Barney Felce reflects on the politics of parties…
When I was a small boy in the seventies and eighties I didn’t go to many birthday parties.
I don’t think it was compulsory to have one then as it is now. I don’t actually remember going to any birthday parties outside of my family. I’ve got quite a few cousins of a similar age, so don’t feel too sorry for me, I stepped out a little. But they were quite a different affair to what we provide our offspring these days.
Where as we used to put on a smart pair of dungarees or a nice shirt and tie combo and play pass the parcel in someone’s kitchen, these days kids expect a little bit more.
There are rules that have to be adhered to, etiquette if you will. It all has to be organised. Not a haphazard shambolic affair as per my memories. I like a certain amount of spontaneity myself, but I know that this causes people quite a lot of anxiety and stress.
For example, I arranged a party for my youngest child a few years ago but broke some of the rules. Said offspring is a boy, and at the time quite heavily into diggers and construction type shenanigans. So I thought I would organise a builder party. This was a pretty straightforward affair really, a cake with a digger on, with rocks made out of Crunchie bars, some hard hats and high viz vests knocking about and an activity based around building. I thought I’d have the kids make a house out of tasty things.
Marshmallow bricks held together with chocolate spread mortar and a wafer roof. Piece of cake. Literally.
The anxiety and stress around me became apparent when I realised you can’t buy marshmallow bricks. I think I must have dreamt them up in some brilliant fantasy one night.
We had invited all the class and pretty much everyone was coming.
I had a trial run the day before to check out my confectionery-based building system, and I realised just how many marshmallow bricks were needed even for the most modest of houses.
The problem was compounded by the lack of off-the-shelf marshmallow bricks.
To solve this little problem, I hand-crafted the bricks by cutting a regular marshmallows into a standard brick shape. This was quite a long process but eventually, many, many hours after I started, I had enough bricks. Then my choice of mortar came under fire.
Apparently, it’s not acceptable to use supermarket own brand, savers chocolate spread. I stuck to my guns having already purchased about 25 jars of the stuff, a compromise was met by carefully removing the labels to conceal my error.
I had hired a large room in a church, which sadly as it turned out, had very limited parking.
There were also other functions and events going on in the building so a doorman had to be pressed into service.
When the kids were all there, they all just kind of stared at me. All the parents had gathered at the back of the room in a quiet, worried-looking huddle, I realised then that I didn’t really have a lot planned other than my housebuilding project. To break the stalemate I stuck some really loud music on and instructed the kids to dance. Most just continued to stare at me but gradually they all started to go a bit crackers.
After a while they were whipped into a frenzy so I thought I’d settle them down to do the building.
This was not as easy as you might think, they seemed quite happy running round in circles screaming. After a while, and with a bit of help from some concerned looking parents, they all sat down and I tried to explain the fun thing I had planned for them. The staring returned and I started to lose heart a little. The difference this time was that it wasn’t just the kids staring now, everyone was. I used this opportunity to demonstrate the building technique. Some of them had a go and I even saw a couple smile at one point but most of them ate all the bespoke brickwork and smashed the wafer roof panels up . I admitted defeat and stuck the loud music back on.
One thing I hadn’t really thought about was having a finish time and as a result it sort of dragged on for maybe an hour or three too long.
All in all a success.
Well, not really, but I learned a lot. The main thing was that in the future it might be an idea to leave it to the pros.
So this year that’s what I did. The boy hadn’t had a party for a few years and his social standing was in danger of slipping quite fast into the sea. I contacted a few of the local venues to see what was on offer. And so it was that this year, on the tenth anniversary of his birth, my boy had a laser party at Riverside Hub. I booked it a few weeks in advance and almost forgot about it. Laser themed invitations were given to us to hand out and honestly the hardest part of the process for me was keeping a list of names and ticking them off. I did nearly screw this up by duplicating one kid and leaving another off however I spotted this minor faux pas in time.
On the day I just turned up with party bags. My partner had sorted these out which meant there was nothing stupid or inappropriate in them.
I then had to sit in a small room for two hours with my ex-wife and fifteen over excited 9 and 10 year olds, which could be seen by some as a kind of hell.
But actually the kids were checked off as they arrived by someone else. Parents were nodded at and waved goodbye to.
The cake was taken away to be sliced up and placed in the party bags, by someone else.
Then all the kids were herded away, by someone else, to have a fantastic time playing. Then food arrived and all the kids were returned , by someone else.
After this they were led away to shoot each other with laser guns, by someone else.
All I had to do was sit around drinking coffee and eating the 15 to 25 left over fish fingers. It was brilliant.
It was possibly the most relaxing two hours I have had in 2018 so far.
The only thing missing from the party was total chaos and the unpredictability factor.
Which in a way is a shame, but in another way is a great relief.
So in short, although I had resisted this type of party in the past I have to admit that it was in many ways and on many levels quite a huge improvement on a game of pass the parcel in brown corduroy flares.