I've been jolted out of my blogging ennui by an article in The Guardian this morning, about the parents of a five year old who were sent an invoice by the parents of another child, for missing the latter's birthday party. The family were charged15.95 for failing to show up at a party at the Plymouth Ski Slope and Snowboard Centre.
I'm appalled, amused and fascinated by this story in equal measures, not least because people not replying to invitations, or replying and then failing to show, is a subject close to my heart. In the US I experienced this a few times as the host of a party. (I also experienced people turning up with other siblings at the sort of party where they do a headcount and you pay per child, and letting them join in. Which is arguably even more infuriating.)
The lack of manners always infuriated me -- in fact, I once telephoned round all the parents who hadn't replied, only to realise I had myself committed something of a cultural faux pas by organising a birthday party on Mother's Day. Which, I now know, is a completely no-go date in the States. But still.
Another time, a mother replied to our invitation at midnight the night before our party - to say yes, her child could come. But in the morning, sent another email saying he couldn't. We wondered if she'd been drunk when she sent it the first time, then in the cold light of day couldn't face the party....
Nevertheless, to send an invoice? It seems a bit much. Yes, sixteen quid is a lot of money, but how about finding out first if there was a good reason that the child hadn't showed. (Looks like there wasn't by the way. Some rather nebulous story about not knowing how to contact the parents and cancel).
But there's something else going on here. It's the fact that we feel pressurized to throw this kind of expensive party for a five year old. It's no longer good enough to hold it in your house, play a few games of pass the parcel and eat some sandwiches and birthday cake.(Another anecdote - we once did have this kind of party, and heard via the parents how much the kids all loved it. To them it was a novelty). We feel forced into shelling out for party venues, who in turn see us as a captive market and rachet up their prices.
I bet a bunch of five year olds on a ski slope was a total nightmare, by the way. No wonder the poor mother was furious.