Party report

Tuesday, 12 July 2005 15:19
strange_complex: (Silver Jubilee knees-up)
[personal profile] strange_complex
So, what about this party we had on Sunday, then?

Well, one thing it certainly was was BIG. Since it was jointly in honour of myself and my mother, we had first agreed on a bunch of actual family and close family friends who knew us both and could be considered 'joint' guests, and then added a further 20 people each whom we invited individually. That meant we had a total of about 60 guests, which was more than manageable space-wise, given the size of my parents' house and garden, but certainly meant a lot of chopping, cooking, setting up tables and pouring people drinks. Luckily, my sister, her partner Nicolas, my auntie Theresa and my Mum's very dear friend Daphne had all arrived one or two days in advance, so we had hordes of eager helpers to get everything set up and running smoothly.

Mum and I of course move in somewhat different social circles: being from different generations and living in different cities will do that for you anyway, but the effect on the day was comically accentuated by the fact that most of my friends are, if not actually Goths, then at least vaguely Gothically-inclined. This meant that while about two-thirds of the guests (the joint invitees and Mum's 'recorder buddies') were in light and / or neutral summer colours, there was also a strong contingent of younger party-goers who were wearing predominantly black, and hence were more than usually anxious to flit from patch of shade to patch of shade as the searing-hot sun arced over the garden. What was really nice, though, was that while you might not normally considered middle-aged recorder-players and twenty/thirty-something Goths to be natural companions, everyone got along very amicably, and shared their enjoyment of the party - if perhaps with a little polite curiosity on either side.

Before the party began, I'd worried a little that I wouldn't have time to talk to all the people I wanted to catch up with. After all, every single one of the guests, including the ones who were technically 'Mum's' invitees, were people I knew well and wanted to spend time with, while of course most of them I hadn't seen for at least a few months, and often more, because of living in Belfast. In the end, though, I think I managed to spend at least some time talking to most of the guests, even if it might not always have been quite as long as they deserved. Since things kicked off at 12 noon, and the last people stayed until around 10pm, there was actually a good long period in which to circulate around and enjoy everyone's company.

Highlights of the day included a huge spread of wonderful food, amongst which special mention must go (as always) to my Mum's fruit salad and chocolate brandy cake, as well as a tomato and mozzarella salad, an aubergine, goat's cheese and tomato dish and some very nice ham. At about 2pm, the Recorder Gang unleashed their weapons, and we began a programme of instrumental and vocal music which was played in the lounge and floated out through the open windows to an appreciative audience spread across the shadier parts of the patio. I joined in with the recorder consort for a couple of instrumental pieces - the 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' and a 'Gavotte, Sarabande and Gigue' - and then listened appreciatively as Mum's enormously talented friend, Jean, showed off her beautiful soprano voice both solo and in duet with an alto named Noreen. Finally, we rounded off with a 'free-for-all' rendition of first the 'Hallelujah' chorus and then the 'Amen' from the Messiah. I belted out the tenor line with my Uncle Derek, while other parts were covered by a mixture of those who'd sung it before and had had some practice, and those who hadn't but just joined in the bits they knew for the sheer fun of it, such as my sister and also Jean's husband, Frank.

Meanwhile, outside, Nature was chipping in with her contribution. The sky was wide and blue, the birds chirping lazily, the many flowers glowing in the sunshine. In short, a perfect English summer's day: just tailor-made for sipping white wine and eating strawberries. Music-making over, I rejoined the various groups of guests scattered amongst the shadier spots, and enjoyed chattering the afternoon away in the beautiful setting of my parents' garden.

And what a garden! It's long seemed to me like some kind of Earthly Paradise. Perhaps I took it for granted as a child, but the older I've grown, the more I've come to appreciate its size, its tranquility and the sheer amount of work which goes into keeping it as well-tended and colourful as it is. It starts with a patio at the back of the house, then two flights of steps lead down a steeply sloping rockery to a long, broad lawn. Flowerbeds curve in and out on either side, trees reach into the centre from the hedges, and at the bottom is a vegetable garden full of fruit trees and blackcurrant bushes, with a final hawthorn hedge closing us off from the brook beyond. There's a unique soundscape which accompanies it too: the chirruping of pigeons, the soft murmur of traffic from the Bristol Road, the rustling of leaves, the trickling of the brook at the bottom of the garden, the far-off chiming of the University clock, the thwack of leather on willow and answering rounds of applause from the school sports ground across the brook, the distant roar of lawn-mowers from neighbouring gardens, and, from time to time, the cry of sirens as either fire engines or ambulances from the stations on the Bristol Road leap out of their dens and speed off to assist some needy citizen. A strange mix of natural and man-made sounds which merge and mingle with one another into the gentlest of melodies as you lie breathing in the smell of the grass and luxuriating in the warmth of the sun on your back.

A haven indeed, then, and this year it has become especially spectacular, as my Dad finally put into action a plan concocted some twenty years ago: the construction of a wooden trellis and pergola across the centre of the garden which breaks it into two halves, and which will eventually offer a rose-draped passageway leading from one into the other. Quite honestly, the party could have been in honour of the garden itself, and it would still have deserved all the cards and champagne which in fact poured in for us.

As the day wore on and the heat began to dissipate a little, we migrated towards the bottom of the garden, and fired up an evening barbecue for those friends who were staying on into the evening. Ostrich burgers and various kinds of sausages were eagerly devoured, while the cat emerged from the quiet little spots she'd spent most of the day in to make the most of being adored by the remaining guests. We lay on the grass gossiping and laughing, while the 'grown-ups' did the same around a nearby table, and waved away gnats and mosquitoes as the sun went down.

Gradually, people peeled off to say their goodbyes and head off on their way home, until only those people who were staying over with us and four of my (broadly) Oxford friends remained. Yawning and stretching, they decided it was about time to check what time the last train went... only to discover to their horror that it had left at 8:20, some one and a half hours earlier. Some frantic internet explorations determined that neither a coach nor a being-dropped-at-Milton-Keynes/Northampton-and-catching-a-train-from-there was going to solve the problem, and I was beginning to work out how they could be slotted in to an already generous houseful of guests, when Smooth Saint Neil announced that he could see his way to dropping the three people who needed to get back to Oxford back there on his really quite out of his way home to Cambridge. The man clearly deserves a medal, and he's certainly owed a few favours now!

At last, only myself, my parents, auntie Teresa and Daphne remained, and with the bulk of the serious tidying having been done by us and our last few guests, we relaxed with a final drink on the now-twilight patio. How thoughtful it was, then, for the people down at Cannon Hill Park to arrange the climax of their own evening of music and fireworks for that moment, so that we could round off our day with a fine view of a professional, and extremely impressive, fireworks display. Then, at last, to bed, to sleep it all off.

Before I finish up, I'd like to say how infinitely touched I am by the many people who travelled from far and wide to come on Sunday - especially given the security scare in Birmingham the night before, and the actual bombings in London only two days before that. I LOVED seeing you all, I've missed you lots, and I'm looking forward to the next time I get to see each and every one of you again. Seriously, parties like this would be nothing without the guests - so thank you all for making my day.

Finally, I've been collecting other people's accounts of the day, and these appear below. I'll add any further ones to this list if I spot them:
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