Before I get into what I will loosely refer to as the “meat“, I’d like to start with a small disclaimer. There is a slight risk that this post could, to the untrained eye, make me look like a grumpy, ungrateful, tight-fisted, old curmudgeon. If you start to think that as you read, you’ve got the wrong man. That’s my Dad you’re thinking about. I can say that in the sure knowledge that he won’t read this. The internet to him is for:

  1. Getting me to put bets on for him.
  2. Getting me to put the lottery on for him.
  3. Telling him his bet lost.
  4. Telling him he didn’t win the lottery.
  5. Settling arguments in pubs. Of which, more here.

And, even if it does come to pass that he finds out, he’ll be happy for the mention and take the joke well. Maybe. Probably not. But anyway, there is probably a rule about not starting with a long, rambling digression but hey, rules? Really? Is that what it has come to?

Above all, understand this, this is a satire. No, really.

My reader will doubtless be aware that I grew up under the tough, austere regime in the East German Brutalist landscape that was 1970’s Wester Hailes. Aside for the fact that it was actually brilliant and, relatively speaking, I was very well provided for by the aforementioned parent, it was still a very different life from the one my kids have now. Mince was a meal, not an ingredient. Everything was brown, everyone reeked of cigarettes and birthday parties were jelly, ice cream and two balloons topped and tailed by musical chairs and pass the parcel in the dinette. Ah yes, dinette, those of you who know will know. My earliest birthday memory was legging it out the house at the age of (probably) 4 when everyone sang Happy Birthday. I was a feeble, snivelling little thing in those days. >insert your own pithy reply here<. I ran out the house to the ‘balcony’. No, not the Florentine image you have in your head. The drying ‘green’ between the two flats on our floor. It was neither a balcony nor green and was mainly used for storing bikes, bricks, mattresses, keeping pigeons and, very occasionally, drying clothes.

As the years have worn on and I’ve become a parent and meandered my way from council estate to a “bought house” with a “main door” the children’s birthday party has changed a lot. Fuelled by a mini arms race, what is required of a party has escalated from a simple fun time to the need to hire Billy Smart’s Circus and all in between. Obviously, we grudge our children nothing (and, likely, teach them even less about the value of anything ) but we join in the game and everyone is happy.

So, let’s look at some basic economics. I call it economics, it’s really only arithmetic with money.

To keep the numbers simple, I’m going to say that there is a core group of 15 friends in any primary school class that have a loose reciprocal arrangement for birthday party invites. Reciprocity is, obviously, very important. First, the good news, when you host said party, your child is guaranteed 14 presents ( on top of the copious pile of plastic you have already given them that they attempt to sleep under ). All you have to do in return is to turn up at 14 other parties and provide a reciprocal lump of random, quick to be lost, plastic.

Everyone buys 14 presents. The presents cost, let’s say, £15 (probably rising ahead of RPI). The total presents budget for that group of 15 parents is…

Cost per child = 14 x £15 = £210

Total across 15 families = £3150

An amazing £3K of plastic crap is accumulated by a single group of friends in 1 primary school class in 1 year. But that’s not all. Each parent has to provide a party and, if they have any pride at all, it has to be quite something. Luckily, there is any number of providers set up to do this now, whether it be soft play, painting random lumps of clay, bowling etc etc it’s very easy to organise a party and let someone else do it all for you. This, I have to admit, is a good thing. My knees simply won’t countenance pass the parcel but, of course, this comes at a cost. I’m going to give a rough estimate of £10 per head and maybe another £50 thrown in for party bags (what? eh?) and associated sundries. So, £200 a party, another 15 times in the year – that’s another £3k.

I’m going to make this number big:


That’s the annual yearly budget associated with the oppressive regime that is children’s parties. You could get a decent car for that. Or…

Here’s a suggestion. Imagine if, at the start of the year, the set of 15 parents got together and committed their £410 each to the combined fund and collectively bought an amazing experience for all their kids to enjoy. Hell, I bet Edinburgh Zoo would let them ride the pandas for £6K. Every year, all the kids could have  truly memorable day out, their rooms wouldn’t be filled with pointless mounds of soon discarded plastic and it would all be cost neutral.

Communist Party

Communist Party image courtesy of purpleslog on Flickr

You can take it further, combine forces of multiple classes, multiple schools and before long  you’ve got enough money for Panda nuggets and chips for lunch. Ten classes in 1 school of kids 8 or younger and you’re playing with £60K and inviting the Red Arrows to fly past ( I have no idea how much the Red Arrows cost, this is potentially exaggeration for effect ). And amazingly, the parents themselves can still buy their children presents on their birthday at no extra cost. They buy whatever they were gonna buy on the day itself and, every single year, their child gets an amazing day out ( or multiple days, spend the money how you want , form a committee, you could maybe use Yahoo Groups to organise it, they were cool once ).

It’s a brilliant idea, isn’t it? ISN’T IT?

No, it isn’t. Why? Because it would never work. For, somewhat surprisingly, for the same reasons Communism doesn’t. Let me try to explain.

You know those people that always insist on working out their precise share of the bill at a restaurant. Yeah, them. They’ll bust it.

My Johnny doesn’t like the Red Arrows, so I don’t see what I should contribute.“.

So, you offer them the Panda ride.

Now you’re just being silly. I’m a member of Greenpeace and simply will not allow my child to take part in such a charade.

Ok, how about we put on the best magic show ever?

I object to the treatment of rabbits.

These are, obviously, stupid examples – but I still think my Red Arrows idea is carbon-neutral when you balance it with fewer plastic toys in circulation. But the simple fact is that self-interests will always get in the way of common good. And just as Communism creates it’s own social elite driven by the dark recesses of human nature, my plans to make the world a better place for our children would simply fall apart before it started. At the first meeting of the parents I would stand at the side watching the battle rage around me, a tear would form in my eye and, like that 4 year old running away from his cake, I’d whimper “Why can’t we all just get along?“. See, I’m not a curmudgeon at all, I’m fully intent on creating a sparkling funscape for our children. But the self-interested Putins will wreck it all with what they and little Johnny think is important above the consensus of the collective good. I should point out that the parents I know are all lovely and may well humour me in this regard but, as a generalisation, you can see why it could struggle.

I would love someone to try this though, just once. And send me the picture of the Red Arrows over their school. And let me know what panda tastes like. If any of the parent’s of my kids’ friends read this, are you up for it? It’ll be awesome!

As I said, a satire, relax now.