Saturday was my birthday, I turned 44.  I like to make a big deal about my birthday, I always try to make it a fun occasion, and in my family we do birthdays big, so there are always plenty of people around to make the day special.  My niece G, whose birthday is four days before mine, is 40 years younger than I am.  Her birth was a lovely 40th birthday present for me and we are now birthday buddies of the first order.  Last year she had an existential crisis about turning three, she felt very out of sorts and cried about how she liked being two because she knew how to do it, but three was very difficult.  For three days she was restless and uncomfortable about it.  When my birthday came round and I also turned (forty) three, she was calm again. We were united in this new ‘threeness’ and together we are invincible – no mountain is too high.

This year, she had no fears about turning four.  She was super-excited about her birthday and all the presents she would get, and the party and if there would be sweeties on her cake etc. etc.  I spent the day with her on the day and we had fun opening presents, painting our faces, eating cake, bouncing on her new trampoline (she bounced – we clapped) and swinging on her nifty new swing.  The thing that we had talked up the most though was a mani-pedi.  She has always been fascinated by D’s colourful toenails and is constantly pushing me to paint mine.  As their house is a no shoe house, she sees our bare feet winter and summer and although I let the side down all winter (who can be bothered?) D is always perfectly mani-pedied.  Our sister, K had said that G could have her toe and fingernails painted for her fourth birthday.  For the 8 weeks building up to her birthday it was all we could talk about.  All her bedtime stories had to be about nail painting, and we were counting church visits and sleeps to help her keep the timeline in perspective.  We had decided to have this grooming session on my birthday which is a Saturday which meant that D could also take part.

Saturday therefore, our first stop was over to theirs.  K was supposed to watch over the younger niece, C, while we painted each other’s toenails and fingernails and generally acted girly and excited.  Of course, that all went out of the window when K’s neighbour looked over the fence and started chatting to her.  She (the neighbour) has just suffered a bereavement and so K didn’t feel like she could tell her that now wasn’t a good time as we had manicures and pedicures to sort out.  Cue me and D, trying to corral C into an area where touching G’s feet wasn’t possible, and she couldn’t reach the assorted pink and purple nail varnishes. We were only partially successful and C’s first action of the day involved her picking up a bottle of dark purple nail varnish and spilling it over D’s hands.  Fortunately, K, ever conscious of her carpets and soft furnishings had us outside in the garden for this activity.  G was a picture of stillness as we painted her toes and fingers.  She chose her colours quickly and confidently – no dithering for this princess – she had clearly given it lots of thought and was happy with her decision.  It is one of the things I like most about her, she knows what she wants, and sticks to a decision; these are things I am still striving to perfect, so I really admire them in my four-year old niece!

Anyway, the problem was never going to be sitting still while her nails were painted, that’s only 5 minutes or so.  The problem was going to be keeping her still and outdoors while they dried.  Fortunately the swing was there and we swung her for a while after we had finished.  After a while she turned to D and said:

“D, I would like to watch some videos on your phone because it is really boring sitting still for so long.”

Cut to D on the floor of the garden with two girls on her lap watching home videos and laughing for about 15 mins.  Anyway, the morning was a big success, G looked so sweet and grown up with her pink feet and purple fingers and we left them there and hurried home for the next phase of the day.

Birthday pedicures are the best.

Birthday pedicures are the best.

In order to avoid cooking, I had suggested to my friends who were coming over that evening that we get take away food.  Obviously, since I am Greek and well – me, I decided to make some nibbles for while we were waiting for the food, and a dessert.  Also I thought that this was a good time to make a brioche loaf as I wanted to know if it was achievable.  So having woken up at 7 and baked the brownies, shaped the brioche and let it re-prove and gotten the mince ready to shape into meatballs, when I got home, I started getting all that stuff ready.  My aunt and her partner came by to wish me a happy birthday (and borrow the car).  We sat in the kitchen with them as we sampled the brioche and I rolled meatballs.  It was a pleasant afternoon, but not the relaxing one I had envisaged.  Still, who doesn’t like eating brioche and rolling meatballs?

I'm going to need a bigger tin.  Damn thing nearly took over the kitchen.

I’m going to need a bigger tin. Damn thing nearly took over the kitchen.

At about 5, I fried the meatballs, baked the swirlies and cut the fruit salad.  I just had enough time afterwards to change and the first guest arrived.  It was actually a games evening this time, and we decided to play spot the intro.  We split into two teams and basically stared blankly at the screen for the first 15 mins which were the 50s, 60s and 70s rounds.  Finally we started to be a bit more alert at the 80s through noughties rounds, and then we went back to blank at other more obscure rounds.  My team was thrashed comprehensively (whatever happened to letting the birthday girl win?).  Before starting the game though, I called the Turkish restaurant to order dinner.

“Hello, do you deliver?”

“Yes Madam, but there is a £40 minimum delivery charge.”

“There are 12 of us, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

I proceeded to order from a sheet of paper everyone had written their stuff on.  Needless to say there was a lot of

“Did you mean the spicy chicken with garlic and herbs?”

“Yes, does it come in a wrap? “

“No, would you like it in a wrap?”

“Yes please.”

“Chilli sauce?  Garlic sauce?”

“Er – hang on.”

“Shall I just make all the wraps with no sauce and then you can add as you wish?”

“That sounds like a great idea.  Thanks”

Anyway, that was one person’s meal, now multiply that by 12 and add a few extras and I was on the phone to this woman for a very long time.  The whole time I was talking to her, I was thinking how competent and on the ball she was.  Often when you call up take away places, the people on the other end of the phone are not very clear on what you want, and certainly not native English speakers.  (I am being generous here.  Most of the people I speak to on the phone in a food ordering capacity are not only non-native English speakers, they are not-ever-spoken-English speakers. It seems to be a requirement for this type of job.)  Anyway.  This lady spoke English, and was quite clear about what we wanted and how it would come.  Then she asked me for my postcode.

“It’s NW9 6RJ” I said.

OK, NW North West 9 and 6RJ.  So that’ R for Argentina and J for Germany?” came the immediate response.

I paused, trying to assimilate the information. Clearly the World Cup was still fresh in her memory.

“Er, no. It’s RJ, Romeo Juliet.”  I never usually remember the NATO phonetic alphabet, but these two letters are stuck in my memory as I thought it was kind of neat when I first heard my postcode said that way. I did start to worry that having overcome the ordering hurdle, we were now descending into will-you-be-able-to-find-the-place territory though.

“Ok, no problem.”

I explained about the building name and the street name being different and she told me they would be here in 30-40 minutes.

“Perfect, thank you very much.”  I hung up and went off to play spot the intro.

An hour and 15 minutes later, the phone rings.

“That’ll be dinner” I said.

D answered. Here is her end of the conversation:

“Hello?”

“When you came into the building, did you go left instead of right?”

“Oh, you’re not in the building?”

“Yes, are you on Park Street?”

“No the building is on Park Street. The Building is called Abbey Court, but the Road is Park Street.  You must be on Abbey Road, that’s the wrong road.”

“Ok”

We all looked at her expectantly as she put the phone down.

“He’ll call me if he gets lost again.”

Half an hour later, the phone rang.  I answered.

“Hello, this is the driver with the food.  I can see the mosque on the main road.  Where are you?”

“We are the building next to the mosque.”

“Ok, opposite the mosque, I come there.”

“No, not opposite the mosque, next to it.”

“Ok, but it is a main road.  Maybe I get on the main road and I can’t turn around.”

“No, there is a roundabout at the top of the road.  You will be able to turn round.  There is a driveway in front of the building, drive in and you can stop here.”

All this was complicated by the fact that it is Ramadan and the mosque and surrounding streets have been heaving for the past month.

“Ok, I have the mosque to my right, shall I turn left or right?”

“Are you on the main road?”

“No, I am on the side road, shall I go left or right?  Quickly tell me, the lights are changing.”

“Left and then left straight away.”

“Ok, thanks” He put the phone down.  By this time, there were three of us hanging out of my living room window looking for a delivery bike.

Five minutes later the phone rang again.  It’s the driver.  “I am downstairs.  Come down and show me how to come upstairs please.”

C and I went downstairs, paid him and brought a huge box of food upstairs.  No wonder we hadn’t spotted him, he was driving a large Volvo SUV.

As we said goodbye and thank you, he said:

“Thank you and sorry.  It’s my first day and I never drive in London before today.”

Just our luck, we got the guy who got a job driving in London when he had just arrived off the plane from Turkey.  Anyway.  The food was good, still warm, and all the food present and accounted for.  We ate hungrily (it was 11pm by then) and then aided our digestion by playing the name game until 2am.  Birthday cake, brownies and fruit salad were had and I fell into bed at 3am and dreamt of all the clearing up still left to do the next morning…

As Birthdays go?  This one was pretty close to perfect.  And there was still the pub quiz to go to on Sunday.  Turning 44 has been great so far!

This sign is my birthday present from my brother.  How cool is that?!  (Currently blu-tacked to the cupboards where I keep my most useless piece of kitchen equipment:  The fish kettle.)

This sign is my birthday present from my brother. How cool is that?! (Currently blu-tacked to the cupboards where I keep my most useless piece of kitchen equipment: the fish kettle.)

Advertisements