Yesterday was my birthday. 47 years, and to the surprise of many, still going strong.
The day started early when an excited 4 year old bounced on me singing 'Happy Birthday to you` and asking if I wanted to open my presents yet. When I eventually surfaced and the carers had left, he cheerfully argued with his big brother about who should help me unwrap what. “Open this one, Daddy. It's from Mummy and me and him.” This one turned out to be a rather lovely coffee maker. The day was off to a wonderful start.
That afternoon Polly had organised a picnic in Beddington Park, just down the road. St Mary's, a chocolate box church, on the edge of the park was having a 'Duck Day' by the river that runs through the tree studded open parkland. We set up in the shade of a Hawthorn tree next to the Wandle and waited for friends to arrive. Already, a little way up stream a stall had been set up to sell the yellow plastic ducks that would race down the river from one small bridge to the next. A few fête type games had been erected and there was a small refreshments tent. A few hundred people had gathered for the fun.
What followed was one of those idyllic afternoons that you are occasionally blessed with. Good friends, fine weather and a plenitude of food. Polly had baked a huge number scones which she served with the traditional clotted cream and strawberry jam. It could not have been more English if the Queen had come morris dancing through our party whilst eating fish and chips and quoting Shakespeare. Many of the friends who came have young children and they joined together in a running, splashing, shrieking game of incomprehensible (to us adults) rules and laughter, punctuated by breathless breaks as yellow ducks floated downstream on the gentle current, racing to the bridge a few yards from us. The Wandle, at this point in it's meandering course, is only about 20 feet wide and just 9 inches deep. With plenty of adults to cast an occasional eye over them they were left to themselves to dip in and out of the water like a raft of otter pups and we grown ups were left to lie on picnic rugs and chat. Someone had thoughtfully brought along a small table for me to rest my plate on and by the time the afternoon drew to a close it was littered with birthday cards and several bottles of wine.
Later, back at home, with two happily exhausted children tucked up in bed, my friend Kevin popped round to wish me a happy birthday and give me some Trappist beer from Belgium, one of the finest drinks on God's green earth. Later Polly and I drank a bottle to accompany the roasted vegetables and leg of lamb she had cooked for me.
This post should be read whilst listening to Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' (or better yet, Kirsty MacColl's duet with Evan Dando from her album 'Galore`.)