Here, Alan Rick from SWit’CH (Swinton Writers in t’Critchley House) shares his memories of birthday parties growing up.
I suppose the children’s birthday party is one of the earliest events that stay in the mind forever.
These spectacles, organised as much for the parents themselves as for the children, made possible the display of the offspring in all their gaudy finery. It required the sort of lengthy and thorough preparation of the child that borders on the sadistic.
The event I was dragooned into was the birthday of Janet, a little girl across the street. It seemed a slight enough cause to me considering the ordeal I was put through beforehand.
This was to be scrubbed from head to foot, whiter than some peoples’ doorsteps, to have my hair vandalised to reduce it to an acceptable length, to be decked out in clothes that I thought were only worn by dolls and to be on the receiving end of a moral lecture concerning manners, conduct and unattainable objectives.
A small spirited boy was not meant for any of this I thought, as I glumly submitted to the strange preoccupations of the adult world. But perhaps the party itself would provide opportunities to sabotage it – we would see.
These parties followed a certain ritual – one shook the hand of Janet, with an air of feigned cordiality, and murmured a few words of courtesy, memorised from my mother’s list drilled into me earlier that day.
The children, garbed as if at some exotic festival, were seated around a circular table eying the goodies, their eyes growing larger by the minute. Any attempt to touch any until the starting signal was firmly restrained by the parents, ranged like a circle of prison guards.
The parents had their own agenda in all of this, which was to secure two hours of peace and quiet while the children were engaged in the absorbing task of filling their faces.
Nowadays this would be achieved by the irritating means of the Computer game. His or her room will be turned into a mass of wires and plugs and screens, the child will be wired up and plugged into about 40 controls worldwide and can spend the next two hours shouting at about three million children around the globe.
Not in my day. At a party, you just filled each child with about 3 times its weight in jelly, gave it a lump of playdough (then called Plasticine) and retired to put your feet up. Simple.
There was that wonderful moment during this party when Janet’s mother, oozing maternal bliss from every pore, came round to each of us in turn with a large plate of cakes.
At last, a reason for being here; grown-ups were not all wrath and finger-wagging then and I had my fair share of greed.
There were benefits in allowing the backs of your ears to be inspected and even your hair combed. At last the lady of the house approached me – this promised to be my lime-lit moment.
‘And which cake would you like little Alan?’ she gushed with a smile.
‘The biggest.’ I answered benignly.
My mother’s face assumed the pallor of deep winter frost, the prison guards shifted uneasily and the laughter from the other children sounded like a gurgling drain.
Later that day at home the consequences were dire but not lasting. Would I try to sabotage adult morality again?
No – the price was too high and, in any case I would have to join them one day.
This story first appeared in Alan’s memories ‘My Life and Other Misadventures’ which is available through SWit’CH directly or Amazon and other booksellers.
It can also be found in the SWit’CH anthology Memories Unlocked available to order here.
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