Sophia turned thirteen on December 2. We usually have parties within days of the birthday, but this year everything consipred to push the date ever-closer toward Christmas, and yesterday was the Big Day.
Planning, Sophia aimed high. “Can I invite friends to a pizza place for a few hours, and then you pick us up.” But “The cost!” I screeched, and on a mellower note: “And what about the family – your parents and the Little Ones?”
“But nobody will come to a party here!” she wailed. “We live miles out, and it's so boring!” Best Beloved suggested that he do a transport run in the Land Rover, and I put on my thinking cap and came up with the idea of a Tea Party complete with crustless sandwiches, scones, and party games. And a few friends to sleep over at the end.
The guest list grew from six to seventeen. Thirteen eventually showed – thankfully no-one needing transport as Best Beloved went off to a Nicosia 'do' of his friends. Tea parties aren't really his thing: souvla is another matter.
In an uncharacteristic burst of organisation, I prepared ahead: spiced carrot cup-cakes, sweet and savoury scones, and the elements of a trifle were all taken care of in the last few days. Lists dominated my activities: 'To Do', 'Shopping' (including the cake), 'Games'. I borrowed cups and saucers, retrieved silver tea spoons and cake forks from deep storage, and Sophia and I prepared towering plates of cut sandwiches – chicken curry and ham – according to instructions on the Web. We hit the deadline : Leo was just giving the floor a final swipe with the mop as the first guest arrived.
The post-mortem reveals that everything went 'swimmingly'. Our first game, Shave the Balloon, flopped. Modern safety razors have minimized the risk of an accidental nick to such an extent that popping the balloons accidentally was impossible -- although the ensuing shaving cream fight proved popular and a skittle eating competition was successful. Food followed: Leo's sausage rolls and most of the sandwiches disappeared. The scones stayed largely untouched.
“Mum, how sour is this trifle meant to be?” Alex asked. I tried it – my beloved layers of ladyfingers soaked in sherry and berries, lemon curd folded with marscapone, and whipped cream studded with caramel shards – and indeed it was a little 'tangy'. Fine for me, with my non-sweet sweet tooth, but a little sharp for modern teens. My mother and sister used to make spectacular trifles, but this was my first attempt – concocted from memory and from instructions in this month's BBC Olive Magazine.
Next came a brilliant game: balloon towers. (Divide a group into teams, giving each team about 30 balloons and a couple of rolls of sticky tape, and challenge each team to build the tallest free-standing balloon tower.) Noise and hilarity ensued. Safety razors may not be able to pop ballons, but sticky tape sure can, and inflating and tieing balloons, chasing errant ones, and attempting tower construction while semi-hysterical is some of the best fun I've had in a long time.
The cake followed. Sophia had wanted profiteroles, but New York Sweets had had none, so she had chosen a layered caramel, chocolate, and cream confection. By the time the satiated guests had all descended to the guest room to play Blind Man's Buff in the dark, cars were drawing up in the darkness, and parents calling for their offspring. By six, only the chosen few remained – and the mess in the kitchen.
Clean up was leisurely and surprisingly easy. I drifted between table and dishwasher, larder and fridge, the Big Ones downstairs including the Little Ones in their games until bedtime for the Littles left the others free to come upstairs, watch their movies, munch my (almost inedible attempt at) popcorn and be teenagers.
I went off to bed with a glass of wine, Dr Zhivago, and a sense of lightness and relief. Another hurdle over – now let's tackle Christmas!