Sex and lager: if only parties were still that simple The danger of offering too much to too many

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The Independent Online
THE last time I took one on, it was mid-January before my family was fully functional again. It was February before we'd recovered our consumer durables from some enterprising school acquaintances' bedrooms. We are still waiting, I think, for our neighbour to recover from a glimpse of naked couplings in his greenhouse. This time round, my Christmas party will be Different.

The intelligent party-giver will, of course, consult Harpers & Queen for advice on how to throw this season's most successful event. My flatmate and I duly did so. Only to discover, to our consternation, that having inexplicably omitted to book the Royal Albert Hall, we are unlikely to be contenders for the title. Undeterred, we are ploughing on. The art of party-giving is both exact and elusive, and considerably more subtle than I recall. This, I realise, is in part because we are no longer aspiring to host a teenage rampage. That sort of party, while calamitous, is not too tricky to pull off.

But the social assault course now confronting us owes as much, I suspect, to a shift in the very notion of a party. Its function used to be fairly straightforward - guests wanted to get there, get drunk and get laid, and as long as you administered to these modest needs, success was assured.

But a party has become a multi-purpose occasion, with bewildering possibilities. And, like its parliamentary counterparts, it runs the risk of endeavouring to offer something to all-comers - while guests, like floating voters, hover at the edges, uncertain which party it's to be.

Certain guests will, sadly, arrive hoping to find not a good time but a new job. These are your least entertaining guests - but as they are also the ones you can most depend on to turn up, networkers cannot be neglected.

They are unlikely, however, to share others' urgent demand for astonishingly loud house music. This is an absolute requirement. But the disappointment of turning your flat into a club is that your guests accordingly omit to sleep with each other. Ecstasy-enlivened excess tends to confine itself to dance-floor rather than bedroom gymnastics, and your morning-after anecdotal stock will be much the worse for it.

The three boys doggedly drinking lager are also in for a disappointing evening.

THERE is one factor above all others that has altered a party. It is the rise of the wuss.

The wuss is an unassuming sort, who blushes along through life, safely strapped into the passenger seat. He doesn't cause much trouble, but then he doesn't cause anything much at all. He is the social shade of magnolia, and useless at a party.

I am particularly sensitive to wusses, having been, from the earliest age, far too big and clumsy, and liable to bump into one as I crashed about. To my burning indignation, their fragility always drew sympathy, and never the demand: "Why aren't you crashing about, too? Why were you just sitting there?"

What is worrying is the way in which the wuss has, of late, been elevated to the moral high ground. A long-suffering and passive Princess of Wales we adored - it is her bid for agency we don't like. We are altogether more comfortable with mild John Major than we were with tub-thumping old- timers. It is reported that men want to sleep with Anthea Turner.

And now Damon, Britpop babe of supergroup Blur, has revealed that he never really meant to be a pop star, and he's not sure he likes being famous. The wuss has become so much the hero, the rock star, of our time, that even our rock stars have to be wusses.

Damon is not coming to our party.

MARRIAGEABLE men, we learned this week, are becoming a scarce commodity. After the year 2000, the male-female ratio in that most eligible of age brackets, 18-29, will tilt treacherously in favour of the bachelor.

This, we are told, is not good news for women. "When men are scarce," explained Mihir Warty, author of the report, "they can bid up their price. As the price of men rises, women may have to offer a more attractive package."

What Mr Warty means is that we will need better figures and bigger assets to snap up a man, and our bargaining position on the sexual freedom trading floor will be sharply devalued.

Feminists have had a troubling tendency to concur with Mr Warty on this one. A shortfall of men, they worry, can prompt an unseemly and unsisterly scramble, lamentably akin to scenes at a designer-wear closing-down sale.

I find this puzzling. There is a scarcity on the market of all kinds of commodities - puffball skirts, say - and very little evidence of women fighting each other to get hold of one. The idea of cat fights over a commodity even shoddier, more outdated, and less useful than a puffball, is hilarious.

THE week's new, improved drinking levels have obliged us with a splendid fuss. Which spectacle was the more unappealing, it was difficult to say - the exaggerated alarm at the Irresponsibility Of It All, or the excitable schoolboy tittering at the naughtiness of it all. Neither - like the levels - was very useful.

The new guidelines are no more likely to encourage us to drink more than the old ones were ever successful in persuading us to drink less. Those harbouring greater faith in the influence of health warnings should take heart from a conversation overheard in an Essex McDonald's.

"Once we heard about the risks of mad cow and that," offered a teenager through a mouthful of Happy Meal, "our family said, 'right, that's it, no more burgers'.

"But, well, you don't half get sick of Kentucky or fish and chips every night, don't you? So, we thought, maybe a burger once in a while would be all right."