Once again it's time for our annual summer party. This year could be rather special. We're using the caterers who did such a good job with the filled baked potatoes at Martin's 50th and we'll also be serving a New Zealand sparkling wine which in semi-darkness should easily pass for real fizz and yet costs only three quid a bottle at this enormous place we know in Calais.
There'll be the usual black balloons and coloured nightlights dotted round the living room, but the big surprise lies outside the kitchen door. What with all the rain we've had, we decided on some awning in the back garden, but when it arrived from the hire company we found it was large enough to cover a circus and would fit into the required space only when folded treble. This does produce a profound sag in the central section that could spell disaster in a heavy downpour, but at the moment it adds a wonderfully Bedouin touch to the overall decor.
Although I'm looking forward to seeing the expression on my guests' faces as they discover the tented garden and baked potatoes, I have to say that it was touch and go about this year's party until four weeks ago. Every year, as we pick the broken glass out of the rose beds and scrub the last smear of encrusted vomit from the washbasin, we are struck by the thought that our guests increasingly turn up less out of a sense of friendship than because of the opportunities for collective sabotage provided by this annual event.
Consider last year's business with the lavatory. Until ten o'clock there'd been no trouble at all over the facilities. But then, as though at a secret signal, and in a rush of solidarity that reminded Geoff of an article he'd read about boarding schoolgirls all menstruating at the same time of the month, more than half the guests decided that now was the moment to use the smallest room. Within 60 seconds we had three times as many people desperately trying to wrestle their way to the front of the queue in the hall than there were dancing in the living room to Manfred Mann.
I'm not conspiratorial enough to suggest that everything that has gone wrong at previous parties has been the result of collective planning. Individual acts of deviance were probably behind the disappearance of all the cheese flags in '97 and the lipstick announcement "Sociology sucks" on my bedroom mirror in '98. But only pre-planning on a grand scale could have informed last year's total pizza boycott and the unanimous decision at two o'clock in the morning to play a forfeits game that involved everyone taking it in turns to throw glasses of red wine over the furniture.
There are other clues. After last year's party, we collected a grand total of 1,300 cigarette ends. When we divided this figure by the number of known smokers, it came out at 73 cigarettes per person: quite enough to arouse the suspicion that there had been a specially convened meeting at which someone had been issued with a sizeable bag of old butts and told to throw them randomly around the floor whenever the opportunity occurred.
There's already something mildly suspicious about this year's do. Although I sent out a total of 60 invitations, so far I've had a definite "yes" only from an extraordinarily dull Australian professor. If things stay as they are, he could have a wonderful evening munching through a dozen types of baked potato and pissing away to his heart's content whenever he feels the call. With so much to do he might not even notice that I've toddled off to bed.