Well, I had another cultural experience last weekend. Bill's granddaughter, Charlotte, turned 4 this month and we went over to Manchester to attend her party. We were lucky that the party had been planned for the middle of the month, as we were in Germany on her birthday.
It sounds like the whole month has been pretty special for the birthday girl. On the actual day she got to choose the restaurant for their evening meal. Turns out that was a pub at the bottom of their street that serves food. They went camping a couple of weekends (though that may not have been about her birthday). Her mother started making fancy foods out of this book. The first effort was a red-headed mermaid, but I witnessed the creation of this masterpiece.
|Bread and chicken slices cut into a circle, the 4 is cucumber peel, the candles are carrot sticks and flame-shaped bits of cheese slices, all surrounded with half-grapes.|
I think it's all a bit mental, but Helen seems to enjoy doing it.
The party was held at the Atherton Cricket Club for the event, the same place we went after Charlotte's christening a few years ago.
Helen made (regular) sandwiches and, after removing the crusts, cut them into rectangles and triangles. She then put together a prototype for the plates and had Martin take a photo with his phone, so he could put together the other 10 or 11 plates at the party.
He did this while I put table cloths on the tables, secured with Blu-tack (something like chewing gum used to stick things on surfaces without damaging paint, only not as sticky and therefore useful; I'm not a fan of the stuff, but it is widely used over here). Helen issued orders about table arrangements and reminded Charlotte to greet her guests.
Most were brought by mothers but there were actually a few dads in attendance; I don't remember dads at the parties I attended as a child, do you? When the plates were assembled Martin and I covered them with cling-film (what I used to call Saran wrap).
A stack of Disney DVDs played as background music. I was quite nostalgic about those from Mary Poppins and Snow White. It's impressive how many dads know all the moves to the song Let It Go.
A mini-bouncy castle was set up, an automatic bubble blowing machine was put to work outside and a dozen or so blown-up balloons were scattered around the place.
A face-painting lady set up her kit in one corner.
As the guests arrived they just naturally kicked off their shoes and jumped in the bouncy castle, under Bill's watchful eye. Or they grabbed a balloon and batted it about the room. Or they ran in groups around the cricket ground, or gathered around the bubble machine to try to catch or pop bubbles. Bread sticks were available for snacks. The kids absolutely inhaled them.
|Chicken sandwiches, sausages, cheese, cucumber & carrots; how healthy can you get?|
One by one they were invited to go have their faces painted and soon they were all decked out, not just in party clothes, but with various emblems or masks ranging from a cupcake to a butterfly to a tiger face and all sorts of fairy-like designs as well. I've never seen 4-year-old's sit so still.
|My little pony?|
After they ran around for about an hour, they were invited in for lunch and the plates were presented along with Disney napkins and orange or red coloured drinks, whatever is the British version of Kool-Aid.
Then plates of chocolate and icing covered biscuits (that I still call cookies).
And then an amazing multi-layered cake, also made by a pro.
After cake came a couple of games, led by Helen (who is, after all a professional herself, being a primary school teacher and a Brownie leader). One was 'Pass the Parcel'. This involves a present wrapped in multiple layers. Helen alternated between gift wrap and newspaper.
The parcel was passed around the children sitting in a circle to accompanying music. When the music stopped the child holding the parcel unwrapped a layer. Then it continued on its journey around the circle until the music stopped and the next layer was removed. I gather from conversations since that some small sweet would be found between layers so that each child got a little something until the main prize was opened by the final winner (a box full of colouring tools, I think it was). Also that there should be as many layers as there were children so that each child got something (because the music was carefully timed). I'm not sure if that's what happened, but it all seemed to go brilliantly anyhow. I didn't realize that there were multiple layers and Bill remarked that he'd forgotten I was 'foreign' else I would know this. Or is it about my age instead of citizenship?
If there was anything that marred the perfection of this party it was dog poo. I saw at least 3-4 moms headed for the loo with a wrinkled nose and a shoe in hand. I still love dogs, but I'm not sure I like dog owners much these days.
The next game was described as a 'dance contest' but it was actually more about being still: when the music stopped everyone had to 'freeze'. Anyone who moved was kicked out of the game (and joyfully ran out doors to run around some more).
We left about then since we had a long drive ahead. Fortunately Charlotte had already been kicked out and we could say good bye to the birthday girl.
I'm not good with kids, having been an only child and, for over a decade, an only grandchild and never having any children of my own. I can just about interact with Charlotte if I'm patient - or probably it's really if she's patient. Anyhow, I was thinking that a room full of 4-year-old children was probably my definition of hell; instead it turned out to be quite fun to watch.
And several G&T's helped a bit...