Storm Ciara threatens the party plans.

The final event in the birthday celebrations was for family. This is no mean feat; between the two of us we have around 54 people in our immediate family. So we often find that restricting these events to family only, works very well. A family party when the family are as plentiful as ours does place a serious amount of pressure on the organisers. You have to tread carefully since you don’t get to refresh the crowd that often obviously, unless there is a new partner (possible with some of the young crowd) or another baby has arrived (and they generally have no idea what’s going on anyway, as long as there is milk).

The party, if left to chance, could prove calamitous since there is a danger of creating a “Groundhog Day” with the same people always in attendance. This means that not all parties are attended and there is a danger that, with no preparation at all, no-one would come; this is social suicide for the family member hosting. It has become vitally important in these circumstances that a big hitter makes a commitment early on, according to Kevin Bridges anyway, and so in our family we have our very own big hitter- Marilyn. No party is complete without our funky, funny, adorable Marilyn. She works shifts so getting her to the party can be critical in terms of the timing of your event. And given the volume of people in the family, there are likely to be a few family parties in a year. No-one should underestimate the challenge of pulling this off as a straightforward gig, complacency is not an option.

Of late there has been a recent trend of fancy dress parties, usually the younger crowd drive this, so it has been 21st birthdays or birthdays at Halloween. eBay and Amazon, thankfully, accommodate such events and have enabled us to get our hands on pretty much any outfit for any occasion at cut price. People arrive in sharply coutured (albeit weird and wonderful) outfits. On the downside however we seem to have lost a bit of the creativity for outfits with the easy to access and disposable outfits, gone are the bunches of grapes from balloons kind of costume. Nevertheless, costume parties are a trend and one that required me to put a little thought into the planning of this party. If it was costume AND Marilyn could come then success was inevitable. Seeing as this was the big 60 birthday extravaganza and this combo was necessary, in addition for success to be ensured it needed to be an untried theme and so the sixties choice evolved.

What I hadn’t planned, given the intricate nature I have explained in pulling this party off, was that behind the scenes my sister and daughter were also planning the event. While well intentioned they have no idea of the nuances of such a big occasion in a family like this, nor the social implications. As a bit of a control freak and as my reputation as a hostess was at stake I didn’t want to renege as much control as they might have liked. I needn’t have worried and couldn’t have been more wrong. I assumed control of the food, (as Gayle says “you’re a feeder”) as my future reputation as a hostess may well hinge on this. Therefore I gained control of the food planning early on. This was a bit of a strategic coup, since once I had control of the food, the organising twosome saw it as a defeat and let me in on their plans. AWESOME as they were.

On the day before the party, a surveillance team were deployed to ensure I was not around. Conveniently celebrating a birthday with my friend ( after all other people were also having birthdays) I was out sufficiently long enough for three Gazebo’s and 1800 lights, bunting, chairs, tables, a juke box and cocktail bar all to appear on my patio area. I was actually moved, it looked stunning and my only regret is not taking pictures of all the hard work that went into this. It looked so inviting, so colourful and bright. I began to feel excitement stirring in my veins. Storm Ciara had other ideas. The lion’s wee brother dropped off a bright orange 60’s TV and we had other props that were strategically placed for optimal experience after all many would not recall the 60’s.

On Saturday morning the double-glazing in our bedroom had worked its magic and drowned out the fiercest of winds and rain overnight. But imagine my horror when I looked out to see half of the gazebo’s missing and brightly coloured bunting, napkins and cups scattered around the shrubs at the edge of the garden. Once outside it was worse, the sandbags holding the gazebo’s in place, were futile in the clutches of Ciara’s gusting winds, they jostled about like chicks looking to hide inside their mother’s wing. I raked around the street and surrounding woodland and recovered some of the missing gazebo, then I started to look at ways to ensure we didn’t lose any more. The weather forecast was not promising and drastic action was needed.

A bright spark led me to Hobby Craft where I bought 6 meters of Velcro, hoping this would ensure the flapping side panels resisted the winds and were kept in situ. That made little impact, I gathered large stones, boxes of tiles from the garage, concrete slabs, to no avail nothing could hold the three gazebo’s in place. Ciara was relentless and wining this battle – perhaps if I had invited her she might have given up just a little more. After 2 hours of battering against the elements and 20 minutes before my make-up appointment. I gave in and summoned the construction team back to remove them. Defeated I felt the party might be a disaster after all.

Following the transformational work of Fiona at Fabulous on my ageing and withered skin, I emerged luminous with the Mary Quant look, complete with beauty spot. The strong winds just managing to blow the wrinkles away. I returned home in time to see the gazebo’s, defeated by Ciara, laying desolate on the ground folded up and awaiting the imprisonments of the bags, no longer colourful and inviting but lacklustre and unwelcoming. The patio was remarkably bare.

Unstinted by this setback the organisers had taken over the house which had been transformed with the lights and bunting, the 60’s props and a VW Beetle photo booth erected in the snug. Photographs of me at various stages of life were peppered around the room along with balloons, banners and colourful ribbons. With 560 60’s tunes downloaded, snowballs with maraschino cherries, pork pie, cocktail sticks bearing sausages, cheese and pickles the scene was set for the party to get off the ground. As a final touch, and one of complete self-indulgence, I printed some old pictures with my name below and taped them to the Tennant’s lager cans in a fit of nostalgia, they never had a Tennant Girl with my name before. Now we can get this party started ………………………

For she’s yer mammy’s mammy

The problem with getting to 60 is that your try to find relatable women to work out how you might behave in this new decade. One woman who’s been the basis for my transformation into a ‘Granny’ is intrinsic to my own experiences of Granny’s in my past. I became a Granny at 50, my mother was 45 when I made her a Grandma so we have experienced, in our family at least, being a Granny at a relatively young age ( speaking contemporarily). But the only actual tangible experience of being a 60 something Granny, the provider of the framework for my future role, is the only one I had, my mum’s mum.

Jemima Henderson Mark was born in 1900, so when I was born she was 60. You can see why I’m drawing these comparisons as I approach the Golden Girls era. Obviously I don’t remember her when I was born, but my earliest memories do start when she was probably around 65years of age. I called her Grandma; I don’t know why that particular name was chosen but that is what she was to me and my sisters. I was not the first grandchild, so perhaps the first two had determined what we would call her. I know that my son named all his grandparents by different names while his words were still forming and the 14 or so grandkids that came after him followed suit. I myself have chosen Gran. I feel this reflects the sophistication of what I am trying to achieve as the older person in my grandchildren’s lives and tones down the ageist commentary that is commonly associated with status and responsibilities. My mother is GG (GreatGran) typically reflecting her personality, but more of that later.

At 60 my Grandma was deaf and wore a hearing aid. None of your minute concealed microscopic ear pieces, oh no this was a full on draw attention to your disability apparatus that, despite being stealthily coloured beige to blend with the skin ( if you were even beige in the first place) and therefore conceal it, was of monstrous proportions. This less than discrete apparatus, (Tena the brand of discrete was yet to be discovered- remember this was the 60’s) was operated through a clip on box designed to be worn on your dress like a brooch, however it measured about 6 inches by 2, and was the size of a small radio. It often dangled down in the creases of her bosom, which was ample and could swallow it up threatening to disappear forever. This box then connected to an ear piece, exactly the same as that used by the NHS today (things haven’t moved on much), by a slim but obvious lengthy wire. I know quite a lot about this hearing aid because it whistled constantly like R2D2 and you could not avoid looking at it as she fumbled with the volume to turn you up and it down. You couldn’t play hide and seek because you would hear it whistling giving away the hidey hole she had managed to squeeze herself into. It was constantly a source of inconvenience for her.

I experienced great sympathy for my Grandma, she seemed so vulnerable, probably due to the hearing aid, and she was so embarrassed about her disability, particularly if it whistled. When she went to Church she wouldn’t wear it because it threatened to squeal and she’d get embarrassed about that. Instead she’d go without the hearing aid and of course not hear a word that was preached, sung or whispered. I also knew she wore bloomers, but not the ‘Gone with the Wind Southern Belle’, style with ribbons and frills. In fact these were pre-Tena brushed cotton and elastic and beige that covered the leg from the hip to the knee. As a youngster I wondered if this was linked to the fact that my grandad had died in 1961 so she lived alone, and perhaps bloomers had sadly replaced the satin knickers that might have been worn if he was still alive. Or perhaps it was because there was no central heating and she just wanted to be warm. What ever the reason these memories were the realities, the very foundation for fearing my impending age.

On the other hand I often went to spend the night with her. I loved that. The big feather quilt puffed in pink satin squares floated on top of the bed, which was a big double. There was a stone water bottle that was filled with boiling water and laid into the bed about half an hour before you were due to bed down. On the fireplace you were guarded through the long chilly night by 2 magnificent Wally Dugs proudly asymmetrical at the fireplace ends, spooking the life out of me in the dark. The sleepover bed was a joy because I had a bedroom all to myself and didn’t need to share the bed with either of my sisters. A sleepover at Grandmas always meant smarties and dumpling with tanners in greaseproof paper and tomato soup for tea. I’d snuggle up along side her on her small two seater sofa and watch TV. In the 60’s that was a small square about 10ins x 10ins screen contained in a walnut cupboard. We watched the Titanic on that set and I broke my heart when it started to sink, going to the back of the TV to try and salvage a lifeboat or two. I remember she was worried that I’d get bad dreams from that experience so she sat beside me on the big comfy bed till I fell asleep.

My Grandma was a member of the Eastern Star, a female version of the masons. She had an orange sash, with brocade and embroidery, laced with golden tassels that swung in time with the music as she marched. I saw her walking with it on once, she wore it with pride and I thought how grand she looked in her smart coat and sash. In Lanarkshire you were generally one thing or the other, Protestant or Catholic. The pathway of my birth took me down the blue route. But she was not a bigot, her heart as big as a lion’s she embraced everyone whatever side they were on. When I was 7 while walking past Carfin Grotto on the way to her house, she took me in to show me Mary and all the other statues and grotto there. I loved that place and begged her to take me on a picnic there the next time I visited, its a memory that stuck with me when as an adult I made the decision to become Catholic. I know she’d have approved.

My Grandma’s brother, James, affectionately known as Shemi, came calling one night I was staying over. I knew when he arrived he’d been drinking, it was probably the half bottle of rum hanging out of his pocket that gave it away. Grandma loved her big brother and welcomed him into the sitting room where she provided a glass for each of them to share the rum. Before long, something I had never seen before was brought out from the depths of the hall cupboard. It was a fiddle and Shemi put on a green velvet coat covered with badges and ribbons and they started to Irish jig. It was a side I had never experienced of my Grandma and what a delight it was to see her so happy and playing her fiddle with such fun in her eyes. Just as well that hearing aid was lying in the bedroom, there were a few notes not quite what they needed to be with all that rum!

She died when I was 10 years old, I was devastated. I never knew pain like that before that moment. The loss was more than I could bear. Not the whistling hearing aid, or the bloomers, her grey wiry hair, her spectacles, the stone hot water bottle or the big comfy bed. The enduring thing I learnt from her was love; relationships and family were all you really need to help you develop your behaviour in this next phase of your life and as the song goes there is no way I’d shove that Granny off the bus. I hope my grandkids spare me that delight now I have my bus pass!

2020 vision in January.

Let’s face it January is not a great month; most folk are skint, blue Monday is slap bang in the middle of it confirming, if not in scientific terms, what we all know from experience – it’s depressing. And now, the only thing left that offered any escape from these doldrums, the only thing making the long dark winter nights bearable after two weeks of hard partying and twinkly lights, the glass of wine has finally been banished from January by the fun police.

Hoovering up any leftover joy from December, you cannot escape their piousness; whether they have you in the grip of the inevitable but now highly respected January diet, the fun police, have sucked what little joy left in the month by introducing Dry January ! What does all this dictatorship, now assimilated into every day living as the cultural expectation and social norms of the proletariat, actually mean for those of us trying to have a birthday this month? Never mind that it is a whopper of a birthday!

Having a birthday in January has never been the most fabulous timing of the year. Before we were forced, en masse, to alter our lifestyles this month because we were “christmas obese” or “liver conscious”, it was always a hard up month anyway. For some of us this usually impacts on presents. Most of my family ( I mean the Lion) had no money in January having maxed out the credit cards for Christmas. This inevitably leads to them giving you left over at best or at worst unwanted christmas presents. Embarrassing of course if it was you who bought it for them in the first place! I mean I’m not the kind of person who looks for presents anyway, nor am I concerned at the use of the last of the christmas wrapping to cover it. I am after all as environmentally conscientious as the next person and would never advocate buying birthday paper when there’s plenty good christmas wrapping left over.

However socks are a bit of a give away, and chocolate liqueurs are just too obvious. Of course there are always the sales, where you can buy the most expensive gifts at knock down prices, (yes still waiting for that one). But honestly I could live with all of that, I really could, except that now any celebration is likely to be tainted as everyone is on a diet or abstaining from alcohol.🥺 So I’m likely to be the only one dancing on the table at the end of the night with an increasing large part of the buffet stuck to my stilettos.

January birthdays can suck. But this one more than all the others. When I got my driving licence in 1978, I was 18 and I scoffed, with all the mindless wisdom of a teenager, at the date of expiry in February 2020. It was meaningless. I laughed effusively at the very idea I might be sixty one day. I mean you do when you’re 18, don’t you? You just cannot imagine that anything will change from that moment, you’re invincible and for ever young. And yet somehow, despite the fact I was born in the worst month for birthdays (unofficially of course) I’ve managed to negotiate, quite successfully, 42 January birthdays since that driving test only to find myself looking at that date on the driving licence renewal letter and wondering what the hell just happened.

So here I am making dry January as sopping wet as I can, maintaining the twinkling lights by partying and ensuring the buffet laden stilettos dance on the table as often and as hard as possible. 60, is the new 40 I heard someone kindly say when I allowed myself to display disgust at my impending old age. But it is not really. I’m 60, eligible for a bus pass, retired, a grandmother, going grey, blind and turning the music down it doesn’t get much worse age wise than that. Yet strangely enough life has prepared me for this moment. I’m realising that it doesn’t really matter about presents, not a jot about the wrapping paper, its the friends hard up or otherwise, the family dieting or abstaining, that make it special. I’m planning on making 2020 a blast, after all I’ve been practising for it long enough. Follow me to see what happens as the big birthday grips me by the throat…….. and I fight back. 🥂

Three years of total T. Chapter 3 Book of the family

Three years ago tomorrow around about 10pm we were introduced to our first grandson. We knew it was going to be a boy because advances in modern technology means that there are very few surprises left other than the date and time of delivery. But we even knew the date of this little one’s appearance because his mother was so ill and the risks associated with his safe delivery were extremely high. So it was that he arrived in a bath of lovely hot water with his mummy and daddy caught by surprise and the midwife catching a cup of tea.

I was at the birth of my first grandchild so waiting and wondering what was happening in the labour ward was the most excruciating silence you might experience. You cannot concentrate on anything other than the fact that your child might be in terrible danger and you won’t be there to help her. You will be pacing the floor, staring repeatedly at the phone, checking you have a signal, calling it to make sure its working and all the while there’s a little life, that has your genes inside him, fighting and wriggling his way into the world. Finally, after an eternity but in reality a few hours, the phone rang and a hurried, if excited and a little overwhelmed, daddy called to say he had arrived, I’m guessing he was overwhelmed because it was nothing more than an announcement that he had arrived.

Relief was palpable, the little thing that had been such a threat and risk to my daughter had become instead a little bundle of delight and joy but how would that play out for everyone? We couldn’t wait to meet him. We already have a grand-daughter who was also now a big sister, the family dynamics were already beginning to alter. She had worried ever so much about this little one’s arrival as children often do, she’d ask us frequently if we’d love him more than her. Her little face would tilt upwards to see into your eyes then, as she does so often, stared deep inside your soul, you could not be caught lying on any terms, this was such a big question for her. She’d been number one so long, her little fears about how love could possibly be shared among them were actually, if we are totally honest, the same for adults but we often didn’t have the courage to articulate them.

No manner of reassurance was enough to appease our mermaid but the experience of meeting this little bundle for the first time was confirmation for me at least that love was already there and plentiful. Despite her fears she opened her little heart to her brother and over the past three years has been such an exemplary big sister; so patient and tender despite his endless demands. She read him stories, sung him songs, taught him to hoop and how to dance. He’s taught her patience, what it is to love a sibling, to care when he cries, to find ways to distract him when she needs him to be quiet. All her initial fears were gone, the endless questions disappeared and slowly but surely she has matured into the big sister we all knew she could be.

From the beginning little T was a papa’s boy, they bonded early and he expressed such joy when his papa arrived for a visit. He would see the car arriving, and wait at the door in anticipation keeking past me waiting for the bigger prize and not concealing his disappointment if papa wasn’t with me. It’s been lovely to see this special bond grow and develop over the past few years. Don’t worry I’m still a delighted bystander.

So what has our Wee T become? The culmination of his first three years demonstrate how far he has come in his development. He is an expressive child, his delight is always visible often tangible, he’s inquisitive and in awe and wonder of the world around him, he’s impatient but easily distracted, one thing then another takes his fancy, and he smiles and laughs much more than he cries, but his sorrow is real and he won’t let you ignore it. He’s learned to say please and thank you at just the right times, and he sits at the table savouring his dinner and drinking now, from a big boy’s cup. He doesn’t need to try too hard to make me love him, he’s such a darling, gorgeous, loving boy.

Everyone says that being a grandparent is so very different from being a parent. Well that’s true in many ways, so often it’s good to pass them back, but any real absence is just an aching and longing to have them back. When we are on holiday WiFi is essential so that we can FaceTime or WhatsApp them and see their little faces, such is the joy they bring to us, words could never explain…………so tomorrow we will be wishing happy third birthday our little T x love from Gran (and Papa of course).

Happier Birthdays are promised. Chapter 1 Book of the family

two woman hugging each other
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Today is my daughter-in-law’s big 30 birthday, she is currently in hospital in Glasgow so not quite the nightclub, cocktail, dancing til dawn fest she was hoping for. In fact this year alone she and my son have had to cancel two awesome holidays, (seems that my lucky white heather has a phenomenal reach) and numerous concerts (thanks for the Ed Sheerhan tickets).

Nonetheless she remains, on the whole, eternally positive despite the many challenges that she has faced over the past year or so. And she has, from her sick bed, raised over £1300 for a charity aligned to her current condition; Cauda Equina Syndrome. It’s incredible that one so young could have been at risk from a potentially life limiting condition but sadly she is one of two young women we know, of the same age, that have it.

My son introduced us to his future wife 7 years ago;  he brought her to the house while we were celebrating a birthday for the mermaid. Now, although we considered we had dragged him up to the highest of social standards, nerves got the better of him  and he left her lingering in the hallway, rather than proudly announcing to the assembled family that this was his girl. Actually, he’s to be congratulated for his efforts at keeping our prying eyes and our attempts to have a premature introduction at bay. In the early days their relationship was so covert we resorted to territorial subterfuge and espionage so we did not miss an opportunity to meet, assess and vet her as a suitable partner.

Once when they were heading out on a date date she arrived in her car, we were warned not to watch, and they had cleverly arranged their rendezvous sufficiently  beyond our visual reach. Me and He were strategically positioned at different windows to maximise the opportunity to catch a glimpse, squeezing our faces flat  against the closed window, stretching as far as we could to allow our eyes to catch a  simple glimpse of  her. To no avail. In the end we had to settle for the mermaid’s birthday.

I cannot stress how really important it is when your child takes a partner; both of mine did this at the same time so stress levels associated with the choice of their prospective partners, were magnified ( I needed a lot of wine). It is the single most important decision they will take while you still have some influence (albeit diminished) in their lives. In addition that old rhyme “A son’s a son ’til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life” suggested that it had to be right or I’d lose him for ever. (Hmmmmm)

And breathe, from the instant we were officially introduced I instantly took to her and hoped we could establish a friendship that in mythical terms is dammed from the outset. I thought her a live wire, an effervescent, gregarious and convivial individual – just right for my son. She lit up the room with her chatter, she always had stories to tell, was intelligent, funny and broad minded. But I am aware of the myths about this kind of relationship  so I regularly check out the website http//www.scarymommy.com  where  15  mother -in- law behaviours that warrant a punch in the face are outlined,  a weekly  scan reveals so far I’m owed at least two.

When he finally announced that I needed a hat, I was delighted;  a lovely girl, nice family, his ying to her yang and that was the start of their love story and marital bliss. Then the sore back hit her like a wrecking ball.   Now we know a thing or two about sore backs in this family, it’s plagued my husband’s life since he was 15, and more recently my daughter was also diagnosed with bulging discs.

But my daughter-in-law had this very serious condition which could cause paralysis if untreated. There were many dramas associated with her diagnosis (not all mine to tell).   Her own parents were the arbiters of that revelation. However it is this condition and subsequent surgery that landed her back in hospital for treatment of a serious infection and the potential for further surgery that,  alongside my father-in-law’s illness, brought us home.

She has had the most horrendous time, but she remains strong, positive and determined, she has raised all of this money to support and highlight the condition to others. And I continue to be in awe of her ability to cope with the daily pain and discomfort her condition has caused her. Yep, it is not the birthday she would have wanted, but some good news today  suggests further surgery might not be on the cards and finally she might have  some respite from this dreadful condition…………………………