Dom Joly: Birthday party hell is other children's parents

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The Independent Online

Birthdays are never easy. Mine no longer tend to herald exciting parties and the greedy shredding of wrapping paper. Mine are now just mileposts that point the way towards the inexorable arrival of old age. Because I'm an increasingly maudlin fellow, I tend to treat other people's "special days" in the same vein. This is a big mistake if you have children. Fortunately, my wife is far better than I am at making sure that they have fabulous days to remember. My daughter Parker turned eight last week. Even this fact sends me into spirals of depression. How could my lovely little girl be eight? Soon there will be encounters with strong cider, and knocks on the door from eager young men with too much acne who will have to be dispersed with shotguns.

Stacey had organised for us to take Parker on a trip to the cinema with some of her friends, before taking them all out for a meal. Parker wanted to see Wall-E. This meant a trip to the dreaded Multiplex in Swindon – a place where a father can be bankrupted on popcorn and soft drinks alone. All this while surrounded by Burberried chavs screaming into their mobile phones and sniffing glue.... Not my idea of a great night out. I was secretly dreading the whole affair, but had to keep up an excited front for the good of the family.

Then at the final hour, as all seemed lost, a reprieve! Wall-E was no longer showing at the multiplex and we might not have to go into Swindon at all. But then Stacey started to go into damage control and look at alternative films. I had to act fast. Suddenly, a brainwave – I remembered that our local celeb hangout, Barnsley House, has its own private cinema. Before the credit crunch, it was used by London media types for screenings while they enjoyed a pointlessly debauched weekend in the Cotswolds on expenses. It was very late in the day, but maybe, just maybe, the collapse of the world economy might work in my favour. I rang the hotel and found, to my indelicate delight, that they had no cinema bookings for the weekend. I booked it immediately. There was no need for anyone to go to Swindon! Everything was going to be OK.

We then had to choose what film to show the kids. We Googled "best kids' films ever" and up came ET. I can't remember whether I actually saw it as a kid, but it was perfect and we agreed on the choice immediately. At least it was a proper film and we wouldn't have to sit through one of those smug McDonald's tie-ins with über-cartoons that try to entertain the kids while giving the parents a bit of a nod and a wink. We sent out the invites and all was well... until we started to get the phone calls. Several parents were unhappy with our choice of film.

"Little Pumpkin gets terrible nightmares and we don't want her to see anything that might upset her," said one. "I think it's very unsuitable, parts of it are very upsetting. Have you considered something lighter?" whimpered another.

Stacey, a far nicer person than me, started to worry and began considering other titles. I was incensed: "For God's sake, it's the most popular kids' movie of all time... Bambi is sad, Watership Down is downright depressing, it's part of life...."

I put my foot down and the word was put out that our choice of movie was non-negotiable. I was tempted to offer Driller Killer as an alternative, but Stacey made me behave.

Come the day, two kids didn't turn up but everyone else loved the film. What the hell is happening to us all? What kind of soft ninnies are we raising? Anyway, Happy Birthday, darling Parker.