Published in September 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
It was coming up to my brother Xander’s 40th birthday and he said: “I don’t want you to do anything. I don’t like surprises and please don’t buy me any presents.”
“So the challenge is to have a birthday party that is not a birthday party.” I mused.
“You should have an unbirthday party,” said Adrien my boyfriend.
“What’s an unbirthday?”
Alice in Wonderland is Adrien’s favourite book. He explained to me, as pompously patiently as Humpty Dumpty explained it to Alice, that an unbirthday is much better than a birthday because you can celebrate it on 364 days instead of only one. This was Cheshire Cat, appearing-disappearing, ingenious. I would throw a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to celebrate everyone’s unbirthday, except, of course, Xander’s.
I wrote a little play for my nieces and nephew to act out, and ordered Humpty Dumpty, Alice and Dormouse costumes for them. I found a nylon play tunnel to make everyone go through to have a sense of falling down the rabbit hole. I devised a cocktail game with differently sized bottles, from a tiny 10ml medicine vial hung with a label that read POISON! (gin), to a magnum of Prosecco, DRINK ME FIRST!, for people to mix at their own peril. In front of the bottles there would be a row of eggs, from tiny speckled quail, to the giant egg of the ostrich. To give the queasy sense of growing bigger and growing smaller, the littlest dormouse Lily would be assigned the ostrich egg to crack and the tallest among us, 6ft 4in Xander, would be given the quail egg.
For tea I made strawberry jelly in a swirl shape and cucumber sandwiches with little green basil and yellow pepper gelatin insects perched on top. I made baby turtles out of bouillon moulded in a turtle ice cube mould and poured boiling water over them to make mock turtle soup. I made flamingo-shaped cookies and scones iced with clotted cream and jam. I made a pink and white striped cake bowl filled with jelly babies. I made two mini walnut bundt cakes and spelt out “EAT ME” in currants. I fried up a batch of chipolatas, because, well, it’s not a party without mini sausages. I made Adrien open three dozen oysters wearing a fake walrus moustache. I wanted everything to look like not quite what it was.