This continues the story of yesterday.
We arrived at The Village Shop in Upper Dicker. The main street was full of vehicles, as was the small carpark attached to the shop by the village green. Matthew was standing in the doorway with a beer. Jackie seemed unusually impatient for me to get out of the car. Actually Mat had phoned us ten minutes before we arrived, wondering how long we would be. This in itself was most unusual. However he wanted to go on a bike ride and Tess had only just told him we were coming. He obviously didn’t have time now so he’d have a beer instead.
Actually Jackie had been hankering for us to leave Morden at 2.00 and was wanting to have lunch early and tear me away from posting my morning walk. We left at about 2.10 and this seemed to be important. Since she had said earlier in the week that it was Tess’s day off and she may or may not be cooking us a meal, and given that we would probably be eating later, it seemed immaterial whether we got there at 3.30 or not.
Apparently I took an age to get out of the car. Jackie was round to the passenger door in a flash. I stood and asked Mat what he was doing in the shop on Tess’s day off. Jackie, being unable to contain herself any more, grabbed my hand and dragged me into the shop. I didn’t think I’d been any slower than usual, just as I don’t think I’m taking forever to get to the point of this story. I never spin things out unnecessarily (my Dad always used to get me to spell that word, followed by ‘Can you spell it?’) do I Michael?
Where was I? Oh, yes, being dragged into the shop.
It was pretty dark in there, coming out of the now bright sunshine. There were some streamers on a beam, and a greeting message chalked on the menu board. The message was ‘Happy Birthday’. Then it hit me. Almost. What actually hit me was Malachi who led the charge of the younger grandchildren. He tackled me just like a rugby forward, quickly followed by Jessica and Imogen. Today’s commentators would call it ‘an awesome hit’. (Sorry, Judith). There was a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and then I saw my rather large extended family; mother; siblings (except Joe); five children; nephews; nieces; grandchildren; and perhaps even more surprisingly my old friends Wolf, who had recently had a stroke, and Luci; Don; and Steve who had come to Sussex from as far away as Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somerset and London. It was particularly gratifying to see all of Jacqueline’s brood (although Illari was missed), made possible I understand by Charlie staying behind to look after the animals. They were all lurking in one side of the shop with wide grins on their faces, perhaps the most dazzling being Wolf’s. What hadn’t immediately struck me was just how many people were there. Some people, like Adam and Thea and Sam and Holly made huge efforts to get away from work. And some were unable to come yet sent their good wishes. I thought Ali’s excuse of being in Morocco a bit weak.
Becky tells me that the original intention had been for them all to be seated at the restaurant tables ignoring me, and see how long it took me to twig. (Yes, this Village Shop serves magnificent food – it is one like no other). In the event they had been unable to contain the little ones who launched prematurely into the birthday song, wriggled out of restraining grasps, and dashed across the room.
I’m filling up with tears as I write this, almost as much as I did when Michael made his loving speech. Before that those who could had filed over for hugs and kisses. I then went round and greeted the less mobile.
Louisa and Jackie had, I remember, had one or two private phone conversations in recent months. These two and Michael had arranged the guest lists, with Louisa doing the bulk of the photographic coordination. It had been difficult to track down my friends because my address book is out of date, details now being stored in my Blackberry. Jessica’s book had helped. An inspirational false trail had been laid by Jackie planning for us to be at The Firs on my actual 70th. birthday on 7th. of 7th. I had suspected something was in the wind and therefore thought it would be then, not just because, as she had said ‘you don’t want to be just us here in the flat on that day, do you?’, but because Elizabeth has the necessary accommodation.
Elizabeth played her part in the organisation, joining Louisa and Jackie in the collection of photos through the ages, starting at about six months. They were gathered from various family members, computerised, and put on a slideshow which played throughout the party. Elizabeth sat up half the night producing this. Some of the pictures I had never seen before. As was noted by more than one person, I am usually the one behind the camera. Whilst that has hitherto been the case, with the advent of digital cameras and the number of photographs everyone now takes I think my traditional role is now redundant.
Sarah, one of the staff members who helped with the catering, took the group photographs with Alex’s camera so that we could all be in them. It was Alex, incidentally, who marked my last fortuitous set of sevens with a rosette (she makes and markets them) when I reached retirement age in 2007. “Birthday Boy 7.7.7” appeared in the centre and the middle ribbon read ‘Official Old Git’. I wore it proudly all day. It now adorns our bedroom wall in The Firs.
Now, the catering. I have mentioned above the quality of The Village Shop’s food (see post of 12th. May). Today it was superlative. There was a range of salads, French bread, cheeses and biscuits, perhaps for those who didn’t like curry. Because Tess knew absolutely that for my day to be complete there had to be curry. There was. Two. Delicious. And poppadoms. And chapatis. And rice. And chutneys. And drumsticks. And wine. And beer. And cake. Not only did Tess produce all this wonderful food, but she managed the organisation of the day and the rapid clearing up afterwards.
The cake came later. Suddenly the lights went out. ‘Happy Birthday’ started up again. Three small grandchildren rushed expectantly to the table at which I was sitting. Then a huge platter bearing the glow of candles with Tess’s feet and legs underneath it advanced towards me. The minute Tess put the plate down three little sets of cheeks puffed up and the candles were out in an instant. In the same minute the sweet decorations surrounding the edges of the perfectly formed 7 0 cake began to disappear down tiny throats. It looked as if it had been ravaged by locusts. Becky photographed the locusts.
Earlier, we had all got outside for the obligatory group photo. It was at this moment that Frances chose to present me with the headdresses. These were apparently a present from Mum who had delegated the shopping to my sister-in-law who had had quite a job finding them. Well done Frances. The story of the headdresses has appeared in an earlier post, but, since I can’t remember which one, I am going to have to repeat it. I am told I have been banging on about it for years. I am sure that’s not true, but, just in case, I hereby undertake never to mention it again. When Chris and I were small I woke up one Christmas morning to find him scoffing all the chocolate out of my stocking. I had also been given two Red Indian (as we called Native Americans then) headdresses. As I had two and Chris had none, I then had to give him one. This seemed to me like adding injury to injury. We had been recounting this story a while back and Mum said she’d get me some for my birthday. I’m sure it hadn’t been me who raised the subject. She didn’t let it rest there, for among the pile of generous presents was a huge bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. It took me quite a while to get around to opening the numerous gifts, for which I thank everyone.
Many more stories were told during this event, especially as the cousins and their children extended the event into the pub. Some, like the cricket ball in the eye, may find their way into further posts. Perhaps I’ll just mention Father Christmas’s Reindeer which was, as often, wheeled out for the occasion. On one of our first Christmas mornings in Newark when Sam and Louisa were small, Jessica and I were awakened by excited cries from these two rushing up the stairs. ‘Mummy, Mummy’, they shrieked, ‘Father Christmas has left a reindeer behind’. For some reason their mother was convinced I’d had something to do with it. As they rushed into our bedroom she turned to them and said: ‘Your father’s an idiot’. The reindeer is a large wooden carving from Bali. Father Christmas told me that.
In yesterday’s post I recorded that I had disturbed a group of three magpies. This, according to the rhyme signifies a girl. Today Holly informed me that the baby she is expecting is a sister for Malachi.
Eventually I was persuaded to make a short speech. I pleaded that I’d had no time to prepare anything because I’d been deliberately misled into thinking there might be an event next week; because I’d thought that would only be small; and because I’d had too much to drink and could never drink before making a speech. No excuses were accepted and I remember finishing by telling everyone to log onto the blog site today. Anyone who didn’t know how to do it should ask Jessica (5), Malachi (3), or Imogen (3) to teach them.
I cannot name you all individually, but you all know who you are and that you will remain in my heart forever.
And so to car, to Links Avenue, and to bed.