At the start of the New Year my diary flags up a row of names. These are the birthdays of friends and family members. The first birthday is my mother-in-law’s. Days later, it is my mother’s. Trying to buy for these two special people is a challenge which we fail every year.
‘What shall we give your mum?’ I
asked Mr V.
‘Gosh, I don’t know. Flowers?’
‘But we gave her flowers last
year. And the year before that.’ And, I suspect, every year for the last
decade. It’s not that flowers aren’t a
nice present – far from it. But they
don’t last. ‘What about Marks &
Sparks vouchers?’ I suggested.
‘But what will Mum buy with
them?’ my husband countered.
‘I don’t know.’ I puffed out my
cheeks in thought. ‘Clothes? A visit to the Food Hall?’
‘She has lots of clothes. And she always cooks her own food.’
Ah, yes. Unlike me who relies on the cuisine of good
‘Flowers it is then,’ I sighed,
bringing up Interflora’s website.
Yesterday my phone rang with extra urgency which told me it was my sister on the other end of the line.
‘It’s Mum’s birthday next week,’
she gabbled hysterically, ‘and I haven’t a clue what to buy her.’
‘Join the club,’ I
responded. I hadn’t long since returned
from Bluewater with my daughter where we’d traipsed the length and breadth
looking for inspiration.
‘Ooh, look, you can buy experiences in Boots,’ Eleanor had pointed
to a shelving system sporting fancy boxes with exciting photographs plastered
all over the packaging.
‘Marvellous,’ I replied picking
up a random box. ‘I’m not sure your
grandmother would appreciate a day in woods dressed in camouflage playing Paint
Ball.’ After all, Mother Bryant will be eighty-two.
‘Ooh, look, a helicopter lesson!’ Eleanor read the
blurb avidly. Her boyfriend is eighteen
in a few weeks and I could see the cogs of her brain whirring.
‘Think of something different,’
I smiled, taking the box from her. My
mind whooshed backwards to a year when I’d purchased the very same gift for Mr
‘I’m a bit of an action man,’ Mr
V had boasted on our fourth date.
‘Really?’ I’d gasped in
admiration. ‘What, you mean you love doing
crazy things, like bungee jumping off bridges?’
‘Well I haven’t done anything
like that, but I’d certainly be up
And so an idea was born. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any gifts that
involved hurtling from a great height on a piece of elastic, but I did find hot air balloons, rally driving
at Brands Hatch, and Ferrari Racing at Silverstone. Mr V seemed to embrace them all with a big
smile. Little did I know he was also
clenching his teeth. But I didn’t unearth
that little gem of information until presenting him with a gift to celebrate his
‘Dah dah!’ I trilled, handing
over the tell-tale package adorned with trailing ribbons.
‘Ah ha!’ Mr V grinned
gamely. I failed to notice the beads of
sweat forming on his brow. ‘I think I know what this is.’
‘Bet you don’t!’ I whooped,
fidgeting from one foot to the other in excitement.
‘It’s jumping out of a plane,
isn’t it?’ he chortled, looking slightly green about the gills.
‘Nope! But I’ll remember that for next time!’
‘Please don’t,’ he muttered,
tearing at the box and looking more and more like a man awaiting to hear
the date of his execution. ‘Oh. Goodie.
A helicopter lesson.’
‘YESSSSS!’ I squealed with
excitement. ‘Do you like it?’
‘Y-yes. I love it.
I-I’ve always wanted to fly an h-helicopter.’
The great day dawned and my
husband squeezed into a helicopter that, it has to be said, wasn’t much bigger
than a goldfish bowl. So small was the
cabin, he was practically sitting on the lap of the pilot.
‘Isn’t anybody else coming with
us?’ asked my husband anxiously, as he strapped himself in.
‘Nope,’ said the pilot. ‘There’s not enough room.’
‘So if you have a heart attack,’
Mr V quavered, ‘I’ll be left on my Jack Jones to fly this thing.’
‘If I have a heart attack,’ said
the pilot cheerfully, ‘you’ll be a dead man.’
A few feet away I was avidly filming everything
on an ancient camcorder, zooming in and out, darting backwards and forwards, and
holding the camera at different angles for effect. In my imagination, Stephen Spielberg had
nothing on my camera technique.
‘Wave!’ I shouted, as the rotor
blades whipped into life. My husband
lifted his hand limply. Far from looking
like Action Man, he appeared positively petrified. ‘I have amazing footage!’ I yelled. I gave the thumbs up as the helicopter shot
upwards. Later, when we watched the
film, the helicopter plummeted downwards because I was holding the camera
When Mr V returned an hour
later, he had to be assisted from the helicopter into the hangar’s waiting
area. This was on account of his legs
being unable to support him. Apparently
they’d turned to rubber the moment the helicopter’s joystick was placed in his shaking
On the approach to his next
birthday, Mr took my hand. ‘Can I be absolutely
honest with you?’ he asked gently.
‘What is it?’ I asked,
‘Can we just celebrate my
birthday quietly? Preferably in a
restaurant with both feet firmly on the ground?’
So that is what we do now. Meanwhile, I still can’t think of anything
for my mother’s birthday. Pass me that
phone. I need to place an order with
Interflora. Which reminds me. A long time ago, my father discovered the
most effective way of remembering Mother Bryant’s birthday, was to forget it