Cupcakes for charity

108 eggs, 3 hours of vinyl & shellac transmogrified to MP3 & learning to bake cupcakes...

What a May it has been! Back in the dark winter, about three months ago, a dear friend offered me up her lovely big house for a 'Puddletown Tales' book launch. At first I was literally terrified - the very thought of all that fuss and 'me-me-me' palaver sent shudders through my spine. Not that I was ungrateful; simply clueless as to how to organise such an event. But as I thought about it, I realised that it was a great opportunity to get involved in a charity which helps children who have lost their parents as I did when I was 12 in 1979.

All manner of signage

An online search brought me to the 'Child Bereavement Charity' which deals with many aspects of loss including counselling for young, bereaved people. I was never offered any kind of counselling when I was orphaned - I was simply expected to get on with my life, which, being an independently minded child, I did, possibly too well. I am sure that some people considered me hard hearted, not crying and wailing for my parents. Of course, they could not see the terrible damage inside, because no-one bothered to look.

Puddletown Tales colouring sheets

It was only a few years later, after the initial shock had gone, that the suffering really showed it's ugly face and by that time there was barely a soul to hear me cry, least of all the Social Services, supposedly 'caring' for me. Eventually a wonderful college counsellor and my darling Andy saved me. And it was only when I got the counselling I so badly needed, that I realised how hard I (and other people who should have known better) had been on myself and how emotionally neglected by so-called family and the authorities.

- and yet more Puddletown Tales colouring sheets

Now that I am in a far better place and strong enough to think about helping others, I want to do as much as I can to help prevent other young people going through what I did. And that brings me back to my party. I could do this, if I made it a charity raising event.
But how to start?

My kind neighbour's baking and decorating

I was never allowed to have a party when I was a child. My elderly, invalid father had rather eccentric ideas about how a little girl should be brought up and this included not being allowed to mix with certain other children or to have any friends in the house. Ever. (This was really entirely for his benefit of course, as he hated noise and disturbance). So apart from a small birthday picnic I had once in a park with my mum and two friends, and my 30th - an informal, well-lubricated bash - I have no experience of hosting a party, planning the food or choosing a party dress. It has been a huge learning curve

Smaller & consolation prizes so that no-one went home empty handed

I started at the beginning by simply inviting people and explaining what it was for. It was to be a book-launch/cricket teaparty/charity fundraiser kind of thing. We had about 80-100 guests in mind. I seem to have collected a lot of friends and contacts over the years and was surprised at how many there were. Again to my surprise, most people were pleased to come.

Various prize & price tags

Here is what I wanted. A cupcake sale to raise money for the charity, alongside a raffle of at least one of my needle felt animals. Competitions for the children and simple activities. A big cricket tea, which hopefully some people would be prepared to bake for (They did! In numbers!) My favourite kind of music playing, oh yes and for a while, some book signing - I kept forgetting that in the frenzy of it all. Gentle carnage with cake.

Last minute cupcake baking in my neighbours' kitchen the night before.

So for the last three months I have been slowly gathering together the elements of the first 'Mrs Mouse's Bring and Buy Cupcake Party', working with my publishers Templar, the local book sales rep and the Woodstock Bookshop as well as a few hand-picked friends who I could lean on for much needed support. So many things to organise; I had no idea. E-mailing became my second occupation. Trying to juggle it all has been - challenging - alongside my work, and the first two weeks of May were totally dedicated to it.

Various prize & price tags

I had three right hand women supporting me like strong flying buttresses - my old college friend and cupcake queen Natasha, AKA
Neviepiecakes, who became my chief cake lady and party decorator. Debs, the house-loaner, who ferried me about from pillar to post in her car and who gave me constant reassurance over the months and Jo, a dear friend I met years ago through blogging. She completely relieved me of the games and activities organising after a brain storming session (which did involve tea and cake) and made industrial quantities of play-dough for the Mrs Mouse sculpting contest.

My new-best-friend Daisy and Mouse generously donated decorations, dinky polka dot aprons and the two beautiful main prizes for the 'Mrs Mouse Sculpting Contest', which suited the 'Mrs Mouse' theme of her red and white spotty toadstool house.

Gorgeous Prizes from Daisy and Mouse

Jo also constructed a super book quiz and my publishers Templar donated the prizes -

Add ImageBook prizes donated by Templar Publishing

So many things to buy from an ever-shrinking budget - prizes, food, basic decorations, party favours for about 30 children, printing invitations; the list grew ever larger. So many things to get hold of - trestle tables, a hot water urn, then a last minute panic as the tea service we'd hoped to use had moved out of the county! But, my rural networks came in handy and I was able to borrow a big set of 1950's Beryl Woods Ware from our own village hall, the big WI teapot and the Mother's Union teapot.
Which fitted the theme of 'Vintage Tea Party' perfectly.

Mother's Union Teapot to the right, Women's Institute teapot to the far left - chatting or ignoring each other?

I eventually tracked down the right party dress for my not-average body from
Pepperberry and Andy treated me to a stunning cardigan from Forever Amano, hand knitted and fairtrade. My hair was cut and dyed (by Andy), last minute cupcakes were made the day before the party in my neighbours large kitchen. My neighbour also printed out the colouring sheets, to save me the expense of photocopying. In short, lots of people rallied round to make my day a success and I am forever indebted to them. Not least to my friends Debs and Neil for allowing me take over their home for the day and fill it with my friends, many of whom were strangers to them.

My little contribution to the cupcake stall - not pretty but apparently tasted nice.

I was still making the needle felt raffle prizes at 5.30 am on the morning of the party, but miraculously, by 9, I was ready. Debs picked me up, a truckload of party gear was loaded, tea service collected, and the great day began with preparing the house. I put my happy music on, (Midlake and Fleet Foxes), overlooked by Mrs Knit-Chick a good luck gift from my friends at the
Queen's Head pub.

The calm before the storm

Hoovering commenced, followed by an orgy of balloon blowing while I (half asleep, half high on stress) tried to organise myself and the display room. I don't think I've ever blogged about my 'Mermaid Castle' pop-up book, which I worked on a few years ago, but here is is, opened up for playing with.

Prizes were laid out -

The Puddletown toys, the real stars of the show, were put out for their first public display -

Raffle prizes - special edition 'Custard', Apricot Pig and a Cupcake

Soon my right-hand-women arrived, armed with games, acitivities and several boxes of cakes. These heroines had spent the last few days getting things ready for my party and the results were awesome. I knew I could trust them just to get on with things, while well trained husbands calmly helped out with necessary chores. My hosts, Debs and Neil, were my co-ordinators in arms, so that I was left in peace to get my act together.

Natasha began transforming the room and setting up the cupcake sale with her own pretty cake stands.

I was reduced to tears when I saw her cupcakes - can you see why? How perfect are they?

(There are far better photos of the cakes on her blog here.)

Outside, equally vital work was being done by Jo, setting up the children's activities - hula hoops and bean bags to play with, giant jenga, the 'Mrs Mouse Sculpting contest', face painter's table and indoors, toys for the little ones and a colouring table. Not only had she organised all this, but had baked quanitites of cupcakes and tea cakes as well.

Jo setting up the 'Mrs Mouse Sculpting Contest'

The mammoth cricket tea was prepared - I had actually worried that we would not have enough...

The sandwiches and savouries table

Cakes and scones

My hostess and the Beryl Woodsware tea service

Time flew by - all too soon I had to flee upstairs to shower and change. Andy (who had been at work all morning) came up to make sure I was looking 'proper'.
I could hear guests arriving, laughter and very faintly, 'The Ugly Bug Ball' floating up, part of the 3 hours of teaparty music I had patched together from old 78's and 45" singles. I descended into the melee to meet everyone and begin signing - as well as 'Mrs Mouse's Cupcakes' which a lot of people know about now, the second Puddletown title 'Peggy's Lost Pennies' was also on sale. The Woodstock bookshop kindly donated 20% of their day's sales to the Child Bereavement Charity as well.

Sharpies are my preferred choice of signing instrument

It was utter, sublime madness. People from all aspects of my life poured into that house; Andy's parents, all the way from the North - my first boyfriend from way back when we were teenagers, his lovely partner and their two dear little boys - the lady who commissioned me for Disney to do 'Pooh' artworks, who has remained a friend - from my publishers, the rest of the Puddletown team, Janie the designer and Hannah the editor. Erica-Jane Waters, an illustrator I've know for a decade online but never met in person (she was lovely in real life too).

Best friends, our village friends, art-client friends - when worlds collide!

There were people from the village we live in now and the village we were in where we used to live - old, much loved friends we have known for yonks. Best friends come up from North Devon bringing eggs and veg plants - people I have met through blogging, such as Beth of 'Bee Drunken' whom I have wanted to meet for about 3 years - a lady who bought some of my first artworks a decade ago - and more. A wonderful human soup of my collection of friends from the past 30 years and through it all the children played.

Our super cupcake saleslady did a sterling job and the stall eventually raised £150 pounds. (Need I say that Natasha's Puddletown cakes sold out within minutes?)

Jennifer H, our lovely cupcake sales lady - top job!

I had spent days putting together a compilation of my favourite 78's - foxtrots, sweet old love songs and early jazz; proper vintage tea time music which floated over the garden as bubbles were blown, little faces were painted and Mrs Mouse's were carefully crafted.

Party playlist selection, some very old 78'' crackling sweeties -

'Under the Sweetheart Tree'

Local artist Lorna Marrison showing that you are never too young for bubbles

Suzie H, an old friend who kindly volunteered her skills for face painting.

Sue Cook - another local artist who also gave up part of her afternoon to facepaint

Tea was officially at three and everyone tucked in. Some with more enthusiasm than others...

Andy was my chief tea-lady, complete with pinny. He was a star! He flogged raffle tickets, carried tea trays and made sure that everything was flowing smoothly. Tea was eaten, though not by me - I was too busy signing books and socialising.

I signed so many books that in the end I had to make people tell me very, very slowly what to write, or I would have scribbled gibberish. At last it was time for the judging of the Mrs Mouse sculpting contest. It was difficult! We had two age groups; there was a marvellous variety of entries and it was hard to pick winners. I was very glad I had bought little prizes for everyone.

The under 6 sculpting entries

The over 6 sculpting entries

Click on the images for the full glory of the 'Mrs Mouse Sculpting Contest'

Once the Mrs Mouse prizes were handed out (and consolation favours) and the book quiz winners had chosen their books, Andy hussled me on to do the raffle draw, which everyone seemed quite excited about.

Apricot pig, the second prize went to my sweet friend who had started the whole kaboodle off back in February, by lending me the house for the day - which very well deserved and she was thrilled.

It all went more or less smoothly, except for one moment when I read out the wrong number because I had my thumb over the ticket and said a bad word before I could stop myself - to much laughter. I did apologise to the children and told them it wasn't big or clever to swear...but no-one seem to mind. I, on the other hand, was mortified...

photo courtesy of Chris Mullineux

I was even given an super Puddletown artwork by a little girl who has one of my paintings on her wall, bought for her when she was just a little scrap of a thing - and now I have something by her.

Puddletown artwork by A.B

Not one child cried, argued, was sick or had a tantrum. Everyone appears to have had a splendid afternoon. If I have one regret, as always, it was that my mum was not there - she would have been in her element with cakes, tea and children. But I was overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity and love that was heaped upon me that day by all my friends from far and wide - it was one of the very best days of my life and more than made up for a partyless childhood. Best of all, we raised in total £450 for the Child Bereavement Charity. If you are reading this and you were there - you helped to make it a very special day - thank you.

I could have made the party three times the size had I been able to invite my blogger friends from everywhere - but most of you live just too far away...so I hope I've been able to share it adequately here. To see a guest's version of the party, please visit Amelie's House.

The next day, poor Andy fractured his left forearm playing cricket, which shows how unjust life can be, because he didn't deserve that. (He is much better now though and getting back to normal).

So many presents!

Although I was completely shattered for days afterwards, it was such a success in everyway that I am already thinking about holding it again next year.


*Many thanks to Chris Mullineux and Lorna Marrison for additional photos*


Charlotte said...

This is quite the best and most amazing tale I have read in a long time. It just goes to show that friendship can make magic happen. I think what you all achieved is amazing; that it will last a lifetime in the memories of all who were there; it really shows that people can move mountains.

Well done to you all.

Jane said...

Sounds as if a terric time was had by all. Well done, Gretel - a real tribute to your achievements.

rossichka said...

Dearest Gretel, I've just had a look at the photos. They say a lot. Nearly everything. I cried a little... I haven't read the post yet - I'll do it late in the night, but I already KNOW that it will be one of my favoutite posts in the whole blog-space!!!xx

Helen Graham said...

I cried reading this post. You deserve every happiness and good fortune coming your way. What an absolutely brilliant party and wonderful, wonderful charity.

PussDaddy said...

I think I gained 5 pounds just reading this. But this was for such a good cause. And I don't think your cupcakes were too awful ugly IMHO.


Natasha said...

Lovely post Gretel. It was a pleasure to be involved. I actually bought one of your cupcakes which was delicious! Andy was the best tea man ever! Just let us know the time and place and we'll be there next year!

joanna said...

I felt privileged to be a part of your big day, Gretel, and it was a delight to be able to help in some way. The party was fantastic, such a pleasure to see everyone enjoying themselves, and to meet new friends. We'll definitely come again! xx

Soozcat said...

What a fantastic shindig you folks did throw! Would have loved to be there, but all the pictures are the next best thing.

(By the way, love the pictures of Andy in his apron -- and of you in your tea frock.)

jfidz said...

Wow! Sounds like it was a fantastic day for everyone. Really, really pleased for you. You deserve a sit down and a nice cup of tea!

Anonymous said...

How fabulous - I am glad it all went well! You look fab in your dress and cardi. Give Andy my best wishes for a quick recovery (many years ago my Dad had his front teeth knocked out by a cricket ball - and he was umpiring!)

Gerry Snape said...

So so Glad that all went so well! We are looking forward to meeting you once again after so many years...at another cakey bakey thingy!

louise said...

wow. simply that x

Louise Peers said...

oooh ,this is so lovely to read and see the photos,glad you had such a fab time .Love your cardigan by the way.
Louise xx

Rowan said...

What a wonderful day this turned out to be and it was for such a good cause too. I must say those cupcakes looked wonderful and the Mrs Mouse sculptures were a delight. Well done for organizing it and making such a success of it.

BumbleVee said...

I'm sat here sniffling away.... having a wonderful time reading all about it and how I wish I could have been there. I could have helped out with baking for sure...

The sweet little Mrs. Mouses made by the kids made me cry right out loud....and I don't even like kids all that much really....but, honestly...what a great job they all did! They were just soooo cute.... Probably tears in there for you as a kid....and my sisters and me too..in our own crappy childhoods...... things like people being kind to me or to somebody who needs it always makes me cry. Silly me.... oh, well...it was perfect....and oh, dammitdammit anyway..poor Andy...hope he heals up soon.
I wrecked my ribs almost two weeks ago...and am sitting around doing almost nothing and still in pain and just getting downright grumpy! I feel like a walking Jonah.... never fit for long......sigh........
Congratulations on the tea Gretel..... great job by all....

Jill said...

What a wonderful story, from your sad start to your triumphal book launch and fund raising. You seem to have thought of everything. Poor Andy, but thank goodness it happened after the big day, I do hope he is better soon.

ellen said...

Dear Gretel,
I cannot imagine the pain of your childhood, but I do know that families come in all shapes, configurations, etc. and truly believe that your family now is big and wide, loving and caring. And...yes, I know that you deserve every bit of the love that is coming your way, and that you do return it in kind.
This is twice! Two times I have shed a bit of tears for joy in reading your blog. I do like to imagine that I was there, and as a person who respects your courage, determination, grace and creative talent, I want to believe that I am a part of that family, cheering you on. I could get quite wordy here, but I'll stop and will wish Andy speedy recovery, pour soul. Ouch.
Much love and thanks for entering and enriching my life, e.

ellen said...

p.s. I am 100% certain that your mother was beaming with a wide smile, pride and happiness for you.

Elizabeth said...

Dear Gretel, I don't think I've ever left a comment before but I was very moved by this post.
What a wonderful party - you deserve every happiness.

Laurel said...

My comment got eaten on first try but Helen and Charlotte said everything I wanted to say anyway. You are a lovely person, Gretel, you deserve this joy in every way. It says everything about your character that your work brings such happiness to small children, and that you made this party a charitable endeavor. Many warm wishes and congratulations from across the sea.

Notcathy said...

It is a wonderful idea. You are one of a kind.. It is really awesome!

Cristina | Positively Beauty said...

Such a lovely party! I wish I could have been there, thanks for describing it so well. And thanks for introducing the Child Bereavement Charity - a very worthy charity indeed.
I hope Andy gets well soon.

Janet Metzger, Artist said...

Dear Gretel,

As I sat here taking my sweet time reading this long and glorious post, My husband asks me "What are you reading over there?"

My reply: " Oh, just another book that Gretel has written!" Ha!

This post made me laugh, smile and shed a few tears of pure joy. No one deserved this more than you. What a dear Andy was to be of so much help...he must love you truly and deeply. For that, we love him also.

You mentioned that you wished your Mom had been there, but dear Gretel she was. If you found yourself smiling for no reason...that was her. When you snuck that second bite of cupcake...that was her. I'm not sure, but when you let that little bad word slip...was that her????

I hope you make this an annual event, because attending one was just added to my 'bucket list'.

So happy everything went so smoothly and thrilled about the money you raised for your charity.

Well done Gretel and friends!!

Janet xox

BumbleVee said...

I'm back for about the 5th time to see Natasha's cupcakes..... they are truly amazing....look just like yours........

Unknown said...

What a beautiful party! Much congratulations on the book!!

tlchang said...

Ah, Gretel. What a wonderfully well thought out party (I love all the little details, and of course, the cupcakes). Am not at all surprised to see you incredibly creative and successful in this as in all your ventures. Thanks for making me feel like I almost *was* there. :-)


June said...

Oh Gretel, I am so happy for you that this event happened through the love and energy of your friends.
The comments above say it all better than I can... your Mum WAS with you, she always will be.
You are much loved and admired by many, and I appreciate you sharing this special day on your blog, so that blog friends everywhere could join in 'virtually'.
What a wonderful day to remember for everyone.

Suze said...

What a wonderful day. Surrounded by friends and for such a special person and cause. I'm glad it went so well, as though it wouldn't and thank you for sharing it with us.

Marianne said...

Gretel, my dear, you have come full circle and I think your mum would be very, very proud of her little girl. HUGS!!! I drooled all over the food photos...so country, so much missed in the modern society. I love a good cook and feed up. I would have joyfully helped make cupcakes and everything else had I been a bit closer...say, on your side of the Atlantic. And those cupcakes were scrumptious works of art. Congratulations to you and all of your friends and helpers...it looked a wonderful day, and so well deserved by you. Cheers to the perfect party and perfect hostess. The dress and cardigan were so perfect for you as well. Good on Andy...he loves you very much and looked like he was having the time of his life. :-D


Janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet said...

Will try again - too many typos in the last comment - to be brief, I think your lovely friends and life partner Andy and your body of work speak for the kind of person you have become, despite a rough start. And what a nice idea for a book launch for a child's book!! Great blog post - best one I've read in a long while.
Thank you too for all the great pictures.
Heal quickly Andy!!

Ticking stripes said...

A very moving and uplifting post - you're an inspiration!

School on the Heath said...

It sounds like a perfect golden day in every possible way. Memories of perfect days and perfect moments are the only worthwhile collections to have. Congratulations

Cathy Holtom said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful tea party, I enjoyed every last drop of tea and cake crumb!

Claire said...

Oh Gretel, I have just discovered this wonderful post. Once again it has showed up in the middle of the blog roll rather than at the top, so I am ver late commenting............never mind.

I have tears running down my face and mascara going every where, doing my best Panda impression, hehe.....

Why am I crying? Because this post tugs at the heart strings...... your childhood, the emotional turmoil you endured, I can't begin to imagine how difficult it was.

To this wonderful, fabulous, beautiful day full of loved ones, friends and work colleagues, those who have supported you through thick and thin. Their generosity of spirit, in helping to organise this event. I'm trying to keep this brief, but it's very tricky..........

What a fantastic party, I don't think it could have been any better, cupcakes, games, prizes and your darling Andy in that most gorgeous apron which I am lusting after ( the apron not Andy, just to be clear, hehe...)

You in your gorgeous dress and that stunning cardi, what a day, what a party...................and a deserving charity if ever there was one.

Wishing Andy a speedy recovery and now that you are the 'Queen of Tea Parteeeeeees' best wishes for next years event.........

Claire X

Vintage Jane said...

Dear Gretel ... you have once again managed to reduce me to tears (both happy and sad ones). That success, happiness (and Andy) have come your way is truly deserved. Oh how I wish I had been at that party ... it looked a wonderfully joyous occasion. Isn't it amazing what friends can achieve when they all pull together ... doesn't it just restore your fatih in humanity.
I hope your wonderful books are a huge success for you. I wish you and Andy huge amounts of happiness for the future and ... I wish I had your lovely dress and cardi!! x

Casey said...

how fun! :)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh what a completely perfect day! How I do wish Edward and I could have attended!! Edward loves parties and children.... and I simply adore cupcakes and toys!!! Well done on the donations for a very worthy cause.

But so so sorry about the arm!!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

You all worked so hard to make it a magical day .... and it all looks perfect!
I would love to have been there , too .

The Little Forest, handmade said...

What an awesome fund raiser party! I found your blog through the "copy&paste" blog and have spent hours already looking at all the wonderfull things you make. Thank you for all the inspiration.