The dangers of surprises

Surprises are tricky things. Some people just don’t like them – like my Dad (it’s a good job the last surprise I sprang on my parents was aimed more at my mother than him…), and other surprises have to be done in the right way in order for them to be appreciated properly. For example, when surprising me with a weekend in Paris, my Mum & sister sensibly gave me a month’s warning so that I could plan my trip (I love surprises, but I like planning travel itineraries even more). I adore surprises – it’s why I have an Amazon wishlist, so people don’t have to ask what I want as a gift (yet still ensuring that it’s something I actually want). Surprises are definitely something I’d love to have more of in my life.

Birthday surprises are particularly tricky. Make it a total surprise and you run the risk that the recipient will think that everyone’s forgotten them and make most of their special day utterly miserable. A recent addition to the 30 Club was given a surprise of this variety, but luckily they’d twigged that something was up – otherwise I’d have feared for the consequences. This past weekend saw another 30th surprise, but I was worried for a different reason – the birthday girl seemed very keen to ignore the day, what if she resented the sudden appearance of several of her closest friends?

In the end, it was a fabulous day. The plan was well orchestrated by birthday girl’s sister – all we were doing was joining her family on an already planned day out involving the Lord Mayor’s Show and fireworks. (Well done London for putting on such a spectacular event in honour of Jenni’s 30th!) Jenni was suitably shocked and there were squeals and tears – all in all, it had the desired effect.

Should you ever be in London on the second Saturday of November, I highly recommend catching the Lord Mayor’s procession. It’s a eccentric bit of London history (it’s taken place for over 800 years) and involves all the classic bits of English pageantry that tourists assume happens all the time – marching military bands, people in odd clothes, gold carriages, plenty of horses (also in odd clothes), floats carrying scantily clad women, oh, and Stephen Fry…

To quote Gill (whose Dad took this photo): “IT’S STEPHEN FRY”
(He heard, turned round and waved – bless him.) 

We were rather late to the party, passing through the Strand as people began relax after the parade, but passed the Royal Courts just as the Lord Mayor arrived so got a glimpse of the main piece of action. We also caught some of the procession on its return, as we made our way to Pizza Express and phase two of the birthday celebration. On our way to surprise the birthday girl, we also came across a surprising roadblock: 
Did you know the MET have regulation board shorts? 

The other element of the Lord Mayor’s ‘thing’ is a fireworks display over the Thames. Unlike the New Year’s display, you can get an excellent viewing point simply by turning up an hour before it kicks off. We were right in the middle of Waterloo bridge, meaning that we had a totally unobscured view of the fireworks exploding from a barge in front of us. There are a few things you ought to be aware of though:
  • Coffee places near the bridge get very busy immediately prior to the fireworks. Nipping off for hot beverages 45 minutes before the display may sound reasonable – in actual fact it means you’ll get stuck in an abnormally long queue and then get prevented from crossing the bridge due to the crowds that have congregated in your absence.
  • Old ladies can have very sharp elbows and few manners. While trying to preserve space for the beverage-getters, we had to see off a few potential invaders. In most cases the ‘saving space dance’ and loud talk of the returning friends “who were here first, but have gone to buy tea” sufficed, but one particular lady could not be deterred. She pushed, poked and prodded – nearly knocking over Jules in the process – and was generally rather annoying. [We weren’t utterly heartless though. Once it became clear that they weren’t coming back, we let her in – but she could have asked nicely and said thank-you though.] 
  • Standing on a bridge leaves you rather exposed to the elements. It was windy and this meant that not only was it chilly, but the fireworks were blown in our direction – slightly nerve wrecking. 
  • Birthday biscuits are an excellent firework accompaniment. 
  • People will always get carried away with taking photos of the sparkly things, especially if their camera has a firework setting… 

On the left, my firework setting; on the right, Gill’s ‘proper’ photo.

The loss of the beverage-getters had one advantage, it enabled them to purchase something without which no birthday would be complete: champagne. (Ok, so it was cava, sue me…) Of course, for al fresco champagne drinking, one needs appropriate receptacles and what better than some Starbucks red cups? 
It looks like I was a little dubious of the ethics of the situation…
(Or, wondering if anyone would notice that I’d somehow acquired two cups.)

Happy birthday Jenni! 

Expiry date?

A few days ago, while in the middle of a riveting meeting, I noticed that the packet of biscuits on the plate in front of me had a Best Before date of my impending 30th birthday. As I reflected later that day via Facebook/Twitter, it was a metaphor for life…

Yesterday, back in the same room, I sought out the biscuits and located one with the auspicious date on it. It’s now tucked away in my desk drawer with a Post It attached reading: “Do Not Eat (Sentimental Reasons)”.

Maybe I’ll eat it on my last day of being 29, before it and life as I know are past their best.

I’m not being entirely seriously, obviously, though hitting the big 30 is something of a black cloud on the horizon. It’s almost a shame I’m doing my 2010 Firsts thing, as otherwise I could have created a “Things to do before I’m 30” list. In actual fact, I’d probably be happier if I stopped thinking about the things I’d hoped to have done by then.

If anyone has any ideas of stuff I ought to try before then, do let me know – I’m always open to suggestion! Oh, and if you’d like me to try and find some biscuits that expire on your next birthday, I’ll have a go.

Things I like: Birthdays

Let me clarify, I’m not overly keen on the process of ageing. Nor am I especially happy that today is my last birthday in my 20’s, but it’s still a good thing. If ever the words ‘Let them eat cake!’ were appropriate, birthdays are such an occasion and that – most definitely – is a great thing.

Today I can add Shepton Mallet to the list of glamorous locations in which I’ve celebrated the day of my birth – London, Boston, LA, Munich, Devon, Gloucester, and the wilds of Yorkshire. Hurrah. The disadvantage to having been here for nearly a week is that I have virtually no presents or cards to open (woe is me) as most of the hundreds (!) are currently sat at home waiting for me to return tomorrow.

The advantage of being away is that my belated birthday celebrations successfully extend my birthday by over a week, which I feel is an excellent achievement. (It also helps when you decide to hold two such celebrations.)

Oh well, there’s no escaping it now – the next stop is 30…

The number 3 and the letter O

Or, if you will, simply the dreaded 30…

The trickle of 30th birthday invitations is beginning to snowball and within 6 short months it will be akin to an avalanche.

That’s not me boasting about the number of social engagements I have to go to, I would hasten to add, simply a reflection of the point in my life that I now find myself at. Generally, I find that the bulk of my friends are spread across the academic years immediately above and below mine, which meant that the 30th’s started last autumn, but will really get going when ‘my year’ start in September this year. [To explain to the non-Brits. The cut off for the school year is August 31st – so I’m one of the youngest in my year…]

What’s struck me of late is the variety of invitations I’ve acquired. (I did, of course, have to be going off on some kind of random tangent with this!) These days the standard is a Facebook invite – pretty impersonal, but gets the job done nonetheless – with the added bonus of being able to see who else is invited. Others choose the simple e-mail, whilst the corporate whores amongst us issue Outlook meeting requests…

What came as a total surprise was an engraved, ivory card invitation to a quiet soiree – this particularly invitation is significantly more sophisticated than most of the wedding invites I’ve had, though that may say more about my class of friends than anything else! The fact that the invitation’s resulted in a degree of intrigue amongst certain social circles is an added bonus.

Thank goodness most of my contemporaries will hit the number of doom before I do. Partly because I’ll get to sample many celebrations before planning my own – so I should have plenty of ideas; and also, I’ll get to gloat over my ‘still in my 20s’ status in the company of elderly 30 somethings. Cruel I know, but my day will come and others will take their turn in inflicting emotional age-related anguish upon me. (For those friends that would like to hit me right now, take solace in the fact that amongst my ‘girls’ I’m one of the oldest and am already enduring taunts about how close I am to becoming ‘officially old’.)

And my plans for this weekend? Another 30th of course. In fact, this particular friend is being greedy by having two celebrations, over 100 miles apart. [Yes, this is the out of town trip dilemma from the previous post. Dilemma was resolved surprisingly painlessly.] So, I am off to Bath, home of Jane Austen, to see if I can locate my own Mr Darcy. Well, a girl can dream, can’t they?

Happy Birthday to me!

It’s past 4pm, so as I explained the other day, I’m now officially 27.

I’m now just 1095 days away from being 30, but I realised this morning that there are actually two positives to this.

(i) My (official) birthday will fall on a Saturday that year, so at least I can have a party that lasts the entire weekend.
(ii) I’ll be 30 on the 30th of July – that’s got to be pretty cool surely?

One of my colleagues suggested this afternoon that I get really excited about my birthday for one so mature in years. But the truth is, I honestly don’t! I hate the pressure of having to do something exciting because it’s my birthday (it’s similar to the hatred I have of new year’s, but not as extreme). I also strongly dislike sharing it with a good friend, as it brings an unhelpful element of competition to the day!

Plus (in case you hadn’t noticed) I have age issues. Turning an ever-increasing age year on year is challenging if you don’t feel that you’ve really achieved anything in the previous year! But I will look positively upon my 28th year, and hopefully by the end of it I will actually have achieved something worthwhile!

Anyway, just wanted to share with you a lovely picture of what was happening in the world 27 years ago today, at the same time that my momentous birth was occurring:

(At least I’ve survived longer than their marriage did…)