Five-year-old invoiced for no-show at birthday party

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Alex Nash, a five-year-old from Torpoint in Cornwall, has been sent an invoice for £15.95 after he failed to show up at another child's birthday party just before Christmas. The invoice was sent by the irate mother of the birthday child, who was out of pocket and felt the parents should have contacted her to cancel. Now the matter could end up in court.

Alex's dad Derek told the BBC he had verbally accepted the invitation to the party - which was being held at a dry ski slope in Plymouth. However, he later found he had double-booked the date, and that Alex was due to spend time with his grandparents instead. He said he didn't have any contact details for the birthday child's mother, Julie Lawrence, so couldn't cancel. Then last week he found an invoice in his son's school bag.

In a short statement, Ms Lawrence said: "All details were on the party invite. They had every detail needed to contact me."

Mr Nash told the Telegraph that he had not been upset about the money, but about the approach. He added that he had refused to pay and that he was being threatened with the small claims court by Ms Lawrence. The paper added that his partner, who does not want to be named, has been in touch with Ms Lawrence through Facebook to try to resolve the issue.

Children's party politics

The process of celebrating the birthday of a primary school child shouldn't be hard when jelly and ice cream is so easy to come by, but the endless palaver involved in elaborate parties nowadays means that three quarters of parents find the process highly stressful.

There's the issue of who you invite - and who risks getting left out. If you leave your child to draw up the guest list, there's every chance they'll miss out some of their closest friends in favour of the last person who spoke to them - because party politics isn't something that's at the front of the average child's mind.

If you do it yourself, you end up tied up in knots over who invited who in previous years, who is part of each social group, and who runs the risk of being hurt without an invitation. It's no wonder that so many parents give up entirely and end up inviting the whole class. Once you get into these sorts of numbers, the cost start to seriously add up.

Then there's the issue of RSVP. Up to a week before the party, some venues will require you to confirm numbers (and in some cases the menu) and pay for the party. However, some parents don't think to RSVP until the day before the party - if they manage at all. So parents are torn between just booking places for those they know will come, or potentially paying for places that are never filled.

Then of course, there's the competitive parenting of parties - and the race to host the most lavish or creative party imaginable. Some parents feel they have no choice than to try to match their peers - until they are all blowing hundreds of pounds. A Netmums survey found that once they have added up the cost of party bags, food and entertainment, the total bill easily tops £500.

Facebook doesn't help either, because once one parent has spent a small fortune, and posted all the pictures, then every other parent feels they also need a three tier cake and a personal appearance from a pop star, or their child isn't going to have any fun at all.

It's hardly a surprise that after all this tension and expense, plus the stress of actually hosting the party itself - complete with 30 wound-up and over-sugared children - tolerance for those who don't show up could be at a low point.

However, you have to wonder whether it's all worth it. The current generation of parents were perfectly happy with a handful of friends in the living room, playing pass the parcel and being sent home with nothing more than a balloon and a piece of cake. Their children would be equally happy with the same level of complication. So why do parents do this to themselves?

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