Sunday, 18 January 2015


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 old Markies.
          ‘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 V.
          ‘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 for it.’
          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 thirty-eighth birthday.
          ‘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 upside down.
          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 hand.
          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, thoroughly alarmed.
          ‘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 once…     

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