Yesterday was my birthday. It was a day of tears, tantrums, laughter and terrible nightwear, and the first birthday in over two decades where JS hasn’t woken me up with a cup of tea, a smile and a pile of birthday cards and presents.
The day started with tears, but that’s standard issue nowadays, so I can’t claim that the morning sobfest was particularly birthday related, or that there was an increase in sobbing intensity because of the date. Anyway, at that stage, I was still implementing my cunning plan, a two-part plan so cunning, even Baldrick from Blackadder would be in awe of its cunningness.
Part one of my plan was to totally ignore my birthday.
After breakfast, The Hound and I went for a walk on Hampstead Heath. It was a lovely morning, and although there is rumoured to be a flasher on the loose, we took a little detour off the main path through the woods. I was swinging the bright blue ball launcher, scooping up the tennis ball and hurling it for The Hound, when I came across a fallen tree. This tree was totally inoffensive: it didn’t trip me up or cause me to step in pile of dog poo; it didn’t have love hearts carved into its trunk or have a couple of cooing doves perched in its branches, but for reasons unknown to me, I began to beat the hell out of it with the ball launcher whilst yelling, “I have had enough of this! I’m warning you – this can’t go on! I am at the end of my tether! I can’t stand it any longer! Day after day after bloody day!”
As I had my tantrum, I realised I was doing an excellent impression of Basil Fawlty punishing his car by manically whipping it with branches when it refused to start outside Fawlty Towers. I stopped, apologised to The Hound who was standing next to me with a dayglo yellow ball in his mouth, and carried on as if nothing had happened. I think we were both wondering whether I’d finally lost it, though on the plus side, thrashing a dead tree with a plastic stick whilst screaming would deter even the perviest flasher.
The second part of my cunning plan involved arranging a lunch in town with my editor, aka The Grammar Gestapo. I wanted to see her because we needed to get together to talk about work things, she didn’t know it was my birthday, but mostly because she is bright, beautiful, warm and tremendous fun to be with. She’s a little younger than me, and has been trying out Internet dating. I would love her to find Mr Right or even just Mr Good for a Date or Three, but at the same time I hope Cupid’s aim isn’t that great for a few more months, as her tales of the difference between the witty grammatically perfect men she meets online and the arrogant weirdos they turn out to be in real life are hilarious. Recent example: First date. Less than an hour in. Middle-aged man sporting ponytail and wearing a jumper encrusted with food: “If you can’t have children, I’d be willing to consider adoption.” He wasn’t wrong when he sent her a text as she was leaving the house saying: I don’t make a good first impression.
We went to The Riding House Cafe. Very nice. Lots of gossip, a little work, some book recommendations to check out; a lovely lunch.
The Grammar Gestapo went back to her day job of policing inappropriate use of commas and exclamation marks.
I went to Primark on Oxford Street.
Now, in hindsight, going to a giant Primark during the school holidays, at the height of the tourist season in a prime tourist area when you’re already feeling somewhat wobbly and vulnerable, was always going to be a bad move. The things was, I had decided that in an attempt to comfort myself on those long lonely evenings on the sofa, I couldn’t live without a fleecy all in one sleepsuit, the sort of garment that JS, if he were in a grave rather than still in a cupboard at Marylebone Crematorium, would be turning in at the sight of me wearing. I’m also concerned about energy prices and how much it will cost to heat this open plan house, and I thought that I could keep the heating down if I was better wrapped up. My first attempt at tracking one down led me to a very strange Internet site run by a woman who claimed to be a nurse, and far from finding something snuggly, I was confronted by adult nappies and disturbing pictures of grown men in babygros lying in cots sucking dummies. I refined my search terms and discovered that Primark did a range of fleece all in ones, with feet.
After fighting my way through tourists who seemed to be buying armfuls of £1 T-shirts as if they didn’t have clothes in their own country – I found the fleeces: pink ones and zebra striped ones and something brown that resembled the pelt of a shot teddy bear. I grabbed a pink one and headed to the tills, the queue for which was longer than the immigration queue at JFK airport in New York when an Air India 747 has just landed. Sounding like Margot Leadbetter from The Good Life, I berated a passing assistant. “This is ridiculous! Aren’t there more tills?” I trilled. Unfortunately, my snotty voice alerted others to the reply, which was that they had just opened some new ones further down. I almost got knocked over in the ensuing stampede.
I stood there and thought, what the hell am I doing, a forty-seven year old woman buying a £10 pink and white polka dot fleece babygro with a cupcake on the front? And then I remembered what I was doing. I was buying it because I am worried about heating the house in the winter; I was in Primark rather than one of my old haunts, Prada, because I am trying to save money; I wanted it because I thought it might feel nice to snuggle into now I have no-one to snuggle up to; I was trying desperately to find some comfort in my life. But standing in a discount clothes shop on my birthday it hit me: even if I went to Prada rather than Primark, nothing that can be bought will provide the comfort I crave.
I dumped the pink monstrosity and fled, disheartened and disorientated.
I got to the bus stop. The driver hadn’t pulled away, but he’d closed the doors. I knocked on them. He shook his head and flicked his hand dismissively at me. I pointed a finger at him and shouted: “I’ll see YOU at the next stop!” and began to run along Oxford Street, dodging the crowds on the pavement, darting in and out of the road. Oxford Street is always nose-to-tail with traffic, but this time the road was entirely clear and the bus accelerated past me. I watched it go, and for a moment reverted to my usual modus operandi in such situations, which is to phone JS and tell him indignantly what had happened. But of course I couldn’t, and I could sense The Grief Monster approaching me from behind, about to throw its black cloak over my head as it called out: “Oi! Lonely widow on your birthday! Who’s there for you now?” It was one of those moments when even though you’re in a crowd, you long to sink to your knees, cover your head with your arms and block out the world.
I didn’t scrape my knees on London concrete. I saw a cab with its light on, hailed it and jumped in. Of course now, I wish I’d said to the cabbie, “Follow that 390!” so that I could have caught up with the bus and carried out my threat of confronting the Dismissive Driver at the next stop. Instead I just said, “Highgate Village, please,” slumped in the back and cried. The taxi fare ended up being twice the price of the foul fleece which was enough to make me sob in itself.
I got home, walked The Hound, spoke to a couple of friends, had a glass of wine and a lasagne for one, watched Coronation Street, had a bath whilst listening to the football on the radio, and felt sorry for myself as I remembered the meal out we had a year ago in a local gastropub, the same gastropub that hosted my husband’s wake.
Just like all Baldrick’s cunning plans, mine failed miserably, but I suspect that I won’t learn, that I’ll still be trying to dodge the evil clutches of The Grief Monster who didn’t even give me a break on my birthday.