There’s no longer a six-year-old in the house. On the verge of sleep on the eve of his birthday he called me to his bed offering me “a last hug with me aged six”. I savoured it. I was sorry to see the sixes go. Though of course, hours later he was the same boy. Or was he? And that quotation – attributed to Loyola Ignatius as well as countless others – was ringing in my ears. “Give me the boy of seven and I’ll show you the man”. He’s seven now – it’s all set. We are here just for the tweaking.
I catch myself thinking how I will be talked of retrospectively. To partners, to his kids, to a shrink. One thing he might say is “My mum knew how to throw a party. Lousy at keeping house but she could throw a party.”
On Sunday ten children gathered in our garden for a cowboy themed birthday party hosted by the Wild Wests (though I didn’t take Mr West’s surname the kids did). I checked the forecast before sending out the invites. Sunshine was promised. With only five days notice most could attend. Myself and the kids had the theme decided months beforehand and whiled away many the hour thinking up props and games.
Slipped in to the invite envelopes were sticky-back moustaches with instructions for the boys to man up. Cowboy attire wasn’t compulsory but would be encouraged. They could come armed but water pistols would be available on the day. On a sunny afternoon last week my daughter and I made all the signage. She painted a fine horse for “pin the tail” on the back of old wallpaper. I mocked up a few Wanted/Reward posters on the computer. But for most of our signs we used poster paints and cardboard boxes. I cut out an oval circle in a Wanted sign and hung it with string from our clothes line. As the boys filed in I took their “mug shots” – getting them to pose in the frame. There was a touch of the gallows about the arrangement – too authentic perhaps . Rawhide, the cowboys anthem, blasted from speakers. We were all ginghamed up. I’d popped in to Fabric world and bought a couple of meters of blue and red plaid. Perfect for bandanas. I’d raided toy boxes and anything that whiffed of Western I used to some effect. So Woody from Toy story was back in favour – at least for the day. He swung from a fence .
The posters with Ranch Rules looked mighty fine and another reminded the cowboys of our no cussin’ policy. I’d bought a couple of cacti I used as table centre pieces. They doubled up later as a game. Amber came up with the name ” Cactus poker”. Against the clock, you had to pierce the cacti with toothpicks.
I bought novelty straws almost three feet long and I filled a “trough” with coca cola and left them to it. You can imagine the mêlée.
Games included tin can alley, wheelbarrow and sack races, lasso, poison and find the snakes ( 48 skinny plastic snakes were hidden in the grass). Pass-the-parcel dares were on theme too – Buck like a bronco/ howl like a wolf. The winner unwrapped a harmonica.
We had enough games to fill an entire day. We didn’t get through them all. Supper was hot dogs, nachos, corn on the cob, and baked beans. One of our guests declined the beans citing the third ranch rule. There were wagon wheels, rocky road and birthday cake for afters. I baked a chocolate covered sandwich and studded it with smarties leaving place for jelly frogs on top. Our tiniest sign went on the cake proclaiming the sugar feast a “Swamp”.
The temperature must have been close to the mid 20s’ so to the kids delight we set the sprinkler on the party. The water pistols were distributed but it was far from a fair battle that ensued. My little pistols – sold as two for a pound – looked quite pathetic next to the water drenchers some kids had taken along.
I hadn’t realised what a friend I had in the Pinata. What a crowd tamer it proved. Bulging with sweets it swung from the clothesline. The kids formed an orderly line and one by one took a swing at the papier mache donkey then scurried to the back of the queue. How civilised. After ten minutes the donkey looked as firm as ever. Parents and siblings arriving to collect their boys joined in and finally one dad gave the whack that released the innards as a shower of sweets fell on the lawn.
We’d had a great few hours but were happy to see the cowboys leave. We’d pulled off another cracker and for a fraction of the price of most birthday parties. A few days later I showed some of these pictures to Sawyer’s teacher. She was intrigued that we’d gone with the Wild West theme. She wondered if the references and images would have been lost on the kids,who unlike us, were not fed on a diet of cowboys and indians, reservations and ranches, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I concede that as much as this party was for my son I was paying homage to my own seventies childhood. If I had conferred with the birthday boy he’d properly have suggested a Mindcraft theme. But would it have been any more fun…I doubt it.