The curse of summer birthdays?

I am 30.
I am still alive.
It didn’t hurt and there were no tears. Life goes on.

I had a great day with friends, plenty of cake (a huge quantity of cake – my colleagues are rather blessed at the moment!), delightful weather, a free musical, several raucous hours of karaoke and lots and lots of love from a whole host of people. I was very lucky.

Oh, and a group of friends joined together in organising quite an epic birthday present. I am now the proud owner of my very own Dave Walker original.

Thanks Dave, for agreeing to do – it will be hung with pride in my new flat.

Having a birthday in the height of summer is, in many ways, a great thing. There’s a good chance of good weather – kind of. Often, you’re away on holiday and you get to celebrate in exotic locations. (That’s the theory at least, last year’s was celebrated in Shepton Mallet.) It’s perfectly acceptable not to go to work and you never had to go to school on your birthday.

However, there are some negatives, primarily the fact that summer = holiday time. Without fail, many of those you’d like to celebrate with you will be on holiday. I wonder if this is why me & my sister tended to have joint parties growing up? Perhaps our parents were hoping we wouldn’t notice the smaller number of guests? (In fact, we may have often had these parties just before school broke up.) It’s also wedding season and the last weekend in July is a very popular one for nuptials. Plus, in the Methodist world, it’s the time that ministers move house. My sister suffered more from this one – our parents twice moved house the day before her birthday (including their move to Ireland). Celebrating your birthday in a city you’ve just moved to, having left behind all your friends, more than sucks. Then there’s the British education system which dictates that summer-borns are the youngest in their year, putting them at an academic disadvantage which research suggests is not overcome until age 12…

Perhaps the pros outweigh the cons. The weather is a definite bonus, as are the holidays. Absent friends give one the excuse for multiple celebrations and people buy you birthday drinks well into the autumn. Plus, having a major present-giving occasion mid-way through the year handily divides up the months between Christmas. I guess it’s less of a curse and more of a blessing.

Friday Fun for me

Apologies – a day off and general life passing me by-ness caused me to be tardy in my Friday Fun posting. Life gets particularly busy during the last week of July, as it’s when all the best people have their birthdays. As mine is tomorrow, today’s post is in honour of all the things that I like and find fun. (I appreciate that as this is my blog, what I find fun generally rules here anyway, but still…)

Firstly, some truly classic TfL geekery which I’ve been sitting on for nearly a week. Found via Going Underground’s blog, this link will take you to a half hour film chronicling the work done to adapt Oxford Circus station in the 1960s as part of the Victoria Line extension. It has everything – from diagrams and cross-section models, to straight-talking slightly dull business people, to gratuitous shots of half naked men working underground. Honestly, you won’t regret watching it! Personally, I discovered three significant things:
(i) That the August Bank Holiday used to be at the beginning of the month.
(ii) Engineering techniques in the 60s were scarily basic.
(iii) That more people than you’d expect find this stuff fascinating. I happened to mention it at a party last weekend and waited for the tumbleweed to roll – instead, there was a clamouring for the link. Amazing.

Next, a fabulous combination of my profession – research – and one of my all time favourite TV shows – Friends. In fact, in honour of my birthday, E4 decided to schedule The One Where They Turn 30 tonight, which wasn’t depressing in the slightest… I am in awe of the person who came up with this idea – just in case you ever wondered which character in the show had the most sexual partners during the show (who had to have actually appeared in an episode in person), there is now a chart that chronicles each friend’s conquests in full, colour-coded glory! (In case you were wondering and can’t be bothered to click through, the answer’s Joey with 17, but Phoebe’s only one behind.) The level of detail in it is extraordinary – that’s one devoted Friends geek!

Finally, a couple of simply fabulous stationery discoveries. I can be supremely nerdy about stationery, heck, there’s a set of Swiss colouring pencils in my cupboard that I’ve had since I was 8 which are still in the correct colour order. Thus, when I was sent the link to these pens, my heart skipped a beat.

Pantone twin markers – 150 of them! 

Ok, so they’re $483 for the set, but they do also come in smaller, cheaper sets. And they are beautiful, aren’t they? 
The other thing I have a passion for is notebooks, I’m positive that you can never have too many of them. You should have one for every possible occasion – which is handy because that’s exactly what Archie Grand’s collection of notebooks does. I’m torn, but two that I’d find plenty of use for are these: 
 Bloggers I Met And Liked & Londoners I Met And Liked
It’s unfortunate that searching for images of these beauties led me into the dangerous online alleyway that is the Liberty’s stationery department. Oh. My. Goodness. 

I ♥ surprises…

…and planning.

Yesterday’s day of birthday surprises in honour of my mother went well. We strolled happily through a very sunny London; spent nearly three hours engrossed in afternoon tea; drank cocktails; and spent the evening watching Alison Steadman cavorting about the stage in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (highly recommended, though it closes this month). What I had not expected, on returning from the bathroom somewhere between pots three and four of Ceylon tea, was the appearance of a parcel and card addressed to me.

Opening it, I discovered a card containing a train ticket and a cryptic (ok, not so much cryptic as written in small writing around the edge of the inside) message plus Drina Dances in Paris – a volume of one of my favourite childhood series. This package also solved a mystery I had been pondering for several months – what I’d be getting up to over the weekend of July 9th…

On February 21st, I was sent an e-mail from ‘birthdaysecrets at hotmail…’ informing me that a surprise was being planned for my forthcoming 30th and asking me to state my availability across a series of summer dates. Later, I had further e-mails confirming dates and instructing me to await further information. I told a few people of this intriguing development – several thought it was some form of elaborate hoax – while others encouraged me to guess what it was.

The thing is, I’m a canny bean and I noted various factors:

  • The first e-mail was sent during a weekend when my mother was staying with my sister.
  • The writing style was similar to my sister’s.
  • My parents announced that they were holidaying in England this year, beginning on July 8th.
  • It’s well known that I’ve never been to Paris and it’s high on my list of places to visit.

I didn’t put too much effort into cementing these guesses – I love surprises and liked the effort that was being put into it. However, I did test the Paris guess (one friend having pointed out that I might be bitterly disappointed), when I had a week of in March and went to the spa, I mentioned in passing to both my mum and sister that I’d toyed with the idea of a spontaneous trip to Paris. In reality I was too tired for Paris and didn’t have enough time to plan (a fact I mention to them too) but they stood firm and didn’t let on.

But why not surprise me at St Pancras on the day itself? Well, although I love surprises, I’m also passionate about forward planning and organisation – especially where travel is concerned. So, in addition to the childhood Parisian clue, I’ve been left a Dorling Kindersley guidebook so I can decide on an itinerary. Fabulous.

And it gets better. When sharing my news with a friend this morning, he pointed out that I would be missing out on the essential pre-travel trip to Stanfords (or Daunts) for travel guides. However, on closer inspection I’ve discovered that the guidebook is in fact the one my mum and sister took with them on their mini-break to Paris in 2000 (published in 1997, it contains references to Francs) so while it will be fantastic in the city (DK are brilliant for details) I can justify buying a small guidebook of my own too – which can be added to my collection. Trips to Stamfords are also useful for the purchasing of travel journals, though I’m not sure that a weekend trip justifies a journal – aforementioned friend suspected I do one anyway, he may be right.

So yes, I will make it to Paris before I’m 30. I will make my first trip over the channel since 2003 and my first time on French soil since 1996 – I feel I’ve been neglecting continental Europe somewhat. Tips on what to do during a summer weekend in Paris would be appreciated, am I right in thinking that the Louvre can wait? Is wanting to go up the Eiffel Tower utterly touristy? Is it wrong to only eat croissants, baguette and cheese all weekend? Most of all, how far will a GCSE in French get me? (I suspect people will not be terribly interested in the many fascinating facts I can explain about Gloucester…Gloucester cette une ville moyenne dans le sud-ouest d’Angleterre. Il y a beaucoup de distractions en Gloucester, il y a une piste de ski artificiel...) Do let me know.

In the mean time, I’ll be revelling in the reading of an old favourite and, in about 24 hours, ruing the fact that the rest of the series is in Belfast.

On mothers, birthdays and technology

It’s my Mum’s birthday today, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to her – and her iPhone…

Mum has been iPhoned up for just over two years. Yes, I was rather jealous when she acquired it, but could quite help wondering if this was really the right phone for her. Not so much the fact that she doesn’t really listen to music, so the iPod element would go unused, more the fact that its myriad functions might be lost on someone not quite so technologically savvy.

It didn’t take long for my fears to be realised. A few months later I was on holiday in America and keeping my parents informed of my adventures via semi-regular e-mails. One morning, sat at a computer in a hotel in DC, I read an e-mail from my Dad in which he said that he’d read my last e-mail to Mum over the phone as she was away with no internet. Some time later I thought about this and realised that, with an iPhone, reading e-mails was possible virtually anywhere. Once home I asked and, sure enough, she hadn’t got that feature of her new phone up and running yet.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that she can’t use it – she definitely can, unlike my Dad who will talk to us using it, but hands it back at the end of the chat with the words “here you are dear, I never know how to hang up on these things!”. Sure, there are the odd mistakes we all make – yesterday she texted to ask if I wanted salad or sardines for lunch (I deduced she meant sandwiches, given my hatred of fish). She’s got quite a useful array of Apps, from Tune In radio to the English Cricket Board and Irish Weather (perpetually grey cloud and rain, apparently). However, it seems she still has something to learn about the phone’s inbuilt functions.

Last month we had dinner next to St Paul’s. She was staying in Farringdon and wondered how she would get back – so I suggested she look it up on her phone. It seems she wasn’t entirely aware that this was possible, or that while in the map feature, you could use the phone to show exactly where you are. Canny, isn’t it? She was amazed. (So was I, but for entirely different reasons). Talking about this yesterday, it seems Google Maps has become a regularly used tool for navigation – who’d have thought it?

Yesterday brought a new revelation. My sister was telling how, over the weekend, she and her husband had been sat in the beer garden of their local and decided to listen to the News Quiz to drown out the noise that the other locals were making. Mum seemed surprised and asked how they had done this, to which Mim replied that they’d simply played it on her iPhone. Mum wanted to know if they had speakers with them, at which point we realised she had little knowledge of the iPhone’s inbuilt speakers…

I had to demonstrate with this week’s Wittertainment and she was rather impressed. In fact, this could be a revelation – listening to Archers podcasts in the bath, falling asleep to Women’s Hour on iPlayer [actually, iPlayer is something else we really need to convert her to] – all things that make my life much richer.

Happy birthday mother dearest! We only mock you because we love you – and because others mock us for being girls who don’t understand technology properly.

Irrationality proved wrong

Ten years ago today, a small black creature came into the world. Unbeknownst to this fur ball, her birth and subsequent adoption would send shockwaves through my little world…

I was 19 and on a weekend home from uni when my mother let me in on a secret. After decades of resistance, she had finally given in to my father’s desire for a dog – not just any dog, a classic Labrador. It just so happened that someone in his office was expecting a litter of Labrador puppies, so she’d put our name down for one and would be surprising Dad with the news at Christmas (the puppy wouldn’t arrive till new year).

Thing was, what my mother had conveniently forgotten – or ignored – was my phobia of dogs. Ever since I’d been pinned up against the wall by a giant retriever when I was about 4 I’d had something of a loathing of them. I didn’t like seeing them on the street; was paranoid about them running loose in the park; and generally convinced that every canine in the world was out to get me. Aged 9, I even managed to run through a plate glass door in an effort to escape a terrier that had nibbled my ankles (yes, through the door – I shattered the glass with my super-human strength…).

You might think that as a newly independent grown-up I would have got over this phobia, or at least have the piece of mind to respond to the news with some sort of rationality. You’d be wrong. I believe my exact response was:
“If you get a dog I am never coming home ever again!” 
[Exit. Stomp upstairs. Slam bedroom door. Fling oneself onto bed. Sulk.]

Fast forward two months and you would have found me spending new year’s day sat on the sofa cuddling a tiny furry ball with big mournful brown eyes while watching Mary Poppins. The cute little animal won me over and I was hooked. Even her puppy/junior dog exploits of eating socks; chewing books [including the cover of a priceless Chalet School book]; destroying favourite shoes; eating cakes; and barking far too early in the morning didn’t change things – I had become a dog lover.

So now Megan is 10. She’s older, a little less mental and not quite so energetic, but fortunately still gets excited by the duff, duff, duffs at the start of the EastEnders theme tune (it coincides with dinner time) – a fact that still deeply disappoints my intellectual, soap hating father.

Happy birthday crazy dog. I’ll see you at Christmas when you’ll be super-happy because every single member of your family will be together and life – as far as you know it – will be perfect.