Bushman, and I have been romantically involved now for over six years. Until we had children there was little cause for our relatives to meet. Now of course, the annual event of my son’s birthday party has thrown up a regular date for a slightly awkward, if good-spirited, clash of cultures.
Seeing as we live in a tiny, two bedroom flat in Hackney, there is no way that we could hold any kind of event here – not even cat-swinging or tiddlywinks. So, my parents with a rather larger abode, have agreed to host my son’s birthday party for the last two years.
My mother likes plans. The only thing she does spontaneously is break into song or tears – sometimes simultaneously. When she is planning any kind of event she likes lists of people, lists of food, lists of drink, lists of things she has got and lists of things she hasn't got. She likes to know exactly what she is doing, at what time and with whom. Hell, she even had a crisp system at her summer barbecue this year which involved numbered bag of crisps and plates so that the flavours wouldn’t get mixed up. It’s fair to say she borders on anal, but only because she wants to make sure that things go smoothly and everybody enjoys themselves. Bushman’s family on the other hand are very relaxed. About everything. Both approaches to life have their pros and cons.
In the run up to our son’s second birthday I had a number of discussions with Bushman making two main points abundantly clear.
1) No last minute decisions about food. My mother needs an accurate list of food. The food that is on the list is the food that we serve. No turning up with a hundred fried fish and a coconut at the last minute.
2) Try to give an accurate number of people who will be attending. My mother will be panicking about making sure there is enough food and drink. (She once famously made 100 yorkshire puddings one Christmas, for a family dinner of approximately 10 people.) We plan for this by having a 'maybe' attending list.
I attempted to mediate between the two parties explaining to my mother that she shouldn’t expect RSVP cards from the laid back Jamaicans and that she would need to ‘go with the flow’ a little. I also relentlessly bashed Bushman over the head with the idea of a more organised approach. After all, if it all goes wrong Bushman and my mother will just smile at each other whilst I’ll be the one taking the shit.
The party kicks off at 3.30 and soon descends into a chaos of sorts. My mother is frantically trying to serve up food which must all be at the correct temperature. Just as things seemed to have reached a plateau of chaos Bushman comes up to me with a sheepish look on his face.
“Me need fi talk to yuh” he says nervously gesturing towards the toilet.
For those of you that need the translation, this means he needs to talk to me in the toilet.
“In the toilet?” I ask in disbelief. This had never happened before. That we should need such privacy can only mean excruciatingly bad news. I follow him in.
He proceeds to tell me that his cousin is coming with his wife, mother and three children and he’s bringing his brother along too. Some of these attendees were on the 'maybe' list and some of them were distinctly never on the list. I take a deep breath and say in my calmest, but most serious ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ tone
“You can go out there and tell my mother.”
His eyes are begging me for mercy but I do not give an inch. After all, this party was the culmination of months of UN style diplomacy and THE RULES had been made abundantly clear to both sides. I repeat my command with the utmost clarity.
He knows there is no use in arguing with me and slopes off to find my mother, most probably with his heart in his mouth. I watch him deliver the news and a look of panic spreads across my mother’s face before she pulls herself together with an enormous fake smile and the show goes on.
It’s not long before the doorbell rings. I send Bushman to answer it and in come his cousin and his wife and the mother and the children and then…….
……they just keep coming, more and more and more of them. People I’ve never seen before in my life and their children and their girlfriends and their children from a previous relationship. Several huge 'blended' and overlapping families. It’s an entire truckload of Anglo-Jamaicans. The cherry on the cake is one of Bushman’s cousins, a notorious party girl still, at 47, who shouts “Awright ladies!!!!” as she enters and waves a bottle of brandy above her head in a ‘let’s get this party started’ kind of way. I am utterly crushed. My mind cannot even begin to imagine the conversations she will be having with my conservative aunt, known affectionately to the family as 'Margot' after the character in the 'The Good Life'.
“Jesus Christ. It’s like the fucking United Colours of Benetton in here.” says my friend, Mr. Sponge, quietly in the corner. It’s true. Every shade on the mixed race spectrum, from Espresso to Latte, is suddenly represented in my living room.
“ You owe me so much cunnilingus you don’t even want to think about it!” I spit at Bushman quietly when I am next in proximity to him before being thrown into a whirl of coat-taking, drink-pouring (including pouring drinks down my neck to numb the pain) and dishwasher filling, which is how I stayed for the rest of the night. My children had to fend for themselves while myself and my family ran round after our invaders.
Bushman looked as stressed as I was and it soon became clear that his cousin was the culprit, having taken it upon himself to invite his entire branch of the family to the event. Although the place was awash with excitable children, nothing seemed to get broken and as my mother pointed out, all the children were polite with their pleases and thank-yous when asking for drinks. Nobody let the f-word slip. All smoking took place outside and butts were neatly placed in an ashtray. There was even a couple of shots left in the brandy bottle after they had departed. The families mingled. My mother and notorious middle-aged party girl even seemed to share a couple of dirty jokes together. Considering the train crash that had taken place, no-one was fatally injured.
On the Monday morning after the party I arranged for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to my mother and started looking for somewhere else to host my daughter's first birthday party next September.
"I'm never doing that again!" I shouted at Bushman "and I don't care how much it costs! Now where's my fucking cunnilingus!!"