Winston: Jennie’s Idea

Many of you kindly left very nice comments on the recent blog post, Winston’s Last Walk. His owner Michele contacted me by email to let me know how much she liked the post, and how she was touched by the comments from bloggers all over the world who never even knew Winston.

American blogger Jennie Fitzkee had an idea, and suggested it to me in a comment on the post.

‘You know what might be a wonderful thing? A card shower for Michele. I am already excited! Just tell us bloggers who remembered Winston to send Michele a card, via you. Can you imagine her joy when you deliver a handful of cards? I will send one this weekend, if that is okay.’

If anyone would like to do the same thing as Jennie, and send a card of some kind to Michele care of my address, please feel free to do so.
I have no doubt that she will be incredibly moved by that.

Michele Smith
C/O Pete Johnson
29, Beech Road
Norfolk NR20 4EZ

My thanks again to everyone for their kindness.
Here is a reminder of that post.

A bigger cake

Remember the line in the film ‘Jaws’?
They see the size of the shark, and Roy Scheider says “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

It is my birthday today, and if I was having a cake (which I’m not) it would have to be a bigger one. It would need to accommodate 66 candles this time, and might well set off the smoke alarm once lit.

Last year, I celebrated by taking a trip to the Suffolk coast, on a bright and breezy sunny day. I was wearing shorts, and feeling that summer was just around the corner. But we have had rain overnight, and the sun is currently unable to break through the dark clouds threatening overhead. So a trip to the seaside might be called off, I suspect.

Nonetheless, it has started well enough. I have received ten cards already, and gifts of a new PC monitor, red wine, and some of my favourite caramel nougat. The postman might bring more cards later this afternoon, and this evening we are going out for a birthday meal. I have chosen The Chequers, in a village called Thompson. They specialise in British food, and I am looking forward to ordering a traditional steak and kidney pudding. It is a 17th century inn, with a thatched roof, and a tiny bar.

So, even if we don’t get out anywhere because of the weather, I have that to look forward to.
If it is anyone else’s birthday today, and you are reading this, then I wish you Happy Birthday, from a fellow Piscean.

Be my Valentine?

There have been lots of Valentine’s Day posts around the blogs today, as might be expected. Like most traditional celebrations, this day has been overblown, inflated, and hijacked by shops and big corporations, until it is has become something very different from its roots at a time more innocent.

I have always celebrated it, one way or another. As a child, I was bought a card to give to my Mum, and perhaps a small gift to present to her too. Once I was an awkward teenager, keen to impress my first real girlfriend, I saved for weeks to be able to give gifts of flowers, and chocolates in a heart-shaped box. Back then, it was not done to sign the accompanying card. It was supposed to be a mystery, despite the obvious farce of handing it over along with the gift. On rare occasions, I have received an unsigned card in the post. Sometimes, this was a prank organised by friends, and very rarely, a token of affection from someone that I had no idea even liked me.

If you are settled in a relationship, perhaps even married, such cards can ruin the day, and many days following. A jealous wife or husband will be sure that you must know who sent it, and constantly demand to know who it is. You can protest your ignorance of the sender until you are exhausted, but the seed of doubt will have been sown. Anyone thinking of sending a card to someone they know is happily involved, should seriously consider the potential for damage. Or maybe that is their intention?

As commerce began to tighten its grip on the day, it started to seem as if some flowers and a card were no longer enough. Heart-shaped jewellery became popular, then stuffed fluffy animals, personalised ‘I Love You’ gifts, soon followed by complete ‘Valentine experiences.’ Nothing was ruled out, by anyone with the funds to support the efforts of the merchandisers. The simple flowers soon became too expensive for most pockets. By the late 1970s, shops were asking £2 each for roses, with a bunch of twelve costing half a week’s wages. That the same bunch could be had for a third of the price the following day was simply an indication of how supply and demand works in retail.

Gifts and cards were now so commonplace, we were urged to actually be doing something memorable to celebrate this day. Weekend breaks, ‘Romantic’ destinations, special meals in restaurants and hotels, with dishes given corny names for one night only. Heart-shaped desserts, even heart-shaped steaks. There seemed to be no end to the invention, when it came to cashing in. People would ask “What are you ding for Valentine’s?” This said with the same expectations as they might have for your holiday plans, or Christmas celebrations. TV advertising, in-store advertising, racks of cards, and gifts ranging from heart-shaped cookies, to heart-shaped frying pans, (for that breakfast egg, on the 14th) all appeared in the days immediately following the Christmas break. Even toys are sold with special Valentine tweaks, leading children to anticipate even more gifts, and continuing to miss the point completely.

Overwhelmed by this sea of commercialism, my instincts made me reluctant to comply. For some years, I refused to play ball. I might buy a card, or might not. I flatly refused to buy flowers at inflated prices. (And still do) I would discuss the crass nature of the exploitation, though deep down, I knew that my wife or partner secretly hoped for some acknowledgement on the day. Eventually, I settled for an acceptable balance. A card, a useful or attractive gift, but no pandering to special nights, or romantic breaks. No visits to restaurants, to advertise my love over a heart-shaped Panna cotta.

And I started to think about the unloved; the lonely singles, bombarded by this imagery for weeks on end. No cards in the post for them. No chocolates, heart-shaped or otherwise. The absence of tokens reinforcing their loneliness and concerns, their worries about a life unfulfilled.
And all because of a letter, sent by a prisoner, in the days of the Roman Empire.

A Birthday update.

Well it’s nearly time to say goodbye to another birthday. Despite not being able to go to the seaside, it worked out OK. I got 11 cards, and messages to say that I would be receiving more tomorrow. There were nice presents too; some bottles of wine, two DVD films, a CD, and even some cash. There is the hope of more to come, extending the whole birthday experience into the weekend.

Despite a murky start, the weather brightened and warmed up. The afternoon walk with Ollie was very good, and he got to see all his regular friends, in a big group. The problem with the central heating should be sorted tomorrow, for not much outlay. Even if it isn’t cured then, the wood-burner is going strong, and the hot water is in abundance from the electric heater. I got lots of text messages, phone messages, and e-mails too. Then there were all the nice comments on my previous post as well.

When Julie got home, I opened more cards and my gifts from her, and we went to a local hotel restaurant. I had a starter of pigeon and black pudding that was very tasty. This was followed by a main course of pheasant, something I don’t enjoy that often. Nice locally-sourced produce, and fresh too. It was delicious, and very delicate in flavour; accompanied by rostis, and curly kale. A nice house Shiraz completed my dining experience, and friendly staff were the icing on the cake.

Back home to a glowing fire, and a relaxing latter part of the evening. All in all, a pretty good birthday, at least in my book.

63 Candles

The sixteenth of March is always an important day in my calendar, as it is my birthday. Today I will be celebrating 63 of them, not a number that I am shouting about. To be honest, I might wish it was a much lower one. But there you go, Father Time cannot be cheated, no more than the ravages of a good but hard life can be erased.

Since the 1970s, it has been my habit to take a trip to the seaside on my birthday. The weather is often fine, but I go whether it is good or bad. When I was still working, I was always sure to take the day off as holiday, so I could pack as much in as possible. There have been memorable birthdays, in fascinating foreign lands, but even the most average ones were still great, at least as far as I was concerned.

For the first time that we can remember, Julie is unable to get the day off of work tomorrow. They have staff shortages, and are too busy to allow her to have a day’s holiday. This has left me feeling a little flat. Ollie will still be around of course, but he won’t appreciate the significance of the day. I could take him to one of the local coastal destinations, but then I would be restricted to just walking with him, and wouldn’t be able to go into anything. Besides, the weather forecast is not good, and I have to try to get someone in to sort out the broken central heating.

I will have to put my birthday on hold, until Julie gets home. Then I will open my presents, and we will go out somewhere for a celebratory meal. Even that is affected by ‘Norfolk Mondays’, where almost all the restaurants, and many pubs, choose to close on Mondays. I presume this is a bad day for business, but how will they ever know, if they don’t open? We could explore the more cosmopolitan delights of Norwich; the Big City, where most places are open. However, this is making a long day for Julie, who will have been at work, and then have to drive into the city, get parked, and return home much later than usual. We will probably go to a local hotel. As they have rooms and guests, they have to open.

This is all telling me to stop being so childishly enthusiastic about my birthday every year. History has a way of catching up with you, and life deals you bad cards now and then; like broken heating, and no holidays allowed. Even my traditional birthday list of suggested gifts was hard to compile. I just don’t need anything; and books, DVD films, and music CDs just add to the huge pile that already exists, jostling for the limited space in the office room.

Maybe at 63, I am finally growing up. Not too much though…