Under the circumstances, formal dress is to be optional

August 3, 2008

Giving in to temptation and live-blogging the preparations for my parents’ seventieth birthday party. (And, no, it’s not just so that I can use the title. Although now that you mention it.)

This post could actually be titled ‘project management lessons from the asylum’, or similar. We have thirty-seven people arriving in just under two hours. A little of the food has been ordered in, but most of it has been prepared by us. And, my family being what it is, we could easily accommodate another thirty-seven unexpected guests without running out of provisions.

We do events like this on about a five-yearly basis. It is completely bonkers. My mother does not enjoy it, because she is terrified that my father will overdo it and sustain an injury and put himself in hospital for months. (This is in fact quite likely.) My father does not enjoy it, because he hates parties. And, yet, there is a bizarre adrenaline-fueled kick to it all. I have been chopping eel fillets and dressing salads since early this morning, and I am rather disappointed that I now have enough of a break to write this post.

My family are all insanely competent. They all know exactly how to go about everything. They are very opinionated. They care very much that everything is done right. Therefore, there are lots of arguments about things like what size cheese knives to use and whether to stack the glasses on the left or right side of the table. In the past, I would have been in there with the best of ’em. These days I keep my head down and do what I’m told.

And, doing this, I notice that it’s a lot less stressful than it used to be.

It’s not completely comfortable. It is not comfortable taking orders from my younger sister on how to fill a water jug. My ego rebels. It is not comfortable observing the flaws in their project management . Who has an overall list of tasks in order? Why is C. making decisions and also doing tasks, which makes her unavailable to give orders to the next available minion? Why do I have a list of tasks without instructions, which means that someone has to stop what they’re doing and show me which bench is to be moved and where? I want to step in, not to get my way about how to cut the game pie, but to get them to improve their decision-making structure. Once a management consultant, always a management consultant.

Bu, y’know what? It doesn’t matter. Parties are like conferences. As long as there is enough to eat and enough to drink, it is very hard to screw them up. It will be fine.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t matter if there is a bit of extra angst or unnecessary activity. And I don’t have to make it right. I’m not responsible. Actually, it’s none of my business. I’m just the sous chef. It feels okay.

Maybe I will be able to go back into the workplace and just do my job. That would be very good news, if so.

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3 Responses to “Under the circumstances, formal dress is to be optional”

  1. Francesca Says:

    Because my parents are insane.

  2. Francesca Says:

    Although, to be fair, they both now think they enjoyed it a lot.

  3. patrickhadfield Says:

    I was thinking of them, that weekend.


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