The Duke - August 5, 2015

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This may come as a surprise, but I’m not a great lover of parties.

I don’t mean the ones where copious amounts of champagne is served by girls attractive enough to leave home for, and the food is miniature versions of everything you can’t decide on when confronted by whole portions.

No, I mean the ones where you are trapped in a corner by someone you can’t remember ever meeting before until it’s too late to avoid being told at length their job “isn’t as boring as it sounds” when, in fact, it clearly is, and all you really want to do is get back to the kitchen where what’s left of the drinks are fast vanishing.

Because the latter type of party outnumbers the former by at least 100 to 1, I’ve pretty much stopped going to any – unless they involve close members of my family.

I make such occasions an exception because (a) it would be rude even my standards and (b) it decreases the chances of relatives suddenly descending on Duke Mansions because “we haven’t seen you in ages”.

But family parties are awash with pitfalls. You pretty much know where you are with an anniversary, birthday, housewarming or engagement bash, but in these days of austerity there’s a dangerous new trend in “combi-parties.”

I recently went to one which combined a 21st and a 50th birthday.

As anyone familiar with Thorpe Park’s Top 10 Ways Parents Can Embarrass Children will realise, a “combi-party” of this nature can tick all 10 – and the Embarrassment Pendulum can swing both ways.

Let’s take the top one – dancing. What seemed great when the oldies were busting moves at the Mecca back in the day looks pretty silly in 2015 suburbia whilst clutching a glass of Merlot. And what was a must on the muddy fields of Glastonbury deserves to be ridiculed when repeated in the back garden weeks later.

Number two – public displays of affection. Youngsters don’t want to see their nearest and dearest making out in the garage, any more than their parents want to catch their offspring secretly snogging the neighbour’s son/daughter.

Using outdated slang or trying to join in with “youth speak” is at number three. It’s not cool to try and be cool – let alone keep saying “cool.” And never ask what anyone’s favourite disco is.

Number four is more difficult – wearing age inappropriate clothes. I’ve taken to wearing my son’s old jeans (they look new to me) and discarded tops – but the sight of so many 50-something celebrants in their designer shorts made me want to hurl.

Telling embarrassing stories is the fifth pitfall – and both ends of the combi-party are guilty of that one. The youngsters don’t want to know how their parents met and the oldies don’t want to hear who has been caught doing what where they shouldn’t have been doing it.

Numbers six and seven extend way beyond parties. Tidying up after children – well, that’s just what every grown up does. It may cause some embarrassment but it avoids the outbreak of major epidemics brought about by rotting food or drink.

Failure to grasp modern technology is at eight, and even if you are fairly competent never admit it – especially at a party. Yesterday’s state-of-the-art gadget is today’s laughing stock.

Number nine is talking about sex. Don’t do it. At any age. You’ll only come unstuck. So to speak.

And finally at 10 – getting drunk. At last, something oldies are actually better at. Which is why it embarrasses the young ones so much.

‘Happy birthday to... How much!?’

On the subject of parties – be careful what you sing at them.

Did you know that music publisher Warner Chappell still coins in around $2 million (£1.3 million) a year in royalties for the use of the song Happy Birthday in films and television shows?

According to Guinness World Records it is the most recognised song in the English language – though the version belted out in restaurants up and down the coast could re-define the word “recognised.”

But the cash cow that has made it a very happy birthday for its publishers for so many years could be coming to an end.

A blurry picture from an 88-year old songbook unearthed by the makers of a documentary about the song may have identified it as being in the public domain (ie free to use) rather than copyrighted (ie pay to play).

The moguls at Warner Chappell won’t be chuffed – the company bought the rights in 1988 for $25 million, assuming its US copyright extended to 2030 (its EU one expires on next year).

Many happy returns?