It is a little while ago, but here are pictures from my big sister's 50th birthday party. In truth I was not looking forward to it - 2 days away from renovation, sleeping in a different bed and 2 days away from the cats when we were already going to be spending loads of time away from them. As it turned out, the party was great.
We drove to Liverpool in a rented car, heading over the Snake Pass in Derbyshire, one of the most beautiful places in Europe and for motorcyclists, one of the most dangerous. The Snake Pass runs between Sheffield and Manchester and is a very ancient route, winding between craggy moors, past a large reservoir and is a joy to ride, as I once did on the Crosstowner's predecessor, a rusty cast iron contraption with three gears, two working. It always amazes me that tourist advertisements for the UK always show the worst parts - London, Blackpool, the Smelly White Cliffs of Dover, Liverpool, the Royal Family, Manchester, David Beckham, the New Forest and the vastly oversubscribed parts of the Lake District(although admittedly the more remote parts of the Lake District are stunning). In my humble opinion, there are parts of England never publicized that are much better - the Trough of Bowland, Northumbria, the Welsh Borders, Shropshire and the aforementioned Snake Pass.
After Snake Pass, a quick cup of tea with a legal Eagle and Great Margaret in Glossop, then we arrived in Liverpool mid-afternoon. And it was seeing Margaret that reminded me of another reason I was not looking forward to the party. She showed us photographs of the latest expedition launched by the Large's to a camp site in Wales that they have attended every year,apparently for decades. Every year the party consists of cousins, brothers, babies, sometimes friends, mothers, daughters, and of course dogs. It is a multi-generational, multi-ethnic at times, extended family holiday in tents, and despite the fact that they appear to be wet and cold with a frequency that has made the Red Haired Boffin eschew the experience on a regular basis(if it was in cabins she's be there like a shot), the tradition continues.
The result of this is that cousins are comfortable with cousins (one of RHB's best friends is her cousin Sue, in future to be referred to here as WW), and events like weddings, birthday parties and the like, do not just become exercises in asking other attendees "Who are you?". The fact is that I know RHB's cousins much better than I know my own as a result of this family dynamic. I tell Red as we drive away from Glossop, that I want to go to the Large gathering next year, and she says "Have fun". But in truth, I would be welcome to go without her, and not just greeted as my partner's partner.
When we arrive at Helen's house, a marquee has been erected, photos of H. throughout her life have been posted up and with the arrival of the children the party starts to swing. Pretty soon, Nel and I get bored talking, especially about Canada (I'm fighting off urges to go to the nearest travel agent and book a one way ticket at this point), and we start playing with the little people. Firstly, I organise that each child - Thomas, AllyPally, Ollie, Megan, Siobhan, Alice, Matthew, Shaun and a few others - be allowed a camera. Then the kids are given instructions to go round and photograph every person at the party. In recent discussions with a photographer friend, he mentioned that people react to kids completely differently than they do to adult photographers. The smiles seem more genuine, there's no posing, apart from silly poses. Most of the photos here were taken by Matthew.
Photoshoot over we get into a good old game of hide and seek. As an adult, there is a tendency to try and make sure games are played 'properly', so that when playing hide and seek, a full count of twenty is issued by the seeker, clearly articulated while the hiders hide very quietly in their respective hiding places. In reality, especially with very little kids, it is a little bit more like this:
"OK Ollie. You and me are 'it'. Lets count to twenty and then go find them, ok?"
"Ok. ONE, two, four, nine, six......er....."
We are interrupted by Megan who informs us that she is definitely NOT hiding in the wardrobe so there's no point looking there.
"OK, thanks Megan. Now where were we Ollie?"
Ollie screams "COMING READY OR NOT"and tears off.
Upstairs, where Helen's husband banned us from playing, everyone hiding very loudly. As soon as Ollie finds his first cousin (literally), everyone erupts into screams and laughter and we all run back down to the garden to begin the game again.
At the end of the party, Shaun has had a brilliant time and wants to know why he has to wait so long between gatherings to play with his cousins. I tell his dad to make sure he e-mails me the photos from the party taken by all the kids. I want to make a kind of collage of all their work - it would be a great documentary project.
"You guys should all get together again soon" I say, but I have no influence here, and rightly so. I have'nt been in touch with most of these people for twenty years or more, and had to be introduced to most of them. It looks to me as if this particular family is, in its own way, happy with the way things are.