31 JANUARY 2004, Page 89

Q. My wife and I have been invited to the

50th birthday party of a not particularly close friend. The party is to be held in a local sports centre, although we have been asked to wear black tie and evening dress. Enclosed with the invitation is a note requesting that we bring a cold main course, a salad or a cold pudding for 6 to 8 people with our name on the underside of the plate, so that we can take it home with us when we leave the party. We have also been told to call our hosts and advise them which dish we shall be bringing. Subsequently, we have received a note asking us to contribute to a birthday present, by dropping off some money to a neighbour who is going to present our friend with a cheque so that she can buy some much-wanted photographic equipment. Do

you think it would be churlish not to take a couple of bottles of wine to the party?

S.D., London A. The food requests are completely unorthodox outside student or sadomasochistic circles. The cheque request is quite unacceptable. Yet you should go along with these demands. When so many offputting ingredients combine in the one invitation, you can be fairly sure the event will be deeply enjoyable. Think of Abigail's Party. Think of Born Again weddings. Your hosts are clearly raving mad, which suxests a fun guest list, and even if you can't 'dine out' at the evening itself you can dine out on it retrospectively for months to come.