I have a love/hate relationship with balloons. I wince in anticipation of the inevitable BANG! and I have the loudest response when the moment arrives - I always let out a yip-type scream more shocking than the pop itself. Then I still can't relax, never failing to remember my Nana, warning of the dangers of small children inhaling and choking on the deflated variety. So yes, balloons make me nervous.
However, I do see their merits. Balloons are simply super play things - all kinds of creative encounters revolve around them. My two children love to play keepy-uppy and slow-motion throw and catch, where their skills are of course so much better than with a ball. And balloons take on all manner of guises; rockets, pets, stuffed under clothing to make babies in tummies, I've seen them all.
Today at a party there were about a hundred balloons filled with helium, ribbons dangling at enticing heights. A game evolved amongst the 5 year old revellers where they sold their captured balloons to one another for £10 each; very enterprising. I'm not so twitchy with helium balloons - they are far more likely to disappear into the blue than to pop, and tears I can handle. But since I've seen the film Up I can't see one without getting all sentimental, each humble balloon a poignant reminder of that sad yet life-affirming movie.
My favourite creative response to the balloon was one I saw just yesterday, when my family played at being balloons themselves. No actual balloons were used, so I had no need to be on edge - it was perfect. Rob (daddy), Buddy and Daisy (my two children) took it in turns to 'inflate' each other using our football pump. They started small and limp-looking, becoming larger and taller as the other pretended to fill them with air. The giggliest part came when daddy was the balloon; when he couldn't expand any more there was a moment of stillness then... all the air came out of him with either a pop or a big raspberry as he zoomed around deflating rapidly landing on the floor to great applause. Buddy and Daisy just loved this game - they must have played it a hundred times.
So for me the best balloons are definitely imaginary. And while I have to endure the real things more often than I'd like, I have at least learned the best way to get rid of them once the thrill has gone. I stick some Sellotape onto the balloon and pierce that bit with a pin. No pop - just instant, silent deflation. I'll leave the bangs, screams and raspberries to the rest of the family.