Birthday cakes are banned at my school. It is part of the Healthy Schools initiative. You know the drill: chips (fries) can be served only once a fortnight, salad bar in every dining hall positioned under a poster of Jamie Oliver, thumbs up and lisping,
I say salad bar in the broadest sense. Really it is whatever vegetable the kids didn’t eat the day before reconstituted with a dressing made of….uh….I really don’t know. It is white but it isn’t mayonnaise. Mayonnaise tastes of something. The dressing on the vegetable salad tastes of… blankness.
In fact, dear readers, allow me to make today’s blog interactive and sensory. Please take a moment to stop reading. Close your eyes and stick out your tongue and lick the air in front of you. I’ll wait here.
You have just had the school Vegetable Salad Experience (VSE for short).
Some days we have chocolate cake for afters. I see the children excitedly looking down the serving rail past the usual option of an orange or a tub of runny yoghurt. Praying under their breath that there is still chocolate cake by the time they reach the serving point, they will stare unblinkingly as a great wedge is plopped on the compartmentalised prison-like tray. I like to follow them and watch as they take their first bite of the great chocolate lump. Their faces contorted as they spit it back into the prison tray. School lunch chocolate cakes cannot contain sugar.
I have always wanted to invite Jamie Oliver to view our school salad bar after the first lunchtime sitting. The five and six year olds eat first. By the time the second sitting begins, the salad bar has become a receptacle for the savoury chocolate cake that the little ones thought looked so divine but in reality was a disappointment. They know the dinner ladies are stationed near the bin to check each child has at least tried all the healthy options on their prison tray. By hiding the offending cake in the vegetable salad in the salad bar, even the smallest child knows their secret will lie undisturbed until lunchtime recess is safely over.
But I digress.
Today’s blog is focussed on birthdays at school.
There are two types of school birthdays for children. The first is the off-site party: the one where the parents have pushed the boat out. Inevitably it will have a Princess theme. Always a princess theme. Little Susie will prance around the playground handing out invitations one at a time, teasing her fellow pupils who wonder whether or not they are invited. ‘Oi, Little Susie, It should be Schadenfreude theme’. Little Susie and the cackling clique that have gathered around her, invitations safely in hand, begin to identify the poor souls who have not (and will not) receive an invite.
This is many children’s first experience of having power over another human being. Not to be invited to one’s 6th birthday party is the ultimate snub. Witness a very upset 6 year old girl crying an insult to another through tears, snot and string of spittle and it will include the threat, “I am….sob… not inviting you…sob… to my birthday party. And we are all…sob… dressing like…sob… princesses.”
Personally, I blame MTV. One can see the same scenario played out on My Sweet 16. Except one hundred times worse and exponentially more bitter.
The villain in the second type of school birthdays is the crafty mother. I assume the idea comes to them about a fortnight before their off-spring’s big day. I imagine Little Johnny has been nagging mother for the past month that he wants a birthday party with all his friends. Mother looks at her new cream-coloured DFS sofa (pay nothing for three years) and thinks; “Sod this, I will take a cake into school. Let the teacher sort it out.” She purchases a sheet cake from Asda (now with EXTRA E NUMBERS!!!) and sends it in with the instruction to cut it into 147 pieces. Job done and mother can do more important things like playing online bingo instead of hosting the party herself.
But we’ve banned birthday cakes. It is in case Jamie Oliver ever pops in. The government want him to be pleased if he does. I am sure inside the man’s head he thinks; ‘In thime kiths will like the tathste of a carrot more than a Thnickers bar.’
Now for staff birthdays. These are very different animals. But they also have their common cultural rules.
For some reason, at some point in time in the distant past, someone decided it would be tradition for a staff birthday to be observed by the ‘celebratee’ bringing in cakes for all their colleagues. They are laid out in the staffroom with an accompanying Post-It note reading:
It’s my birthday! Enjoy! XXX”
Yet it is always unsigned so everyone who enters has to discuss whose birthday it is.
Pass the same person in the corridor and wish him/her the best for their special day and they coyly cover their mouths and say, “Oh, I didn’t want anyone to know.” I think to myself ‘Then why did you spend £75 on gourmet cupcakes?’
But I will eat one of their gourmet cupcakes. It would be churlish not to. I am cynical not a cretin, after all.
My birthday was last month and luckily it fell on a weekend so no need for me to be chastised by others for not following the ritual of bringing in cakes for all. If I had, surely my staff would have just whinged. “This chocolate cake tastes like it has no sugar in it,” they would observe and with a puzzled expression pull a small morsel from their mouths, “And what is this in it? Vegetable salad?”
Keep the Faith,