Hit & Run: Time to party like it's 1979

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The Independent Online

Oh no, not another one: it is the typical response of every parent I know each time their little treasure returns home from school clutching an invite to a birthday party. If it is not bad enough that the pink or blue missive signifies embarking on prolonged negotiations over whether it should be Mummy or Daddy who has the pleasure of whiling away a valuable weekend half-day at a "fun shed" on an industrial estate on a nearby ring road, it also means adding yet another kid to the seemingly endless list of future guests when it is your turn to pick up the poisoned chalice some time in the next 12 months.

It seems incredible to many of us who grew up in the 1970s that, though still barely able to read or write, children today can command a vast circle of friends (often bigger than their parents') and enjoy a giddy whirlwind of a social life that many of us have not had since student days.

And to make matters worse, it is not as if these parties come cheap. Just as the last bloated decade saw stag nights transmogrify into bacchanalian week-long excursions to far-flung capitals and hen nights become bank account-draining macrobiotic treatment-fests at overpriced Oxfordshire country house hotels, so too did the long economic boom years see the children's party become a monster that has outgrown its cage.

But rejoice – good news is at hand. Though admittedly they show no sign of decreasing in numbers (more is the pity), new research suggests children's parties might finally be becoming more affordable. According to catalogue retailer Argos, credit-crunched parents are now turning their backs on mass visits to expensive bowling alleys, cinemas, indoor ski centres or those hated soft-play areas, in favour of cheaper home celebrations to mark the passing of another milestone in the lives of this golden generation.

Though the return of the house party is obviously dubious news for the local churches which have enjoyed something of a boom time by renting out their draughty halls to parents looking for a capacious local venue, it does mean a return to traditional fare: jelly, ice cream and cakes. Supermarket chain Morrisons this week reported sales of cake mixes rising by 54 per cent compared with this time last year.

But before anyone is tempted to come over all Martha Stewart (check out her kids' party website for ideas if you really want to drive your friends mad with feelings of inadequacy), it might be useful to contact Birthdays Without Pressure. This group of Minnesota mums has set up a campaign to call a halt to the birthday party "arms race" after mounting evidence that things had got out of control. In some of the better-off suburbs it appears kids are already celebrating "half birthdays" to allow those unlucky enough to be born in winter an outdoor celebration. Then there was the family in Florida who hired a cougar for their seven-year-old's bash, or the parents who laid on helicopter rides or who demanded tots be conveyed by stretch limos.

The result could be a generation of kids a little less enamoured with the supersize, consumerist culture and a little more able to relate to their friends as individuals, it is hoped.

Now all that we've got to do is sort out Christmas. Jonathan Brown

How diamonds lost their sparkle

Good news, chaps – if you're planning to pop the question to Miss Right, your ring options are becoming increasingly wallet-friendly. Diamonds, it turns out, are so last year. Dwindling demand for "ice" has forced De Beers to mothball its Botswanan mines, which knock out a quarter of the world's diamonds. The only alternative, you can tell her, is to fork out just £18 for Marks & Spencer's new engagement and wedding ring set. OK, so they're platinum-plated tin alloy with a fake stone that wouldn't know a carat if it ate one, but they look the part (sort of). Who said romance was dead? Simon Usborne

Style is no grey area for Pixie

Grey hairs are the scourge of most dark-haired women over 25, so why has Pixie Geldof, just 18, unveiled an unkempt grey bird's nest for London Fashion Week? Part Worzel Gummidge, part goth, she has pulled off a look that makes other women tremble in their shower caps.

She accessorised the frazzled crop at the PPQ and Luella Bartley shows with smudged dark eye make-up and a pissed-off teenage pout, with dad Sir Bob and sister Peaches clapping from the front row.

Peaches, a few years Pixie's senior, must be ruing her baby sis's Midas touch as she packs for an imminent return to London from New York, with a failed marriage, writing career and university degree behind her. Projects: somewhere between nil and one, depending on whether you count her confused magazine launch, Disappear Here.

Pixie has no need to push her profile through her own mag when brands are scrambling to get their hands on her. Last summer, Tatler put her on the cover and called her the "coolest girl in town", which could have gone either way for a punky youngster aiming for edgy rather than aristo, but she has also made it into LOVE, the fashion tome which calls her an "icon of our generation", and is on the current cover of Italian Vogue. If you spot teams of identikit H&M and legging-clad teens sporting grey crops in the coming weeks, you'll know who their muse is. Sophie Morris



Now that's what I call a tall order

Whether you call it "vertical rushing", "tower running", or plain old "stair climbing", the principle is the same – legging it up the stairs of tall buildings as fast as you can. It's the exercise craze that the homelessness charity Shelter will be cashing in on next month when it invites members of the public to run up all 920 wheeze-inducing steps of Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest tower), the City of London's tallest building, at 183 metres, to raise money for poorly housed families.

Try running up any stairs (even two or three flights will do) and you'll see that it's not easy. It works your muscles in a much more intense way.

Since 1977, there has been an annual competition to run up the Empire State Building in New York. Australian Paul Crake is the record-holder, with a back-busting nine minutes 33 seconds for the 1,576 steps, achieved in 2003.

Vertical rushers have tackled Chicago's Sears Tower (2,109 steps) and Taipei 101 in Taiwan (2,046 steps).

Shelter is inviting teams and individuals to enter its challenge. But if scaling two floors in your office to reach your desk of a morning makes you faint, this might not be for you. (Go to http:// england.shelter.org.uk and click on What You Can Do and then Events And Challenges.) Rob Sharp

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