The first party I remember was my sister’s fourth or fifth birthday. We had finished the cake when my step-father and some friends (a friend?) came home, possibly from the pub. There was a pile of red paper napkins out on the table and they started tearing them up to make doilies, snowflakes, strings of little paper men, hats and airplanes. All us children joined in. Soon paper was just being ripped up and thrown in the air. The floor of the tiny living room was covered in red paper confetti which the adults scooped up and let snow down us from their comparatively great height. If we flapped our hands or blew on the pieces of tissue we could stop them from falling to the ground. You could kick the paper on the floor into the air and pretend you were kicking a pile of autumn leaves. I watched the air, full of paper, I was entranced.
For me, momentary silliness turned into pure joy. On the other hand my mother, who was hosting the party, was faced with a bunch of over-excited children. They might break something, or hurt themselves, or hurt each other. And at the end of it she left with a huge mess.
I want to have parties because I love the idea of creating a space that people will enjoy. But hosting a party is not the same as being a party. I always get very anxious about them. Will people come? Will they talk to each other? Will there be enough to eat? Will there be enough to drink? Will there be enough glasses? Will things get broken? Will the carpet be ruined? Will I say something I shouldn’t? Will people have fun? Apart from running out of food all these other things have happened at my parties. Because parties are open-ended events you can’t make people come and if once they do arrive they are not completely under your control. And I know this so clearly that just an hour before any party is due to start I am overcome by the certainty that no-one will come and we’ve moved all the furniture for nothing. I call it “host anxiety syndrome”. But I’ve always kept trying because some of my happiest memories are of parties.
The first time I ever stayed up until midnight was at a midsummer eve party. In the mid-seventies when I was about seven years old my family moved to hospital accomodation. There were lots of other families of young doctors on the street and all the kids and wives hung out together. My mother is half Norwegian and one of the other wives was Swedish or Danish. Together they planned a midsummer eve party. All the kids put on a play in the early hours of the evening and then there was food, a bonfire and berries. Late in the evening there was sweet dough which we cooked on sticks in the embers and ate piping hot filled with sugar and butter and berries. The bonfire looked different in the long blue twilight of midsummer eve than the dark winter bonfires of Guy Fawkes. I spun round and round in circles getting dizzy and collapsed on the grass, the trees reeling above me and lay flat until the spinning stopped and I could see the smoke trail up into the endless blue. I imagined that I could feel the earth spinning blue through dark space something that I never thought about sitting at my desk in school.
Balloons are always fun