More than a month after Eleanor's 16th birthday party, which was attended by 80 teenagers, we're still finding evidence in the furthest recesses of the garden that it wasn't quite an exercise in temperance. Two crumpled Stella Artois cans turned up yesterday under some old grass cuttings and last week I found an empty cigarette packet in the yew hedge, all of which makes us fret slightly about Elly's departure today for The Big Chill, a three-day music festival in the grounds of Eastnor Castle, where she is camping with her mates.
After all, girls of 16 can easily pass for 18, and as often as they can, they do. It's tougher for boys, as Elly cheerfully related on her return the other night from a Young Farmers' do. All the party-goers were asked their age on the way in, and those who admitted they were under 18 got a red cross drawn on the backs of their hands, meaning they weren't allowed to buy alcohol at the bar, while those who were 18 or over, or said they were and weren't asked for proof, got green crosses.
Later in the evening a couple of Elly's male friends were supping pints of lager when two bouncers asked to see the backs of their hands. Sheepishly, they showed two red crosses, whereupon the bouncers, in bold red marker pen, drew a cross on each of their foreheads and both cheeks, somewhat ruining the carefully cultivated boy-band look. Unless, I suppose, it was a boy band called Simply Red Crosses. Or perhaps The Toddlers.
Still, it's good to know that it's not just anxious parents trying to impose sensible drinking restrictions on these kids, most of whom, I should swiftly add, seem to be fairly responsible themselves. On the other hand, when were responsibility and moderation ever encouraged at pop festivals? And I use the term pop festival as a deliberate wind-up, having been castigated for it by Elly, whose shudder of horror at her sad old man's fuddy-duddyness could only have been more pronounced had she had a friend present. "It's not a pop festival," she said, rolling the word "pop" round her mouth as if it tasted of dung.
I'm not entirely sure when I turned from hero and protector into silly old fart in my daughter's eyes. We've just come back from a week's holiday in Sardinia where she seemed perfectly happy to spend the evenings with Jane and me, while her brothers went off to play football. But old fartdom is never far away, especially when she catches me trying to text. It's not as though I can't text; in fact I reckon I've got quite nifty at it, but 16-year-olds seem to be able to text 100 words a minute while watching Friends.
What I haven't mastered, I readily admit, is predictive texting. But at least I have a kindred spirit in Jane, whose solitary great predictive-texting disaster has become legend in certain north Herefordshire social circles. It occurred last year, on the day Suzanne, the influential number two at Simon & Schuster, who publish my books, came to our house for lunch. Jane had never previously met Suzanne, who was on her way, with her husband James and children, to the Hay Festival. An exciting added dimension was that Jane had sent Suzanne her first novel, which Suzanne liked, and over lunch they discussed it. Then Suzanne and James set off for Hay, with us, coincidentally, not far behind them.
A few minutes later my phone pinged with a message, which Jane read because I was driving. It was from Suzanne, thanking us profusely for lunch. I asked Jane to reply, telling them to be sure to take the right turn-off for Hay. But the predictive text function got the better of her, and before she realised what was happening, she had written something and texted it. "Oh my God," she said, "I think I've just sent Suzanne a load of gobbledygook." We checked the outbox. It turned out quite unaccountably that she had sent the brusque message "big udders", which is probably not what anyone expects in reply to a polite thank-you.
While we wondered whether it might spell the demise of both our literary careers, the story went down a storm with our friends, who still all-too-often text "big udders" in reply to our messages. Meanwhile, when I need help with anything technical, I find girls of 16 much more reliable than fortysomething women.