Party piece

ONE of the nice things about becoming distinctly senior is that one can be truthful without giving offense. This being the season of parties for all ages and sizes, it is delightful to be able to refuse to go to any of them simply on the grounds of not wanting to. To say so as honestly as all this is perhaps a trifle overdoing it, and it is certainly more sensitive, though not in the least necessary, to offer some frail sort of excuse such as lack of stamina or liking to go to bed at nine, none of which reasons are believed, but they are better than inventing cousins flying in from Peru or moribund aunts. Not going to Christmas or New Year's parties, however, makes one wonder, even a bit wistfully, what is happening at them these days. Is everything just the same? Crackers, I can see by the shops, have stayed the same size, and so have plum puddings, but surely postprandial games have contracted, there not being enough room in the modern house to accommodate Musical Chairs (and not enough chairs, either) or General Post, or any of those rowdy games that entailed sliding down the stairs on a tea tray.

Acting games, such as Charades and THE Game may still, for all I know, be feebly fluttering in some parts of the country, but you cannot really play them properly unless there is a freezing front hall for the opposing team to wait in while your side sits by the warmth of a fire trying to ``think of a word.'' And surely front halls are hard to come by these days.

I am glad about this, as I never, even in my extreme youth, liked rolling across the floor pretending to be a parcel going from London to Newcastle; and I was always humiliatingly bad at acting. I remember once trying to convey the word ``vogue'' in mime to my team, and one of them said confidently, ``I know, you're a camel.''

SO what are modern people doing? Eating and drinking, of course. But afterward? Not just talking, surely? Are they still playing cards: Snap and Racing Demon? Or paper games, the most agonizing of all entertainments and invariably won by the hostess who has played them so often she knows all the composers beginning with B and can write a sonnet without any verbs at the drop of a mince pie.

There are lots of quiz games around, I know, such as the popular general knowledge one, Trivial Pursuit (where once again your hosts have an unfair advantage over their guests); and perhaps, in larger homes, the carpet is still rolled up and there is dancing? But this, along with conjurers and showing old Buster Keaton films, must be rare. For our way of life has shrunk astoundingly, and not only can we not begin to get a yule log through the front door or more than a small turkey into the oven, but if we community-sing too loudly there are complaints from the people above.

As a matter of fact, at this very moment the people in the flat above are giving a party. They kindly (or perhaps judiciously) invited me to it and I said, in my rude senior citizen way, no thanks, I don't like parties. All the same, I wonder what they are doing. Not watching ``Rambo'' on videotape, that is for sure. It sounds as if they were playing Musical Bumps, just as we did when we were young, and yet I think they must be a bit old for that. I shall never know. That's what comes of being unsociable: You get cut off from life and just sit in a grizzled hump, guessing.

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