A jubilee surprise – or two

I love a good surprise, thing is, not everyone appreciates them. In our family, it’s well known that our Dad is not a fan. [Christmas Day 2000, my Dad receives a copy of ‘How to train your puppy’ and a dog lead, indicating that his wish to own a labrador is finally being fulfilled. He spent the rest of the day asking my mother worriedly if she was sure…] However, our Mum is a fan – I still delight in the memory of my surprise visit over to Belfast nearly four years ago.

Birthdays are meant to be full of surprises, but mostly they’re restricted to presents. Mum certainly had her fair share of those – Dad did well with a spa day for her imminent trip to Oz, while the daughters excelled themselves with a monogrammed purple leather satchel (she thought we were psychic!). But there were two other surprises that took a fair amount of sororal networking and organisation…

Firstly, the birthday cake. Now, you’d think a birthday cake would be a logical thing to organise for a 60th birthday party, wouldn’t you? Not if you follow my father’s logic of thinking, apparently. Mum was organising the bulk of the festivities (Dad doesn’t really do parties) but refused to organise the cake (understandably). We ascertained less than 2 weeks before the big day that no cake had been ordered – the reply to our email asking if there was one said “do you think she wants one?”. People ALWAYS want birthday cake!

That night, around 11.30pm, I fired off an email to two of my mother’s friends in Belfast asking for help. Within half an hour, we had a response from both of them and a potential cake contact. To quote Mim’s Facebook status the following morning: ‘Mim loves that urgent cake-related emails get instant replies.’  Within a few days we had an excellent cake maker on board, in fact, the baker of cakes for Mum’s favourite Belfast cafe. It was collected under false auspices and went down a treat at both parties. [Yes, my mother had two birthday parties on the same day…she wasn’t going to be outdone by the monarch.]

Yes, I failed to get a photo of the birthday cake.

The other surprise was person, or people, related. Amongst the invitees to the parties were our former next-door neighbours in Gloucester. They sadly declined, on the grounds that they were off to Verona later in the week and Belfast’s a long way from Gloucester, which was fair enough. However, in the month leading up to the big day, a plan was hatched – I was to meet Juliet and Doris at Birmingham International and take the same flight over on the Sunday morning and they’d return with Mim the following day. Dad knew, so that room arrangements could be made, but Mum had no idea.

Arriving from the airport, we sent Doris up to the front door while we hid behind the car. A squeal from Mum alerted us to her reaction – she genuinely couldn’t believe her eyes! Bless. (We tried to persuade Doe to greet her with “I heard there was cake, and lots of it.” but I think she was too overwhelmed.) It really was the icing on the cake of a very special day – and illustrated just how duplicitous we Clutterbucks can be…

Guest of honour – using her first ever ‘proper cup’ (with extended pinky) 
and enjoying a triple-layer cream scone.

A blissful library experience

One of the advantages of being a student is the holidays – four weeks off Monday college days. However, the downside is that there are essays to write (and just two weeks off from the church bit of training), which amongst all the excitement of Christmas, is rather arduous.

Thanks to having had a research-based job for the last few years, the return to essay writing hasn’t been as much of a shock to the system as it might have been, but that doesn’t mean I always have the motivation needed. Combine that with Christmas events at church; choir rehearsals; parties; drinks; present shopping; flat decorating; and visiting friends – there’s not that much room for studying. Fortunately, one friend suggested combining their visit from Sweden with a day studying together at the British Library – genius. (It works because you can’t chat in the reading room, so no distractions.)

My cunning plan for having a productive Christmas was that I was going to be spending the festive period at a theological college. Sometimes, just sometimes, the fact that my parents live at a college comes in handy – at Christmas when the massive college fridges are very useful; last year when we needed all their urns during the water shortage; and, when I need books for an essay.

Good intentions count for little when there’s family to have fun with, but once the fun elements (i.e. sibling & husband – joke, mother!) departed, I settled down to some hard work. What I discovered was the most blissful library experience ever:

  • I didn’t need to go outside to get there and could wear my slippers.
  • The library was empty – and likely to stay that way – meaning I could listen to music (and, inevitably, sing along). 
  • From my table I had a view, and not just any view – one of vegetation. In London I’m lucky if I get a Victorian lamp-post.
  • The aforementioned vegetation was mostly my parents’ garden, which meant that for part of an afternoon I had a great view of my Dad trying to re-build his arch which the wind seemed determined to decimate. 
  • From my seat, I could also see the window of my parents’ dining room. This meant that I could stay studying until the light came on in that room, at which point I knew it was time to offer assistance.
  • My study breaks included home-cooked meals which I didn’t have to pay for. You don’t get that at the BL.
    Somewhere in amongst that vegetation is my father…

    I know the BL’s only 10 minutes walk away and King’s Maughan library’s just 20 minutes, but I have to wear shoes to get to them…

    Etiquette is fun and so are children

    It’s rare that I’d include something for Friday Fun that’s basically an advert for an opera. Call me uncultured, but I’m really not a massive fan of it. That’s not to say I don’t go (I have a good friend who’s an opera singer and I go faithfully when I’m able), it’s just that given the choice between an evening at Glynebourne and a night at Wicked, well – you know where I’d be. But this little gem is less about the opera and more about how we live our online lives these days:

    [If you’re thinking what I was thinking at the end of that video, his name’s Jolyon Rubinstein and he’s on Twitter.]

    That gem arrived in my inbox on Monday morning, thanks to a friend who’s giving a talk on intimacy at New Wine next week. Last week he’d asked me if I knew any examples of ridiculous Facebook or Twitter updates where people over-shared. No idea why he thought to ask me…

    I could think of a few examples – a friend who had recently shared a rather detailed story of her baby’s birth; a couple who gave each other sex toys via some random Facebook virtual gift service; someone who celebrated their boyfriend’s divorce – I could go on. However, what I sent him instead, was something I’ve been thinking of sharing on here for a while, but needed to be done in a sensitive way.

    STFU Parents is a brilliant site. Less crass than Damn You, Auto Correct! and the like, its author actually thinks carefully about the submissions she posts and writes (often hilarious) commentary to go alongside them. The premise is simple: do you have friends who overshare about their children and make everything – even things you post that have nothing to do with children – about their children? If so, this is the place to share such things.

    We all have such friends, to a greater or lesser extent (see the birth example I gave above) but honestly, some of the stuff on the site is beyond belief. I’ve been sitting on this for months [i.e. even before it appeared on The Hairpin, Annabelle…] because I didn’t want to offend friends who have children. I like seeing updates about funny things babies and toddlers do, I’m happy to read endless updates about sick children who need prayer, I love a cute photo as much as the next single, female 20 something…but sometimes it just goes a little far. However, I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend post a photo of their child next to a stuffed coyote

    Then there’s ‘Mommyjacking’, where Mom’s hijack a non-child related status to make it all about their child (e.g. this innocent post about an incompetent HR department which suddenly becomes a breastfeeding tutorial). Actually, hijacking statuses (statii?) is generally inappropriate – you respond to the content of the post, it’s not a place for a general catch up – am I alone in this? What about photos involving faeces? Just wrong, plain wrong, but so many people share them.

    If you have children, or like me, are very young at heart, then you should appreciate the final component of today’s fun: a quiz. Who doesn’t like quizzes? This week the Guardian challenges you on your knowledge of schools in children’s books. I’m loathe to admit that I only got 6/10, but my knowledge of later Jaqueline Wilson is patchy; I’ve not read/watched Charlie & Lola; and I made a tragic Famous Five error…

    When mothers get Tweeting

    I’m not entirely sure if my family needed another means by which to communicate, but as of 2 weeks ago it would appear that at least the female Clutterbucks can now tweet each other. Two weeks ago, I was perusing my recently acquired followers [this makes me sound super popular, I don’t have that many new ones generally] and as I scrolled down the screen, the Twitter handle ‘RevDSClutterbuck‘ stood out. On further inspection, I read the following description:
    “I am a Methodist Minister who works as a coach, supervisor and trainer. I am married and have two daughters who will be amazed to find me on Twitter.”

    Amazed would be something of an under-statement. I choked on my cup of tea in astonishment. 

    The parents aren’t on Facebook (this was mutually agreed) and they don’t write blogs (though they do read this), but Twitter looked as though it would have potential for my mother’s line of work and her love of networking generally. However, I don’t think we ever thought she’d get round to doing it. Further delving revealed that she had signed up while waiting for a plane at Birmingham International, following a link to Twitter on my blog. It also revealed that of her two daughters, she was only following me – hurrah! A victory for the eldest, favourite child! (Of course it turned out that it took her a couple of days to work out how to add people. Once she did, equality was restored. [It should be pointed out that younger sibling actually took 10 days to get around to following her mother…]

    Anyway, mother is slowly getting the hang of Twitter (though has yet to work out how to create a profile photo) and even managed to tweet her first celebrity last week – something that stunned me. It went a little like this…
    On Thursday evening I retweeted a Chris Addison tweet regarding that evening’s Mock the Week episode:

    Now, Mock Of The Week is on BBC2 now. Unless you’re in Northern Ireland, where it’s on later due to the ferry bringing the VHS being late.

    [This a pet peeve of mine whenever I’m in Belfast – all the good stuff’s on a couple of hours later than on the mainland, due to ‘regional programming’ which is invariably unfunny and dull.]
    The following day, my mum replied to this tweet – when I saw it I was stunned. Only a week into Twitter and already tweeting celebrities? And a comedic celebrity at that?! Wow. So the next time we spoke I asked her about it and it turned out she had no idea she was communicating with someone famous – she thought that the ‘Chris’ in question was my colleague C…hmmmm, nope. Fortunately, I am proud to say that my mother’s tweet was comedy (she is not her daughters’ mother for nothing), though containing some errant punctuation: 

    @mrchrisaddison that’s not actually the reason, we are in a different time zone. When it’s 20.11 in London it’s about 19.91 in NI. [No idea why she’s included the full stops in the dates – might be an iPhone thing.]

    If only she hadn’t followed that tweet with one to me telling me that 30 is the age at which one should procreate…

    Confessions of a supposed republican

    Secretly, I’m rather looking forward to the Royal Wedding.
    Secretly, I’ve rather enjoyed watching a variety of spurious Royal Wedding documentaries.
    Secretly, I’d rather like a commemorative biscuit tin.

    My parents are die-hard anti-monarchists (difficult to use ‘republican’ as where they live it means something rather different) and brought us up with their belief that our royalty were a rather unnecessary historical throwback. [In fact, my Dad even claims that should he ever be offered an Honour he’ll refuse. I somewhat suspect that my Mum will try and dissuade him from this, just so she can have a hat wearing opportunity.] We read the Independent for a while partly owing to its pledge not to feature royals on its front page.

    But secretly, while growing up, I was fascinated by them. Maybe it was owing my historical bent; it could have been the fact that I shared the monarch’s name; perhaps it was because Wills was just one school year below me; perhaps it’s because my formative years – the late 80s and early 90s – were dominated by royal scandal, culminating in the death of Diana the week I got my GCSE results.

    Actually, there is one reason alone that set me upon this trajectory: my birth date.
    July 29th 1981 is a historic date that’s been much mentioned in recent months – the day Lady Diana Spencer wed Prince Charles in St Paul’s Cathedral while the world watched. My parents didn’t – not simply because they had no TV in Tonga, where they were living at the time and would have been disinclined to watch it anyway – but because my mother was giving birth to me. Legend has it that she got a little irked when medical people kept sloping off to listen to the ceremony on the radio.

    I should clarify that my date of birth is actually the 30th, thanks to the time difference, but I entered the world just as the reception was kicking off and as a result certain relatives were convinced that I shared my birthday with a terribly auspicious event, meaning that on our return to England I was blessed with much royal memorabilia – including stamps, and a mug that I later auctioned on eBay. Somehow Ladybird books on the two great royal weddings of the 1980s ended up on our bookshelves and I read them with quiet fascination, absorbed by the dresses, traditions and ceremony of it.

    For years this interest has lain dormant. I didn’t join in with the speculation of which university Wills might attend, nor did I include possibilities on my UCAS form in the hope I might one day become a princess. I paid scant attention to Prince Charles’ second marriage and uttered a groan when the royal engagement was announced fearing months and months of pointless regal drivel being the focus of the news – fears that have certainly been realised. My resentment was muffled somewhat by the extra public holiday, but I later resented the pressure this put on certain work deadlines. I also still deeply object to the media’s blanket coverage of the event, to the detriment of world events like Alabama’s tornadoes and the situation in Syria; not to mention the side-lining of coverage of next week’s electoral reform referendum.

    It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve been sucked into the excitement. The merchandise has been hilarious, but the Cath Kidston stuff is cute and there are some very attractive biscuit tins in M&S (and I do love a good biscuit tin) – I won’t buy one until they’re reduced next week, but still, the desire is there. In the last week I’ve watched not one but three documentaries (though two of these were actually two parts of the same very informative programme – Royal Weddings – charting ceremonies from the Queen Mother onwards). [Fascinating fact gleaned from part 2: the King of Tonga attended Charles & Diana’s wedding, but was so large he needed a double sized chair to sit on. The BBC reported on this rather disrespectfully I feel.]

    Originally I wasn’t even going to stay in the Big Smoke for the festivities, hoping to follow my parents’ lead and disappear somewhere exotic (they flew to Italy this morning). But no such luck – a dear friend’s Hen Do’s been scheduled in the capital for the same weekend. And then, the final straw – I got invited to a street party I couldn’t say no to. It’s at church, my ‘cluster’ are running it and lots of my friends will be there and, the clincher, the e-mail informing me it was taking place included the following postscript:
    “If you’re with Bishop Pete Broadbent and not so keen on the Royals’ nuptials, come along anyway – think of it as a fun day out and chance to bless our local community!!”
    Effectively guilt-tripped into it then.

    A patriotic Regent’s Street

    And now I’m rather excited. Baking has been done – my job tonight/first thing tomorrow is to make tons of sandwiches and then hopefully travel on the Jubilee line unscathed by enthusiastic wedding watchers to the comparative safety of Marylebone. London looks rather fabulous, or rather central London does. Regent’s Street’s patriotic flags are distinctly more tasteful than Bermondsey’s plastic (with the happy couple superimposed) version. Tomorrow I will attend my first ever street party; I will watch the wedding on a big screen at church; and next week – providing they’re reduced – I will acquire a commemorative biscuit tin.

    Mum and Dad, I’m so terribly, terribly sorry.