“Here’s to the nights we don’t remember and the friends we won’t forget.” The Hangover
I have no idea where the idea for this post came from, but it certainly had something to do with a party like this one, because this is where I started - with the end of world war two.
I think I have said before that I remember a photo of a street party very like this one - indeed it could even be the one I remember as the street looks very familiar. Probably not though. The significance of this party, and this photograph, which has long disappeared, is not only that it is significant for what it is celebrating - the end of a very destructive war - but also because I see it as my very first memory. I would only have been two years old. That photograph may never have existed but the memory of the photograph and the party itself are so vivid and real in my head, even if one or both are entirely imaginary.
The viewpoint of the remembered photograph was different - it would have been back behind the end of the table on the lower left-hand side. And I don't remember all the children sitting down and the adults standing up. Which seemed to be the norm - all the photos I saw on the net were the same - children sitting down, parents standing behind. In my head everyone - well almost everyone is sitting down, and I, being a small two-year old was standing with my head level with the table. My Yorkshire cousin and aunt were there as well. My mother would also have been there of course, and my baby sister, but I do not remember them - well they were always there. My aunt and cousin were not and so were remembered. My father may have been there, but he may also have been away at sea somewhere.
Anyway it got me to thinking of the significance of other parties in my life. Were some of them more significant than others? I came to the conclusion that there have been one or two particular parties with a special significance, groups of parties which illustrate a whole way of being at different times of my life and probably a whole host of others which are long, long, forgotten - with some being forgotten as soon as they are over.
Children's birthday parties then and now. I have no particular memories of my own childhood parties, though I do remember being told to eat and drink everything that was offered, and that if a full plate was offered to choose from then I should take the nearest item. I was therefore always a bit nervous of doing the wrong thing, and I hated having to drink tea which was often given to us. Yes, to children too. I hated tea then, and still do really. Which is a bit ironic because one of my favourite perfumes is Thé vert. We played games like blind man's buff and pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs and pass the parcel. Do they still play these? I vaguely remember playing the donkey one at one of my sons' parties - quite unsuccessfully as it was far too competitive for my competitive little boys. Below are a couple of those parties from way back when.
I also remember when catering for my children's parties, feeling very diffident about the cake. Other mothers seemed to make such impressive cakes - I remember one particular one being in the shape of a pirate cake, and I suspect the competitive nature of all of that has only got worse. But it doesn't really matter does it? It's the candles that count.
Today my granddaughters have taken to making the cakes - well when the parties are at home. Or in the park - in lockdown we had a party for me in the local park. And very grand the cakes are - below are two examples - including the one in the park.
These are the family parties though - I don't know what happens at the parties they have with their friends. Such joyful events - or they should be and ones with just family most likely are, but when it comes to the birthday parties with friends there are so many traps, possible disasters and opportunities for great sadness. Did you get invited in the first place? As a teenager I was never invited - for I lived a long way from the school, and although I had friends they were not close forever friends as many seem to have.
Still on birthday parties I remember some significant ones. David's 40th was a large curry party at home in Donvale, although he obviously had a small celebration at home as well as the photo below shows. The curry party was probably on a different day. And look - I do believe that's a bottle of the Laira wine on the table. Now what a coincidence that is. Like wow.
Both of our birthdays are in June, so in more recent years we have often been in France and celebrated there - no party. In 2021 he turned 80 but we were in lockdown and so the celebration was delayed - but another beautiful cake from the granddaughters and a book from his favourite people in the world - the grandchildren made it special. A happy, happy occasion with an 'at last' feel about it. We seem to need to mark these milestones, or is it just an excuse to party?
Because, when we were young we loved to party. At university we partied often - every birthday was an excuse to party. Barrels of beer were purchased from the union bar, and some competent guy would set them up. You needed to know what you were doing. In the meantime the girls would prepare food - sticking things like cheese and cocktail onions on cocktail sticks, or putting stuff on biscuits. Packets of crisps and maybe nuts although I don't remember them. Someone organised the music, because of course there was dancing, and romantic encounters.
At one of these parties I first met David. It was the end of our first year there and led to a brief week long flirtation. So it went nowhere as it were. Except that I remember a first hug - I felt as if I was home. So warm, so right. For a moment I felt as if I belonged somewhere. And so a party of significance even if the encounter did lead nowhere - then - like that street party at the end of the war, which perhaps marked the beginning of conscious, maybe imagined, memory.
Life stretched out, we married, we attended lots of parties. In London they were with friends in tiny apartments where we all packed in, danced and talked for hours - often in the kitchen. Later, in Australia we gathered with our new-found Australian friends and fellow ex-pats, in peoples houses and gardens. Some were semi-work affairs but mostly they were informal - with children running around and the sun shining as we sat in the shade, chatted and drank wine. But nothing truly significant.
There is one more party of significance I think. It perhaps marked the high point of my working life. It was a work party at the home of the boss. At the time I was managing an outsourcing cataloguing service for a consortium of the Victorian universities. My staff were multicultural - many of them relatively recent arrivals in Australia. Everybody brought a food offering, and so you can imagine what an amazing spread there was. It was a hugely successful evening in terms of professional bonding, and perhaps one of the high points for me was that David was impressed. It also heralded in a few years of difficulties of various kinds both at home and at work and it possibly led to my decision to retire a year or so later. A high before a series of lows.
Long gone and no picture, but it did highlight to me how some of the most signifcant moments of our life, do indeed occur at parties, and that parties in general have marked the different phases of our lives - sometimes happily, sometimes not. Maybe it's because we invest a lot into them - not financially - but emotionally. I remember many parties - David work based mostly - where I felt I did not belong - I did not understand the computer jargon jokes, I did not understand computers either back then, and sometimes I had to be on my best behaviour as an executive wife, and not say the wrong thing. But mostly I remember all those other joyous parties. Christmas parties as a child - I didn't mention them - birthday parties; exciting, and sometimes romantic parties of my pre-married years; the life marking parties of our youth, middle age and old age; and now the parties of our grandchildren - soon to be adults too.
This year is one of those significant years for me - 80! How did I get here. Will there be a party? I don't know yet. But I am determined that there will be more parties of the should be everyday kind this year. We have been reclusive too long.
"Life is the best party I've ever been invited to." Arlene Francis
"Life's a party. Invite yourself." Gary Johnson
As I was browsing my photo library for pictures to illustrate this post, I came across this picture of our old VW. I did not even remember that I had one. And there I am on the other side of the road. I seem to be picking something. What? And where are we? Why did David take this very ordinary picture at a time when film was so precious? I shall never know.