Birthdays from Hell

Birthdays from hell. I remember you all so well. There's something going on with birthdays – they've morphed over the last 30 odd years. They used to be about a table full of brightly coloured jellies in oranges and lollies of absolutely no nutritional value and then a run round the back yard with your mates followed by a piece of over-coloured homemade cake in a tissue before being booted off home. Some stress may have been generated tossing the hundreds and thousands over the buttered bread - it was hard to tell – everything looked so easy in a kaftan with a bottle of Marque Vue under one arm.

These days throwing a birthday for a kid requires a meth addiction to deal with the full time job and the late night cooking and house decorating and then signing up at the local escort agency for a few weeks just to pay for the goody bags. Seriously. Put your hand up if you were the one who invented goody bags. Congratulations. And now I'm afraid we're going to have to kill you. I know you've increased sales in gift shops globally by at least eleventy trillion dollars but - what were you thinking?!

In certain suburbs in Auckland there is serious competition over the goody bags and anxious Mums have cashed in education funds to pay for them and then taken up smoking to deal with their guilt. I wish I were kidding. This week alone I received an emergency email from one such Mum who was locked in a bathroom smoking while friends of her daughter prowled the perimeters for goody bags and compared caterers. The surprise birthday she'd lovingly spent hours and cash on had almost to be called off when the birthday girl discovered her evil plan and tearfully begged her to call it off – which she luckily ignored as the birthday was eventually enjoyed by everyone. Except my friend. No one seemed to notice as she desperately scrawled emergency escape plans on loo paper and flew paper planes out the window with the words 'Help Me' to the seagulls outside. Her week of birthday hell had started when she'd lovingly baked a birthday cake for a student and walked into the classroom with candles ablaze and in joyous song -only to discover the girl was a Jehovah's Witness. Yup. I'm all with the Jehovah's on this one. All birthdays should be banned as ungodly affairs. They can only lead to spontaneous outbreaks of joy and lifts in self esteem and happiness in the best scenarios and can be mega stress bombs when it all goes bad. And they're right. Bad things happen around birthdays in the bible. Herod and Pharaoh celebrate birthdays – that didn't go so well for John the Baptist and the chief baker got hung at the other one. Maybe he made a fruit cake? Who knows? It should be pointed out that those guys were probably fairly evil on a daily basis rather than saving it all up just for their birthdays and I haven't seen much evidence of birthday cake leading to an outbreak of hangings or beheadings at many of the kids' birthday parties I've attended but it's only a matter of time.

My child is still traumatised from my efforts at cross cultural birthdayness when I decided that she couldn't be a Latina child without a piƱata and that it was only right that I should make it after a few vinos the night before her party. It was supposed to be a fairy princess. The mad Latin described it as a 'very troubled transvestite' and the girl called it the 'Scary Fairy' which was not promising. The image of children subsequently bashing her to death and all her internal organs (in this case $2 shop toys and lollies) spilling to the ground, is still burned in my memory and resulted in a paramedic rescue attempt by the birthday girl and tears all round. Yup. When the JW's come calling I'm so signing up. I think I know someone who'll come with me. As soon as I can dig her out of her bunker.

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Wizard's Wizardry Answer to Quake Struck Canterbury

I love the fact that I live in a country that has an official wizard. The wizard of New Zealand (nee Christchurch) chose Christchurch as his new home and potential gallery for himself as a living work of art in the early '70's. He came as a prophet to bring good news of levity and logical silliness to the conservative uptight little hamlet tyrannized at that time by what he claimed was an abomination of evil (otherwise known as the Christchurch City Council.)

Last week amongst the most dire news of collapsed stairwells and pancaked skyscrapers and sour faced bank economists announcing falling stocks in hushed tones – the wizard burst onto the radio prescribing at least half an hour of silliness each for all the survivors of the quake and insisted how important it was to 'commit random acts of fun' at such an awful time. He recommended, in all sobriety that the population come out in full force to decorate porta loos with tinsel and engender unity by the wearing of silly clothes. It made about as much sense as liquefaction and chemical toilets had done and had the added benefit of being the only thing on the radio that morning that had made me laugh.

The wizard is undoubtedly one of our most treasured pieces of artistic heritage. He is so outrageously annoying to anyone in authority (his claims to inhabit other realms during the census is one of my particular favourites) and his assertions that he will ascend into heaven rather than just die like everyone else is directed for the sole purpose of baiting anyone in organised Christianity. Yet he pokes the proverbial stick so equitably and not infrequently at himself that his anti-establishmentarianism (if there is such a word) is nothing short of endearing. There is no violence and a serious amount of fun in everything he does.

If anyone should be consulted about the reconstruction of Christchurch the last person on the list should be Gerry Brownlee (an abomination to the art form of public speaking), the first, should be the Wizard who made Christchurch his chosen abode partly because of its aesthetic value. His war against telecom in the late eighties using the foot soldiers of lunacy that he had helped form (Alf's Imperial Army) to repaint the 'poofy blue' of telecom's new corporate telephone booths to the regal red that the citizenry were accustomed to was an inspired piece of street theatre and political activism. The ensuing street battle which he described as 'historical restoration by direct action' and the C.C.C. insisted was vandalism, was so farcical it could have been scripted by the Monty Python crew. Councillors waded in and offered free red paint and ordered Telecom to stop harassing the wizard or they would charge rent for the telecom booths, others threatened to take him to court. The citizens of Christchurch rejoiced in the restoration of their bright red telecom booths.

Surely this should qualify the wizard to be the chief cultural advisor to the council in terms of a restorative plan for the battered city. In his hands it is unlikely that Christchurch would suffer from the conformity and breath-defying blandness that other cities have endured at the hands of council directed architects. He could even be appointed as an emergency artistic dictator - it's not like he hasn't been one before. Early on in his career he spent two and a half weeks as a self appointed (is there any other kind?) dictator where he still managed to abdicate all responsibility and powers to a temporary female tyrantess with a very revolutionary cleavage, invent his own personal enemy to keep the populace paranoid and obedient, tax the peasants and then when everyone else was selling those appallingly uniform tee-shirts of Che Guevara he raised funds by selling his not very popular 'Dictator' tees. Which could explain why his campaign could never extend to amassing weapons of mass destruction. If nothing else at least he wouldn't be boring and he'd give the citizens of Canterbury a laugh. God knows they're going to need it.

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