The boss has a mantra. “Tell me something I don’t know,” she’s famous for saying.
That’s not always so easy, as obviously she’s omniscient, but also dead right: you should try to learn something every day.
Only trouble, today is the grandniece’s second birthday party and we’re all wearing Minnie Mouse ears and, surely, this can’t be conducive to enlightenment.
But, watching the birthday girl and young family friends of various ages, I’m blown away by discoveries.
First of all, it becomes clear that five-year-old Casey* is a kleptomaniac.
Between my own gleeful consumption of handfuls of jaffas, red jelly, raspberry and blackberry lollies, I watched as she removed the special mouse blindfold, spotty ribbons, and several carefully wrapped prizes from the main party table and secreted them in her mother’s handbag.
This will cause major consternation when it comes time for Pin the Bow on Minnie.
But first there is a craft exercise: Decorate Your Own Minnie Head.
The grandniece is obviously a gal after my own heart and likes shiny things, eschewing stick-on eyes altogether, so unbroken strips of ruby and diamond sequins soon cover the entire mouse mask and much of her Aunt Mel.
There’s a gentle girl with glasses who generously helps the younger children while trying to protect her own artful creation, featuring dyed feathers, ladybirds and butterflies, from miniature marauders.
But no one seems to have any inclination or inspiration to use the fluorescent pipe cleaners.
I remember making creatures out of egg cartons with pipe cleaner legs … 45 years ago.
And – even then – you’d be lucky to find too many people who smoked pipes.
My husband, who many, many moons ago used to affect a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe as an alternative to unfiltered Rothmans at the kind of late ’70s, early ’80s dinner parties that concluded with Bombe Alaska, was gobsmacked.
What do we call them now? he wondered.
What, I mumbled back through the strawberry mousse and black plastic mouse ears the grandniece’s little friend was simultaneously endeavouring to shove into my face.
Pipe cleaners, what are they called now?
Well, as it transpires pipe cleaners are still as much a part of the children’s creative play kit as ever, but are now called chenille or craft stems.
In fact, they’ve been elevated to adult art and transformed by a thriving community of tremendously talented chenille stem sculptors into everything from Yoda to convincingly life-like animals including wolves, foxes and Thylacines.
But now it’s time for the Minnie piñata.
Casey brazens it out, until her mother decides to fetch a cardi from the car and, while retrieving the keys from her bag, discovers a cache of mouse-related contraband.
Chastised publicly, Casey turns to me, the nearest person, just as I’m stuffing several Minnie Mouse party-shortbread-favours into my mouth …. and rats me out.
“She took something too,” she says pointing an accusing finger at a dozen or so colourful pipe cleaners that seem to have spontaneously sprouted from my camera bag.
My husband is staring intently at the sky, whistling the Mouseketeers Club march.
Yep, something new every day.
*Name changed to protect minor offender