John Walsh: Tales of the City

'What a miracle: we survived the Attack of the Party Teens. But my wheelie-bin didn't...'
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The Independent Online

My son Max hit 15 the other day, and asked if he could have some friends over for a little party. Well, I thought, why not? Since he and his gang of buddies go everywhere together in a shuffling hormonal phalanx, as though shackled at the ankles like the convicts in Take the Money and Run, and since they are always in our house, playing Guitar Hero on the PlayStation, lolling on the trampoline like sleeping lions or devouring chicken drumsticks like starving jackals, what harm could it do if we gave them a party by just adding some music, a cake and some cans of Bloke Coke?

But I was forgetting that thing called puberty (awful word), which changes the face of the Young Person's Party like a dose of acne vulgaris. It means that it's imperative for Max to invite as many girls as he can find, from school and elsewhere, in the spirit of a young Hugh Hefner showing off his prodigious harem. The list of Maddys and Zoes and Rachels and Yasmins grew longer and longer. Most of the female population of Dulwich was invited and they were all, it seemed, saying yes.

Once you have girls coming, you must have alcohol. It is, apparently, utter social death to contemplate inviting babes to a booze-free party, even though both the host and the guests are technically, legally, under-age. I put an absolute ban on spirits, but agreed to provide several cans of Castlemaine XXXX and a couple of dozen bottles of cider ("for the laydeez", the boys explained). Fearful that some laydeez might end up regurgitating their refreshing apple drink all over my Isfahan rug, I insisted the party should take place in the garden. And in a garden you can see everything that's happening, and discourage any gross, illegal or potentially reproductive behaviour, can't you?

It was when I was chilling the beers that the advice started up. "You're not thinking of putting out all the cans, are you?" asked Fred, a scarily polite boy with a quiet air of menace, like Damien in The Omen. "They'll get nicked in five minutes flat."

"What?" I asked. "People will grab three cans," he said, "hide them somewhere in your house and take 'em home later." "Surely not," I replied. "Max's friends aren't like that."

"Mm-hmm?" he said. "You reckon?"

I'd bought a hundredweight or so of Mini Cheddars, and was decanting them into plates when Jake appeared, the brilliant cricketer with the hair like a storm-ravaged privet hedge. "I wouldn't put any food out till later, if I were you," he said. "It'll all get eaten by the first 10 people who arrive."

"I'm sure lots of people will have had their supper," I countered. "They'll eat anything that's going," said Jake. "They can't stop themselves."

An alarming picture was building up in my head of a rabid throng of starving alcoholic felons descending on my peaceful home like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead.

"John?" said the one called Alex, with the cheerful face and the all-day-and-night passion for chocolate cereal. "Sorry, but I noticed you've got some wine bottles in your downstairs loo. You weren't thinking of leaving them there, were you?" "But Alex," I said, "nobody wants to drink wine, do they? Kids don't like wine." "By 11 o'clock," he said, with Ides-of-March finality, "they'll drink anything."

"These glasses you're putting out for the Coke drinkers?" said Fred. "You realise that you will never see them again?" "What?" "They'll end up smashed to bits."

"All the girls will smoke," said Jake, "so you'd better leave out some ashtrays, or they'll stub out fags in your potted plants."

"Here, John," said Jake's cousin Billy, coming out into the garden. "Do you want to keep that bottle of armagnac in the dining room?" "Why do you ask?" I asked guardedly. (Was he an unusually sophisticated connoisseur of French digestifs?) "It'll be gone by midnight," he said darkly: "Every drop."

"You know that picture of you in the front room?" said Alex. Yes yes, the fantastic oil portrait of my handsome self, commissioned earlier this year but not yet framed? "You might want to hide that somewhere." But why? "You don't want to wake up tomorrow and find it's got a Hitler moustache on it." Who the hell would do such a thing?

"When people," he said, with the wisdom of age, "have had a few drinks..."

And on it went - a ceaseless litany about how to teenager-proof your house. The approaching zombies in my head became more malevolent, determined, thirst-crazed and careless of other people's possessions with every minute that passed. Finally I said: "Look, you lot, who are these terrible people you're talking about, who are likely to behave like this? How did Max ever invite them?"

They looked at each other. They mentioned "rude boys", which is Dulwich slang for the hoodie-wearing classes. They muttered about "word getting around" when there's a party in the vicinity with booze and babes; they mentioned the likelihood of gatecrashers. But it was fantastically obvious that they were talking about themselves; a kindly warning about the ruthless vandal lurking inside the average middle-class 15-year-old.

The party in the end was huge fun, or so I was told (I disappeared to my shed). Nobody died, got sick, was attacked or raped, no glasses were broken, no one (phew) found the hidden armagnac. Because the garden was pitch dark, no passing adult could see what was happening in the shrubbery, even if they'd wanted to. What a miracle, I thought, that we survived the Attack of the Teens unscathed.

Then I opened the front door to get the milk. Across the road, surreal and resplendent in the morning light, my green wheelie-bin, a broken chair and a large municipal "Diversion" sign had been thoughtfully relocated to the top of the bus shelter.

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