I am in a party-planning frenzy. I am also trying not to be sucked into a vortex of party one-upmanship that seems to be the vogue in the particular part of London in which we reside.
The nursery my daughters go to is in a wealthy area (needless to say we have to drive to get there). As a result the other kids have stay-at-home super-groomed mothers who enjoy the luxury of at the very least part-time nannies as well as private nursery sessions - who somehow manage to fit in sourcing this year's hot entertainer and must-have kiddy party venue with their gruelling mani, pedi and blow-dry schedules (bitter? moi? never!)
Firstborn is set the reach the four year milestone at the end of this month. So far this year she has been invited to four different parties, all of which were graced by some form of party entertainer (one balloon contortionist, two magicians and one bloke in a Barney costume), enormous organic birthday cakes, balloon contortionists and the hire of kiddy-heaven play centres featuring jungle gyms, ball pits and death-defying slides. Each party had a minimum of fifteen children and assorted parent-and-nanny hangers-on. Each party cost an insane amount of money - I know this from perusal of the 'party package' leaflets sneaked into the goody bags at each of these events and spying one grim-faced pater handing over a stack of crisp twenties to the rumpled magician (the rumpled thing being due to Firstborn having denounced him as a fraud, leading to a Lord of the Flies style debacle - those under-fives can be extremely vicious).
My main concern is not how I can get hold of that marvellous clown who morphs into Angelina Ballerina, but 1) how I can avoid inviting all of Firstborn's classmates (the kids are great but I have an intense dislike of 50% of the other mothers) and 2) that the weather holds so we can have a birthday picnic in the park; thus avoiding having to take out a second mortgage in order to pay for a venue (and no we can't do it at our place - our flat just about holds the four of us, any guests and we have to bring out the oxygen canisters).
When I was a kid birthday parties were amateur events involving the ingestion of as much sugar as possible, a frenzied boogie around the record player to whatever was in the charts at the time (my movement was always somewhat hampered by the old-fashioned velvet-and-taffeta party frock my mother made for me every year until I finally rebelled at the age of thirteen), and games of pass-the-parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. After a couple of hours we would overdose on e-number lemonade, someone would throw up, and our parents arrive en masse to take us home. Simple yet effective.
So when did kids start needing entertainers and jungle gyms? I mean, sure, there's no arguing that this is fun stuff, but surely the point of getting lots of kids together is so they can play together, rather than be entertained together?
The only answer is to go back to basics. I hereby announce 2006 as they Year Of The Retro Birthday Party. There won't be a magician in sight. The lemonade will be non-organic and the bread will be white. The fairy cakes will be full-fat and the cake will be neon-coloured. There will be pass-the-parcel with a giant bar of Cadbury's as the top prize and the parents will get giggly on warm white wine as the kids run wild. At least one child will throw up, and they will all have a resoundingly good time.
The only thing I won't be bringing back is the tradition of the straightjacket-tight taffeta party frock with knee-high white frilly socks... (sorry Mum).
Let's just pray it doesn't rain.