When you reach my age, birthdays are less a cause for celebration than for surprise that one is still around.
It was my birthday yesterday and my daughters particularly excelled themselves this year, finding ever more creative ways of telling me that I'm old. Catherine's card, over a picture of a particularly lugubrious Bassett hound, bore the words "Another birthday and another year older -- it's hard to keep the joy and excitement under control" while Alice's contribution read chillingly "In dog years, you're dead".
If you take my birthday as beginning when my daughters handed over their birthday cards, then my birthday had technically started on Wednesday when I met the girls for a meal in London, as we do from time to time.
The deal is very straightforward. The girls invite a parent out for a meal. All eat. Parent pays. Despite the certainty, I've noticed that there is nonetheless a certain etiquette to be followed at the conclusion of the meal. Although it is tacitly understood that the parent will pay (they are after all penniless students), we still go through the fumbling-around-in-the-handbag-because-we-will-split-the-bill ritual before the parent offers to pay. This is of course followed by the oh-well-if-you're-absolutely-sure ritual of feigned surprise. Occasionally, a peck on the cheek and the you're-the-best-mum/dad* (*delete as applicable)-in-the-world ritual brings matters to a conclusion.
I am met at Charing Cross station by my daughters, Alice wearing a new dark lipstick that lends her a certain Cruella Daville mien. But when it comes to scary, I can top them all. Somehow earlier in the day, and largely unbeknownst to me, I have managed to burst a blood vessel in my right eye and, whilst it does not cause me any particular difficulty, does tend to unsettle others. In fact, the whole eye is red to the point where I look one of those Tory scaremongering election posters about Tony Blair. Catherine has a sharp intake of breath when I look up from my newspaper before telling me that I look like Scar from The Lion King.
On this particular occasion, and presumably because my daughters find themselves especially hungry, we go to an "all you can eat" sushi bar in Covent Garden where we eat -- well -- sushi, washed down with plum wine and sake. Incidentally, all-you-can-eat is not very much with sushi. Despite the fact that it looks like little more than a few bits of rice glued together with wallpaper paste, it doesn't take many nigiri, sashimi or kakinoha to fill you up.
That was Wednesday. My actual birthday, Friday, had been set aside for filming. We had to prepare publicity films for a forthcoming patient meeting. Eros, our video expert, takes one look at me and shakes his head. "There's no way we can film" he says "you look like a zombie with that eye". I draw his attention to the fact that the broadcast will be going out on Halloween and suggest therefore this is less of an issue. He is unmoved by this argument and is already packing up the studio lights before I can reason further.
It is not long after I arrive home that Freia appears, bearing gifts. She has abandoned her brother to monopoly with the kids and turns up with a rather fine bottle of Tokai, one of my absolute favourite dessert wines, and home-made biscotti. Claire opens a bottle of wine (mercifully not the Tokai) and we set about rectifying the world's problems. Not least of which is Anton who, despite intending to take a half day on Friday, is still at home at nine o'clock.
I'm still not quite sure how the idea originated but somehow it is mooted that, as a special birthday treat, I might like to drive Anton's Jag to pick him up from the station. Bear in mind that I have not driven the car before and will be driving it on my insurance, I suggest that a little familiarisation might not go amiss. Amazingly Freia agrees and we take the beast for a snarl up the dual carriageway.
It has to be said that the beast is a wonderful thing to drive. Especially on the open road -- you always have the sense that it is champing at the bit in town but, once out on the dual carriageway, it can -- how shall I say -- express itself a little better. It is beautifully poised and enormously powerful -- I ought to know since I persuaded him to buy it. It is with some reluctance that I drop Freia at her house and head to the station to pick up Anton.
Top birthday present.
Thankfully Anton's eyesight is good enough in the darkness to realise, before kissing me, that it is not his wife at the controls.