September is a busy month in the Evans’ household. Not only do we, like the rest of Britain, dive bomb Clarks to stock up on last-possible-moment school shoes, but we also celebrate two boy birthdays and an ‘incidental’ wedding anniversary – though the later is frequently subsumed amidst a frenzy of home-spun birthday parties, cake and presents.
With the benefit of hindsight, we should have spaced our ‘life events’ more strategically, spreading the planning and parties over the darker, more unexciting months of the year. However, as ever, twas not thus, and so September is a month of more-than-usual chaos. Christmas ‘spirit’ has a lot to answer for.
Binary Boy’s birthday is the first big event. This year middle son is 10. As always, the party planning begins way back when, at the beginning of August, if not substantially before.
‘I want a sports party this year, mum,’ he says, popping into the kitchen in his goalie padded pants.
‘A sports party?’ I reply, ‘That sounds like fun.’
‘Yeah… play some football, maybe rounders and then can we have sausages on sticks?’ Ahh, it’s that fascination with all-things-flame again.
I nod. ‘Sounds good. And what about if it’s wet?’
‘It won’t rain, mum,’ he states.
I stare at him. ‘But we live in North Devon…’ He’s already gone.
The heavens open as the guests arrive and it continues to bucket down for the next two and a half hours.
‘Come inside,’ I usher guest one, ‘you can play some pool, there’s Geomag… and Lego. We’ll stay in the house for the first half of the party and then maybe head outside later on. At least that way,’ I explain to his under-umbrella mum, ‘they’ll only be soaked through for some of the time!’ She mumbles her good luck and races to the car.
‘Inside’ last approximately 12 minutes. The 11 boys, hyped up by the prospect of a party and end-of- first-week-back exhaustion, are letting off steam. In my sitting room.
‘Right,’ I shriek, ‘everyone out!’
‘Yeayyyyy!’ they yelp as one. They put on their trainers, some sensibly don wellies, and race to the field where the football awaits.
Half an hour later. I stoop, dripping, under a too-small tarpaulin, dishing out incinerated sausages from a barbeque bucket. One by one the boys join me, in varying states of saturation, to grab a vaguely ‘hot’ dog and an ever-so-slightly-soggy corn on the cob.
‘This is the best food ever!’ enthuses one polite, presumably famished, lad. ‘Can I have another hot dog please, they are delicious!’ I eye the blackened meat with disbelief and hand him a bun.
Eventually Binary Boy bounds up for his fill of food. I look up from my bucket.
‘With ketchup or with… urgh!’ I stop, mid-service. ‘What on earth happened to you?’
He looks down at himself, grins. ‘What? Oh, you mean the mud? I err… fell in there!’ He gestures towards the duck pond on the other side of the field. ‘Well, technically,’ he clarifies, ‘I didn’t actually fall in. I was rescuing Tom who got stuck in the mud. Oh, and then Dick had to help, and Harry did too…’ Three swamp monsters suddenly materialise at his side.
‘It was awesome!’ they shout excitedly. ‘This is the best party ever!’
‘I’m not sure your parents will entirely agree when they see the state of your clothes…’ I mutter, before popping another sausage in a roll, with a dollop of ketchup and a slightly worried smile.
Tomorrow is Feisty Fellow’s birthday. And he’s asked for a ‘den party’ which must be ‘absolutely outside’, complete (of course) with sausages on sticks. So am I prepared this time, with a wet weather plan? Of course not.
For this time I know exactly what to do. The moment the rain comes (and it’s not looking good), I will incinerate the sausages on the barbeque bucket, dip the sweetcorn in water and instruct the boys to head for the pond. Where they will wallow like pigs in clover… and mud.