143. The party of the first part…

Fancy being a fly in the playground at whichever poor school is coping with InvoiceGate! Are there factions of parents aligning themselves with each side, I wonder? Will they have badges – the Party Poppers and the Party Poopers? Sports’ day is going to be interesting.

In case you’ve been out of the country and missed the story, just before Christmas five year old Alex Nash was invited a birthday party at a dry ski slope. His parents accepted the invitation but then they went to visit grandparents instead. A couple of weeks ago, his parents opened his book-bag to find a typed invoice for a £15.95 ‘No Show Fee’ and a threat of court action if they didn’t pay. There are reports all over our media – here’s the BBC one – together with pictures of Alex looking sad, Dad looking cross holding the invoice and the birthday boy looking pixelated (must have been a good party).

The parents concerned are now busy slagging off each other in the press: the Daily Telegraph even has details of their Facebook conversations, which I am itching to mark for grammar.

The person I feel sorry for – you’ll be amazed to hear – is the class-teacher, who has been hauled over the coals for putting the envelope into the child’s book bag. There but for the grace of God.

Many are the party invitations and subsequent Thank You notes that we’ve put into book bags. The alternative is parents giving these out in the playground which, unless done with extreme stealth and cunning, leads to tears among the uninvited and embarrassment all round.

We’ve also had to cope with parents sending in one small birthday cake which they want cut into thirty pieces and distributed among the class, loaves-and-fishes style. Or sending in birthday sweets to be given out but not quite enough for everyone in the class. Or sweets containing nuts or gelatine so that some children can’t have them.

I don’t recall my own primary teachers having to negotiate these obstacles, in between teaching us reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. But in those days, of course, birthday parties were different beasts altogether: home affairs involving dead lions, oranges and lemons, and games of pass-the-parcel which you could actually lose. Blooming hard work for the adults but at least no-one got sued.

There is something that still intrigues me about the whole InvoiceGate affair; something I probably won’t find out until it’s turned into a TV drama. (Olivia Coleman as the weeping mother of the birthday boy, do you think? Benedict Cumberbatch as the off-piste father? George Clooney as the ski instructor, who discovers that he has fewer children than shown on the booking form and floats off into outer space looking for them ?  David Tennant as the Human Rights lawyer charged with sorting out the whole sorry mess?).  Photos of the invoice in question clearly show it to be numbered 1432.  Does that mean that there are 1431 other children who also didn’t turn up? Must have been a heck of a party.


For the next three weeks, you can hear the BBC’s legal correspondent on P.M. explaining exactly how to word your party invitations so that they are lawyer proof.  Brilliant stuff, here.  The piece starts 39 minutes in.


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