Have party, have invitations, might have nervous breakdown

People like me shouldn’t throw parties. I’m far too fraught to be a host. But sadly if you want to make sure your kids will visit you in your twilight years then you need to throw a party for them every now and again.

Fortunately, Ray is miserable, like his father and me, (two negatives did not make a positive in his case) and he is satisfied with me taking him and his mates to the footy or the cinema. And up until now, Arnie and Mini had been content with family teas and shop-bought cake. Then, they started to go to different parties –  and they saw what was out there – and boom, Arnie was desperate for a “proper” party for his fifth birthday. Shiiittt.

Surprising, husband who has the social skills of a hedgehog agreed. “Yeah,” he said. “As long as the fuckers don’t come to our home and wreck it.”

So I got organised. I outsourced it, naturellement. I found a Venue, entertainer, and food. It worked out about £10 a head. That is important. Each child had better be good value. I decided on the magic number 12, which take away my own three kids, was nine guests.

“Who do you want to invite?” Arnie is in reception and since he didn’t go to the local play school, I hardly know a soul at the school.

Arnie didn’t know. He had no idea who his mates were. Not a scooby. I tried to remember everyone I had ever heard of. But the kids Arnie talks about most are those who have been under “the Black Cloud.” I only wanted kids from under “The Sunshine” at the party. (£10 a head, remember?!)

“How about Johny?”

“Yeah,” he said doubtfully.

“Stan?”

“I don’t like Stan.”

“Remy?”

“Yes.”

I sent out the invitations giving them three weeks to reply. Standard, so I thought. I made Arnie sign the card thus giving him much needed writing practice – boy, I was getting good at this parenting thing.

The next day, Arnie came home looking glum.

“Jennifer,” he said with doe-eyes. “Amelia. Arthur. Jack.”

“You want to invite them too?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can’t. We’ve reached the limit.”

And that’s where it got complicated.

So I sent out nine invites. Did I hear back? Did I shit. Two, let us call them, two Sunshine parents, texted the next day. Yes, blah, blah, would be delighted to come.

The rest. Silence. Radio Silence.

Now, I suppose you are thinking, that’s no surprise, no one likes you, and you could be right, but these people didn’t even know me. Surely, you have to know me to not like me?

They might not like Arnie, and you could be right, but he’s quite a nice kid. If it were Mini, yeah, I’d understand, but Arnie’s pretty inoffensive, he has never, ever been under the black cloud and he did get seventeen Christmas cards which was more than the rest of the family put together.

The problem was I couldn’t be certain why they had not replied and indeed if they had not replied.

a. Did they even get the invites? They were merely stuffed into the book bag. Still, the teacher is quite on-it and the cards weren’t in bag. Surely, she did not bin them?

b. Did I write my own phone number incorrectly? Hmm unlikely.

c. Did they fail to copy my phone number into their phones? Possibly.

d. Are they just bastards at keeping in touch? Very likely. (Particularly Black Cloud Max’s mother.)

Fortunately, Private investigators managed to track down two mothers and I kettled them at the school gate, direct, bish, bash, bosh. “Are you coming or not?” Both were quite sheepish. “Oh, I thought I had replied.”

“Did you really?” I said, shining the torch in their eyes.

“Yes,” they said nervously. “Anyway, the answer is yes, please…blah blah would love to come.”

So we had four yes’s, but still that was only four out of the nine. I had paid £120 for this! So I gathered the c-list, friends of mine whose kids were approximately 5. Well, they ranged from 12 to 2, but that’s ok and I asked them to come. But that meant I still was in danger of going over the sacred twelve. Quelle horreur.

I blockaded one further parent at the school gate the Friday before, “Oh no, sorry,” she said, “Didn’t we let you know?” “No you didn’t.” “oh.”And on the morning of the party, two people sent texts. Nope, their kids weren’t coming. Worse, they proceeded to give me gumpfy excuses – involving grandparents and spa dates and the like. At this late date I didn’t bloody care. “Thank you,” I didn’t reply, “Had you let me known earlier I could have invited someone else.” (Which in fact I had done, but still…it’s the principle of the thing, dammit)

The party went well, Arnie and his friends, had a ball, and there were no major hiccups. Still, at pick up time, I was under my own black cloud of resentment still seething at the three late respondents and the two who had simply disappeared into the ether. Feckers.

As I complained to my sister, she asked me if I had let some mutual friends know whether I was coming to their engagement party or not.

“What? Oh well, I’ve been really busy organising this hoo-haa for Arnie.”

“You slack arse,” she said, cheerfully.

“Oh.”

So these have been my new years resolutions.

a. Always reply to invitations promptly

b. Never, ever, throw a party again.

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Saturday night out at Homecove court

There are about fifty armchairs arranged in a circle, about forty women and only five or six men. Dad, Mini and I hesitate at the door. It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday night, it’s Homecove court’s monthly meet up in the communal lounge and it’s Dad’s first time which is why I’m accompanying him.  The sign in the foyer said to bring drink and nibbles. Dad’s contribution to the party is a half bottle of flat lemonade. I am relieved he hasn’t attempted nibbles. I have brought along a box of Milk Tray which reminds me of men in balaclavas. I hope the ladies will love Milk Tray. In his flat, before we came, Dad had said, “Gawd, blimey, Milk Tray? That’s too much!”

There is one small sofa in the room unoccupied and I throw Mini on it and grab the adjacent armchair for Dad.  A man behind a massive organ/keyboard/CD-deck thing is playing war-time songs really loud. He is one of Homecove court’s three managers and resident Dee-Jay. I am glad I have Mini for my entertainment. I make her take around the Milk Tray. I promise she can have one herself after. I hope people are thinking she is cute and not, what are these people doing here? They are not over 55!

“Is it someone’s birthday?” One lady asks kindly. She has a big, gummy smile.

“My Dad has just moved in.”

“Wonderful!” She tells her friends and they nod at each other and laugh.

I prod Mini to keep going. “Offer them around. To everyone. Yes, him too.”

One lady drops her chocolate. I wait for her to pick it up, and then notice her hands are shaking too much and she can’t bend. The chocolate has rolled under her chair though. I can’t get down there. I say, “Oh dear,” and when she refuses a replacement, I shove Mini to the next person.

We’ll meet again is playing. Dad says to me, “I bet you don’t know this.”

“Course I do,” I snap. He starts talking to his neighbours. Then he turns back to me. “This is Joan and Harry.”

“Hello Joan, Hello Harry,” I say.

When they turn away, he whispers, “They are not a couple though.”

“Oh, ok,” I say, “and?”

Mini loops the room once again with our chocolate ice-breakers to sounds from the 1950’s. The same people say yes. The same people say no. The same people ignore us.

One woman asks me. “Where’s your dads flat?”

“Seventh floor,” I say. Am I expected to say the number?

“At the front or at the back?” she asks, her hand on my wrist.

“The back.” She loses interest. I think it’s because Dad has no sea-views.

One of the men takes a chocolate. He says to Mini. “Look!” A quick sleight of the hand and the chocolate disappears. Mini and I are spell bound. Wow! Then he produces it from her ear. She is so young that she almost doesn’t know how odd that is.

I say, “that’s great!” and he winks. “Thank you.”

The dee-jay puts on some 60’s music: Like a bouncing ball, I’ll come bouncing back to you.

A group of four women get up and to my surprise, they start dancing. Not in my wildest dreams, did I imagine there would be dancing. Mini gets up and starts twirling around too.

The woman next to me chats. As Dad would say, “boy, she can chat!’ She is an outsider too. Her sister though, has lived here for 17 years – since she was 60.  I want to say she doesn’t look a day over 75.

Dad grins at me. “I’m going to dance.”

“Really?” I say incredulously, I mean what about me?

“Are you coming?”

The idea of dancing fills me with horror.  I am back, thirteen, at the school disco and wanting to cry.

“What about your knee?” I hiss. Don’t abandon me.

He says, “it’s only shuffling.” Sheesh.

He gets up and joins the ladies but just as he does so, a six foot tall smart Grandad comes in to the room, and there is a veritable frisson among the dancers as he takes to the floor.  Alpha Grandad has working knees and hips and he knows all the steps. I worry for Dad – he has never looked smaller – but what Dad lacks in height he makes up for in thick skin – he shuffles away happily unaware of the Adonis in his midst.  Then, Mini joins them and I am scared she is going to trip people over, although if she trips over Alpha Grandad that won’t be so bad.  She does roly polys in the centre of the floor. I feel too self-conscious to move and wonder what’s the matter with me – the only middle-ager in the room – I am both too old and too young to join in.

At the end of the song, Dad sits, a bit puffed: “Did you see? They loved dancing with me.”

“With the other fella, you mean!” I say, but he claims he didn’t notice him. Mr Dee-Jay puts on some music, from the 70s now, and a few more ladies take to the floor. Alpha Grandad busts some moves. He looks like a pudding in a plum, plum, plum.

Harry and Jean have fallen asleep in their armchairs and Harry is snoring gently. (They are not a couple though) It is 8.30 pm.

My neighbour, however is neither dancer, nor sleeper, and she is talking again. She has to shout for me to hear her and I have to shout back.  I think she says she loves whist and bingo nights. Or maybe she wishes there were more rubbish collections.  I bellow, “this is great fun, isn’t it!” I watch Mini cavort around unselfconsciously. It is a gift to be that uninhibited.  Even so, I wish I hadn’t let her dress herself today. In her brown trousers and bulky cardigan, she looks like a spherical something from the Milk Tray box.

“And everyone here is very nice?” I enquire loudly as the music moves on to the 1980’s. What an original dee-jay!

“Oh yes. See that woman,” my neighbour shouts, pointing to the loveliest lady of all, the one who pulled her friend with the shaky hands out her chair when she couldn’t lever herself up. I think she looks like my mum might have done.”When she first came here, she cried all day long and wouldn’t even leave her room. Her husband had just died and she missed her family so much. Now look at her.”

I do. Suddenly, I find the sight of this smiling woman who after so much pain is dancing her heart out to Abba, so beautiful that momentarily I am lost for words.