Friday, June 26, 2009

Party envy

My Nightwatch col for today's Day and Night mag... Wish I'd brought some mint sauce for that lamb... yum.

By Susan Daly

Friday June 26 2009

Why have a disposable barbecue when you can roast an entire lamb over a homemade spit on the beach? That is not a question I often ask myself -- and that's why I am not the queen of parties. I could only stand, open-mouthed, as two newly hatched 30-year-olds of my acquaintance organised the best open-air party I have ever been to. On a beach. In Sligo. With frig-all money.

In those conditions, the best I could have procured would have been a ham sandwich -- more sand than ham -- and a lukewarm bottle of pear cider. (Now hush up, cider purists; how can something be wrong when it tastes so right?) My dynamic duo managed to source a lamb carcass from somewhere outside Strandhill, heft it onto a spit welded by an engineer friend and rig the whole medieval enterprise up in a natural amphitheatre carved out in some giant sand-dunes. Someone strung Chinese lanterns across a hastily assembled washing line; another brought garden torches to flicker brightly beside the sacrificial lamb. And apologies to vegetarians, but that was one damn tasty baby animal.

Acoustic music for what was quickly dubbed 30Fest -- I've never been to a party that is so rocking people want to give it an official name -- was provided by members of a band one of the girls play in. A French dude who happened to be wandering in the area dropped by to sound a mournful trumpet in the background. Just as festivities were beginning to die down at around 3am, a woman stood up and belted out a note-perfect jazzy rendition of Summertime. One of the more hunter-gatherer types came back from the beach with a new batch of driftwood to keep the bonfire burning.

As the sun rose, everyone sobered up enough to channel Bosco and pack up a bag of rubbish each until the dunes were left spotless. The spit was dismantled and the remains of the lamb spirited to the nearby house of a local surf champion, who made up a giant lamb curry in his kitchen at six in the morning. I went back to my tent to stare at the canvas ceiling and wonder: where did it all go so right?

It's a terrible affliction, to have the time of your life but still be dogged by the nagging feeling that I Could Never Have Organised That. My own 30th was the usual unholy trinity of pub-DJ-cocktail sausages. I had a great time -- but only after days spent worrying that nobody would turn up. I'm not a particularly angsty individual, but being responsible for other people having a good time makes the nerve ending in my left eyelid twitch like crazy. Fun is an ephemeral and fickle concept. One woman's tent-surf-roast lamb extravaganza could be the stiletto-loving woman's hell.

Layered on the party angst, of course, is party envy. How did those girls pull off something so simple, but so magical? The June bank holiday heatwave helped, I guess, but still: Why can't I be that original, that laidback, that ... cool! This is the point at which you need someone to step in and slap you with a wet towel for being childish. It shouldn't matter who has the bouncy castle at their party, as long as we all get a go.

I know I'm not alone with the party envy. Remember all the fuss over Millennium New Year's Eve; everyone scrutinising where you were going to spend it, how you were going to mark the moment; who was going to be there with you. People spent a fortune to hire yachts to sit on the cusp of a time zone so they could say they rang the Millennium in twice. I was in the back garden of a house in Terenure, trying to ignite a damp firework, wondering if my ex was having a better time somewhere else. My sister, if I remember rightly, rang at half-eleven to say she was tired and going to bed early. Sensible girl.

The trick, it seems, is to stop worrying. Do what you enjoy and like-minded people will follow. As I lay in that tent in Sligo, the rising sun spreading a comforting glow over my toes, I gave up the ghost of parties past. Parties don't run on good hosts alone -- they need gracious guests too. All invites gratefully accepted.

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