When a birthday’s big
It is good to eke it out
But four months, come on!
I've been meaning to do an update on my amazing big birthday for ages but work has intervened as have football (great start to the season) cricket (Ashes won and Hampshire in T20 finals again) and a social life. Just before my birthday an advertising agency Maverick asked me to go in for an extended interview as a writer and I ended up staying there all day and apart from my birthday itself, most of the next three weeks. It was an interesting experience being in a big office after years of working on my own or with just a small team and I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to more. So here it is - only a month late!
So the big trip to Japan was my birthday present from Dee and from me. That started in April and was – as you’ll have seen if you’ve read earlier blogs – something of a success. It exceeded our expectations by a serious factor, included a birthday dinner for both of us at Alain Ducasse’s Spoon in Hong Kong with my son and daughter-in-law and was quite enough excitement for an oldie.
Writing about it, editing the photographs and video clips kept the memories alive for May after we returned and most of June. Then some serious work for some extremely pleasant publishers from the Netherlands intruded – but hey, it’s all got to be paid for somehow. We had loved Leandro Erlich’s swimming pool in Kanazawa and managed to get to the Dalston House installation. His immersive (no pun intended) art is great fun and at the Dalston House we were amazed by several groups with carefully rehearsed and choreographed routines for their five minutes of fame. Our were more modest and tentative but great fun and a reminder of good times in Kanazawa and it was as hot too. Then we had a wonderful birthday dinner with Ilse at La Luna di Luca in Richmond where owner Martina prepares a menu of regional Italian food – Sicily in our case – and course followed delicious course during several delightful hours.
And so the celebrations went on and on – and suddenly we were in July and the birthday itself was upon us. On a day of most propitious sunshine and light breeze, my daughter and son-in-law took us to Glyndebourne for a performance of Hippolyte et Aricie an opera by Rameau that I’d never seen (you can see it online on the Glyndebourne website). We had an afternoon tea picnic on the lawns – proper stuff: cucumber sandwiches, scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream complemented by a fine bottle of Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, appropriately grown, made and bottled in Sussex.
The week before I had had an email from Majestic Wine Warehouses to tell me I’d won six bottles of this fine wine which outperforms many champagnes in wine tastings and competitions. I think I’d had to enter my email address and tell them where Nyetimber was. Very nice competition – thank you Nyetimber, thank you Majestic. And we could tell why it wins medals – it was oishii (delicious in Japanese) – very crisp on the tongue, nicely dry but with good fruit flavour. The opera was brilliantly staged and sung and with William Christie conducting the OAE the music was always going to be outstanding. A fabulous dinner in the interval, a glass of wine afterwards and being driven back to London – what more could anyone ask for on their 70th?
But that was only phase two. Saturday was spent opening a huge pile of parcels from friends and relatives the generosity of which was astounding. I won’t do an exhaustive list but a Neal’s Yard cheese experience, whisky and a whisky tasting, books about jazz, Japanese architecture, Japanese cooking, a sushi making kit and the most beautiful proper old fashioned watering can, huge quantities of garden vouchers, theatre tokens and a cellar full of wine and beer demonstrate the skill of all concerned in matching their gifts to my tastes – although I suspect collusion with my wife in some cases especially when it came to a long handled shoehorn which I have so admired in hotels in Japan – you don’t have to bend down!
Saturday afternoon and evening was spent in the company of more than 80 friends and relatives with ages ranging from one to 85 and it was wonderful. The excellent Union Club in Soho had been booked as the venue by Dee and they pulled out all the stops to make it a brilliant occasion. We’ve had so many emails from people who also enjoyed it that I now know it wasn’t just me. The food was excellent, liquid refreshment flowed and I had a chance to catch up with everybody – if only briefly with any one group. The young people present did a brilliant job getting everyone to sign a giant birthday card. I even had birthday cakes and the real surprise for me – my face on the label of a case of Harvey’s 1943 Birthday Ale specially commission by the mastermind of the whole occasion, Dee. Wow have you set the bar high for yours! But thank you for an absolutely fabulous continuing birthday celebration.SOME RANDOM BIRTHDAY PARTY PHOTOS A calming beer to start with. Early arrivals in the bar
And then there was the big surprise
Of course many more people had brought gifts to the party so Sunday morning was spent with a glass of champagne to celebrate our wedding anniversary while opening the remaining presents which continued to surprise, amaze and delight. We set off – Dee and myself, her sister, brother-in-law and nephew for a late lunch where I, at last, was allowed to contribute by providing our anniversary celebration. We went to Chapter One, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the strangely named Locksbottom, travelling ecologically on the 261 bus. I was trying to get its website up on my phone to call to say we were running a few minutes late but the mobile site wasn’t working well so I couldn’t. However I did get an inaccurate look at the dress code which caused me to panic about all three males being in shorts, natural we thought, on a very hot Sunday afternoon, but it is quite a posh place. Mild Mike panic ensued but fortunately they allowed shorts if they are ‘tailored’ which ours obvious were – well sort of. Relaxed and seated at a good table, we had another gift. Because of an error at the bar our aperitifs arrived after our first course and were announced to be on the house. I do like it when people who make mistakes don’t argue but just take it off the bill. The rest of the meal was as good as you’d expect from a Michelin-star-worthy chef and a fine afternoon was spent out in the wilds of Bromley.
So apart from the trip itself, a definite Japan theme was evident in many of my birthday presents. We chose to extend this the next weekend with a trip to Hyper Japan at Earl’s Court. We’d never been before but were amazed by the size and scope of the displays and activities. Computer games and manga we’d expected, food stalls of every kind too, but the huge numbers of people in costume as manga characters was astounding. It was a bit, I’m told, like a sci-fi convention with people posing for photographs, chatting in bizarre groups and generally having a great time. We’d seen a bit in Japan but had no clue as to just how big cosplay was. There were martial arts demonstrations too and some fabulous drumming – Eisa from Okinawa I discovered with shimasen players and dancers as well as the drummers.
On Sunday 28 we went to the Olympic Stadium to see the paralympic athletes in action. It was the first visit to the Olympic Stadium for Dee and me and we understood why everyone had been so enthusiastic in 2012. It is a great space with a better atmosphere than at Wembley for the playoff final. What is proposed for its future is a travesty and should be stopped. I note there is a page on Facebook and an e-petition to the DCMS but neither has much support so I guess West Ham and the philistines will march on with their annihilation of this iconic space. As we tried to settle up with Elaine who had organised the tickets we were told they were a present too – so on and on it goes!
I went to see my daughter and the grandchildren the next day to drop off Daisy’s birthday card and wish them a good holiday trip to Boston and Cape Cod (only slightly jealous!) and came home with yet another present – a cherry tree so we can have our very own hanami season at home in future and have no further need of going to Japan to see cherry blossom.
However I’m sure we’ll find some other excuses.