This year I decided I was going to have a birthday party I love giving parties love any excuse for celebration but over the years I had given up celebrating, my father died the year of my 21st, my inlaws had a flaming row at the dinner table on my 40th and on my 50th it rained so hard you could have sailed boats down the street so I decided that if this was my new life I'd start it with a bang. I didn't want presents I didn't want speaches I just wanted fun and a celebration of life and being alive despite everything that had happenned.
Hand made Invitaions went out people from far and wide came, my long lost « aunt » from Australia came back especailly from Italy to be there and we cooked up a storm. We erected a gazebo in the garden of a startling turqoise blue, I slow roasted a marinated joint of pork the cheapest and biggest I could find for five hours in the oven until it melted from the bone, we had fresh salads galore from the vegetable patch, a bulgar wheat salad, potato salad from the potager, 15 bagettes from the boulangerie, heaps of garlic bread, and people bought thier own contributions as well, a fantastic beetroot salad, an amazing tuna and pineapple salad with homemade mayonaise and copious apple tartsI in the best french tradition. I made a variation of Eton mess with raspeberries from the garden and my own recipe of ginger tiramisu for desserts. Add to that barbacued sausages and chicken wings ,slaved over by a kind friend who is a whizz at barbacues, carefully hoarded pink sparkling wine bought from a cut price store and a bucket load of pimms and everything went with a swing.
I'd asked for no presents I just wanted friends to come and mark the day with me but they arrived anyway with flowers, plants and wine and an eldery nieghbour presented me with a great big box full of his freshly dug potatoes.
Everybody mixed well, after several drinks the Bretons sang songs and tried to persuade eldest that she should come to the races with them so that could fix her up with a handsome young jockey. I found out things I had never known about these people who had been friends and neighbours for 7 years , not the least being that one of them who is very timid and quiet was in fact a champion jockey until he had a fall and had to retire. Eldest made a speach in three langauges, English French and Turkish someone made one in Breton. Everyone laughed and joked, ate adn drank, children roared around the place like wild animals and the dogs and cats hid.
The sun shone. Everyone pitched in everyone had fun and I didn't even have to do the tidying up for a change. And at the tale end of the day when the first stars were desperate to come out and I had ousted our younger neighbours by gving them a bottle of rose to take home we sat as a family in the garden and opened a bottle of champagne that I had been saving too long for a special occassion that until that moment had never come . We sat ,we chilled and we drank ,toasted the future and friends and family and patted ouselves on the back for a god fete achieved at minumum cost and fuss . Then there was nudging and whispering and fidgetting from the kids and they dissappeared in a flurry to re appear again with a cardboard box hand decorated by youngest.
That was when I discovered another Breton tradition that I had never come accross before ...the birthday box. Each of my friends had without prompting donated a gift of money with a little note each with words of friendship and love and once opened the box contained an dazzling assortment of cash and cheques and the demand that it must be spent on a frippery for me and me alone, not a new mattress not food or to pay off bills or school fees but a gift for me from them.
There are no words to describe how touched I felt how valued and loved it made me feel so what am I going to buy ? I have always wanted an eternity ring but ,for what turned out to be startling obvious reasons my husband never got around to buying me one and now if he had it would have been a hollow reminder of his betrayal so I am glad he didn't.
I think then I shall buy a friendship a ring so that every time I look at it I will remember that I have friends who care and love me no matter what and that despite everything that has happened in my world over the past few years love can be found in the most unexpected places. And to remind me that life can begin again at 53. So happy birthday to me and I thank God that I am blessed with friendship and love from those who really matter.
ps the illustration is by JayMc phillips a contemporary artist whose very witty bio and more of his work can be found at his website here