4 The last party
This rambling house was built for parties. Not just jelly and ice cream, bouncy castle children’s parties, but genteel Garden Club tea parties, teenage turn-that-ruddy-music-down parties, leisurely ladies’ lunch parties, an annual pre-Christmas every-friend-I’ve-ever-met party for 50 nattering women and raucous New Year parties.
We’ve filled our home with chatter and music, champagne and laughter, just as former residents of this old house have also done. When we first came here, we were told that when the pond behind the house was dredged, ladies dance shoes and magnum bottles had emerged from the mud. We haven’t thrown shoes or bottles in our time here, but we have thrown parties. Eighteen months after moving in we had our first Christmas party, inviting neighbours and everyone who had helped us settle into the house during our first year. The estate agent and the roofer, the carpenter and the decorator, all mingled as we turned down the lights, opened the courtyard doors and welcomed carol singers bearing lanterns.
Since then, after the fireside cosiness of a family Christmas, we have held a New Year house party every year, apart from one, for the past 17 years. But they haven’t just been parties marked by drunkenness and fireworks, as each one has had a different theme. From the simplicity of the Black and White dinner, with monochrome Tuscan bean soup to the Millennium ten-course feast, we have created menus, decorated tables and played games in keeping with the evening.
For Murder at the Manor we hid replica weapons around the house for a mid-course treasure hunt and ate Death by Chocolate. In a pastiche of Up Pompeii we wore togas and lit a flaming Vesuvius of meringue and ice cream. One year we recreated Cornwall for guests dressed as fishermen, pirates and mermaids, with recordings of seagulls and crashing waves, fish and chips and a beach of biscuit crumbs and chocolate shells on the table. We’ve been chased by policemen with truncheons in a Carry On party and acted out James Bond characters and eaten iced Raspberry Bombe to greet 2007. And our final New Year was End of Term at the Manor Prep School with misbehaving guests in school uniform, shrill whistling from the games master, school reports, Bad Boy Bellinis and Eton Mess.
And now it is time for one last party. The perfect house for parties will host a farewell and birthday party combined, in celebration of our 21 years here. There is no theme but there will be a festival atmosphere, with tents pitched in the garden, croquet on the lawn, great music and cocktails shaken. The barbecue will flare one last time, we’ll toast the birthday girl and the house with Kir Royale and Espresso Martinis and light the lanterns as the day fades.