Brian Viner: 'Pass the parcel has become pass the alcopop at my children's parties'

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The Independent Online

From teenagers consuming too much alcohol to grown-ups not consuming enough, our garden has seen it all lately. The fun started with my daughter Eleanor's 16th birthday party, which she shared with her best friend TJ. There were 80 people on the guest list, ranging in age from 15 to 18, and 80 concerns in my mind, ranging from under-age drinking to the well-being of the flowerbeds to the prospect of us ending up on the front page of The Hereford Times – "Birthday Party Turns Into Rave: Three Thousand People Turn Up From As Far Afield As Kentucky: Bewildered Parents Blame Facebook."

Happily, that did not come to pass. But all the same, it doesn't seem like five minutes since our children's birthday parties featured pass the parcel, not pass the alcopop. We didn't try to stop the booze, figuring that Prohibition didn't work in 1920s America and nor would it in our garden. Besides, the deal in these rural parts seems to be that teenagers invited to parties sleep in tents pitched in the adjoining fields, so by the time the thing got under way there was a mini-Glastonbury situation over the fence where the sheep usually are, making it even harder to keep tabs on alcohol consumption. Yet I was determined to register an adult presence, so ambled around with TJ's dad Patrick trying, and probably failing, not to look like two coppers on the beat. I invoked Parental Power only once, relieving an 18-year-old boy of an industrial-sized bottle of gin which he appeared to be drinking neat.

Dancing was in the conservatory, where we had the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, live. Unfortunately for Elly and her mates, they were the red hot chilli peppers that I have been growing from seed, next to the basil, but then I'm not sure whether the band of the same name would have cut the mustard either. It's hard to know with kids these days. One minute they're listening to Abba, the next minute they're rolling their eyes at you because you haven't realised that the Kaizer Chiefs are so, like, yesterday. Anyway, we had a DJ, although he was nearer my age than theirs, and said he hadn't received the playlist. So he played the Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield and stuff like that which certainly got the grown-ups on garden patrol singing along, but didn't quite have the desired effect on the under-45s. Never mind. Apparently the consensus on Facebook the following day was that it had been a cool party, and the flowerbeds survived too, though I did find a boy behind the yew hedge having a pee on my runner-beans.

That sort of thing never happens at the Docklow church fête, which took place in our garden the very next Saturday and was a strikingly different affair, although actually we wished it could have been marginally less different. Not that I'd like to see the vicar swigging from a two-litre bottle of gin, still less any two members of the parish council snogging in the porch, but it was arguably a fete in need of a few more stimulants. On the other hand, it is never less than charmingly parochial, and this year we did have the racy addition of a man giving archery tuition, with folk shooting from the garden into the field. Just under a week earlier and we could have offered a prize for hitting a teenager, zigzagging between tents.

Besides, in its low-key way the Docklow fete has yielded its fair share of excitement down the years. There was the time that Mrs Clayton, a guest in one of our holiday cottages, mistook the portable toilet for the ticket kiosk, and stood outside it forming what she thought was an orderly entrance queue, only to tentatively push open the door after a few minutes to reveal what was unmistakably a loo.

And then there was the terrible business with Milo, our golden retriever with the surfeit of testosterone. It was the morning of the fete, and the son of a parish councillor had brought along his girlfriend, a woman in her early twenties, to help put up stalls. Regrettably, she made the strategic error of getting down on all fours to bond with our terrier, Paddy, presenting Milo with an aspect he found irresistible. He pinned her to the ground and started energetically humping, a spectacle that will live with me for ever. Not even teenagers behave that badly.