When you have a birthday with a zero at the end, it’s time to take stock and look back at life … and forward to the future.
I’m not making a big thing about this particular birthday, but it’s one of the ones that dare not say its name. Though I feel a decade or two younger, and some kind souls even suggest I look years younger, one has to admit to the aches and pains of advancing age. My kids are all grown up, I have two delightful grandchildren who seem to be growing like weeds, and my son even remarked that I was now exactly twice his age.
In June, I had two wonderful birthday parties. The first was a big surprise while we were staying with my middle daughter in Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. She invited my second oldest friend in the world, a girl I met in Cairo when we were eight and 10 respectively and have stayed in touch with ever since. She also invited one of my oldest school chums, with whom I’d organized a reunion of our contemporaries from Oundle School just the week before. Her about-to-be fiancé was there (he actually proposed on a romantic moonlit night in France the following week). Lovely chap, we really like him. And of course, my beloved. We chatted on the secluded patio behind her charming stone cottage and watched the blue tits, great tits, a gloriously colourful bullfinch and a rare Eurasian jay feasting at the bird table. A large wood pigeon stalked around underneath catching the dropped seeds. The rain held off and we enjoyed bubbly and colourful cupcakes.
The next was back in Toronto. With rain threatening, I had planned for the worst, but I figured the 20 or so guests would fit cosily under the arbour in our pocket garden. The bar was separated under another shelter with the food on a big table protected by a giant umbrella. It was bright green and I hadn’t realized how much it would clash with my chosen color scheme of red, white and blue — with the Queen’s Jubilee just a week in the past, I was feeling particularly patriotic — but it blended nicely into the Japanese maple and the dogwoods. Cake was ordered, chocolate with chocolate icing and red, white and blue trim. For those who prefer vanilla, cup cakes iced in red, white and blue surrounded them. Tri-coloured balloons danced gaily in the light breeze.
One friend, a former professional barman, kindly volunteered to run the bar. He joked that it wasn’t often that people could open a cupboard and pull out two dozen champagne flutes. I responded that we had more, if necessary, but they were the cut crystal ones and I wasn’t anxious to take them outside. As it happened, only one Ikea glass got broken, not bad for a crowd that drank its way though about a dozen and a half bottles of fizz. One lesson I’d learned from years in the event business, was that if people are drinking one must provide blotting paper – in this case, palace finger sandwiches with smoked salmon, thinly sliced cucumber and cream cheese. Another young friend, with loads of experience as a line cook and chef, helped with their prep, two big platters full, with tiny tomatoes, gherkins and olives on the side. Made with four loaves of bread, all but two fingers went.
People wondered about the miniature rubber ducks which decorated the table. If they’d read my story about visiting HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace, they would have realized the significance. The Goring Hotel, where we were staying on that visit, right behind the Royal Mews, gives each guest a rubber ducky for their bathtub. Palace sandwiches, rubber duckies, get it? Celui qui s’amuse le plus, vit.
I don’t remember much about the party. Everyone came, the place buzzed with happy conversation and the sun came out. I’d scattered large umbrellas around the garden, just in case, and they worked like rain totems and kept every drop away. After I’d blown out the candles, the crowd sung the birthday song, but they were so out of tune, I made them sing it again! Then they sung “why was he born at all!” So there. As the sun went down, the last guest, a venerable sailor friend, and I polished off half a bottle of very good 12-year-old Balvenie. My goodness, I thought, I’ve been to a marvellous party – and I don’t need to hold another one for a decade.
I tend to look forward rather than back, so my list of things yet to do is long. I also refuse to call it my bucket list. My mum lived to nearly 101 and my uncle still thrives at 102. Its not in my genetics that I’ll kick the bucket soon!
Here’s my top 10.
- Visit Italy, especially Venice with my friend who has a gondola, and Florence with anyone who will come.
2. Visit Paris in April with my beloved.
3. Go hot air ballooning with my daughter – she’s already bought the tickets on Virgin Balloon Flights.
4. Fly to Cascais with Easy Jet. I’ve had tickets for three years and was planning to visit Portugal, literally the week Covid first hit. The airline won’t give me my money back, so I shall have to go one day. My mouth waters at all the taste treats I’m in for, including genuine pastéis de nata in Bélem.
5. Visit Cape Breton, Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg with my beloved. She’s never been to the East Coast of Canada and I have many friends there, whom I’d like to see again. The last time I was in the area I wanted to see the great fortress at Louisburg and the Glen Breton whisky distillery, but somehow, they fell off the agenda.
6. Own another topless car: in Benghazi, my Dad had a WW II Willy’s Jeep, on which I learned to drive; in Kenya I had an open kit car; in London I had an MG with an incredibly complicated canvas top; my beloved and I had at least two wonderful convertible Jaguar XKs with push button retractable tops. As I wrote earlier, I like going topless!
7. Write another cookbook: Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook didn’t do as well as the previous two, but I have a few hundred more recipes to share and I feel I have another book in me. My working title is Book IV…recipes even you can cook. Stay tuned.
8. Write another screenplay: I’ve written four screenplays, two have been optioned and one has been filmed. The Key to Love shoot wrapped in May and is now in post-production. I’ve got more stories in me and I really enjoy making up plots and characters and generally messing up their lives. I hope one of my current efforts or new ones yet to be written will see the screen.
9. Keep writing: I like to write every day. Sometimes for freelance work, books or scripts, sometimes for this blog, sometimes for projects I take on as a volunteer, but mostly just to keep my mind active and my brain functioning at full alert.
10. Sell our Toronto house and move. At one point, before the pandemic mucked up plans, we had thought of moving back to England and a nice little cottage in the Cotswolds or Cheltenham, but that was not to be. We have missed that window, so Niagara-on-the-Lake is in our sights. A quiet historic little town, where we already have lots of friends to make a new circle, sounds ideal. Plus, wonderful theatres at the Shaw Festival, and some jolly good pubs and restos.
Check back in a decade and see how many of my top 10 I achieved!
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This is Nigel’s 350th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook and Market to Table: The Cookbook are both available at most major online sellers, including Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo and Scribd, all well priced at under $10.