Phew, we survived.
The son’s third birthday party was neither a terrible failure nor a resounding success, but it’s done. All the things I worried about – was there enough fruit, did everyone like pizza – were irrelevant, as none of the children ate anything.
Only a couple of the scones and blueberry muffins I made this morning for the parents were eaten, but as mine and hubbie’s parents all turned up as the party was finishing they all went to a good home. (My Devonian Step-dad pointed out we’d bought double cream instead of clotted cream by mistake, but we were forgiven.)
The person who suffered most today was my daughter who, despite our best efforts to include her by giving her a gift of her own, letting her invite a friend to the party, and her even winning pin the tail on the shark (by virtue of being one of only three who would take part) she spent the day feeling left out.
I suspect by left out she meant not receiving enough gifts, despite our son’s pressies mostly being books, clothes or other practical things like a lunch box, duvet cover and wellies. When she had her last birthday we wrapped up half the playroom for our son and he still spent the day in tears. We hoped a four year old would care less than a two year old but we were wrong.
My mum had the right idea: she had two girls with birthdays only a week apart. Joint parties, joint birthdays, problem solved. Ah well, life isn’t about what’s easy. And at least I have another three months until Christmas and four months until I have to paint another ‘pin the tail’ poster. Do they still pin tails at five? Maybe we could take them all ice skating instead!
I get to go to someone else’s kid’s party tomorrow and let them do the worrying. Bliss.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“Aren’t you going on the Speights tour? You’re on the bus, right?”
Claire looked up at the woman who had spoken and recognised her as the person who had checked her in earlier, although she hadn’t noticed then that she spoke with an English accent. Now it felt like a raft in a choppy sea.
“No, I’m not really a beer person. Besides, I’ve had my fill of touristy things.”
“You went on the wildlife tour today, though? That’s a tourist attraction.” She smiled and Claire swallowed her defensive response.
“I suppose so. But it’s real. Oh, I can’t really explain it, but at least the animals are native to this country and in their natural habitat. Not like Puzzling World or the luge or any of the dozen other ways I’ve been convinced to spend my money this trip.”
The woman leant against the wall and dried her hands on the tea towel she was holding. Claire realised she must have been washing up in the small hostel kitchen, and wondered if she’d left any pots out unwashed. She hadn’t really thought about the people that ran the hostels before.
“I think some of those things are the real New Zealand too, you know.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Kiwis love doing anything that makes the pulse race. Jumping in the sea in the middle of winter, or throwing themselves off bridges. They’re a hardy bunch and they like to prove it.”
Claire thought about her words, and her tone of voice: she sounded like an indulgent parent talking about the antics of her adorable but naughty children. “You live here now, then? Or are you travelling through?”
The girl smiled, and her face softened. “I live here now. I married a Kiwi last year. We met on the bus, though, so I’ve seen both sides of the country.”
Claire opened her mouth to ask if her husband was a driver, remembering the lewd phrase Mitch had taught her, and that she’d thrown at Neal. Something of her thoughts must have shown in her expression, because the woman laughed.
“Yes, I was a DAF. Don’t judge me for that! I did several circuits with him, before getting a job in Nelson and seeing him only when he travelled through. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Or as sordid. He works here now: he took you on your tour today.”
Claire thought back to the man who had shown her the sea lions and penguins that afternoon. She couldn’t imagine him with this gentle woman.
I guess it takes all sorts.
After a moment of silence, the girl pushed herself away from the wall. “So, what are you doing this evening? There are some great bars in Dunedin, if you head down to the Octagon. You’re welcome to come with us, we’re going out for a glass or two after work.”
Claire raised her eyebrows, and considered the offer. “Wouldn’t I be intruding?”
“No, of course not. Half the people who come with us are Europeans, working in the town or passing through. You’ll be fine. Come and see the real New Zealand if you like.”
Claire looked around at the gathered group of people in the small, dark bar. The woman from reception, whose name was Sally, was chatting to a group of girls of various ages and nationalities. Laughter echoed from the group, although Claire could tell at least two of the group didn’t speak good English.
In some ways it was no different to her nights with the rest of the tour group, although the average age was much higher and the amount of alcohol consumed significantly less.
Cupping her hands around the small glass of beer that had been poured from the jug in the middle of the table, Claire was content to sit and let the conversation wash over her. Even though she didn’t know anyone present, there was a real sense of camaraderie that Claire hadn’t felt for some time, if ever. For the first time in weeks she could understand why people chose to emigrate half way round the world to live in this place.