Birthday parties get harder as you get older. When I turned 30, I hired a room in a pub, put up some balloons, and received a copy of Logan’s Run as a gift. It is a film in which, lest you forget, everyone is exterminated when they turn 30. It was fun. But I have no idea what I will do when I turn 40, mainly because I am in such profound denial that, when I was asked a security question about my age recently, I was literally incapable of forming the words and had to answer questions about my mother’s maiden name and our early pets instead.
No such trauma awaits Michelle Obama, however, who turns 50 next week and is having a big party. Which, to be fair, I might do if I lived in the White House, and there was someone to do all the drink-pouring and washing-up. But the catering bill will be smaller than you’d guess – because the invitation tells guests that they should eat before they turn up.
American newspapers have been quick to smell potential scandal, reminding everyone that the Obamas have form for dubious parties because of one where they had gatecrashers, while seemingly failing to notice that this is because the Obama parties sound like they might be fun.
I don’t know about the First Family’s guest-list (my own invitation having failed to arrive), but I doubt its members will be too appalled by the lack of food. I can’t quite bring myself to use the American term for such a gathering (Snacks & Sips & Dancing & Dessert, apparently – every one of those ampersands making me feel slightly queasier than the one before, and that’s before I’ve fully processed the word “sip” as a dysphemism for “drink”). But surely this is one of the best socialising ideas anyone has ever had.
There’s no stress for the host, trying to arrange a seating plan in which life-long enemies are kept apart at all costs, and no one has to sit next to that uncle. And no stress for the guests, wondering what time someone will feed them, and what kind of food it will be.
Many years ago, I gave up going to weddings because I hated never knowing at what random point in the day a meal would occur. Also, because I’m vegetarian, I always get put on the table of people with eating issues: the high point occurred at the last wedding I ever went to, when my neighbour explained that she was vegetarian but ate chicken and bacon, a definition which to my mind made her neither vegetarian nor sane. And she was holding a bread knife at the time.
If only Michelle Obama had been running things, I could have had some cheese on toast before I left the house, and I’d have been perfectly happy and not seated with a pig-munching loon. Other instructions the First Lady has offered her guests include the suggestion that they wear comfortable shoes and practise their dance moves. Again, I like the removal of any element of surprise. She could just have easily written: “Hate dancing? Think music is an annoying noise? Then don’t come. Thanks!”
And ordering people to wear comfy shoes is especially brilliant. I have spent years wearing floor-length dresses so you can’t see I am secretly wearing trainers underneath them, even at formal events.
But this came only after many years of trying to cram my giant flippers into girl-shoes, with consequent bleeding and misery. I have two toes on each foot which are entirely covered in scar tissue. If I committed crimes with my feet, they would leave no prints.
Every time I see a couple arguing in the street on their way home from a party, I always wonder if that row would still have occurred if everyone had been wearing trainers all night instead of agony-hooves. But perhaps it’s just me who finds her joie de vivre dented by blisters the size of the Hindenburg.
Either way, ignoring an instruction from the First Lady is just rude, so there is at least a chance that her party will be the first formal bash this millennium to have no one crying in the toilets and digging around in an unfamiliar and tiny handbag, looking hopelessly for plasters.