I attended my third fourth birthday party on Saturday. It was one that I had organized myself for it was the boy’s birthday, the previous two I had used as fact-finding missions.
None of the three I attended were anything like those from my (by now very) distant childhood. We didn’t really need to invite many friends as there were enough siblings and cousins to go round. There were generally no shortage of kids in the west of Ireland in the 70s. There was one lady who visited my mother on a Sunday afternoon. I can’t remember what kind of car she drove, a ford Anglia maybe, but somehow she contrived to fit all eleven, e-lev-en of her children into it. I was about to describe how their faces were all pressed up against the glass like a kind of human pickle jar but remembered that the windows were always rolled down so that extraneous arms, legs and heads could stick out. Sometimes the family dog came too.
I recall one of my cousin’s birthdays where Auntie N got us all to stand still, did a head count with a cake knife and sliced up the shop bought (a rare treat) chocolate confection. We happily sang happy birthday. The candles were blown out. “Hold on” ordered my aunt as she spun to pick up her state-of-the-art 110 camera. By the time she turned back, the cake was gone, well mostly gone, I seem to remember a couple of bereft slices (my mother’s and aunt’s) with a sad still smoking candle slowly slipping through the chocolate icing to ping unconvincingly on the plate. “Savages, fecking savages!” said my aunt in disgust before we all burst into laughter.
Modern kids parties are different, there are invites and RSVPs and you have to let people know if siblings are going to show their grubby little faces. There are no children’s entertainers, just bouncy castles, ball pits, balloons, occasional scooters and cars, you know the sort, the ones that jokers take photos of and send in to “we buy any car dot com”. The American marines (at least I think that’s who I mean) have a saying; leave no one behind. There is a similar adage for kids parties, which goes: leave no child unsupervised. There’s none of this leave the children to play in the street with water-balloons, electric heaters, knitting needles, pipe cleaners, tin foil, matches, fireworks, ferrets and assorted cutlery while you retire to the grown-ups room with a hefty gin and tonic and a packet of king-sized Rothmans. These days every parent (one per child, bringing two would be a faux pas) stays within a heel tap tackle of their child. It’s rather like being in the secret service, you could amuse yourself by giving your child a code name like, i don’t know, say Chocolate Chops One for instance, have a bit of old school curly telephone wire tucked into you ear, wear some mirror shades and be prepared at any instance to dive headlong in front of your child shouting “gentle hands!”
That being so the third of these parties was my boy’s and Mrs H rather trustingly left the organization to me. I found a local sports hall which had a massive pirate-themed bouncy thing for hire. So I hired it for the boy and decided that the party would be a buccaneer based bash. “But he doesn’t even like pirates” objected the wife. “Everyone loves pirates!” I rejoin. Thinking about it why are these thieving gits so popular? No one ever says come along to my wee lad’s birthday party the theme is Muggers or better still Burglars (just let yourselves in). Anyway that decided I over invited, nursery kids, NCT (pre-natal group), stopping short of kids from rugby, swimming and random folks from the playground, expecting as one does with adults a fair amount of attrition. There is however an unspoken pact between parents of preschoolers that they will come to everything that they are invited to, and you WILL return the favour (barring thoroughly reasonable excuses). So we had THIRTY.
If the wife had done the food there would have been a wider range catering to the more sophisticated, discerning and (possibly) vegetarian stroke vegan palette. It was me, so it was a more the-very-hungry-caterpillar-the-morning-after-a-bender type fayre which went down a treat (leftovers going to the cricket team on the green outside).
Finally presents, obscene numbers were gifted and a really big thank you to those lovely people. To the person who (I suspect) regifted the sports car that continuously swirls around the floor transforms into a robot dinosaur in a pool of flashing colored lights accompanied by a short looped piece of eighties pop, know this in the words of big Liam, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will boomerang gift that thing right back at yo