are professional and deserve every invitation they get. But there are also those who are spoilt, entitled and think having 2,000 Twitter followers means they should be granted entry everywhere on the strength of their name alone.
Good or bad, it's bloggers that are dominating the social landscape because they can self-publish (and wax lyrical) to their heart's desire, without the hindrance of a pesky editor curbing their enthusiasm - a PR person's dream.
At an event during the summer, I witnessed two prominent journalists being shunted from their seats to make room for some high-profile online queens - an event that had run out of free booze, no less. There was something of a stampede for the door after that; rule number one of event organising, liggers don't stay for the speeches if their glasses are dry.
So it is possible to eat, drink and be merry on someone else's buck - but it's wise to play the game well if you want to be asked back to the table.