First published November 2012
The row between the parents of the boy who missed the birthday party remains at the top of the news agenda despite the obvious fact that it’s a) trivial beyond speaking, b) embarrassing all round, c) awful for the kids and d) absolutely pathetic.
Why are we still talking about it? Because we love a bit of argy bargy; each of us is, despite ourselves, taking a view on who’s right, who’s wrong; some of us are marshalling our opinions on what we think of birthday parties on dry ski slopes for five year olds, and whatever happened to dear old musical bumps? We’ll all be at various places on the smug spectrum over how we’d never have sent an invoice in a school bag, or arranged that type of party; how we’d never fail to turn up nor go to the press with the story.
Talking of the press, the Daily Mail has been doing its due diligence too, helpfully pointing out the relative size of the jilted boy’s home (large modern detached, with a double garage and a burglar alarm) and the one the no-show boy lives in (small terrace on housing estate with a chain link fence). The paper has also helpfully reproduced the facebook spat between the parents. Good old Daily Mail, how would we manage without you?
And now the party throwers are threatening legal action, for which the issue fee will be £60 (thanks Daily Mail). A judge recently ticked off litigants and their representatives for a boundary dispute that cost £500K in legal fees and resulted in an award of £3500 http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/5046072.article?utm_source=dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GAZ160115 and we’ve all heard about divorcing couples whose arguments over property end up costing more than its value to resolve. Boundary disputes are in another league altogether.
But money has nothing to do with this situation. Sixteen quid isn’t going to make a difference to the lady in the big house. It’s what – a smallish round in a pub, a couple of bottles of wine added to the Sainsbury’s trolley, half a takeaway? I’m guessing here, but I expect this dispute is to do with manners and courtesy, disappointment, the stress of organising a party around Christmas, poor communication (possibly not helped by Christmas), manners and courtesy again, and a hinterland of previous misunderstandings, playground disputes, and gossip that only the parties to this incident will know about.
Legal action is a preposterous idea, everyone knows that. It’s legally quite complicated – has a contract been made in the first place, who are the parties to that contract, has a term been breached, did anyone suffer actual loss (apart from both kids, obviously – I’m not even going there)? It would inevitably cost the parties money; it would cost us (yes, Daily Mail – us, the taxpayer) in court time; it would take ages to resolve which won’t be fun for any of them and neither party will get a proper resolution. Whatever a judge might order, one will lose out, and the winner won’t have come close to dealing with any of the issues that matter to them.
The answer (you knew I was going to say this) is to get a mediator in. I hope the school is doing this already, to help the kids out. Someone should invite these two families, separately in the first instance, to think about what really matters to them here, what this argument is actually about. Then, when the parties are ready, the mediator can convey the point of view to the other in neutral, non judgemental language, (sorry, Daily Mail, no room for you here) until everyone begins to see the situation from the other’s point of view. That’s not to say they’re expected to agree with it, or like it, but just understand it.
By then, you’re almost there. Understanding the situation from another’s point of view is the home straight. Sorting out the £15.95 is small beer after that – come to think of it, it might just cover the round.