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How to Plan a Surprise Party

By James Anthony

In the movies, surprise parties are always easy to manage and give the recipient one hell of a shock when everyone leaps out to yell "surprise!"

Of course it's a cinch for people - sticking to a script - to not let the cat out of the bag, but how about normal people not reading what they are about to say?

Let me tell you it isn't easy, but it is do-able.

Of course it helps if you are tough-minded and quick thinking, but even then slip-ups come very close to the tip of the tongue and, if you let it out, then weeks of planning will be for nought.

And it does involve careful manouevring and step-by-step preparation to avoid arousing suspicions.

This chap began six weeks before the event - my wife's 29th (her 11th in a row) - as hitting the dreaded number was a birthday worth making an occasion. A Sunday afternoon party was decided upon - there being quite a number of rugrats among the families invited.

Firstly it was thinking about who would be invited. Old friends not seen for a long time, local friends from school or mothers' group or the netball team, well-liked neighbours.

All were secretly approached five weeks before the day with a verbal "I want to give her a surprise party. Do not tell anyone." That lets people know it is coming and more info will follow. It also gives you an idea of numbers. (Using a hint of menace in the voice also helps get across the idea that if they spill the beans they are in deep trouble.)

Next came the issue of what to do for entertainment. You can go with a good selection of CD music - preferrably a nice touch of Baroque and a string quartet feel - or, go the whole hog and hire a group to play for you.

While this adds to the expense, the effect and style of having live music will boost the event one hundred fold. I settled on a quartet and approached the local TAFE College who suggested the most excellent Hot Airs and Strings - and they proved to be fantastic.

A reminder. Do not forget to mention the upcoming birthday to your partner - if you don't that may be a bit suspect. I did the old "let's go to dinner, where would you like to go?" and set the date for two days after the planned party. Seemed to work.

You also need an accomplice who can get the birthday person out of the house for about three hours on the day. I left 2.5 hours, which wasn't quite enough.

So with the guest list pretty much organised and the entertainment in hand, it then came down to how to tidy up the outside of the house (being winter it was in a bit of chaos) early enough for it to be not suspicious and yet in time for it to still look good.

It just came down to good old-fashioned fibbing and moaning about "I am sick to death of this place looking like it is used as a toy library for feral children."

The lawns and gardens needed a mid-winter tidy-up, but unfortunately a pulled back muscle threatened to scupper the whole project. More quick thinking needed and lo-and-behold, the birthday gal actually ended up doing the lawns. Beaut.

If you've planned it right, the last week can be a breeze, only interrupted by a bit of last-minute panic.

You need to have settled your guest list and that let's you know how many to cater for.

I was going to do a heap of cooking on the day, but in the end shelved that and instead pre-ordered 10 barbequed chickens cut into pieces. Sausages were on hand just in case everything was eaten quickly, but with a few garden salads and baguettes, not to mention little extras - brought by people who asked if they could do anything - it proved too much.

There's another thing, don't over cater but have plenty of cookable things around just in case. Also accept anything others offer to do for you, it does make life easier.

A day or so out from the party get your party provisions - chippies, plates, glasses, napkins, softdrinks - organised. If you haven't got a good place to hide them (my study cupboard was perfect) then ask an invited neighbour to store them for you.

For drinks, again don't go overboard. For 40-something people I got in a dozen champers and a dozen bottles of white wine and a couple of dozen beers. There were plenty of good reds in the wine rack if people were desperate (or too finickity about not drinking a fine chardonnay) but they weren't needed.

Another thing to remember is that people usually won't drink too much at an afternoon party. They like to be merry, but not legless.

So the morning of the party arrived, a bit of sectional (and careful) tidying up had been completed the previous day, and so it was coffee in bed (as usual) and then my wife got herself ready to leave by 11am. A few bleatings from this chap about "can we come to your lunch too?" were ignored (thankfully) and so in mock pain we waved the pair off.

It was then - AND ONLY THEN - that I told the kids (aged 4 and 6) that we were giving Mum a surprise party. DO NOT TELL THEM anything before hand. Not a sausage, otherwise the whole thing will be ruined. Trust me on this.

So, 2.5 hours to pick up the chooks, tidy up the main part of the house, get the kids dressed, me showered and changed, ice collected, drinks chilled, cash for the group and about half a dozen other things.

It was going to be tight, but boy I didn't realise how tight. Nevertheless at 1pm we were just about spot on - although the drinks were not as cold as I would have liked, but they were fine.

Everyone arrived, there were willing hands everywhere to dish out items on to plates and get food on to the dining table, the musos were ready and by the appointed 1.30pm arrival of the guest of honour it was perfect.

The car pulled up, the gentle strains of a classical version of Happy Birthday breezed across the front yard and my wife's face was a thing of joy to behold.

The guest of honour rated it as "perfect" and a "complete surprise" and then got down to some serious yakking.

It did hit the bank balance a little - the total cost was about $900 (the band almost half that) - and it did take years off my life expectancy, but it was very worthwhile. Your partner will absolutely love it!

 

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