Back in the ’80s, which was my party-throwing heyday (the teenage ones I threw in the 90s are another blog post entirely, and I wouldn’t want my mother to have to read about them as the winter nights draw in and she needs something cheery to read), I had one main concern, focusing as I did on quantity over quality: that I could persuade my parents to stretch it to a three-hour stint – I’d even settle for 2 1/2 hours. There was no debate about where the party would be held – it would be in our living room, of course – with a possibility of a Pizza Hut party once I reached double digits and my guests were controllable in public. The same party food was trotted out year after year to an appreciative audience: sausage rolls, cheese and pineapple on sticks stuck into half an orange, wagon wheel crisps, jelly and ice cream. There would also be an optimistic bowl of something healthy like grapes or tomatoes that languished at one end of the table, passed over by the guests in disgust. Sandwiches were the mainstay: I forget what the fillings were but egg definitely featured (see ‘Mind The Gap’ for homemade bread trauma) and I remember the egg sandwiches at other people’s parties very clearly because I would not go near them with a barge pole. Eggs from other people’s houses repulsed me. Freud would probably have an ovum-related field day with that one.
These days, a party in one’s own home seems to be rare, and the cake has an inflated sense of its own importance – much more so than it did for me in my primary school days. There had to be one of course, and I remember one year requesting each guest’s name to be iced in green on the top, but it wasn’t the piece de resistance it has since turned into. I’m not alone in constructing elaborate sponge sculptures – I’ve seen some brilliant 3D dragons, zebras and other mammals, and I have been personally responsible for a dinosaur, a castle and a digger. My worry is that I’m building myself up for major failure at some point; my sons seem to think I can turn anything into a cake and at this rate they’ll be requesting scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower complete with moving lifts by the time they’re 10.
Next year will be an exercise in lowering expectations. Luckily Bigger has decided he likes cakes without icing and he’s also suddenly very interested in what I did when I was his age, so I’ll combine the two to provide him with a retro version of a birthday cake. It will be called a Victoria Sponge.