30 April, 2015

"Now don't poo poo the idea but......."

Philo's in Ruddington
I’m not a happy party goer. For some reason I don’t feel comfortable in the party situation. Standing around chatting whilst in one hand balancing food on a plate and holding a drink in the other are not skills that I have ever quite mastered. The prospect of having to “mingle” is also one which I don’t relish, not because I don’t want to, but simply because I can never think of anything to say. Others seem to be able to launch forth on any subject and talk to complete strangers as if they are long lost relations – but not me. Instead, if I am not careful, I find myself standing in the corner continually looking at my watch and wondering if I can decently bid farewell to the host whilst looking at the other guests from afar and wishing that I had their confidence and bonhomie to strike up conversations and display all the required skills of partying!

Mingling with the neighbours
I know that I am not alone in this and I suspect that many feel exactly the same way as myself. Indeed, an old friend of mine who, because of his job was often involved in this kind of social situation, once confessed to me that before each party he and his wife would sit down making lists of all the things that they might talk about or say to each guest. These would be scribbled onto pieces of paper to be secretly referred to during the evening. I don’t go that far but nonetheless am always a little terrified as I enter the room, looking anxiously for some known and sympathetic face to whom I can affix myself and with whom I might not disgrace myself by dropping food from my plate  or stand speechless, the words simply not coming into my head.

John welcomes guests
So, it was with some reticence and no little surprise a couple of months ago when I actually agreed with Pat’s suggestion that we have a seventieth birthday party for me. Now, I do have to say that just as I am not a party animal I am equally not terribly birthday orientated. Maybe it is because I am an only child and can honestly say never had a birthday party as child (nor did any of my friends as I remember it – the families where I grew up were simply too hard up) that I have this missing birthday party gene. But whatever the reason I’ve never felt the need to celebrate a birthday. My grandchildren seem to have a whole social calendar built around attending parties but for me it’s largely an alien concept.
"Hmm" says Alex "where shall I start"
John & Ruth's three boys - our grandsons
Sam, Alex and Luke

So, it would have been much easier to say no to Pat’s suggestion and have a quiet birthday at home – just the two of us - with perhaps a nice meal. Or, it would have been more within my comfort zone to have simply had my children and grandchildren for a nice meal  in a local restaurant. But when Pat said to me “Now don’t ‘poo poo’ the idea but what do you think about a 70th birthday party?” I suddenly, and surprisingly, found myself agreeing – albeit with some little anxiety. “You're coming up to seventy” - a little voice in my head whispered – “three score years and ten – maybe there won’t be many more opportunities. Go for it!”  So, "go for it" I did and I found myself  agreeing with this outrageous idea. And I am so very glad that I did! We had a lovely day  a few days after my actual birthday. The sun shone making it a lovely spring Sunday, everyone turned up and both Pat and I were delighted to see all our family plus friends old and new all gathered together. And we all enjoyed a truly sumptuous spread at Philo’s  our local village cafe/deli/coffee shop.

Ready for the grub!
Friends old and new: Sean, Howard,
Shirley and Sheila 
We had approached Philo’s a few weeks previously, having taken my momentous decision to go ahead with this venture to enquire if they could put on a buffet lunch for us in their upstairs room which they use for functions such as ours. We didn't want anything pretentious - a small gathering where everyone (including me!) could feel comfortable, where there would be seats and tables at which to eat  (no plate balancing), space to "mingle" and, very important, where we knew that people would enjoy a simple but hearty meal, beautifully cooked and presented in a relaxing atmosphere. We knew that Philo's would fit these requirements. Lucy, the owner, talked us through what we wanted, gave us excellent and expert advice as to amounts, costs, popular dishes and options - and, most importantly, she was anxious to go along with our ideas and wishes - she didn't try to make it something that it wasn't. In short we felt in control at all times. Having agreed the menu and the format she promised that we would not be disappointed and, goodness gracious, nor were we – the food, service and hospitality were magnificent. Philo's excelled themselves. Every single guest has contacted us since the day to say how much they enjoyed it and to congratulate us on our choice of caterers. Because a number of guests were travelling long distances we wanted the menu to be hearty and filling as well as homely and so we settled for lasagne, shepherd’s pie, cold meats, vegetarian chilli, salads, jacket potatoes and various very tempting sweets. It was delicious and plentiful, every dish. Everyone, it seemed, went back to try something else from the buffet and we watched in amazement as our grand-daughter Eleanor visited the sweet table on four separate occasions to fill up her plate. Where did she put it all! The three hours passed in a flash – mostly eating and chatting – and then, when the tables were cleared we all returned to our house, just a few minutes’ walk down the High Street where we enjoyed  a cup of tea and I had to blow out the candles on my birthday cake while friends and family sang “Happy Birthday”.  It was a wonderful afternoon which has given us so many memories to treasure.
Sam, Sophie & Eleanor
John & Ruth 

As well as our immediate family we had friends from  different parts of the country, there were people who we had met almost 50 years ago and with whom we have remained firm friends despite living far from each other, there were neighbours who have been so much part of our daily life here in Ruddington for almost 40 years, there were ex-work colleagues, and there were newer friends who we have met more recently all - “mingling”, chatting and smiling as the spring sun shone through the windows. My son, John, gave a little speech of welcome and I mumbled a few brief words to all these people that have meant so much and been such important parts of our lives.

Our son in law Andrew and
 his dad Howard
 A few days earlier, on my birthday, a friend rang to wish me happy birthday and as he had already passed that milestone jokingly commented that I was now joining an exclusive club – those who have made it to three score years and ten. We chatted for a few minutes about getting old with all its aches and a pains and how  being a member of this exclusive club meant that we could now both officially classify ourselves as grumpy old men. But as I put the phone down I thought, too, about my journey to get to this exclusive club. None of us ever know what path our life’s journey will take and I briefly thought of those seventy years – where I had come from, what had happened en route, the ups and downs, the people I had met, places been, things seen, opportunities taken and those missed, the successes and the failures, the regrets and the joys. All of these tumbled through my mind.
The sweet eaters loved this bit of the afternoon!

And, a few days later as I stood at the side of my son John, daughter Kate and Pat my wife  and surrounded by all these people who have, largely through fate, become so much a part of our lives in their many different ways I realised, too, that I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined 60 or so years ago that on my 70th birthday I would be standing as I was, comfortably off, having had a moderately successful career, in a village far from where I was born and brought up and surrounded by my wonderful family – of whom I am hugely proud – and so many friends. As any readers of my blogs will know I came from quite a humble background and could never have imagined that in my life time that I -  a scruffy kid from a back street in a northern town - would have visited the far flung places that I have, seen the wonderful things that I have seen, done the things that I have done, met the many, many marvellous people that I have and, most importantly, have such a super and successful family of whom I am hugely proud. In one sense it makes me feel very humble and very lucky; in another deeply grateful. I have been fortunate indeed.
Pat and ex- work colleague Sheila
Our very oldest friends Geoff, Pat, Dave & Molly
And, as I stood there saying my few stumbling words of welcome and thanks to the guests - both for making the journey to be with us on Sunday and for their friendship, love and support over so many years, another thought fluttered across my mind: how my mother and dad would have been thrilled to have been there and to know that it had all worked out for me. As I have often written before, my relationship with my parents was a bit up and down – it was no-one’s fault, it just happened – but I know they would have been pleased (and, I think, not a little proud) to know that I had reached my “three score years and ten” so well. As I stood there I was quietly pleased about that; my parents made me what I am - warts and all – and I have so much to be grateful to them for. It was their hard work and sacrifice that gave me opportunities and outlooks that many others born in similar circumstances often didn’t get. I had absolutely no doubts as I stood there on Sunday that my parents’ hard work, sacrifice and values were underpinning much of what I enjoying in Philo’s.
"Happy Birthday to you......."

With daughter Kate -
official photographer for
the afternoon
And, as I “mingled”, I looked at my two children Kate and John; I don’t expect that I will be around when they reach their 70th birthdays but I’d like to think that when they do they can stand, as I stood on Sunday, knowing  that somewhere, far in the past, Pat and I helped in some small way to make it all happen for them.

The Beale clan: John, Pat, yours truly and Kate
The afternoon was a time to renew old friendships, to reaffirm ties, it was a time to say “do you remember when” and to agree that “we must not leave it so long to meet up again”, it was a time to look back and look forward and to say thank you to all these people who have helped to mould my life and be part of my family – making it and me what we are. An afternoon to treasure and so yes, I’m so very glad that I didn’t “poo poo” Pat’s idea!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tony, What a truly heartwarming post! I was thinking of you on the day and am so glad to hear that you didn't "poo poo" the party idea (that would have been my first instinct as well), and that it was a most meaningful celebration with those you hold dear. Philo's looks like the perfect, unpretentious neighbourhood venue. I do like the photo of your little grandson eyeing a tasty dish! Best wishes and many happy returns again, Helena