Age is in your head
20th July 2014
No matter how much you might want to ignore them I reckon that having a birthday party is as good a way of facing up to getting older as any. You can either get old or have a fun time and for a moment feel young again.
I’ll accept that trying to act like a twenty-something at sixty is asking for torn ligaments, damaged tendons, back strain (and possibly the onset of children) but you can always pretend you were forty !
It does not seem that long ago that we were looking to organising my fiftieth birthday party, where did all those years go ?
This time around, something that I wanted to do was make a weekend of things by having part of the celebration at my friend Stéphane’s house near Marquion and the other here at home. In my head, the theory went, it would be better for me to travel towards Cambrai than have my friends tramps all the way over here. Besides, Stéphane has a huge garden and the family have never visited, so it would be a day out for them as well.
All depended on the weather and the summer this year has been almost non-existent; just rain and more rain. As the weekend approached the weather forecast couldn’t make up its mind as to whether or not we were going to have thunderstorms, and on which day. First it was Saturday, then perhaps Sunday, then, not at all. Back to Saturday. In essence the French weather forecast works on the lines of : We think this may happen but much depends on the weather !
Friday evening was bright and sunny. Jason cut the lawn and we began putting the tent up that I had bought ten years previously. The family arrived and everything was fabulous until somebody switched off the outside lights, the world went black and we were treated to a thunderstorm that was so exceptional we all stood outside in the wet to watch. Jason has a video somewhere that I must get from him.
Saturday morning was sort of fine but the forecast was for it to degrade during the afternoon. Off we went to Stéphane’s where he had set up his marquee. We had all the food and drink with us so that had to be sorted out and in some cases heated — meals on wheels.
We slowly got ourselves organised and it quickly became apparent that the afternoon was (despite all predictions to the contraire) going to be hot and sunny. We all began to cook under the tent and we had to drop the sides to let a bit of air in.
There is something about balloons that makes even the most staid of folks participate. You don’t need skill, you can knock it wherever you want, no points, no winners but if you don’t play; well you are a bit of a loser.
After the main course consisting of plateaux of British pies with real water crust pastry, Chinese and Indian nibbles and a tomato to make it all healthy we adjourned whilst Richard set up an archery target. Looking back on it we should really have used balloons — though truth be told some of us had enough trouble trying to hit the target. Once lost an arrow is very difficult to find in grass and undergrowth.
Hannah proved to be the best shot of the afternoon and Debbie managed to get a photo of the arrow in flight which is no mean feat and not a telegraph pole in sight. You have to be at least fifty to understand that one — surely they do not re-run Robin Hood (1955) on UK Gold.
Stéphane then offered to take the youngsters for a row on the canal as Victor needed to do some practice for the following day’s races. Off they all went to have a fun time messing about on boats. No pictures because nobody was prepared to risk a camera.
Once our crew of budding seafarers had returned, came the cake. Debs had cradled it all the way over in the car to make sure that it arrived safe and un-crushed. Five years ago I had the lunar-landing as a subject. This year with the centenary of the Great War upon us it was a battle in the trenches. All of it made from a chocolate cake, finger biscuits, wafers and shell-shot trees from Mikados. Simon had made and painted up the figures and with the addition of burning sparklers it was quite a spectacle. A shame to eat it — but we did !
It was a struggle because Debbie had also provided us with a chilli cheesecake and we had strawberries as well (minor lack of organisation there — we had left the cream back home in the fridge)
The crowning moment of the day as we announced that we needed to head back was Stéphane’s complaint that : he thought we were going to have a barbecue as well. Where he thought we were going to put more food I have no idea. Manu might well have done because he and Anne had been required to leave early to join other friends for exactly that, a barbecue.
We arrived home and shortly afterwards Jason’s friends turned up. Drinks and nibbles were provided but they had been well warned that they would not be getting fed at that late hour of the day. Having had a splendid afternoon, the rain had started again on the way home and we had been treated to a touch of thunder and lightning. Time for bed said Zebedee (Zébulon for those who want him in French).
Much to my surprise early the following morning we had everybody up for breakfast, those outside had had a rough night because, somebody had forgotten to organise himself sufficiently with beds and bedding for his friends (no names mentioned but think hockey mask).
Once more into the breach dear friends. The final clean up of the house, balloons to be blown up, banners to be stuck up on walls and food to be prepared.
Anton got the fire going outside and I made up some spice mixes for the meat. The house might seem large from outside but there is not a great deal of space inside and I certainly do not have anywhere near enough seats for twenty people — but we managed. It was mizzling outside and we finally managed to find a use for Jean-Jacques’ fishing brolly. I don’t think that it has ever been used.
The front porch became smokers’ corner because all of Jason’s friends smoke. Despite my best efforts, none of them wanted to smoke any of the weeds in my garden. Kids of today.
I had invited a few people from the village, Alain and Giselle who have been enthusiastic supporters of my desire to carry out research on the village memorial and Bruno and Charlotte from the château for whom I managed to track down one of the Canadian soldiers who had left his name on the walls of the tower.
We were later joined by Sandra and Peter who had spent the morning combating floods in their village. Thankfully this way we had escaped all of that.
Sunday was a bit of a re-run of Saturday though this time we did have the barbecue running and we didn’t get to shoot arrows or go boating (makes it sound boring). But hey ! we had buckets of drink, so much food that we were able to parcel some of it up for our guests and we had another birthday cake.
I had not been expecting another cake. After yesterday’s amazing oeuvre by Debbie I was counting on serving up what remained of my Christmas cake in guise of a proper British fruit cake. But no, mum and dad had organised a cake from the same lady who had provided their anniversary cake last year. Beautifully done but it did lack the whisky that mother soaks her’s in.
So we had fruit cake, strawberries, and cream this time, plus the remains of our trench system from yesterday, which we re-lit and I have to say it was more dramatic the second time around indoors.
The youngsters had to leave as they were all at work the following day and the world slowly calmed. I got to open my presents which seemed to consist of an awful lot of alcohol. The only thing that I had specifically asked for was from Nigel and his family. A photo from a couple of years ago of mum and dad doing their Morcambe and Wise exeunt stage right.
Monday morning we cleared the place up a wee bit — though as dad had been chief bottle washer the day before there was not much in the way of that to do. The sun came out and we decided that for lunch we would finish off some of the vitals from the barbecue that hadn’t been eaten.
A good birthday and I never had the time to feel old.