When I was a kid and had a birthday I got a present, some cake and if I was very, very lucky a can of Coke (I would actually keep the empty can for months – how sad is that? Litter as momentos…) My mum would invite a select group of my friends (alright, all my friends) and we’d dress up as something dull, like cowboys or doctors – we had simple desires then: a career. We were working class, what can I say?
The present was normally some form of weaponry (a gun, an axe or crossbow) and the cake would be victoria sponge in the shape of…a victoria sponge…with last year’s candles. If I bought a gun for a kid now their parents would spray sauvingon blanc over the Waitrose mini sausages in mute shock.
Today, though, kids parties are organised…and planned…and catered for. Kids get party bags just for coming to the bloody party. They get food, drink and entertainment but now they want gifts. It’s stone cold blackmail, is what it is, to make the parents feel that their children are more popular than Facebook.
So what do you do for a children’s party now?
- Cake The last big birthday we did for one of our kids I baked a cake, a good one, with butter icing and an iced picture of a dinosaur on it and – even if I say so myself – it rocked. It would have given Jane Asher wood. Did the kids like it? No. Why? Because it wasn’t in the shape of Buzz Lightyear, Peppa Pig or Thomas the bloody Tank Engine. Also, it wasn’t sugar laced with flour – which most cakes from the supermarket are – but flour laced with sugar and the kids spurned it. I was hurt, and had to subsist on a patisserie based diet for weeks, like Supersize Me in cake form.
- Pass the Parcel What the hell happened to pass-the-parcel? Back in the day you counted yourself very, very fortunate to be the last one unwrapping the parcel to find a Kinder Egg or toy soldier. Most times you’d slink back to your house (I always went to children’s parties alone, when I was a kid), your ink stained fingers betraying your disappointment and ask your Dad: ‘but why didn’t I win, Daddy, why?’ your Dad would stroke your head and reply: ‘because lifes hard, son. You’ll soon realise that hope and anticipation mean nothing and that the unwrappings of your tattered dreams are all you have left. It’s just luck, son, just luck.’ Now, every layer has to have a sweet or a treat of some description and the parents normally conspire to time the music so nobody loses out and that the birthday boy/girl wins the grand prize – which is a proper toy, in a box and everything. What we’re teaching our kids is that corruption and manipulating the truth is okay as long as everyone is happy; like Mugabe in Celebrity Big Brother.
- Cards You may as well buy children scouring pads. What’s the point? They tear open the card, because their parents tell them to, glance fleetingly at whatever image you felt expressed the emotion of turning 4 / 5 / 6 , and then move onto what they’re most interested in: the present. If they have a badge they may hold some interest, or if they play a tune but then you’re getting onto card-as-gift territory and kids no getty the idea that you have got them something that is unwrappable…even if you organised a flight on a space rocket for them…or the opportunity to kill a real dinosaur. They want real stuff.
- Entertainment Gone are the days when you could spin the wheel on Twister and then pop out the back for a few sneaky Hoffmeisters. Now the kids want proper entertainment because Tiara had a balloon modeler at her 2nd birthday…and Tarquin had an exotic animal menagerie at his…and Amber had Mr Tumble pulling Chupa-Chups out of his arse for her 5th birthday (school friends) and Florence and The Machine singing children’s favourites at the other 5th birthday (family). I sometimes feel as if my childhood years were an Oliver Twist existence compared to what a lot of children experience…or maybe we were poor and everyone else was having a swell time. Even in the seventies. If that’s possible.
- Food Let’s face it, if you think that your children are going to get a square meal at a children’s party then you are seriously deluded, seriously naive or just honest-to-goodness thick. I have seen parents try and lay our carrot sticks, celery and slices of apple but most kids won’t take off their coat if they don’t at least see a hula-hoop: the pre-school party pill of choice. They basically want a sugar rush so they can get down like it’s 1999 and when it wears off they can crash in the cab home.
- Presents I hate buying children presents because it’s never going to be a pony (for a girl) or a Nintendo DS (or a boy). Just buy them a bottle of Scotch, at least the parents will like it.
- Party Bags This is a development that should be outlawed. Since when did it become de rigour to get rewarded for just turning up? I blame PR companies and trade fairs; the only way they can get people to turn up – legally – is trinket bribery. I think party bags should be inverted: hands bag over, ‘oh thanks for inviting us,’ birthday boy’s Mummy looks inside, ‘oh it’s nothing, honest. Just some carrot sticks that won’t be eaten anyway, some Vanish for when Oliver tips Ribena on your two grand sofa and a piece of proper cake, not that Nigella rubbish you served last time…what? No Hula-Hoops? Oliver, get you coat back on, now!’
I’ll read back on this in years to come and dwell about how naive I was to think I could host a children’s party and not do any of the things above.
I also think about what I’ll do for my birthday and the sobering reality is that I’ll probably enjoy polishing off a bottle of wine, eating some chocolates and watching 24…no entertainers, no party bags but I may push the boat out and get some Hula Hoops (if they’re actually available in Swizzerland and are not illegal or something…).