In the last two months my dad, brother and I have all had milestone birthdays which added up to the grand total of 99 years between us. Naturally this necessitated a Massive Party for which I began planning back in September. Seven months of planning finally came to fruition on Saturday night.
We discovered the very convenient, well-sized and inordinately good value hall for hire fairly quickly, and the fact that it was just across the road from my brother’s house meant that setting up for the party was extremely simple, not to mention the convenience for returning home after the party ended. I fetched the key to the hall at lunchtime on Saturday and spent the next six hours blowing up balloons, overseeing the taping up of paper chains, laying out tables and chairs, organising the kitchen and generally getting ready for an influx of guests. Mid-afternoon Sarah and Henry arrived to rehearse their ballroom dancing demonstration; a few hours later the band began to trickle in to sort out PA and soundcheck. My brother’s guests materialised steadily bearing cake, nachos, bottles of champagne and (inexplicably) black tie dinner jackets. By six o’clock the hall was a hive of activity and I fled with my impromptu second-in-command Amelia to iron my dress, get changed, and temporarily catch my breath.
The party was officially meant to kick off at about 7, but in the event the “beginning” stage of meeting people, loading up paper plates with food from the buffet, handing over cards and presents and generally milling around started at about six and carried on until almost 8.30 when the last guests finally arrived from their train-disaster adventures and I made the announcement that the entertainment would begin. My honorary sisters sang a beautiful duet which prompted several people to tell me how wonderful they sounded, Henry and Sarah danced fantastically and then the band launched into a set of lively tunes to segue from concert to ceilidh. I persuaded several of my friends and my brother’s friends to get up and dance around like idiots in order to prove to people that dancing wasn’t difficult and no skill was necessary, and then the ceilidh began properly.
Back when I originally asked Tom to provide a band, he said “I’ve found a caller, she’s called Liz” and I thought no more about it. So I was simultaneously surprised and delighted to discover that Liz was in fact a friend from my childhood summers spent at folk festivals – all grown up and engaged, but still definitely the same Liz who taught me to lip read and giggled over secrets with me. I hadn’t even realised she called for dances but if I had known, I would have chosen her myself.
I think the highlights of the evening for me included seeing people mingling and dancing together who had never met before (and particularly groups of boys dancing together, a rare sight indeed even in the folk world), chatting to family I hadn’t seen in years, receiving presents from people who know me so well that they can choose exactly the right thing, and being able to say “Anna, the sinks in the ladies’ toilets are blocked, please can you put up a sign?” or “Abha, I’m leaving you in charge of the food table” and know that when I come back from whatever emergency I’d been called to, those things would indeed have been done. Even when I stage managed, I wasn’t very good at delegating because I often knew that I would just have to come back and do it myself later, so it was lovely to realise afterwards that the reason the evening went so smoothly was that I was surrounded by people who I loved and trusted, and who were perfectly happy to take over an aspect of the organisation in exchange for copious amounts of cake.
Everything went without a hitch, even the clean up operation the next morning. In contrast to the evening before, most of my friends had to head off so were packing up their bags and ordering taxis. Xander’s friends, who had spent much of the pre-party time filling the house with smoke and chortling, stepped up to the plate and swept, mopped, recycled, washed, dried, tidied and sang their way through the mess. We had the whole place tidied up in three hours, including an hour after the party when a small core of my friends quietly got on with clearing up the worst of the mess while I was running around like a chicken divvying up the sleeping spaces.
There aren’t any more big birthdays coming up for us for another three years at least, so I won’t be throwing another party, but I have to admit that I’m feeling remarkably tempted. I had never imagined that it could go so beautifully smoothly and successfully. I had a lot of fun.