I have never had a birthday party. My birthday being 24 December helped to save me from this, but it was never something I yearned for. I can see why Harold Pinter chose the motif of the Birthday Party for one of his most menacing plays. Indeed, it is an institution which is fast becoming as sinister as the phenomenon of the clown which is now a by-word for all that is most threatening in the universe of leisure. Here then are just a few of the elements of the traditional birthday party that combine to now give it this lugubrious status: the candle-laden cake lighting the twin deities of mother and father from beneath Hammer horror-style; the infiltration of outsiders onto your territory (what mayhem may ensue from their encroachment? What secrets of your domestic life uncovered and used against you in the world of men?); the total attention on you (only a pathological case could enjoy such focus, given its intensity how can this be anything but ironic?). Yes, the Birthday Party is the new clown.