Party organised by: Emily and James
Date of party: May 2015
How do I love thee, Lemony Snicket? Let me count the ways.
As I go to press, Thomas is in the middle of book twelve of the Series of Unfortunate Events. If you’ve been under a rock for the past fifteen years, this is a fictional magnum opus detailing the exploits of three orphans, and their attempts to evade the machinations of a wicked distant relative who is trying to cheat them out of their inheritance. In each story the orphans are sent to a new place where the disguised Count Olaf adopts a new persona and dupes everyone within the immediate vicinity with the exception of the orphans, who try unsuccessfully to persuade the disbelieving adults that their lives are in danger. Olaf is inevitably uncovered, but usually too late to be recaptured, and it’s off to another location.
If you’re going to wade through this particular saga, I strongly suggest using both belt and braces to suspend your disbelief. It’s there in the title, of course, but the Baudelaires have more bad luck than most soap opera characters. Luck (or the distinctive lack thereof) is key here: there are thirteen books in the series, each book has thirteen chapters…oh, you get the idea. Key to the success of the books is the narrative style – Lemony Snicket (the in-character pseudonym of real author Daniel Handler) is a disgraced writer living in some sort of enigmatic confinement, lacing the books with a pervading sense of woe, and wearing his personal connection to the case like a badge in the later stories when the mystery starts to fully unravel (a word which, in this instance, does not refer to the disentanglement of thread or fabric but which is strictly metaphorical, and if you’ve read the books you’ll understand why that’s funny).
“I want a Lemony Snicket party,” Thomas said when we asked him. At which point Em and I nodded, and then went away to panic a bit.
“How are we supposed to do a party based around A Series of Unfortunate Events?” Emily asked. “The only thing I can think of is to have a party where everything goes wrong .”
“You mean we traumatise everyone so that they don’t come to any more of his parties?”
“Could be fun, though. Making them clean the house. Dreadful food.”
“Yeah, and a cake that looks like it’s been dropped on the floor.”
“How would we make a cake that looks like it’s been dropped on the floor?”
“I don’t know. We could always ask my mother.”
Our parties are usually done jointly, up to a point, but I’ll hold my hands up and admit that Emily did ninety per cent of the legwork for this one. I make no apology for this: she was in the zone, and I allowed her to take charge, tidying up and organising children where they needed to be organised. Besides, she’s the one who’s read the books.
We ordered heart-shaped balloons from Ebay, with the intention of drawing smiley faces on them as in the Hostile Hospital cover depicted above. They didn’t show up, which was a shame because it would have been a fantastic picture.
Emily took a while to decide what to do about the cake. The initial idea to do one that looked purposefully dreadful was abandoned. So too was the mooted coconut cream cake (a recurring motif, of sorts, in the books), because “so many kids don’t seem to like coconut”. Instead, this.
Em said her main problem was that “the letter icing kept cracking”, but she managed. Yellow icing is your friend for cakes like this, and the more yellow the better. If you’ve read the books the logo will be familiar; if not, it’s the letters of ‘V.F.D.’, which stands as the acronym for a number of things in the series, although its true meaning (which I’m not going to reveal here) is closely linked to the fate of the Baudelaires’ parents. As grouped in this logo, the combination of letters resembles an eye. This is not a coincidence.
Em used the same design for the party bags, and I’ve included the file in the supplementary material at the bottom of this entry.
We got the children home at about 3:20 and gave them drinks; as the weather was looking dodgy Em and I decided to change the usual order and go for all the outdoor games first, before it rained. We started with the Port and Starboard derivative that seems to be a staple of most of our gatherings, given that it’s a good way to wear out a group of excitable children.
The only problem was that this time I had decided to do a Lemony Snicket version without really thinking it through. Picture it: you have eight kids waiting for you to start a game and no idea how to make it Snicket-themed, because you haven’t read the books. You’re bluffing, the way you always do. So I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to improvise feverishly. Ergo:
Vile Village – run to the east, which happens to be the direction of the town centre
Hostile Hospital – run to the west, which happens to be the direction of the local community hospital
Austere Academy – run to the south, which happens to be the direction of the local primary school
Grim Grotto – run to the north, because I needed another one
Sweep the floors – because that’s what Count Olaf made them do
Bake the pasta – retrieve imaginary pasta bake from oven
Oh no! It’s a snake! – drop to the floor (never mind the wet grass) and slither about like a python
And then they all got bored. Memo to self: PLAN IT PROPERLY NEXT TIME.
Emily’s Corners game was next: run to random characters every time the music stops.
If the character you’re standing next to is the one drawn from the pile, you get a sweet. If it’s the Baudelaires, everyone gets a sweet. If it’s Count Olaf, no one gets a sweet. (I suggested that all the adults took one instead; this was pooh-poohed. Clearly I need a new family.)
The other game we do at these sorts of gatherings is a treasure hunt, and in this case we pasted coded letters all over the garden, thus:
When all the letters had been found, it revealed a coded phrase that plays a role in the books. (The font is Windings. I’m sure you could make your own if you wanted something more authentic.)
The rain had held off, but we were out of outdoor games, so it was off to the lounge to do the craft activity. And Count Olaf is a master of disguise, so masks were the obvious choice.
I should mention, by the way, that every activity was scored to The Tragic Treasury, which is an album recorded by The Gothic Archies (a side project for Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt). Available from all good music retailers, and probably a few that aren’t so good but that you use anyway because they’re cheap.
This is typical of the sort of stuff therein. I’m particularly impressed with the rhyming of “a romp this is / accomplices”, although I once managed to rhyme “got to me / lobotomy”, which, while not as good, surely deserves some sort of kudos.
Meanwhile, Emily was in the kitchen, setting up the buffet. I lingered over a couple of the bowls.
“So. which is which?”
“The ones on the left are those mini-eggs you don’t like. The chicken bites are on the right.”
“Yes,” I said, “but which did you get out first?”
[insert filthy look here]
The food was generic, although Emily did manage to enhance it with incredibly deadly vipers.
We got these from the pic-and-mix at Wilkinsons. (Other stores are available. Actually if you’re in America you may not have a choice.)
Josh was outside with a snake, feigning death.
“That’s fantastic,” I said. “Can I take a photo of it round your neck?”
He obliged, outside the
reptile room garage. “That’s great. Now look pained.”
“Oh, just smile.”
Resources (.docx; email me if you want a different format):