Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Brithdays are Like Buses ...

... you wait ages, then several come along at once and at the last minute you realise you haven't got a ticket, you have no idea which way the bus is going, or where to get off, and the price of public transport has just rendered you a stinking, rag-bedecked beggar. On the other hand - top deck of a double decker is definitely the most fun way to travel.

Analogy having limped to a close - there's so much to report, beginning with the fact that this incredibly fun, furious weekend has rendered me a couple of pounds heavier, a good deal poorer, and much happier than I've been in a long time. I'm now on a health kick, a money-saving kick, a book-cracking kick, and a money earning kick. The latter will prove something of a challenge, but no matter! Where there's a will and all that jazz.

The weekend started with picking Koios up from the Gyle where she works - a task that proved somewhat harder than I imagined as I got hopelessly lost around parts of Edinburgh I never knew existed, and hope never to see again. It's where poor people live! Shocking. Anyway, I picked her up with only a modicum of confusion (She: "where are you?" Me: "outside, by the creche." She: "There is no creche." Me: "Er ... but I'm outside one." She: "Then you're in the wrong place. I'm by the Aegon building." Me: (thinks) "Oh great, how the hell am I supposed to know which one is the Aegon building?" Drives 2 metres, sees massive building with even more massive AEGON sign on it, feels a turnip) and we headed off to her first port of call. The whole evening was a surprise. She's been so busy and tired of late that it seemed cruel to make her organise her own birthday as well, so everything was organised without her.

First we went to a cocktail bar in the Grassmarket, called Dragonfly, which is my new favourite place in Edinburgh - especially at 4.30 in the afternoon. It was very sparsely peopled, we'd booked a big table, and a bunch of people showed up to drink her health. The cocktails were lovely (barring one of Koios's which tasted like baked beans), although I had only one as I was driving. I'd told everyone we'd be there from 4.30 til 6.30, but we stayed until around 7. This was fortunate, as Chopper and Pilfer decided to turn up at 6.45, for some reason. I suppose it is difficult to read an email that clearly states the time and place of your celebration. I must remember to call them individually next time, and ensure they've read and understood each piece of information. Or, alternatively, just let them turn up late everywhere and miss out.

So drinks were lots of fun. We then bundles Koi into Helga and off we went for part 2 of her surprise. She had no idea where we were going, and when we turned up at Cargo - a local bar - she said:

"Oo, Cargo," in a voice that clearly said I'm trying to sound enthusiastic, but this is about as far up my alley as you could force Westminster Abbey.

After parking the car, we led her outside and I stopped and said:

"You're going to need these." I then handed her a plastic pirate's cutlass, a pirate's headband, a massive plastic gold earring and an eye patch.

"So that's why you got me drunk straight away," she squeaked, thinking we were about to lead her into Cargo dressed as Crap-tain Jack. But we are not so cruel. Instead, we led her to the barge we'd rented on which we were to have a cosy, private meal and a wee cruise up and down the Union Canal. With the sun coming out after a terrible, rainy day, it was absolutely perfect. The food was fine, the wine rough but plentiful, and the cruise a delight. I really hope Koi enjoyed it as much as I did. I'm now inspired to buy a barge and take Cheese Board & Boys and dogs on long voyages around the canals of Europe, stopping at little villages only to stock up on wine, cheese and local delicacies and to soak up local colour. How immensely bohemian and brilliant would that be? We could even live on the barge and earn a living, er, whittling. I'm not sure I know what whittling is, but it sounds like something people who live on a barge do to earn a living. We'd probably trade our whittles for vittles. Maybe we'd fight crime at night.


Anyhoo ... after supper Fisher, Pro and I checked on the pooches in Helga while the others checked out whether Cargo was worth a drink. Phid then phoned Fisher and told her that they'd popped into Cargo and found it full of young people being noisy and playing their music, so they'd opted for the nearby Embargo where a few gaggles of thirty-somethings were sitting round braying into their pinot noirs. We soon joined them and did some braying of our own.

Midnight saw the end for us all. In our defence, Koi had been at work that day, and so had Pro, Fisher and Phid. Fisher also woke me at 7.15, so I was pretty pie eyed myself and very glad to head bedward.

We were staying at Blarney & Spartan's flat, where the dogs are totally chilled and very easy to settle. B&S hadn't been able to join us as they had a wedding - but as the next day was filled with further birthday surprises, we didn't feel too bad they couldn't come.

Let me, for those reading who don't know, explain the set up of Sunday.

Blarney's 30th birthday took place a week or so ago, and she went to New York with Spar for a celebration. Very lovely, but it meant we couldn't celebrate with her. Unfortunately, with Koi's birthday and a whole bunch of other stuff planned for May weekends, there just wasn't a free date on which we could celebrate. So we decided that we'd secretly turn over the Sunday of Koi's weekend to Blarney, while pretending we were actually going to Glasgow to the Museum of Transport for a special treat for nerdy Koios. This bald faced nonsense Blarney swallowed - albeit in horrified disbelief - and the plan was put into action.

For her birthday present I'd promised Blar a shopping spree, so we went into Glasgow early on Sunday morning and roamed the shops. She bought a Dolce & Gabbana jacket which looks utterly gorgeous on her, and a dress from Cruise she may or may not wear at the nedding this July. We went into my spiritual home of Ralph Lauren, but apart from a polo shirt and a stripey top that was just too big on her and therefore not particularly flattering, there was nothing that suited.

Eventually, while we were searching out shoes, I scurried us into phase 2 of the 'surprise Blarney' plan. I said Fisher and Spar had found us a pub to have lunch in, and hurried her to the Butterfly and Pig. I'd forgotten how far up Bath Street it is, though, and became infuriated because I couldn't find it, and because Fisher and Spar both failed to answer their mobiles despite repeated calls. You'd think that they'd have them right by them, especially when they realised we were late, but noooo. After asking a nice woman cleaning the outside of her pub windows we found the place, and Blarney scuttled in ...

... to be greeted with party poppers, cries and cheers as the whole Cheese Board and boys (minus Badger, who couldn't make it) welcomed her to her birthday lunch.

We were planning on dragging out the Museum of Transport bluff until after lunch, when we'd get in the car and go to phase 3, and only reveal that she was off the hook when we arrived at phase 3 - but I guess Koios got bored, or wanted a bit of revelatory action, because she put Blarney out of her misery and assured her we were NOT going to have a personal, guided tour of the Museum of Transport, or a half hour talk on the 250 model ships depicting Glasgow river transport throughout the ages. She was most relieved.

Lunch was lovely, and the pub made Blar a cake which was consumed with gusto. Stuffed to the gunnels, we exited and entered into phase 3. Shoving Spar and Blar into Helga (again) we set off for Pollok Park where we were to meet up again and have Blarney's traditional rounders and Scattegories, which usually take place in Inverleith Park and we thought would be fun to transport across the country. Unfortunately, owing to Fisher deciding we were going to navigate our way to Kelvingrove Park rather than Pollok, we found ourselves having a wee jaunt on the M8, then struggling through traffic before eventually pulling up in the correct location.

We found ourselves a nice, open bit of space, and while the girlies gossipped, Pro, Wheeler and I started whacking the rounders ball at each other. Then I took a football out of Spar's bag and we started kicking it about - and, to my astonishment, everyone else gamely joined in. We divided into 2 teams, had jumpers for goalposts, and indulged in a good old, traditional British past time. It was hilarious. The girls were girlie, the boys were blokey, and I tried to act like a grown woman indulging in proper sport, only to dive at Pro's feet in an attempt to save the ball and land heavily on my knee. Trouble is, the last time I did something like that I was 14 and I bounced. At 31, it was rather more a crunch than a bounce, and I squealed like a pink-bedecked princess. None of the other girlie girls fell over, or made a fuss. In fact, they got well stuck in - as bruises from an enthusiastically tackling Janus prove. It was great! At one point, Fisher attempted to pick Phidippida up and hurl her out of the way of the football, only to discover that a) Phid is not so easily picked up or flung, and b) Phid was actually on her team.

Secretly, I have a suspicion that with a bit of practice the real stars of footie could be Fisher and - get this - Koios! Yes indeed. She showed admirable positional sense off the ball, and had by far the most shots on goal. She's definitely a glory hunter, having no defensive interests whatsoever, and so makes a naturally deadly striker. A little composure in front of goal and she'd have been spanking us all.

In fact, everyone impressed me deeply. I thought there'd be a lot of swiping at the ball, missing and falling over, but to my regret everyone turned out to have better foot-eye coordination than expected.

We played for ages - or at least until the gang had to catch the 7 o'clock train back to Edinburgh. And thus we entered into phase 4 of Blar's surprise birthday plan! Bidding the Cheese Board and boys a fond farewell, we bundled Spar and Blar back into Helga (yet again) and pretended to head for home. We got onto the main slip road out of Glasgow, which was fine as it was heading in the right direction for both Edinburgh and phase 4 - but then I got off at junction 18 rather than 19. This, though, proved to be a blessing in disguise, as my curses lulled Blar into a false sense of my idiocy. I said:

"Look, if I just get onto the Great Western Road we'll be fine," knowing that Blar wouldn't have any idea that the Great Western Road leads nowhere near Edinburgh. So Spar and I were able to seek out the GWR openly, while Spar and Fisher yammered in the back about the Fife Show. Of course, after a good 2o minutes of pootling about inner Glasgow many people would have started to get suspicious. Not Blar. And, after darting down a tiny cul de sac, almost anyone with a left hemisphere of the brain would start to twig that we weren't going to Edinburgh. Not Blar. In fact, only when we had practically drawn up outside the location of phase 4 did Blar spot a massive green sign and say, in astonishment:

"Hotel du Vin!"

She then twigged that we hadn't just stumbled upon it by sheer chance. Her eyes went round as saucers, her hands flew to her mouth.

"You didn't think it was over, did you?" I grinned, unbearably smug and happy at causing Blar such thrills. "Now you get to have a lovely, luxurious bath and a nap before supper and a night of pampered luxury!"

Many squeals of joy greeted this statement, so in we went to check in and have our free dram of whisky beside the roaring fire.

I don't know what it is, but almost the second you step into Hotel du Vin your muscles start to unwind. We sipped out whisky, were brought bits of paper to sign, and had our bags carried up to our room by the friendly young assistant who showed us our rooms. We made plans to meet in the bar at 8.15 - and then Fisher and I went to the hotel's laughable gym for 20 minutes of hard slog in a desperate bid to make room for supper.

We bathed, dressed, and met Spar and Blar in the bar. Blarney'd had to rely on Spartan providing her appropriate clothes, so she was a bit disappointed to be wearing jeans - but when Fisher gave her the beautiful necklace she'd made her, her outfit was quite transformed. And who cared what she was wearing, anyway? She looked relaxed, happy and enchanted with her day - which was the whole point.

Supper was, as usual, divine. We finished with drinks in the whisky room, and then retired to our lovely, crisply starched sheets on wonderfully comfortable beds. I fell asleep in about 10 seconds, and it only remained for Fisher to be woken at 4am by a crying Baffie (who was sooo cooold next to the open window) while I, for a change, slept right through. It's usually me with the maternal instinct, but this time I was too exhausted from spent adrenaline. It's surprisingly stressful organising stuff. I mean, not that I noticed at the time - it was hugely fun - but there's a bit of anxiety over the fact you may utterly screw up celebrations for your nearest and dearest by choosing something they actually dislike intensely. So it was a big relief to know it had all gone smoothly and that if they did hate anything they did an excellent job of disguising it.

Next day I managed to actually have breakfast for the first time ever at HdV - and full Scottish at that. Delicious. I love poached eggs. The rest of them had continental, which made me feel like a bit of a biffa, but the damage had already been done, to be fair.

Leaving HdV is always a bit of a wrench - but it turned out that there was a phase 5 to Blar's birthday! The sun was shining, the day was perfect, and Spar suggested to Blar that they go and play tennis in the park. Immediately jealous, I pretty much angled for an invite, which was forthcoming - so back in Edinburgh we headed to Inverleith Park with a picnic and tennis raquets. I then officiously coached Spar and Blar, using the lessons I'd gleaned from Hop and curbing any desire to add my own utterly erroneous wisdom to the heap. Blar turns out to have definite natural flair, and when Spar cuts down on his unforced errors he's going to have me on the rails in no time. After having a knock with both of them, then leaving Spar and Blar to have a knock for a bit, I then played a set with Spar - which wasn't nearly as simple as I'd hoped it would be. He gave me a good run around, and with Hop's advice on backhands ringing in his ears he played some excellent shots.

We then gorged ourselves on tasty picnic, using Spar and Blar's posh picnic set and swigging Pimm's from handy cans. We even had a game of Scattegories! It wasn't until the sun was dipping and the clock was threatening 6 that I regretfully pointed out we had a home to go to. So, after packing up the car and giving our pals a lift home, we bade them fond farewells and set off back to Fife.

Alas, perfection was marred by the Forth Road Bridge being shut and us getting stuck in traffic for an hour and a half - but nothing, no nothing, could spoil the delights of the weekend. The weather, the good humour of all involved, the footie, the barge - everything was a real treat. I loved every second. Hurrah for birthdays, I say.

Only, let's not have another one for a while, please ...


Blarney said...

Skint you may be but you are also rich in the knowledge that Blar had a bloody fantastic time and had simply the best post-birthday belated celebration ever!
How can I ever repay you - you can hang out with me in aforementioned gorgeous jacket..yes, I will allow this as suitable repayment and when I win a Grand Slam I'll dedicate my first victory to you. See it really was worth it in the end. See you later, albeit briefly.