I have only just emerged, bleary-eyed, from my bed and I’m filling the kettle - always the First Task of the Day - when I spot that Mr Sky Man has drawn up outside in his unmissable van. He is, shall we say, a trifle
Chris, for it is he, apologises for being early - though in a cheery tone that rather suggests we should be thrilled to see him, whatever time he
arrives, but especially when he is early. We should have been Number 2 on his list, he explains, but the poor unfortunate person who was Top Of The List has had to go to hospital. I express sympathy for the Unknown Person whose place we have taken, even as
I wake up Mr B, still slumbering in his armchair, and pull back the curtains to welcome the day. The day looks surprised to see me up so early but, despite the way our whole house was rocked by the Windy Millers throughout most of the night, the World Outside
appears surprisingly unaffected. At least as far as my (bleary) eyes can see.
By this time I am sufficiently awake to contemplate the advantages of having an early
caller. With an important lunch date in my diary, I had been wondering how Mr B would cope with letting Mr Sky Man in, should he arrive in my absence - now I will be able to head off into town at 11.45 a.m. without worrying. In just a little over an hour we
have a new router, a new Sky Box, a new satellite dish fixed up outside on the garage wall, a new WiFi Network and a new password. I trust you are impressed with my command of technological language.
Chris sits down next to me to take me through the main features of our new box and how to make the remote control do my bidding. Mr B, who as everyone knows is In Charge Of All Remote Controls in our house, looks more than
a little miffed. Chris has to go over the whole performance again, for Mr B’s benefit. Before Chris leaves, he writes his mobile phone number on the Quick Guide he has left us and tells me that he can be at my beck and call any time I need him over the
next thirty days.
Well, to be fair, that is a bit of an exaggeration on my part. What he actually says is that, if I am experiencing any problems, I should first
access the on-screen “Help” function. Only if All Else Fails, should I ring his number. I try to remember which buttons to press in order to bring up the list of helpful hints. I don’t like to admit that I have forgotten his verbal instructions
Chris leaves, peeling off the disposable blue slippers he had thoughtfully worn over his boots so that he didn’t bring mud from outside inside.
He tells us to “have a play” and hopes Mr B will enjoy watching The Ashes on TV. I notice that Mr B is frowning with concentration as he points the control in the general direction of the screen. He doesn’t look as if he is playing to me;
it’s all deadly serious.
My whole morning has been turned upside down. It’s nearly ten o’clock and I’m still in my dressing gown and I
haven’t had my breakfast yet. Is it worth munching my way through a bowl of cereal at this late hour, when I am going to be sitting down to a restaurant meal not so very much later? Creature of habit that I am, I help myself to a bowl of Special K because
otherwise I know I will arrive at the afternoon, wondering whether I’ve missed out on morning.
On my way to the restaurant (we are eating at “Food”
- I do like an eaterie that does what it says on the tin, don’t you?) I pass a mobile butcher’s van from which a cheeky chappie is endeavouring to persuade passers-by of the exceptional value of his meat. “Get more for your bucks!”
he exhorts me, waving a couple of lamb chops at me. “They should put me in charge of the Brexit negotiations!” he adds.
I rather think Mr Lamb
Chops and Mr Sky would make a great team at any negotiating table.
You’d have to get up very early to steal a march on either of them.
I have not one, not two, but three teenagers crawling about under my dining room table. Had I not reached a Great Age, with the dodgy joints accompanying it, I might well have been Down Under with them, issuing pointless
instructions and generally getting in the way.
The three teens (not to be mistaken for the Three Tenors, though they can all warble beautifully) are attempting
to locate the catches which will unlock the table, allowing it to be extended so accommodating our party more comfortably. They need to find the catches, work out how to operate them, extend the table, then decorate it with my beautiful Thanksgiving table
runner and some glittery “Happy Birthday” confetti. The latter was left over from somebody’s 40th birthday so all the sparkly “40” confetti needs to be removed by hand as part of Quality Control. All this must be achieved
before the doorbell rings to herald the arrival of the Birthday Girl and her Rampaging Rascals when Team Baldwin (for it is they) and the beautiful Zoë must hide in the back garden ready to jump through the patio doors carolling “Surprise! Surprise!”
I, as hostess of this Auspicious Occasion, am extremely excited.
Unfortunately I miss the actual surprise because Tala, elder of the Twinkles by one important
minute, announces almost before she is inside the front door that she needs a wee. The pair of us are therefore taken up with this vitally important business, followed by lengthy washing of hands (I am not sure if this is for hygienic reasons or because Tala
likes turning on the taps and squirting soap from the dispenser) at the precise moment when the surprise element bursts through the patio doors like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the end of one of my favourite films.
Yes, the Middle of the Darling Daughters is celebrating her 50th birthday and I am determined this red letter anniversary should be marked in appropriate style for one who gives so much of herself
to others, including her father and me. It is one of the characteristics I loved most about my dear Dad - his ability to make any and every day special - and I always like to hope that a little bit of his magic has rubbed off on me. I do try - as Mr B likes
to point out, I am, indeed, very trying.
We decide, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and I, that we will turn things on their head by having the birthday
cake, presents and prosecco early on, rather than at the end of the afternoon when we might have to rush proceedings, given that we are working to a bit of a deadline by which time everyone needs to leave. It works a treat, though I say so myself as shouldn’t.
My original plan was to take The Rampaging Rascals into the kitchen on a secret mission to decorate their mother’s cake, baked the evening before by Yours Truly, but
I am dazzled by a sudden brainwave - why should the Birthday Girl miss out on all the fun? So the cake is brought out with all due ceremony, along with three small bowls full of various sweets, and placed on the small table where the Trio eat and play - and
the Ace Cake Decorators set to work. Their method owes less to Careful Placement and more to Throw All The Sweets On The Cake And Hope They Stick. Their mother says it is quite the very best birthday cake she had ever had.
We sing Happy Birthday and the Trio blow out the candles quickly before their mother has a chance to draw breath. We toast the Birthday Girl with prosecco and the littl’uns “help”
her open her cards and presents. Then we all take off for the park where we adults reckon that the ratio of Teens to Tots should work in our favour. When we are all, with the obvious exception of the Rampaging Rascals, completely worn out we return home where
we heat up the curry I prepared yesterday and sit down for a Birthday Meal.
You may be thinking it’s not the most earth-shatteringly original of birthday
celebrations. Perhaps you needed to be here? Though it might have been a bit crowded and I am not sure either the cake or the curry would have stretched that far…
The Surprise Party leave first - Hazel has to get back to Chiswick where she is studying at Arts Ed, Jack and Zoë both have early starts the following day to travel back to York and Southampton Universities respectively. Yes, they all crawl back
under the table to put it back for me before they leave.
Then it’s the turn of the Birthday Party to say goodbye, once the Trio are all changed into their
pyjamas. Young Faris stands in front of me to give me “seven kisses” - one on my forehead, one on my nose, one on my chin, a tickly one each side of my neck, one on each cheek. It’s the sweetest of farewells.
Some time later, my daughter messages me to say she is home, safe and sound: “Thank you for everything, my lovely mum,” she writes, “I loved every single minute..” and she finishes
with “Seven kisses..”
Seven kisses - I am blessed, indeed.
“What’s going on over there, then?” asks the Birthday Boy, curiously. I look over towards the door leading from the kitchen into the restaurant where three waitresses are gathered. “It’s the
lemon possets,” I say. Memorably. I haven’t noticed that the third of the waitresses is carrying a tall glass containing a delicious-looking chocolate dessert, topped by a Flaming Candle.
Fortunately I catch on (I’m quick like that) when my sister and all three waitresses start singing “Happy Birthday To You” , while the Birthday Boy turns the colour of beetroot. It’s a memorable moment
in a truly lovely day.
I am here at the Chichester Festival Theatre with my sister Maggie and her fella, Baz, to help him to celebrate his birthday. Regular readers
may be feeling a trifle mixed-up because wasn’t I writing, just the other day, about my sister’s birthday? Yes, indeed, but these two celebrate their birthdays within days of each other. They clearly live by my mantra which is, why have one birthday,
when you could have two?
Tomorrow you will be even more discombobulated because I will be writing about yet another birthday, as the Middle of the Darling Daughters
will be celebrating her 50th birthday, for which I have planned a few surprises. Which is only as you would expect from Yours Truly.
In fact, there is a
historical link between the two birthdays in family terms. It was today, fifty years ago, that Baz turned up on the doorstep of our flat in Uxbridge where he was due to meet up with his then girlfriend, my sister. He recognised me immediately even though he
had never seen me before and I was heavily pregnant because he thought I looked just like my sister. Apparently he has never again, from that day to this, seen the resemblance.
He was welcomed into our Humble Home and immediately introduced, by Mr B, to the Scalextric layout which had been carefully set up in our bedroom, weaving around our double bed. Mr B had decided not to wait for the birth of Child Two before investing
in his Toy of Choice. One day, he assumed, our children would grow into All Things Scalextric - and in the meantime there was no reason why he shouldn’t put in some practice on the race track.
The two fellas bonded so completely over the racing cars that it was a considerable while before my sister realised that her boyfriend had turned up and that it was a little late for her to introduce us properly because we
were already well acquainted.
We always joke that it was the shock of meeting Baz that persuaded our Second Born to make her entrance to the world. She was,
however, three weeks overdue so it probably didn’t take too much friendly persuasion…
I didn’t actually register that today was the 50th anniversary
of my Meeting Baz. I was too excited by my delicious meal ( chicken supreme and blueberry cheesecake should you need to know. No, not on the same plate, don’t be silly, that would be a step too far even for one such as I who is Always Thinking About
Her Stomach) and too enthralled watching Duet for One on stage. It’s a play that’s funny and poignant by turns and thought-provoking throughout.
the interview my sister and I visit the facilities and discuss how on earth the events happening on stage in the doctor’s consulting room can possibly be brought to a satisfactory conclusion by the end of the play; Baz, meanwhile, is checking the score
of the Spurs versus Arsenal match with a couple sitting in the row in front of us. Were Mr B with us, he would be doing the same.
The end of the Spurs match is
not what our menfolk were wishing for - but the ending of the play is strangely satisfactory in that it offers, not a happy ending as such, but hope.
that word - hope. It sums up so much in just four letters, don’t you think? I hope you have had the happiest of birthdays, dear Baz. I am so very pleased I could share it with you - all these fifty years on since The Day We Met.
I can never quite understand people who don’t like birthdays. I mean, what’s not to like? There are presents! Cake! The singing of Happy Birthday at various levels of tunefulness and volume!
Mr B, as regular readers know, is not a great fan of his own birthday celebrations but I always ignore him because, you know, it simply wouldn’t feel right not to mark the Passing
of the Years in style. I suppose the fear of growing old might be one of the reasons for trying to make the day of one’s birth no more special than any other day of the year but, let’s face it, what’s the alternative? Live for the moment,
I always say. Today is a gift - that’s why they call it “the present.”
Talking birthdays and presents, I am pleased to report that my Little
Sister Maggie is every bit as fond of birthday celebrations as I am. We are, you might say, Truly Kindred Spirits. With the emphasis on the word “kin” of course.
Yesterday was Maggie’s second birthday. Her actual birthday was the day before. She shares her birthday with Prince Charles and, when she was very small, I used to tell her that they played the National Anthem on the radio in her honour. She believed
me for years.
I was determined to make the day as special as I could - after all, why have one birthday when you could have two? The house was spotless,
thanks to Kay who helps me out every Wednesday; she played what she called “Beat the Sister” all morning, trying to finish off the cleaning before the Guest of Honour and her fella arrived. In the event, she was trotting off down the garden path,
just as Maggie and Baz turned up outside in their car. You could say Kay’s timing was exquisite.
Outside on the doorstep, the Giant Penguin, all dressed
up in a woolly scarf (well, it was cold out there) and a hat shaped like a birthday cake including candles. In Days Gone By, the hat used to play “Happy Birthday” but, alas, no longer. I know what you are thinking, isn’t the Giant Penguin
intended for visiting grandchildren? Well, strictly speaking, that is so - but then my sister Maggie is a Big Kid at heart and would be very disappointed should she arrive at an unadorned doorstep.
I had in my mind the fact that my sister always knows when her birthday is approaching because she can walk along a pavement, kicking up the Autumn leaves. Hence, laying the table, I scattered tissue leaves across the white
table cloth - red and green and orange and yellow. While we were saving the present opening till later in the day, I did want the Birthday Girl to open one particular present - and thereby hangs a tale…
At last week’s Crafty Group our esteemed leader, the Lovely Linda, showed us how to make Christmas candles. Holly and ivy and all that. Except that I was captivated by the colours of the wax - green and yellow and red
and orange. You are starting to see a connection, I can tell. Rather than a Christmas candle, I determined I would make an Autumn Leaves candle for my sister’s birthday. “How many leaves?” a fellow crafter asked me, “It’s
not that big a candle…” She was looking at the small pile of wax leaves I had carefully modelled - would there really be room on my candle for all of them?
But, as regular readers know, I am possessed of the Usher Gene which enables those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be blessed with it to cram absolutely anything into the smallest space. Think milk and fridges, or towels and airing cupboards. Or,
in this case, how many Autumn leaves can you artfully affix to a candle? The answer being, however many I’ve made.
Being my sister and a Kindred Spirit,
Maggie loved everything. The fish and chip lunch, the opening of presents and cards, the birthday cake I’d baked which she declared delicious - which is High Praise coming from one who makes the most amazing cakes for other people’s birthdays.
She was overdue a cake baked just for her.
Much, much later as I was getting ready for bed, Maggie sent me a message via WhatsApp: “I love all my pressies
but especially my beautiful autumn leaves candle. I can just feel the love with which it has been made and I will treasure it forever.”
Oh, yes indeed,
I have appointed myself as Mr B’s social secretary, in a bid to cheer up his daily life with exciting activities.
are thinking, I know, that this, my latest ploy to keep Mr B entertained, is potentially fraught with danger unless I am certain that the Man In Question will go along with my plans for him. You may, or may not, be reassured to hear my rationale which is that,
provided the activities I am organising are centred on either family, food or football, I can’t go far wrong.
The world seems to be closing in on poor
Mr B with trips out becoming few and far between, so difficult are such outings for him these days. This means that the world will have to come to him and, guess what, I am up for the challenge.
I telephone my friend Sue, whom Mr B knows as “Spurs Sue” on account of her support for Tottenham Hotspur. It is no coincidence, of course, that Mr B is also a Spurs supporter, as is Sue’s fella, John. Plans
are made for a Footie Evening to cheer on Tottenham when they come up against Borussia Dortmund in Group H of the Champions League. You are impressed, I can tell, that I have such detailed information at my fingertips, right down to the correct spelling of
Spurs’ opponents, but it’s only what is expected of a conscientious social secretary. Sue says she and John will bring the beers. Now there’s a result, whatever happens on the pitch.
UMr B says, now that I am on a roll, can I contact The Neighbours about the possibility of another Footie Evening when Brighton are playing? I spend a few moments wondering what will happen when Spurs play Brighton and whether
I will be required to invite supporters of both teams into our living room where War Will Be Declared. For ninety minutes only, you understand.
B and I are travelling back into the past at the moment, re-reading Hunter Davies’s book “The Glory Game” which recounts the events of a season in the life of Tottenham Hotspur. I gave this book to Mr B as a Christmas present in 1972, a mere
45 years ago. “Your own Hallelujah Chorus!” I have written inside. We are endlessly amused by reading comments on the extravagant salaries paid to first team players - £200 a week, no less!
Next I turn my attention to Food and, with it, the important question of company. Eating food in the company of good friends has to be one of the pleasures of life. So I phone Bob and Val, on the basis that nobody will be
able to keep Mr B better amused than Bob, whose dry humour and terrible jokes are legendary. We haven’t seen these friends for simply ages so this will be a good opportunity for a catch-up. I shall worry about what we will eat later on, when I stop being
Mr B’s social secretary and become his Masterchef. In a manner of speaking.
Which brings me to family - my Little Sister and her fella are coming on
Wednesday when we will be able to celebrate her birthday. She tells me she will be perfectly happy with Fish & Chips which happens to be her favourite meal. We will go with the flow, I tell her, because that’s what we do best. It’s debatable
whether a really efficient social secretary would go with the flow but you can be too organised, don’t you agree? Then on Sunday the Middle of the Darling Daughters will arrive, with Trio in tow, to celebrate her birthday with us. That’s two special
dates within a few days - but, as I always say, why celebrate one birthday when you could celebrate two?
I consider the diary, with all its new entries,
and congratulate myself on having made a good start on bringing the world to Mr B. I would go as far as to say it’s an “excellent” start but I don’t want to set myself up to fail.
The thing is, I have to keep it up but I’m confident that if I keep to Food, Football and Family, I will continue to succeed in my self-appointed role.
As Shakespeare once said, the World will be our oyster.
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