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A risk’kay surprise

Organising a surprise party for your husband is got to be harder than being an undercover agent in a drug ring. Infact, the CIA should seriously consider adopting surprise party planning into their training prospectus. How does anyone manage to do anything in secret these days?

For a start we have we have 5 devices in our house that can be can be used for reading messages. There is Gmail, Facebook and text messages that just seem to pop up on any one of these things at any time. Even drafting this blog post I am thinking of a good place to file it. Trying to find a time to design invites, order party props has also been a challenge. He really must think I do a lot of shopping on asos or Facebook-ing when I have to quickly flick sites or cover up my Photoshop file.

Then just when I thought I had covered all my tracks, I’m at work, a week before the party and at 9.41am I receive a email from my husband who’s at home working saying ‘you forgot your phone, can you call back Danielle about the sparklers’ Since did online orders result in a phone call!!?? Apparently she was just checking if the person receiving them was over 16. Slightly ironic considering they are being used for a 40th birthday party.

I console myself that I am doing a good thing. A few months before the big event. I asked my darling husband what he wanted to do for the big four oh. He said ‘how about curry takeaway and a rented movie?’ Now considering this happens once a week anyway, I didn’t think this was an appropriate solution to mark a milestone. So I did what good wifes do. I told him that is ridiculous, he told me he wasn’t really looking forward to turning 40, I told him that is ridiculous, he told me, under no circumstances did he want a party and I told him, ok honey I understand, forget the curry, I will take you to a fancy restaurant instead. He was happy and I was happy as I went to sleep that night wondering which pubs in the area had private rooms to hire and where his old baby photos were.

So a save-the-date email goes out. I get lots of offers of help. A great one from Gerred, an amazing creative who does high-end light installations and offers to do an interactive magic wall with Sam’s baby photos. Man, this was a lucky break, Sam loves stuff like this (once he gets over the photos of his mum breastfeeding him swimming around). See Gerred’s previous work (The Magic Wall), its all very inspiring!

I also find this cool iPad photo booth idea on Design Sponge.

A venue gets chosen, who knew that the American rock bar down the road had its own hidden speakeasy room you can hire (its only on their website!). I check it out and find its the perfect size for the amount of people we have.

I get thinking about the type of cake I would have, it has to be good and it has to be slightly wacky. I decide on recreating my husbands head on a plate. Theres is no hidden metaphor for this idea, only that a birthday a few years ago I tried a round flat cake with his ‘face’ on it and it was the most embarrassing thing I have ever presented in front of so many people. I had even used tic tacs for teeth, will spare you the photos…

This cake, well, this cake will be AMAZING, EPIC even! It will be a tribute to the most beautiful, kind, smily, 40 year old head I have ever known, a head that who deserves nothing more than being my finest creation. [OK I write this before the creating it, photos and how to posted here. Only judge me on my good intentions…]

Its the day of the party. I take Sam shopping to buy him a new shirt for his fancy dinner out that night (wink, wink). Cheeky thing milks the situation, heads to the most expensive store and proceeds to buy not 1 shirt but 2 and a pair of jeans that frankly, look like all the other expensive jeans he owns. He’s got a happy shopping glow though. After having some noodles, then coffee and cake at our favourite place we head home. I need to pop out child free to set up the party room. Just heading out! I say. Where you going anyway? Um. Well. I told you ages ago, I have a hair appointment!. Eek, knowing full well my hair will be in the same ponytail when I get back. Mental note if he notices that I will say, they bloody well double booked me, so I went and had a coffee down the road with Daisy instead. Turns out he doesn’t notice. When we finally both leave the house that evening (after successfully filling his stomach with a pie) I tell him on the way there that Suzie (a good friend who he has known for 15 years) thinks it disgusting I haven’t organised a party for you and her and Steve want to meet us for a quick drink before we head out for dinner. We get to the bar and head downstairs. Its quite obviously a private room so as we walk downstairs I tell him its a new speakeasy bar that not many people know about yet.

The night is a success! 40 friends were there to celebrate and Sam is overjoyed (or perhaps happily intoxicated) at the effort everyone has made to be there. We finish up at 2am and leave with fun 40th birthday memories that hopefully last longer than a night at home with a movie and takeout curry would of.

Top tips for in-house Surprise party planning.

  1. Make your partner/flatmate believe that you understand why they don’t want to celebrate and that although you think its ridiculous, you will respect their decision.
  2. Make sure you log out of Facebook, Gmail and don’t have text messages show up on screen as they come through.
  3. Save the date invite emails should have a non-suspicious header.
  4. Carry your phone with you at all times.
  5. Enlist friends to help (if only to incriminate them if it doesn’t go well or if it does – make the surprise-ee realise what great friends they have!) The later is preferable.
  6. If you have told them you are taking them out for a fancy dinner and really it is a ‘drinks’ party with not much more food than a head shape cake, then you will need to find a way of filling their stomachs before hand. For males I would assume its easier. Tell them the booking isn’t till late and it has fancy small plates, so you better eat this pie for now. (I know Sam wouldn’t blink) For females…? hmmm, tough as I would be saving up my appetite for minimum 3 courses and rather not be bloated in my evening wear. Maybe you could put a kebab in your pocket to present to her later? Any better suggestions?
  7. Give your babysitter instructions before they come over (ie. Saying “we are just down the road if you need us” does not say *fancy special restaurant* to anyone unless maybe you live in Manhattan.
  8. Make the cake elsewhere at a friends place, other creative input is invaluable and can often save you! A huge thank you to Susie who had great input to the head and spent 3 hours decorating it with me.
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These are not my old fat clothes. Nor have they gone out of Fashion. Honest.

So after an exciting first recycle day at my good friend Suzies house, I think I had learnt the many ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ of a successful party and decided to host the next one myself. With 4 months between parties and the comments from the last party like “Am sure I have more stuff in my wardrobe I could get rid of” and “I had more but just couldn’t carry it all on the tube”… Well, I have to say, I still wasn’t confident I had the makings of a prosperous day for all – I needed fresh meat. So I spread the word at work, full of bright young things who have a new outfit on every day. My god, the excitement on some their faces, well, I knew I was onto a good thing.

With a few last minute concerns from some of the girls, ‘Oh all the other girls are tiny, I won’t fit anything’ or ‘People won’t want my stuff, its old’. Any seasoned swapper will know by now that people not only bring things that are too big or too small for them, but there is jewellery, books, learn Spanish CDs, make up, hairdryers, shoes, the list goes on. There really is something for everyone. Trust me.

So its the morning of the party, a sunny but a too-dam-windy-to-sit-in-the-god-dam-garden Sunday and I have slightly slept in a bit and am slightly hungover from the night before. I set to work doing some last minute cleaning and realise I have all the ingredients to make a rather large pimms punch but not much in the way of food so I rush out to the shops and then spend the next hour at home chopping up stuff in a slight panic. A ring at the door, ahhhh, breath of fresh air, its Ali, she helps me chop (and she has shoes for me!!). Then the next lovely friend comes and another and another until I have 15 squished around the table drinking pimms. Anna is the last one to arrive, slightly late, slightly my fault being that I forgot to tell her I moved north and she didn’t find out until she went to plug my postcode into her sat nav. Shes certainly worth the wait. Anna, always beautifully dressed and fully admits she has a shopping addiction. We move upstairs, where we have sorted out things into piles and I’m watching Anna hang up a blue silk dress with the label still on. People clock on and suddenly its all eyes on her. “Its my party and surely I get first choice, no?” Did I say that? No, of course not. With halved dressed woman running around the house shrieking, lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, ‘you look so pretttttyyyyy’ and a bit of honesty too, ‘no wrong colour’, near arguments when someone would misplace their pile and see someone else wearing their cashmere jumper they had gratefully picked out earlier. Or the top they turned up in and having to explain that they never meant to give it away…. Thanks Liv, Suze, yes I am quite sure you noticed me wearing it earlier.

We were close to winding down when the door bell goes. Amy! We thought she wasn’t coming…. fresh meat, she hands over the goods, ‘Free shopping!!’ she calls out and quickly gets into the swing of things and actually manages to bag the blue silk dress.

Alot of Cinderella moments on this day and we all agree it suited her best…. With a pile of picked over clothes, (that Daisy is coming back for with the car to take to her friends charity shop) the last of the girls drift off with their bags of new found treasure. I really think the day has been a success. Not only saving a few of us from maxing out the credit card, but there were alot of happy other halves who were elated at the thought of getting a bit more space in the wardrobe and never seeing that very un-sexy 1001 Dalmatians fluffy bathrobe ever again.

Rules and tips for your own successful Recycle Day.

  1. Certain reasons why one is giving away a garment are best not to be voiced at any time over Recycle day. Noone wants to hear that these are your old fat clothes.
  2. Be tactful. Never yell out “OMG, who would actually wear this!?” because chances are there is someone in that room who did wear it… with pride… for many years.
  3. If you don’t think you will wear/use it, let someone else have it.
  4. Piles are good. Sorting out dresses, accessories etc makes it easier to pan through.
  5. Be mindful of what you think your guests want that day, if its a saturday night, maybe lots of cocktails is better than lots of food… Sunday arvo, perhaps put a little more effort into the food and ease off the booze. You know your friends.
  6. Your friends won’t like it if you declare that you should get first choice because you are the host. No they won’t, nope.
  7. Don’t throw the discarded clothes out with the rubbish, continue the recycling theme and find a clothing bin or charity shop you could give them to.
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Memoirs of a Ninja.

This guy is creative. Hes wacky. Hes adventurous. Hes an innovator of immersive games for adults. His name is Gwyn Morfey, creator of Fire hazard.

I stumbled across Fire hazard on the London Time Out website. It was a wintery Saturday in November. My busy week had involved a lot of drinking and I was looking for something to do that was fun but well, call me a sado, didn’t necessarily involve a night on the booze. God, was this possible? I guess it was worth a look.

Film, film, play, nightclub, film, play nightclub, gay bingo (another night perhaps?), film, play, comedy, film, ninja mission, film. Wait a minute, what, Ninja mission? This was my calling.

I rung Liv. I am lucky to have her as a friend. Mainly because when the chips are down and you want to do something a little outside of the box, feel like going a little crazy and no-one else is feeling your vibe… she will do it. Actually she is usually the one who suggests it…

We were given a time and place. Garden gate pub in Hampstead at 8pm. Wear black and be prepared to get dirty.

A little unsure of what to expect, we arrive in our ninja attire, black wellies, ton of layers and wooly hat with pom pom. Check. Headed straight to the bar, (don’t judge me, its a pub) and order what every serious ninja should put in their bellies before setting off on their missions… warm apple cider, yum.

We found our fellow ninjas outside in the beer garden. To be honest I was wondering what sort of people would do this sort of thing. And I have to say its a mixed bag. The age range (just guessing, hard to see in the dark), was 18 to 35, a pretty much even mix of girls and guys and seemed to be people, like us, looking for something a little different.

There we meet Gywn, Head ninja, with his team of helpful ninja assistants (or guards as it laters pans out). Gywn is very enthusiastic, which helps us all get into part. He gives us our mission, marches us up to the Heath, points out our safe zones and soon we are on our way to rolling around in the dark… silently and nimbly.

Basically the first game involves ninjas trying to get to a certain point without getting spotted by the guards. By this time its raining….. heavily.

Liv and I break free from the other ninjas and go our own way. We play it safe and take an extremely long journey crawling through mud, trees, bushes, under logs. We climb a hill, ‘Wow’ I say. ‘Look at that beautiful view of London!l!’ ‘Shut the f*ck up’ I hear, bringing me back to my mission. We roll down the other side of the hill in case a guard spots our silhouettes. Through one more set of bushes, our safe area is 5 meters away. Then we hear a loud horn… dam it, game over. So close.

The next game I’m in my element. Liv and I volunteer to be guards, we have to stop running ninjas throwing their glow stick into the safe area, if we tagged them, we get to take their glow sticks from them. Whatever team has the most glowsticks wins the game.

‘“STOP!!!’ I yell and tag one poor girl who is not running at all, wandering aimlessly, soaking wet in her wool coat. I do feel sorry for her. She looks cold and I’m guessing she was dragged here by her friends who didn’t really prepare her for what she was in for. I carry on and tag a few more. “STOP!!” I yell again.. Opps its wool coat girl, I continue to unknowingly stop her 5 more times (its dark ok), ‘me again’ she says more tiresomely each time, getting the feeling she over me yelling at her.

The horn goes, and the guards meet up. Each guard pulls out 2 or 3 sticks. I empty my pockets, 15 glow sticks later I feel I elated that I have done so well for my team…. yes I count them….loudly…. proudly… very un-cooly….

We wander back to the pub. Soaked to the bone, deciding not to stay for a drink, we head back to my place. Bursting in, excitedly relaying every detail of our mission to my husband. He looks at us like we are a little crazy in our in dripping wet clothes, silvering away. Ok, so some people may find it a little immature, but I thought it rocked!

Fire hazard doesn’t just do Ninjas outside in the rain. They break into warehouses, they attack zombies, they do treasure hunts for grown ups, they do lazer mazes and defuse ticking bombs. Fun stuff we only got to do as kids and I get the feeling there is one big kid out there who really enjoys his work! http://fire-hazard.net/