I just added an extra year to my cumulative total, and decided to have a bit of a party. In previous years, it’s been a fun event, but this year I wanted to make a real effort and see what difference it made. The organisational side of these things is actually something I find a bit interesting – considering how rarely I get to do it – so I thought I’d share some notes on holding an event like this.
A bit of background – Overnight Barcamps are frequently known for their great ‘evening events’ – back when I helped organise Barcamp Manchester 2 – we kicked off the evening with shedloads of pizza, then there was entertainment of different sorts in different rooms (werewolf, amateur stand up comedy, casual drinking and chatting), then at midnight, [without warning the attendees] Redbull people rolled up and started handing out promotional samples of their drink. The event was in a theatre and I understand some people were still playing guitar hero on the projector, projected onto the theatre’s 20ft square back wall, until at least 6am!
With this inspiration, I tried to imagine how I could best facilitate something like this, but with my own twist.
It’s fair to say I used Facebook for advertising the event, but it’s very important to understand Facebook events are not in any way representative of who will come, and is at best a very tentative rule of thumb. I made sure I gave people the heads up on the date, weeks in advance – some people think that far in advance – other’s don’t, put it out there anyway.
I decided, it’d be quite nice to have quite a lot of alcohol, so (based on recommendations) I acquired a cask of real ale - Shuffled Deck (3.8%) – from a local Microbrewery – Black Jack Beers. It’s really relatively easy to do this, and if you’re having a family event or something, it’s usually as simple as phoning up a local microbrewery and asking if they can supply you with something.
I’m also well aware that despite real Ale being a fantastic drink, some people don’t enjoy it, so I also set about sourcing some proper West Country Scrumpy. This turned out to be more of a challenge, especially at short notice, but the ukcider wiki, and google, helped me locate Lilley’s Cider Barn who supplied a box of Mad Goat – a 6.8% medium sweet Cider/Perry blend, which was courier up here overnight. I think if I actually lived in cider producing area, it’d be a whole lot easier, but Manchester isn’t famed for it’s killer ciders!
But Ale and Cider are not for everyone – so, so in my invitation I suggested people also bring something they liked to drink, and I also provided basic soft drinks and mixers – coke, ginger beer, lemonade, orange juice, apple juice, tonic water, etc.
With all the beer, I made sure we had enough glasses – sturdy plastic pint glasses are relatively cheap – but prevent all the rest of your real glass glasses getting smashed (there was not one breakage that entire evening!) and ensures no one is stuck drinking cider out of a mug.
We’d tried to pre-empt the damage by putting some washing up bowls for empties etc around the place, there weren’t many problems, but I think these could have been advertised a bit better perhaps – people can generate a surprising amount of rubbish – and whilst cleaning it all up is par for the course, a visible bin or “empties drop off point” can hardly hurt.
I suggested on the invitation there’d be nibbles – and there were – the savoury things like cheese twists seemed to work very well, and the chocolate money went down a treat. I have a feeling that mints and boiled sweets were barely touched, so that’s worth nothing for the future. One thing I noticed was people being worried about being seen to take more than one cheese twist at a time even though we had tons of them in the cupboard to replenish the supply. This might be the justification for just putting everything all out at once next time.
We had told people to bring their own music and iPods etc, and there were two rooms where people could plug in, the downstairs room and the “hard party room”, which at first glance appeared to be a room with simple low lighting and a computer providing music to some (actually quite shoddy ) speakers.
The party was down to start at 7.30 and for the first hour or some, only a handful of people turned up – this is to be expected (as is the person who asks whether they can arrive early). I’d almost be tempted to advertise the start time an hour earlier next time, just to see whether it’d change when people generally arrived, but I suspect it probably doesn’t work like that. By 9.30, it’d filled up nicely and people spread out relatively evenly through the house.
Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition, and surprise is a fantastic weapon which you can unleash on your party-goers when they are least expecting.
The first of which was people in the in the “hard party room” who were the first to receive 100 glowsticks, shortly followed by people in the other rooms. When glowsticks appear, at people find their inner-child – they can never have enough glowsticks and at first, sit around and use them like lego before resorting to full out glowstick wars. It seems you can never have enough, having said that I think for the people and space I had, 400 glowsticks is probably “enough”!
The second surprise was that there was a smoke machine hidden in that room that we brought into action. This was swiftly followed by the surprise discovery in the corridor outside the room, that there was indeed a working smoke alarm! Keeping the door closed to the room closed was a quick and easy remedy.
Obviously, music, glowsticks and smoke, quickly turns any low lit room into something quite a lot more exciting, but I had some requests that the smoke machine be used less so I thought about what I could do. It’s worth realising that you can get various types of smoke for smoke machines – I had started off with the standard “long lasting” stuff that hangs in the air and produces a good haze, so I switched to some quickly dissipating smoke that didn’t fog the whole room up but still was quite fun.
We also had some UV brightly coloured rave paints which ensured that no matter how sure you were that you didn’t look silly, you looked silly, shortly afterwards. I’m pretty certain there’s no “good” way to wear those paints.
Shortly before midnight, Hot’N'Spice my favourite Manchester takeaway showed up with a big bunch of surprise pizzas, and there was instantly more food than anyway could eat on their own. The idea was that you can get quite tired towards the end of the night, but eating something usually helps you keep going for a little while longer.
In hindsight, there are various things perhaps I should have done differently – I think having it at around 11 or 11.30pm would probably be wiser. I’ve been vegetarian all my life, and so I’ve no idea what pizzas people like to eat, so I just ordered vegetarian ones. I’ve absolutely no desire to force people to eat vegetarian food (this is a subject for another blog post) so I think in the future I’d somehow work out a bunch of different flavour pizzas and label them appropriately. As it was, some people didn’t like spice, and didn’t like mushrooms, (and there was at least one vegan), it would be disingenuous to suggest that just because it was vegetarian, everyone could eat it. It’s a difficult one to work out, but I was happy that it worked pretty well as it was.
After that, I tried to ply people with ice cream. This was only partially successful, but I still count that as a success, because people were quite reasonably stuffed by that point. Top tip: if there’s no room in the freezer, putting magnum style things in the fridge isn’t really an option – don’t do this – but watching liquid icecreams explode is actually quite funny.
Shortly after midnight, I descended from the “hard party room” where Nirvana et al were being played to the downstairs room to find people watching Life of Brian on VHS (because that’s so retro!), and playing Rude Scrabble. I’d have never expected this and you really have to realise that as a host, your job is to facilitate the event and let people enjoy themselves – that’s what it’s all about!
By two, the vast majority of people had taken their leave and it had mellowed to a small gathering and by four, it was over.
It was a fantastic party, there were so many moments of “lolwut, oh well, this is awesome” and I’m very happy with how it went.
Someone will ask “How do you top that next time?”
Simple. “Next time” will be nothing like this. It won’t try and “top it”, it will just try to be different.
Don’t try and be better, just be different and make it as awesome as possible.