A Birthday Party

stephen party

A few patches of blue, snatches of a flowery design and plain white triangular pennants fluttered and flew in the light breeze, transforming the garden into an oasis of happiness.

As the English summer climbs to the August Bank Holiday, it’s high water mark, families up and down the land prepare for a final outdoor celebration, a christening party, a twenty-first, a silly dressing-up party, a wild music rave and in this case, a premature 40th birthday party. Daily examinations of the weather forecast had pointed to a sunny and calm day, but it was only a window in an otherwise dull, cool and wet jet stream.

With fingers crossed, we’d decided not to put up a marquee. The day dawned fair. A few high clouds permitted a warm sun to shine from a periwinkle sky. The morning preparations flew as if we had the wings of Hermes. Glasses and Bar-B-Que charcoal collected from Tesco, sausages and burgers from Jon James.

The garden had been trimmed, and the lawn had been mowed in stripes. Tables and chairs were set out and patiently awaited their occupants.

Saška took the first photo of the day as bunting was hung across the garden, after much unfurling. Kathryn had made it from her granny’s bedsheets years ago and it was making its annual outing once again. A few patches of blue, snatches of a flowery design and plain white triangular pennants fluttered and flew in the light breeze, transforming the garden into an oasis of happiness. Spirits were instantly lifted. She posted it on Facebook.

Wines – red from France and white from New Zealand – and beer from Brains in Cardiff along with lagers from Italy were set out on the wobbly table alongside gleaming glasses.

Marjorie finished the final preparations for lunch, cooking penne pasta and chopping salads, while Tom and I set up the two Bar-B-Ques.

The first “likes” and comments on Saška’s post zing into Facebook.

At two, the guests start to trickle in and their welcome drinks are assiduously prepared. Cath, Sian, and Kathryn have a gin and tonic. Marjorie slices the lemon and adds ice. They look so good, she has one for herself.

Terry arrives with two bags of ice for the beers and lagers in a large plastic bucket and I arrange the glasses on the wobbly table littered with glasses and bottles of wine.

More guests arrive and conversations flow. Old friends renew acquaintances and are introduced to new arrivals. The children – all under six – run like dervishes around the garden down past the now half-empty vegetable plot to the Wendy house on the edge of the wooded area.

Marjorie says it is time to start cooking. Tom lights his rectangular Bar-B-Que. I prepare my round Weber and another Facebook posting by the now voracious Saška appears on the web.

Soon, sausages like butchers’ fat fingers, squared cubes of lamb on wooden skewers along with wide flat burgers are sizzling above the hot coals. They could burn quickly and so we both twist and turn the meats to ensure the best results.

Food’s ready!’ calls Marjorie. An orderly queue forms. The guests load their plates with the cooked meats and fresh salads.

Food always moderates conversations in a way that is not possible with drink. It is a slower process. Mastication leaves time for reflection. I sit with Kerry and Mick and we discuss our upcoming visits to China and, more importantly, tomatoes, home grown, of course, as if we had livelihoods which depended on them. Tomorrow is the annual Broad Haven tomato competition.

Desserts are even more popular and soon Karis is calling everyone to witness the blowing out of Stephen’s ceremonial birthday-cake candle. He makes a short speech thanking everyone for coming while the single candle on the pressed chocolate cake, made by Karis, burns lower. Bryn, Stephen’s six-year-old nephew, stands by his side, cheeks puffed out, holding his breath to blow out the candle. Stephen stops talking and Bryn who had turned a shade of vermilion, exhales and, with a smile to light any cold heart, extinguishes the candle to much applause.

Young Elsie and Ivy pick flowers from the hydrangeas. Kathryn plaits them around their heads. The wreaths of lilac over their angelic faces make them look like the Muses on the Mount of Parnassus. Saška seizes the moment with her phone and another posting is made to the web with the approval of many friends.

There’s more drinking as the afternoon progresses. People wander around the garden, Bryn starts a keen football game with Alex, a ten-year-old late arrival. Conversations turn to important matters. Tongues loosed by alcohol and familiarity freely exchange confidences which will, with less circumspection, be spread later. The football on the lawn intensifies. Tom and Stephen join with Bryn and Alex kicking the ball around – into the hedge and onto the pond.

People depart in dribs and drabs with farewell kisses, sincere thanks and warm embraces. They have had a good time.

The weather cools as the sun sinks towards the western sea. The music starts to work its magic. Limbs, which had imperviously stood stock-still, now vibrate and start rhythmically to twitch. Dancing breaks out in the darkness, six-year-old Bryn feels no cold and bare-chested he imitates a muscle man and contorts his thin arms into muscle enhancing poses.

The music excites and, like the five dancers in Matisse’s painting, we all jump around in a circle calling out poses which cause us all to freeze for an instant or two. Kim and Jenny watch the dancers through the patio windows from the luxury of the sofa and Bryn dons his red T-shirt saying he’s cold.

Now it is dark and cold and the few remaining guests have taken refuge in the house. Jessie from Florida is drinking Welsh whiskey. He is pleasantly surprised by its taste and smoothness.

Like a dying fire, the party flames are fading. A final ember splutters and the hardiest guests come inside. It’s nine thirty and none of the children is in bed. In the distance over at Little Haven, fireworks light the sky. Greens, whites and reds explode in ever expanding geometrical patterns, it’s a fortunate and fitting tribute to Stephen who was born on Guy Fawkes Day. We return outside and hoist the youngsters into our arms and onto our shoulders so they can see the show more easily but it is over quickly.

When the display is finished, Lydia, Ivy and Elsie, like three conspirators, cuddle on an inside chair for warmth and mutual reinforcement. It’s a been a big day for them, but they are tired now.
‘Come on now,’ call their mums, their day has come to an end and so has ours. There’s only washing up and clearing away. Rain is forecast for the morrow.

Stephen will be forty in just over two months time.

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