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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Diary of a street party, part 1
1977 party
Partying 1977-style

Thousands of street parties will be held next week to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. One street in London's East End is going through the pleasures and pitfalls of organising one of these bashes.
From the start we've been wrestling with the spectre of naffness.

The thought of having a party in my street surfaced a few weeks ago, with plenty of time to get it arranged and enough people willing to organise it.

Diary of a street party

But the fear of the whole thing being naff was always lurking, threatening to gatecrash the whole event.

This was our dilemma. There are a lot of good reasons to have a party. People in the street would get to know each other better. Actually doing something beats sitting around afterwards regretting not having been bothered. And if people living in an East End street can't justify having a party at a jubilee, then who can?

1977 decorations
2002? No, 1977.
But at the same time there were a few pretty good reasons for not having a party. Not only could we end up thinking it was lame, but everyone else in the street could think the same. It could be a horrible flop and those of us who had stuck our necks out to arrange it would be marked as weirdos who would then have to move house.

Laughing in the face of caution, half a dozen of us decided to go for it. We put a leaflet round to each house, asking if there was any interest.

The leaflet made no mention of the Queen or the jubilee, but simply said we were planning a street party - the unstated logic being that if you wanted to celebrate the Queen's 50 years, you would assume it was a jubilee party. For those who didn't, it was just a street party.

There was a certain amount of bureaucracy to go through in order to get permission to close the road. We discovered that the council was insisting we took out public liability insurance costing 105 in case anything went wrong.

Moral responsibility

Many of those who are arranging parties throughout the country will have been children or teenagers 25 years ago and have clear memories of the 1977 events.

Once we committed ourselves, it dawned on us firstly that we now shouldered an awesome responsibility to ensure today's youngsters were going to remember it in 25 years' time the way we remembered our childhood parties.

But our second realisation took us back to the fear of naffness. What had been most memorable for us in the mid-70s was the dressing up and the decorations.

We had been happy to wear crowns or robes, and to have bold red, white and blue bunting draped from our houses. Somehow we couldn't imagine people - let alone streetwise kids - going for it today with quite the same lack of self-consciousnesss.

So we considered making it a 1970s theme party, with everyone dressed in flares, jumpsuits, spangly tops and chunky knitwear. Perhaps a 1950s vibe with rockabilly outfits would appeal?

Patriotic message

But what of the bunting? No doubt it's a symptom of being from the oversensitive middle class, but after such recent concerns about the rise of the far right, and the election of BNP councillors, it is difficult not to think what message will be sent by decking your house in Union jacks.

Ginger Spice is her Union Jack dress
Is the Union flag all bad?
Billy Bragg pointed out on BBC News Online last month that unless the mainstream are prepared to define what their patriotism is for, the way will be left open for racists and extremists to exploit the uncertainty.

One answer, at least for those having street parties in England, is to be grateful for the World Cup. For a few weeks, sporting the flag of St George is no more unusual than seeing the Stars and Stripes hanging in suburban gardens in the US.

So the party arrangements go on. We'll be naff if we have to.

Tomorrow: How the web helped us

Are you arranging a street party for next week? Tell us about it using the form below. And let us know if you've found any useful tips.

The patriotism thing that comes out on these occasions is on the whole good. It creates sense of community that has been missing here for some time. And before someone comments this has nothing to do with racism or far right politics, we should be embracing and celebrating ALL types of British culture together.
Chris, Manchester

As a Brit living in the US right now I am travelling back to attend a Jubilee street party in my home town. After living in the US I don't understand why patriotism is looked down upon in the UK, the Americans are proud of their country and show it, I don't know what's wrong with that.
Angela Smith, US

We're having a street party - and luckily we have a big green on our street so there's no need to close the road. The success of the party will hinge around the fact that no one can resist BBQs and beer.
Phil, UK

I thought this Jubilee stuff was all over with. I can't believe people are still going in for this sort of nonsense in the 21st Century! I grew up in England and remember the coronation. Even as a youngster I thought it was nuts!
Michael Barton, Canada

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