They Say it’s Your Birthday

In which our reluctant hero goes last-minute shopping.

Children’s birthday parties are peculiar events to plan. When the children are far too little to appreciate it, you hire a hall, invite loads of guests, spend an age making butties, getting stressed, and hoovering crisps and Play Doh out of every uncovered surface before you are allowed to go home. Or worse still, you may attempt the same scale bash at home in summer. It’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t rain. In July. What are the chances? Oh.

By the time that the little people get to nursery age, you’ve wised up and spend weeks, months possibly, planting the idea that having a couple of friends over, or a day out, would be far more fun. And, more importantly, both easier and (probably) cheaper. Keep the “easier” bit to yourself though.

On Tuesday, it was Birthday Eve at our house. Presents wrapped long ago and hidden. Then found. And hidden again. Sherry, mince pies and a carrot ready to he placed neatly on the hearth for Father Birthday when he pops down the chimney. It’s nice being organised. Ish. Apparently, there’s still a card and balloons for me to buy on my way home though.

I arrive back into Wolverhampton from Leeds with about twenty minutes to go before the shops shut (to give myself plenty of time, obviously) and head for a well known high street card outlet. No, not that one. The other one.

Balloons and a princess card with a badge with a number four on it. What could be easier? Within minutes, I realised that I was about to fail at the first hurdle, there being no cards remotely suited to my or, more importantly, my daughter’s needs. I left the shop and headed for the other one. You know, the one that you thought that I had gone to first.

It being November 1st, entering the second card shop was like entering Santa’s grotto. Snow was falling. There were elves, reindeer, and even Christmas carols blaring out. The clock was ticking. I needed to get out of here quickly. So, I asked someone for help.

“Hello. Can you tell me if you sell balloons with pictures of princesses on please?”
“Yes. At the back of the shop.”

I headed off and eventually spotted the sadly-far-too-familiar image of Anna (No daddy. It’s ‘Anna’, not ‘Anna!’) and Elspeth, or whatever the other one is called, splashed across hundreds of tinfoil packets of deflated “up” balloons. I located another assistant.

“Excuse me. Could you tell me how much this balloon is please? There’s no price on it.”
“The Deluxe ones are £4.99.”
“But this one isn’t a Deluxe one.”
“Yes it is.”
“It isn’t.”
“Oh, yes it is.”
“Oh, no it isn’t. It says ‘Standard’ on it. Look.”
“The standard ones are £2.99.”
“Thank you. And do you sell normal blow up balloons with princesses on too?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t. Maybe try the other shop that you probably went to first because it’s cheaper, you skinflint.”


Up balloon. Tick. Now for the card. There’s a pretty shoddy selection here too, but I find one with a scene from Cinderella and a number four badge attached. It’s even got a pumpkin on too. Result! I go to pay.

“Hello. Just these please.”
“Do you want the balloon blowing up?”
“No, I think we’ve got a helium canister at home in the shed to do it, thanks.”
“Yes, I would like it blown up please.”
“That’s fine. What colour string would you like?”
“Eh? I don’t know. What colours do you have?”
“Well, there’s red, or white, or yellow, or green, or black, or purple, or…”
“Can I just have one that matches the balloon please?”
“Yes. We normally use pink for this balloon.”
“Do you? Pink will be fine, thank you.”
“Would you like a weight for the string?”
“Does it come with one?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“And how much does a weight cost?”
“It’s 99p.”
“I’ll have one then please.”
“That’s fine. What colour would you like?”
“Eh? I don’t know. What colours do you have?”
“Well, there’s red, or white, or yellow, or green, or black, or purple, or…”
“Can I just have one that matches the balloon please?”
“Yes. We normally use pink for this balloon.”
“Do you? Pink will be fine, thank you.”
“How long would you like the string?”
“How long? Ceiling height, head height, desk height, short length, long length, somewhere in between?”
“Somewhere in between… I think. It’s for a four year old. Did you notice the card?”
“Yes. I can tie it and leave some extra string around the weight if you like so that you can adjust it when you get home?”
“Is that how you normally do it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“That would be splendid.”
“Would you like it in a bag?”
“Does it come with one?”
“No, it doesn’t…”

Just buy a birthday card and some balloons on your way home, they said. It will be fun, they said. It turns out that card shops are no place for blokes. Who knew?

Eventually, I escaped and headed back to shop one to purchase normal balloons with a number four on. I was fairly confident that they would be obtained by handing over a pound and grunting. Just like the staff do.

Mission almost accomplished – I just needed to sneak it all back in the house undetected – I headed for the bus.

Ping! What’s that? Oh, a message on my phone.

“Things I need that I forgot at Sainsburys;
Orange sweets (something that could look like carrots – look into Halloween leftovers) – to put in my melted Olaf pudding.
Double cream to make ice cream.
White paper/plastic cups.”



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