The garden was teeming with them. Everywhere Alison looked there they were, swarming, crashing into one another, screaming, sticky fingers forcing more and more cake into smeared gaping mouths. The pitch was ramping up slowly, but inevitably towards hysteria. Oh it was all ‘Pass the Parcel’ and laughing now, but in about twenty minutes or less, Alison predicted, the tears would begin in earnest.

At least that would mean they’d all bugger off home.

The Jones boy had already been sick twice and was being allowed to shovel more sugary treats into his vomit-smeared face. Anthony Davies’ little girl had had a nosebleed in the sand pit - a heavy one and Dave had cordoned off the bloody sand with plastic chairs.

Alison’s head was ringing. She checked her watch for the fifth time in two minutes. How could they all only have been here for an hour? She’d drunk so much tea she thought she’d burst with it and even Elizabeth Jones, mother of the vomiter and most enthusiastic small talker of the parents, had flagged, drooped and fallen silent.

This garden had once been Alison’s quiet place, somewhere she could go to think and relax and potter. There had been beautiful trellises, a pristine lawn and a small organised veg bed for potatoes and beans and beetroot. It had been her sanctuary.

Now the lawn was yellowed and worn from the trampoline and the paddling pool, the flowers on the trellises had faded, withered and died and Alison now watched sadly as a small child in a Tinkerbell t-shirt pulled fistfuls of leaves from the hebe and stuffed them in her knickers.

Her eyes picked out her own two children in the maelstrom of glitter and hair and balloons. Jessica was holding court as the birthday girl and Evan, two years older, was skulking on his own by the swing. How could she feel such love for her own children, yet so much revulsion for the offspring of these strangers she’d never have come across if they hadn’t been forced together at the school gates?

From the corner of her eye she spotted Elizabeth Jones gearing up with a second wind. That was it. She scanned the garden to make sure Dave was keeping everything under control, then slipped inside, pulling the door to.

In the cool quiet of the kitchen, Alison opened the fridge and eased out the bottle of pinot that she’d stashed for after the party. There was no way she’d last that long. When the Jones boy vomited for the third time, she’d need a drink inside her to be able to deal with that.

She tiptoed upstairs, half expecting to be caught and summoned back, but miraculously she made it all the way unmolested. She turned the lock of the bathroom door behind her, poured a large glass of the pinot and sank down among the towels and bath toys, the loo rolls and medicines and piles of dirty pants to create a brand new sanctuary for herself for ten minutes before the tears began.