Posted in Writing

My New Philosophy of Flower Arranging

This weekend, my lovely friend Susanne, whom I’ve known since I was 11, presented me with a beautiful bunch of spring flowers – anemones and tulips (my favourite). As I stuffed them unceremoniously into the first vases that came to hand, (well, we were in the middle of my husband’s birthday party), I inadvertently conducted a floral  experiment that’s brought out the philosopher in me. Or should that be the flowerosopher? I think I’ve just invented a whole new school of thought. Florists, philosophers – you decide….

Sometimes it’s good to be in solitary splendour, regardless of what anyone else is doing – but it can get a bit lonely.

Single anemone in a green IKEA vase
1) Standing, strong, alone.

Other times, there’s safety in numbers, all standing together, disciplined and firm.

Tulips and anemones stuffed tightly into a glass vase
2) Looking pretty but with no room for manoeuvre.

Best of all is when you can be together, but enjoy the freedom to be who you want to be and to go where you want to go in life.

Tulips and anemones loosely placed in a glass vase, arrange themselves
3) With room for manoeuvre, these flowers arranged themselves to perfection.

I know which I prefer.

Thank you, Susanne – you and I definitely belong in vase number 3!

Posted in Family

What A Difference A Day Makes

Humorous leap year postcard postmarked in 1908...
Humorous leap year postcard from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hurrah! At last February is on its way out, and I’m so glad it’s not a leap year. This means that March – and Spring – will arrive one day earlier this year. 

There’s a world of difference between the last day of dreary, chilly February and the first day of daffodilly, Easter eggy March. Even more so for my husband, because the first day of March happens to be his birthday.

How frustrating leap years must have been for him when he was a boy, making him wait an extra day for his birthday. But this year I’d been expecting him to hanker after a 29th of February, to put off the dawn of an alarmingly significant  birthday.

60 – The New 40

Yes, I know that 60 is often considered the new 40, but for me, 60 absolutely spells old age. (I say that from the safe perspective of someone still many years away from their own 60th birthday.) This is because my grandmother was born exactly 60 years before me, and for me she was the archetypal old lady. I thought that 60 years was the perfect gap between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I’ve always liked a neat round number.

To anyone who doesn’t know my husband, you might think me cruel to have bought him a watch for his 60th birthday. You might be concerned that every time he looks at it, he’ll be reminded how quickly life is passing him by.

But is he downhearted? Oh, no. He’s positively chirpy. He’s even requested we celebrate  with a party, although he’s not usually a party animal. I don’t think I’ll be feeling as cheerful when it’s my turn to leave my 50s behind.

This is a complete role reversal.  Usually, I am renowned for my optimism, ever the Pollyanna. For Gordon, not only is the glass half empty – it’s also got a crack in it. So why the sudden about-turn?

Saving Grace

The reason is, he’s a Scotsman. He appreciates the opportunity to conserve his spending. As a child, he and his sister set up a club in their loft, of which the key rules were pinned to the wall: “No smoking, no swearing, save money”. Although he has a generous heart and is capable of acts of extraordinary kindness, he is also very fond of opportunities to economise. And so as February closes, bringing old age closer by the second, he’s  preoccupied with  the financial advantages that turning 60 will bring him: his civil service pension, his free bus pass from the council, discounted entry to museums, and 10% off on Tuesdays at B&Q.

I don’t think such rewards will buoy me up when I turn 60. Instead I’ll be clinging desparately to my faith in the powers of nominal determinism. (Oh, how I love to slip that phrase into a conversation!) Because, after all, by marrying Gordon, I became Mrs Young. We have no intention of ever getting divorced, and so, no matter what my age, I will be forever Young. If that’s not a good reason to marry someone, I don’t know what is.

Happy 60th birthday, Mr Young!

Badge saying "60 Years Young"

Posted in Family

There’s No Time Like The Present……. (My 2013 Birthday Post)

My new millefiori watch
And at the third stroke, the time will be: forget-me-not past daisy.

When this year’s birthday presents remind me of the passage of time, the irony is not lost on me. Who wants to contemplate their own mortality on a day that brings them closer to it? Oh yes, I know that every day does that really – but not with the same dramatic impact as a birthday.

Unwrapping boxed DVD sets of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games makes me realise with a jolt that although these events were still in the distant future when I celebrated my previous birthday, now they are simply history. For future generations, unable to say “I was there when Mo Farah took his double gold!”, they will be the  stuff of legend. Just as for me, the end of World War II is defined by snapshots of crowds rejoicing in Piccadilly Circus and a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, for my descendants, the 2012 Games will be defined by shots of Mo Farah’s astonishment as he crosses the finishing line to take gold (twice) and by soundbites of  Chad Le Clos‘s ecstatic father celebrating the young swimmer’s victory.

DVD Boxed Set of London 2012 Olympic Games from the BBC
History, captured and put in a box.

Fastening around my wrist the hyacinth blue strap of my beautiful new watch bordered with Venetian millefiore glass, I mentally award top marks to my parents for their psychic powers. I’d never mentioned to them that I’ve had my eye on this watch in the Museum Selection catalogue for several seasons. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re so closely attuned to my tastes, when they’ve known me longer than anyone else has. For a moment, I gaze at the secondhand ticking round from one tiny glass flower to the next. It’s like some sort of ancient rural device for telling when it’s milking time. And then I think: there goes another minute of my life that won’t come again. Better stop clock watching and make the most of it. As I’ve said before (and I hope I’ll say many times again), “Seize the (birth)day!”

L'Occitane bottle of Elxiir of Youth
And they said it didn’t exist…

But later that evening, I stop worrying. Rummaging in the bathroom for a new bottle of nightcream (yes, I’m now old enough to qualify for nightcream), my hand alights upon a small, blue Occitane bottle that may have the answer to my prayers. It’s an elixir of immortality, according to the label, at least for the face and neck. I wonder what would happen if I splashed it on all over? I think I’m going to need a bigger bottle.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

Seize the Birthday And Celebrate Yourself! (2012 birthday post)

Birthday Thoughts and Diabetes (2010 birthday post)

Posted in Family

Seize the (birth)day and celebrate yourself

The i newspaper front page 18 January 2012Whoever tells you their birthday means nothing to them is lying. Even if you’ve no plans to party, I defy you not to feel a frisson of excitement as the clock ticks round past midnight and your birthday officially begins.

There’s something thrilling about spotting evidence of your special day. Wherever the date appears in public – on the masthead of a newspaper, on the start-up screen of a computer, on a notice about roadworks – it seems as if the world is celebrating your birth.

18th January: this day belongs to me.  Although I despise the  ostentatious show of wealth, I will forever regret not snapping up something I spotted for sale a few years ago: the personalised car licence plate DEB181 – a double celebration of myself.

This year, the first place I see my special date is on my mobile phone.  I keep it by my bed to wake me up each morning with a gentle tune. Beneath the date appears a message to remind me (as if I could forget): “My birthday”.  I instantly feel a sense of history, as my mother must also feel when she sees this date written down. On this day, so many years ago, my arrival changed her world for ever- and mine began. (For my part, 23rd May will forever be one of the sweetest sounding dates in the calendar: it’s the day my only child was born.)

19th January 2012 date on computer screen displayBy contrast, seeing 19th January pop up on my phone the next morning is a gloomy reminder that normal service has now been resumed. All that lies ahead is dreary, indebted January and foggy, freezing February. It’s a very long haul until Christmas and my next birthday.

I’ve always felt hard done by that my birthday comes so soon after Christmas.  It would have been even closer if I’d been born on my due date, instead of two weeks late.  I knew my own mind even then.  As a child I envied my brother for having the perfect birthday: 21st June, the summer solstice, half way between two Christmases.

Even so, a birthday is a birthday. Better seize the day. Happy birthday, dear me!

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Something to Celebrate

Image via Wikipedia

With our daughter and me both safely out of the house, my husband Gordon fearlessly pursues his mission to plaster the kitchen ceiling.  He’s under strict instructions to remove everything portable before the plaster dust begins to fly, so he takes down the kitchen noticeboard which hasn’t been moved this century.

Leaning the functional side of the noticeboard against the wall in the lounge, he discovers something hidden on the flipside: an invitation to my tenth wedding anniversary party.  I say “my” because it is in fact a relic of my previous marriage. Neatly pinned below it is a yellowing newspaper cutting, headlined “Will you make it to 10 years?”  In 1999, the average length of a marriage was slightly under a decade.  I’d put this proudly on display with the invitation to demonstrate that we’d beaten the odds.

The discovery draws us both up short – Gordon because it’s a reminder that he still has a year to go before he can claim the title of my longest-serving husband, me because it reminds me of the premonition I had that the 10th would be the last anniversary that John and I would share. Although we never discussed it, I think John knew it too.

A month or two before the actual event, we  decided to celebrate in style with a party in the garden with all our favourite people.  Everyone entered into the spirit of things. Our frail nonegarian neighbours, James and Hester, presented us with a framed  poem they’d written specially for the occasion:

“Debbie and John, Debbie and John,

Ten years of your marriage have come and gone.

May the years that lie ahead

Be as good as when you wed.”

We’d recently helped them mark their own silver wedding (their elopement in old age is a story I shall tell another time). It seemed they were passing on to us the baton of romance, assuming we’d outlive them.

But just three months after the party, John was in hospital, newly diagnosed with leukaemia and five months later he died, a week before my 40th birthday. Hester died four days later, at which  James declared “I’ll decide this week whether I’m going to carry on living or not,” and hung on just until the spring.

I went through many sadder anniversaries after that  – not just his birthday and our wedding, but the date of his diagnosis, the date of his death, the date of the funeral, and so on.  Each was a wrenchingly painful milestone.

But don’t feel too sorry for me.  On our eleventh anniversary, my racking sobs resounded around a rented room on a Greek island, where my new boyfriend, Gordon, explained away to the concerned landlady that “she is sad because her baby died a year ago today”.  We’d already had to tell her we were married to be allowed to rent the room, so he could hardly tell her the truth.  I was overawed by his quick thinking – and by his compassion.  Maybe that moment sealed our future as a couple.

There have been other difficult anniversaries since: as any parent of a child with a serious lifelong  illness will understand, there is “D-Day” – the date of diagnosis.  We spent 10th May 2007 in hospital when my daughter Laura, now 8, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  It was 10 days before her 4th birthday.

But rediscovering that old anniversary party invitation has given me a change of direction.  In future I’ll be disregarding these dates.  What are anniversaries anyway but occasions artificially contrived using a bizarre number base of 365?  Next year it’ll be 366 – even dafter. Why wait for another 365 day cycle to be completed before we can celebrate our marriage – or the birth of our daughter 13 months later?  If I want to buy Laura a present, I will – I won’t need it to be her birthday to give me permission.  After all, I long ago realised that every day can be pancake day if you take the trouble to mix up the pancake batter.

So happy unanniversary, darling.  It’s been a great 9 years, 7 months and 4 days.