Stuff and Nonsense

What I have learned about children’s birthday parties.

Another weekend and another birthday party. Birthday parties are the business, quite literally. There is nothing better than seeing a child’s face light up as you arrive. Especially if, as today, you arrive with a balloon column taller than the birthday child topped with a Happy Birthday balloon!


I have become a regular attendee of children’s birthday parties as an entertainer and a parent too and from these memories of children’s birthday parties as a participant, a parent and an entertainer I have learned a few things that have surprised me but I think would be useful for parents in particular to know. I’d like to share these with you as you head into organising your parties and children’s events.

1. Children don’t eat party food.

Let’s get this one out of the way from the get go. Oh, children like party food, they love it. Left to their own devices they will pile high their plates with it. This does not however translate into the eating of the food. I have lost track of how many parents I have seen negotiating with their children, “Eat one more sandwich before going back to play.”

It is not that the children do not want to eat or are not hungry, (how often do you drive a child home from a party only to hear a cry of “Can we get some drive thru?” or the like from the back seat!); it is that there is so much else going on to distract them and emotions are running high, food takes a back seat. With this last point in mind, we move on to…

2. There will be tears before bedtime, this is normal.

Emotions are running high, there is laughter, shouting, noise (so much noise!) and on the flip side to this there will be tears as all this emotion twists around on its head. This is not your fault, nor is it anyone else’s, nor will it (and this is important to remember) affect anyone’s overall enjoyment of the day.

It will not take much to change happiness to tears, but the good news is the opposite is also true, and the part the children will remember is the fun. Even the birthday child won’t remember bawling their eyes out because of the lack of chocolate fingers, they will remember the balloon dog/giraffe/butterfly with the spots they were handed to cheer them up.

3. Boys and Girls will happily play together.

There is no gender divide or glass ceiling as far as children’s games are concerned. Unless you artificially set up a boys verses girls division, they will cheerfully play the same games on the same teams to the same ends, especially at primary school age. The greater issue for most children is actually age, getting older/younger siblings or their peers to play together (certainly without squabbling) is the difficult part. Schools, which do so much to avoid gender division, unfortunately inadvertently reinforced the age divide.

The temptation as a parent is to provide different activities for the different age groups, whereas the best appoach is to provide activites that can appeal to all ages at the same time. A good games leader can do this, or a show or entertainment of some description; some entertainments (such as bouncy castles) can be risky for mixed age children and can result in more incidents of point 2.

4. Kids are Peacocks at the beginning and pigs at the end.

Girls, and boys, love getting dressed up for parties. Floral frocks, loud shirt, leggings, jeggings and jeans, oh my! They love turning up dressed in their finerey at the beggings, it’s like a minature red carpet, get your photos in now. Because without a doubt children do not have the concentration or self control to maintain The Look. When they come to pick them up at the end though, parents might wonder why you provided a hedge through which to drag their highly polished and preened children, backwards. There is no way in my experience of avoiding the odd ripped slip and chocolate stains, just embrace it. Kids will be kids.

5. Parents can enjoy it too.

Children need to be engaged in activities to get something out of them. The same is true of the parents. Parents shouldn’t be excluded from sharing in their children’s enjoyment by being put to sit at the sides or away from what is happening. Being segregated to talk amongst themselves is a little patronising don’t you think? I would be frowned upon if we did it to the children yet we will cheerfully do it to the grownups. By being with the children, and  taking part they can enjoy birthday party activities just as much and it helps to enhance the kids enjoyment too. (There’s an old saying about who a boy’s best friend is, afterall.)

So there you have five points that I hope will be of interest to parents planning their children’s birthday party. Some things to bear in mind which I include because quite a few of them are counterintuative. Hopefully my experience will lead to a better experience for your children.

The Autumn Fruit

It’s that time of year once more when the trees give us up their bounty to boys of all ages who are here to collect, and in particular the bounty of this particular tree.


Aesculus hippocastanum, the horse chestnut or the noble conker tree.
Being a creature of games and diversions of earlier times it is natural that the good Professor should have an interest in conker collecting and the game of conkers. In particular we hope tonlay to rest the age old question; how do I make my conkers the hardest?


We intend therefore to conduct a little experiment with baking, vinegar and whatever else to find what can make a conker rock hard. Incidentally if you are thinking of entering the world of competitive conker playing don’t try any of the methods here. It is technically cheating.
Come back over the next few weeks to see how we get on…

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Well here we are at last, Christmas is officially over for another year. Tomorrow 12 days are gone by and we’ve made it in one piece. After tomorrow the christmas decorations can come down at last (if you’ve taken down already boo for you it’s bad luck!)
How best then to end our twelve days of Christmas? Twelve drummers drumming could be Japanese taiko, or the Edinburgh tattoo again, or even some genuine Victorian beat boxing recordings! (There is no such thing by the way, in case u get Comments). Instead I I thought I’d finish by introducing those of you in the know to a classic bit of parody.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
(A Correspondence)
John Julius Norwich

25th December.
My dearest darling,
That partridge, in that lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you and thank you.
Your deeply loving Emily.

26th December.
Mr dearest darling Edward,
The two turtle doves arrived this morning and are cooing away in the pear tree as I write. I’m so touched and grateful.
With undying love, as always, Emily.

27th December.
My darling Edward,
You do thinks of the most original presents: whoever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It’s a pity that we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some. Thank you, anyway, they’re lovely.
Your loving Emily.

28th December.
Dearest Edward,
What a surprise – four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly – they make telephoning impossible. But I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I’m very grateful – of course I am.
Love from Emily.

29th December.
Dearest Edward,
The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly. A really lovely present – lovelier in a way than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of use got much sleep last night. Mummy says she wants us to use the rings to ‘wring’ their necks – she’s only joking, I think; though I know what she means. But I love the rings. Bless you.
Love, Emily.

30th December.
Dear Edward,
Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I rather hoped you had stopped sending me birds – we have no room for them and they have already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but – let’s call a halt, shall we?
Love, Emily.

31st December.
I thought I said no more birds; but this morning I woke up to find no less than seven swans all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I’d rather not thinks what happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds – to say nothing of what they leave behind them. Please, please STOP.
Your Emily.

1st January.
Frankly, I think I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids – AND their cows? Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing.

2nd January.
Look here Edward, this has gone far enough. You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing; all I can say is that judging from the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies. The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies with nothing on but their lipstick cavorting round the green – and it’s Mummy and I who get blamed. If you value our friendship – which I do less and less – kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once.

3rd January.
As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing abour all over what used to be the garden – before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

4th January.
This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes. The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse and a man from the Council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mummy has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you’re satisfied.

5th January.
Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises a half-past seven this morning of the entire percussion section of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent your importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, Sir, Yours faithfully,