Tales of the City: It's my party and I'll hate it if I want to

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By the time you read these words, it will all be over.

By the time you read these words, it will all be over. The oatmeal carpet in the living-room will be an orange sea of ground-in Sainsbury's Chicken Tikka Party Nibbles; the hi-fi in the dining-room will still be playing Afroman's "Then I Got High" on a constant tape-loop; seven Marlboro Lights will have been extinguished in the priceless Tang dynasty porcelain Spiritual Cleansing Bowl on the mantelpiece; a screwed-up note bearing the words, "Meet me in upstairs bathrm 5 mins, NB the one with a lock on the door", will be found behind the sofa; the tiny daughter's toy mobile-phone will bear the marks of the last person to have mistaken it for a real phone and drunkenly tried to call a cab on it at 2.45am; the last plate of sausages-wrapped-in-bacon will be congealing, forgotten, in the oven; and the sounds of laboured snoring from the playroom will reveal why the Unknown Neighbour's wife could not find him at midnight, or indeed any time thereafter, and assumed he had gone mad and left with Samantha, the lady from the babysitting agency who doubles as a bottle-opener but gets expensive after 11pm.

I can see it all with horrible clarity, as if I were watching it on television. Parties, don't we love 'em? The moment when you introduce the two most glamorous women at the party to a tactless male friend who says, "So – are you mother and daughter?", leaving both ladies wondering which of them is supposed to be the old bag and which the teenager. The irrepressible humorist in the flashing bow-tie who tells jokes about 11 September ("Did you know Osama Bin Laden was a brilliant cook? I hear he can make a Big Apple crumble, a- ha-ha-ha-ha!") to the serious-minded Islamic scholar from No 162. The teenage girl, emboldened by five Bacardi Breezers, who decides to end it all by slashing her wrists with a plastic knife from the Asda Partytime range...

But I mustn't sound negative. Parties like the one I am anticipating with such evident bliss go back to early Christian times, when they were known as occasions of agape, or "love feast" (not "agape" meaning "standing with your mouth open watching Mrs Henderson, the deaconess of St Bernard's, smooching to "Something Stupid" with Roy, the tortured gay poet from Florida), and were held "in token and celebration of the love of God for man". And there is indeed something very Christian about throwing a party on New Year's Eve. I'm thinking of the Scourging in the Garden, I'm thinking of the Crown of Thorns, I'm thinking of the Nailing to the Cross...

Only kidding. But have you noticed how the same 10 things always happen at New Year's Eve parties, year after year?

1. There will be one track on the party tape that, no matter how brilliant the tracks on either side of it, will clear the room of dancers faster than anthrax. This year, it will be "I Believe in Christmas" by the Tweenies. Nobody will be able to explain how it got there.

2. There will be at least one Unknown Neighbour, whom your spouse invited the day before during a drinks party at another neighbour's, but whom you have never met. He will spend the evening appearing by your elbow, waiting to be introduced.

3. During the day, it will occur to you that among the guests are an attractive, single, American woman expert on Mesopotamian stained glass, and a handsome, divorced, rich, male American professor of Babylonian ceramics. You resolve to bring them together. At no time in the evening do you actually do so.

4. Somebody will bring along a droll ice-cube novelty. Last year, it was a miniature Titanic. This year, it's a cube that flashes on and off.

5. When you are counting down to 2002 with Big Ben on the TV, someone will shout, "What's on the other side?".

6. The curtain rail in the living-room will detach itself from the wall as you're drawing the curtains at 6pm. When your guests arrive at 9pm, they will all assume your house is falling down.

7. The chap with the cocaine will invite the host for a snort in the kids' bedroom at the top of the house, failing to realise that his, that's the chap with the cocaine's, wife is having torrential sex behind the door with the chap from the BBC.

8. Wherever more than six empty glasses have congregated – on sideboard, piano or occasional table – they will be hunted down and smashed to bits by a large woman with an inexplicable, built-in, glassware-seeking strategic facility.

9. All the champagne will run out at 11.58pm precisely. But someone will thoughtfully have brought a bottle of Lambrusco...

10. The smallest child, who resembled a tiny angel in sequined mules and feather boa at 8.30pm, will throw an epic tantrum in your arms just as everybody is kissing everyone else (except you) at midnight.

Of names and trading places

Remember the David vs Goliath fight that ensued when a couple of Iraqi brothers tried to open a jewellery and watchmaking shop in the East End? They called it "Saatchi & Saatchi", because, they explained, "saatchi" is the Iraqi word for "clockmaker". There was hell to pay. The advertising brothers Charles and Maurice demanded that they take down the offending sign over their modest shopfront, even though there was little chance that the Saatchis' posh clients would take their £10m accounts to a teeny gem store in Hackney. Now, Harrods, the top people's store in London, has been throwing its considerable weight around to beat off some similarly tough competition.

I find it quite understandable. When you're a billion-quid-spinning, massively rich retailing goldmine with a global reputation to consider, you've got to watch out for signs of commercial terrorism, wherever it comes from. So surely it was within its rights in threatening to sue Roger and Pauline Harrod for having the bare-faced gall to name their shop "Harrods". Admittedly, their shop is not a department store in Knightsbridge, but a little sandwich emporium in a village called Ecclesfield, but you can't be too careful. Allow these people to pass themselves off as Mohamed Fayed's flagship of capitalism, and the next thing you know, thousands of middle-aged ladies in Jaeger twinsets and Dolce & Gabbana overcoats will be hailing taxis in the Brompton Road, heading for South Yorkshire in a screeching and tottering horde, and trying to buy platinum-lined corsets from the village shop.

Huge sums of Mohamed Fayed's income would find its way, oh-so-accidentally, to Ecclesfield sub-Post Office. The commissionaire who stands outside the mighty store in his green livery would probably consider relocating up North once he knew about the free-sandwiches perk. It could do untold harm to Harrods' pre-tax profits if this kind of barefaced piracy was allowed to continue.

Oh, it's a dame shame you're not actually a royal, Judi

Ken Tynan once searched for a figure with whom to compare Sir Ralph Richardson, someone who shared his extraordinary combination of gravitas, wisdom, puckish humour and utter rolling-eyed barminess. He finally came up with God the Father, figuring that the supreme being must, after an eternity of omnipotence and 100-per-cent goodness, have developed some doddering eccentricities.

No offence to Judi Dench, but I suspect she is turning into God the Mother. When the grieving families of the 80 British people who died in the World Trade Centre were planning the hymns and readings for the memorial tribute in Westminster Abbey in November, whom did they nominate as the perfect reader? You got it.

When Richard Eyre was casting about (literally) for an actress who could embody Iris Murdoch's combination of supreme intelligence and goodness, whom did he come up with? You're ahead of me.

And when Radio 4's Today programme needed someone to come and pontificate about the winner of its "Name Your Favourite Historical British Royal", who was the only human, bar the Queen herself, with sufficient regality to be called on? Precisely. And in her remarks, Dame Judi (who portrayed Elizabeth I and Victoria in films) progressed from sweetness, goodness, virtue etc into complete dottiness. Her favourite royal, she said, was Charles II, "because he opened all the theatres and got the country back on its feet after that awful Cromwell". Cromwell, she revealed, was a particular bête noire of hers because of his terrible depredations in Ireland – "you know," she said, "the Potato Famine". Nice sentiment, wrong century.

Then she told a hilarious story about her Cromwell-hating mum scribbling over the Protector's evil face on a family tea-cloth. Priceless. Can she not be elevated to royal status herself?

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