A Day to Remember. 15 April 2013.
8 a.m and I have opened two birthday cards already.
Actually opened them at 2.am. for want of something better to do. This was never a birthday I could have imagined. In pain and back with my parents. And about to cash in my pension.
Right, enough self -pity. It’s my birthday, so I better make the most of it. (The image is less than 10 years ago but seems appropriate.) Read on…
My bedroom door opens and Ma n Pa appear.
Ma is holding a balloon with 60 written on it. Pa is standing there looking confused. Understandable. Even first thing in the morning, I don’t look sixty 😉
Pa is still speechless. Ma is digging him in the ribs and motioning towards the window.
‘What? What!’ Pa exasperated, as usual, at the noises that pass for communication between these two over the last fifty odd years.
‘Open the curtains!’ Ma hisses.
‘What?!’ Pa has his hearing aid in his pocket…
Watery sunshine filters through, highlighting the condensation that has appeared between the two panes of double glazing.
I open a few cards. That’s okay, I’m hardly ever in the same place two years running. Only the faithful few get cards to me, in time. Some cards never arrive thanks to La Poste or Royal Mail, who knows?
I half jokingly say. Ooh, maybe someone will send me a big bouquet of flowers.
Ten minutes later. Ma n Pa say they are popping out.
Twenty minutes later they arrive back with a bouquet of flowers and a bright purple sash that says birthday girl on it. Press the one end and little sparkly lights flash.
Ma says. ‘Thought you might like to wear it when we go out for lunch.’
Lunch at a local pub. Me, Ma n Pa. Yeah, right.
How to explain?
‘If there were going to be 30 of us, maybe but not wearing it with just the three of us!’
Pa resisted telling the waiter about my advanced age and the reason for this extravagant outing. Phew.
Pa ordered a rack of lamb. This would take thirty minutes to prepare. Were we in a rush?
Nope. No problem.
I ordered rainbow trout. Ma wrinkled her nose. ‘You get lots of little bones with that’
‘I know, it helps them to swim. They would be very wobbly without them.’
I can’t help it.
Sadly, the genius in the kitchen decided to cook my unwobbly fish before Pa’s lamb and kept it warm. The fish was served with fennel and watercress. Sounded good.
Oh well, it sounded good…It looked what it was. Overcooked and kept warm, i.e. dried out.
The fennel was…in there somewhere, possibly. Look I know it is expensive in the UK but two slivers are hardly worth mentioning. The whole dish was floating in oil.
Ma n Pa were tucking into theirs with gusto. I toyed with mine.
I wondered if the chef thought chucking a load of oil on over cooked fish was some kind of relief effort.
I couldn’t be arsed to say what I really thought and tried to tilt the plate, scraping off the –would have been better from a tin-trout.
I asked for a decaff coffee and was presented with a soup bowl of hot brown liquid.
My day was complete.
It started to rain.
It was already grey, cloudy and windy. The sun only appears between the time you wake up ( gives you hope) and the time you actually need to go out. The rest of the time is grey.
So, back to the house I grew up in. Oh the childhood memories. Oh the…maybe not.
Apart from a few cards that was it. I admit I thought I might get ‘something to unwrap’.
But then I didn’t get anything ‘to unwrap’ for my 50th, so why was I hoping?
I had taken Ma into Waterstones, ten days earlier. ‘Ooh, the new Janet Evanovich is out in hardback.’
‘Ooh, it’s a bit expensive. I will wait until it comes out in paperback.’
Subtle? Too subtle, apparently.
Ma. ‘So what do you want for your birthday?’
‘I would like a kindle but it’s not a priority’
Silly me. I thought birthday presents were allowed to be a non-priority.
Admittedly there are different types. A little research amongst friends and family would have given her the answer. But no. Nothing to unwrap.
I needed physio on my shoulder. I had to pay privately as the NHS only deals with limbs that are actually dangling and you are in danger of becoming an amputee before you get help.
So Ma n Pa paid for that. Helpful. Not complaining…
When asked at Christmas what I would like to do for my big birthday in April, I suggested a few friends and nearby relatives ( cousins mainly) to come for tea on the Sunday (the day before my birthday) . I should have put it in writing. I also added that I didn’t want a big party.
Apparently my first suggestion was unheard and only the second part heeded.
By three p.m. on my birthday I was reading in my room. Possibly what I was doing at age 6?
Arms folded she begins. ‘I’ve had a terrible job trying to find you a cake with no milk in it.’
She then produces a lemon tart with a flourish from behind her back.
‘Is this any good?’
I squint at the label.
‘Erm, no. It has double cream in it.’
‘Well, I didn’t have my glasses when I went shopping.’
Yep, that will be my fault. I’m so inconsiderate being lactose intolerant…
Huge sigh. Ma, not me.
‘Well, go and have a look in the fridge, there is an apricot tart in there ( hurrah, love apricots) see if that’s any good?’
‘Yep, That’s fine.’
And now…drum roll please…Ma’s piece de resistance.
Arms folded again. ‘I suppose if I had thought about it sooner, I could have made you a cake.’
How to respond or not?
I just stared at her for a moment. Oh what the heck.
‘Sooner? Did no one tell you it was my birthday?’
No reaction. Funny how sarcasm is a one way street in this house.
Even if she had somehow forgotten, I had been under their roof for the previous ten days and the subject had come up.
But all was not lost. At 4 p.m. the doorbell rang.
Ah-ha. A surprise party? A delivery of something to unwrap? Friends (not many in the area now but enough to make a noise)
So. Friends. Lovely. Very nice people. All five of them. Quality over quantity any day.
Except these five lovely people were Ma n Pa’s friends. Average age 87.
I am not an ageist (far from it) but when the conversation revolved around hip replacements and having a beloved dog put down ( in minute detail) I knew I had now formally entered the twilight zone.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, was soon to follow.
Ma appeared ( she does a lot of moving about silently) with the edible apricot tart.
Candles, aflame in the shape of a 60, and a wobbly chorus of happy birthday, made me smile, but not for long.
Ma. ‘ I’ve had terrible trouble trying to find a suitable cake.’ Hands on hips.
One of the lovely five. ‘Oh, you should have said, I could have made you a cake.’ Glancing at Ma, then me.
Ma. ‘Yes, you make a lovely cake.’
I didn’t expect the world.
I had hoped for a little thought and effort? Although, not sure effort is the appropriate word.
When you really care about someone, deeds seem effortless, to me anyway.
Am I sulking? Yes.
Is…If I had thought sooner…on playback? Yes.
Is writing this down cathartic?
Let’s hope so.
Thanks for listening and I promise not to mention this ever again…
p.s. My brother sent me some flowers.