Yesterday afternoon, I was invited to a party. I was excited, intrigued and not a little fearful. It was a 5 year old's birthday party.
Now children's birthday parties are something beyond my ken. I get asked to godchildren's birthdays but since they all seem to live 100's of miles away there is never actually an obligation to go. Consequently I have avoided this particular delight.
I have memories of childrens parties that I went to in my long lost youth. These involved exciting things like pass the parcel, musical chairs, traffic light jellies in paper cases, and my best dress and shiniest shoes. (look, they were exciting for me ok!) Ah, happy days. There are times when I am looking through recipe books and I see a cake shaped like a carousel, or Nigella's improbably glamourous looking gingerbread men and I say 'sigh, no reason for me to cook these things'. Actually, I realise that there is no reason for anybody to cook such confections - well not unless they wanted theur house and the entire neighbourhood to be destroyed by a pack of wild children on a sugar high.
The party in question took place after school, so no party dresses for a start - just school uniforms. In addition the sensible parents had realised that twenty 5 year olds eating carousel cake would ultimately require the UN and possibly the red cross. I had arrived stylishly late and found the worlds biggest carpet picnic taking place. Plastic sheets were spread on the floor and the mini destroyers were working their way through sausages and buns, carrot and cucumber, slices of melon, boxes of raisins, and then malt loaf and swiss roll. It was all alarmingly civilized. I'm pretty sure I heard two of the boys discussing the American election.
The parents were calmly distributing drinks and other such delights, whilst another mother took crocodiles of small children backwards and forwards to the loo. This is not what i remember? Ok - we never sat on the floor, but there was definitely nothing nutritious at the parties of my youth. If it wasn't made of sugar, jelly or chocolate it didn't turn up. Or I don't think it did. Have I made up my childhood memories? Is this how it really went? A civilised carpet picnic?
I looked around the room. A few wary parents were scattered amongst the children, grasping strong coffee and praying that their child would not be the Taliban at this particular event. They looked faintly astounded that a non parent / relative would voluntarily come to the party and one harassed mother confessed that her normal party policy was the slightly revolting sounding 'dump and run'. I wondered if I had made a horrible mistake and should have developed a virulent contagion that would have prevented me from coming? Was I mad to have come?
Whilst I pondered my own sanity, tea was decreed to be over. The plastic sheets were swept up with all the detritus of tea on them, and put into black bin bags. A cake strewn with candles appeared, was blown out, and everyone sang happy birthday in welsh, and in tune. Then the entertainment kicked in and I realised that I had been robbed as a child. I was deprived. I should have therapy and possibly a cash refund. I may have had cake and jelly, but I never had this.
Into the large Sitting Room came a swarthy and grizzled welshman. His cords were worn, his checked shirt clean but faded and his green huski waistcoat was newly darned and pressed. On his wrist he carried a SNOWY OWL!!!!!
Mesmerised children magnetised around him like iron filings in a science experiment, moving in a wave wherever he went. (Well, all apart from the one boy who felt that snakes that ate girls would have been a far better entertainment). The children were allowed to stroke the feathers and they gasped with excitement when the head swivelled around to fix them with a beady amber glare. This was just the beginning.
5 minutes later, Caspar, the barn owl came to join them. The birthday boy was given a gauntlet and a small chunk of dead mammal. He held out his arm and called out to the bird, which glided across the room and landed on upheld arm. There was the most perfect expression of joy and fear on his face. On the other side of the room his father had a similar set up and the owl flew, silent as only an owl can be, over the awed childrens heads back and forth between father and son. I have to say that I think there is a possiblity that the father enjoyed it more. There was a look on his face of a man fulfilling a childhood dream....
I didn't stay much longer. Not being 5 I couldn't go and stroke the owl and demand the gauntlet and I didn't want to see an unexpected sugar rush hit and the party descend into a madness of feathers, cake and sobbing 5 year olds.
It didn't make me long to have children - the whole thing had been organised with military precision and looked like hard work. But it did make me want to be 5 years old again - just for a few minutes.
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