As promised the theme for my niece's birthday party was ``space'', or at least rockets. As usual my sister-in-law decorated her parents' backyard far, far more than I ever remember the backyard being decorated for any of our birthdays when we were growing up, including a major cardboard-cutout construction project. Last year's birthday --- with a ``princess'' theme --- saw refrigerator boxes turned into the walls and turrets of a castle; a friend's birthday got a pirate ship built. This year's birthday occasioned the building of a rocket out of cardboard, with a blocky but faintly recognizable space shuttle shape, silver-painted, with the cardboard tubes from the center of carpet rolls used as boosters. Add in a control panel inside consisting of a small cardboard desk, cordless telephone, and spare joystick and you're very well set to have it all fall over in the stiff breezes. The spaceship falling over would be one of the big motifs of the party, really, and considering last year was also pretty breezy it raised the question of whether next year's will be The Wizard of Oz or what. Glittered stars, rocket props, a plastic sheet showing an astronaut in space with the head cut out so you could poke your own face into it, ``astronaut ID badges'' for the actual kids, and cup fulls of Cookie Crisps (labelled ``moon rocks'') and Trix (labelled ``asteroids'') rounded out the decor.
My niece proclaimed a picture of a bug-eyed alien on a little circular disc on the end of a stick --- designed to fit just over the port holes in the spaceship --- was a mean alien, at least until I confronted it and asked whether it was actually that mean at all, and how was it doing anyway? My niece proclaimed that it was a nice alien, now at least, and that it was offering me an apple, which I accepted and ate. He then offered a corn, which I also ```ate'', and from that point she raced around with the picture, chasing the other actual kids there, and whapping them with the disc of the ``friendly'' alien until the disc came off and they just chased each other with the stick until a responsible grown-up caught them. I didn't hear it referred to as any but a nice alien the rest of the day, though, so I'll take credit for that advancement in interstellar relations.
It was probably inevitable that my niece should get some My Little Pony stuff this year, considering among other things that she's five, although I notice she was able to name only four of the six characters without looking at what the boxes said. (My sister gave her the complete set, in six packages, for maximum unwrapping time.) However, this friend of my brother's from way back gave one of those gifts of such simplicity and obvious rightness that I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it: a bunch of markers and crayons plus about 500 sheets of construction paper. That's enough to keep a five-year-old occupied for hours.
Before the wind blew it away we arranged to have everybody take their turn poking their head through the astronaut poster. As usual for this sort of thing, I was able to avoid the ``appears to be comatose'' facial expression only by opening my eyes wide enough to achieve the ``appears to be insane'' expression. This is why I belong taking photographs more than I do appearing in them.
Trivia: In the fourteenth century Oxford University imposed a fine on Bachelors and Masters of arts who did not follow Aristotle's philosophy, of five shillings for each point of divergence. Source: The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, The Royal Society, and The Birth of the Modern World, Edward Dolnick.
Currently Reading: Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear, Paul Fussell.