The end of the nasty party

The Woman I Love decides we should hold a joint party. It has been some time since I have done this; I think I have to go back pre-children, which means 1995 or so. The family home had only just been moved into and was in a bit of a state, so it was felt that trashing it a bit couldn't do much harm. It was quite an epic, round-the-clock bash, but when a woman asked someone, "Please give me some coke, I have to do the school run later" - which is probably the single most disturbing thing I have ever heard - I decided that my party-giving days were over.

No such problems in this instance: the WIL is not only Very Firm about this kind of thing, but she wisely makes it a daytime (yet strictly child-free) affair at her house, which happens to be in Cambridge, so there is not much I can do in advance apart from come up with a design for the invite and let her know how many of my friends she can expect.

It is when she turns down the fifth redesign of the invite (I have got Razors to help, which isn't really a silly idea, as he has won shelf-fuls of awards from the ad industry) that I begin to suspect that men and women have fundamentally different approaches to hospitality. I tend to take a laissez-faire approach that could be called lazy by some but is in essence pragmatic, partly due to financial circumstance and partly due to the fear that inviting more than ten people to the Hovel at once will cause it to collapse like the house full of jazz-playing cats in the Aristocats.

So when I have a party these days, I just tell everyone to come to the Duke at 7pm. (I got this idea off my friend Toby, who has been having his birthday drinks at the Uxbridge Arms every year since 1989. That he spends about 364 days a year there anyway does not, I think, detract from the blinding simplicity and beauty of the concept.)

But women are different.The party has to be a statement that says: I want to give you a good time in pleasant surroundings, and no, not the pub - my house - and I am going to work like a dog to make it nice, even if my nerves get shredded to bits in the run-up. The interesting thing is that I am now a changed enough man to see the point of this, although I do manage to prise her away from the Hoover on the grounds that no one's going upstairs.

Still, despite our having done all the cooking well in advance, she is in a pretty bad way about an hour before the kick-off, and requests a large, neat vodka, which she downs in one, something she has never, to my knowledge, done before. She needed something more than my continual reassurances that everything was going to be fine.

God knows

Well, you know what? Everything was fine. We were able to sit down and relax for half an hour before people arrived, and when they did, everything went like a well-oiled machine. I know this column is meant to be a catalogue of misery and disgrace served up with a bitterly comic sauce for your amusement, but for once there is no misery or disgrace to report. The weather couldn't have been better if I'd personally arranged it with God to be like that; her friends got on with my friends - even Zoe, who has to take prescription sedatives whenever she leaves London, and her man, the Doctor, whose strabismus becomes increasingly pronounced the more he drinks and who has a fund of anecdotes that leave unfamiliar and familiar audiences alike in some amazement that he is still both alive and at liberty. And you would have been treated to the sight of me picking cigarette butts off the lawn and going "tsk".

Houses that have parties in them are never the same again: it's like they have lost their virginity, and grown up. As with the loss of virginity, there is a great deal of scope for disaster and humiliation. But when it goes right, it's magical.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, On a tightrope