A couple of weeks ago my family arrived en masse to stay with me for six days. Now, I do love my family, but the thought of having Mum, Sis and two nephews all staying with me at the same time did fill me with a tiny degree of trepidation. Would we all get on, living under such close quarters for an extended period of time? Would tempers fray and angry words be uttered in a fleeting moment of irritation – once said, never able to be unsaid? Would there be heated arguments or complaints about having to walk a lot (my favourite thing), or shopping too much (Mum's & my favourite thing to do together, sister's most hated thing!). Or the cost of everything in London? (Everyone's most hated thing!)
I was almost stressed out and exhausted by the thought of it all before any of them had even taken to the air to visit. I needn't have worried. We had such a great time. The main purpose of the visit was Mum's 75th birthday. Bless her. So the main focus was ensuring that we did some special things with her whilst she was here to make it all memorable.
Big Sis and I had secretly planned the day of her birthday without her knowing. We had put together a rough itinerary for the week but the Thursday, which was the day of her birthday was mysteriously devoid of any planned activities – but this was definitely not going to be an idle day – not if we had anything to do with it! The first full day they were here we went into town and were real, dyed-in-the-wool tourists. With my trusty bridge camera in hand we all got on an open top bus and did the city tour, hopping on and off were we fancied for tea breaks, lunch, a little bit of shopping and, of course, sightseeing. It was brilliant. In fact I would highly recommend anyone of you to spend a day as a tourist in your own town or city and see it with new eyes and fresh wonder. It is a really great way to spend a day!
Suitably exhausted from all that touristy-ness, we all went home that evening and just hung out together laughing and talking, building our strength for the big day, B-Day, if you will. Mum tends to wake early which, I find, is not uncommon amongst her peers as they all had to get up and get out to work at a very early hour for a good forty years of their lives. A difficult habit to break. And because I was sleeping on the sofa (my two bedrooms were full with the guests – and it was my pleasure that they were!) I often woke up during the visit to the sounds of the kettle boiling and teaspoons clinking in mugs (never a teacup first thing in the morning – the first cup of tea in the morning is far too essential to go in anything but a mug!).
I told mum to shower and dress comfortably, she still didn't know what was planned for her. So, off we went. Just Mum and me, on our own with the promise to big sis and nephews that we would return in two hours, during which time they needed to dress and be ready. First stop was to visit my lovely hairdresser Edra to get mum a quick blow dry. Edra is Greek and one of the sweetest girls I have met in London. Kind and gentle and a very good hairdresser – I knew mum would love her. Mum has always been concerned about her hair and how it is sitting. The number of times I have been asked, 'How is my hair at the back?' 'Is it sitting alright?' So I knew Mum would enjoy this! (I know my Mum well enough to know that given the day ahead, which she knew nothing about, she would never forgive me if her hair wasn't perfect!)
That done it was time for her nails. I had asked the girls at the hairdressers a couple of weeks before for a recommendation for a good nail bar locally and I had made an appointment for a manicure and pedicure for her. Ladies, if you've ever had a mani-pedi, I don't envy you – it takes forever!!! Or at least it seemed like it lol! Mum was worth the waiting though. After that it was back home and into one of her best frocks. I am guessing it was one of her best but its hard to say as she brought so many outfits – dresses, tops and skirts, trousers and jackets, shoes, handbags. In fact, she filled her own large suitcase as well as half of my nephews and some of my sisters! I'm afraid I have taken after her and love my clothes and never travel light! Why pack for five days when you can pack for 10?! So I am not moaning. It was fun to watch her decide and ask my opinion.
I had pre-ordered a taxi and when it arrived I got in first to ensure the driver didn't mention where our destination was as she was still totally in the dark. Through the busy streets of London we drove with the world and his wife passing us by – working, shopping, chatting, unaware that we were off to celebrate my beautiful Mum's 75th birthday. It was a sparkling, bright, sunny day with clear blue skies. The type of day you pray for on celebration days like weddings, the queen's jubilee or my mum's birthday. Perfect. Suddenly we took a left turn off Park Lane and glided in a perfect semi-circle into the parking bay right at the front steps of The Dorchester Hotel. As we emerged out into the heat of the day, mum asked, 'Is this where we're going?' and I knew she still didn't really know where it was. I said, 'Yes mum, this is The Dorchester Hotel, remember we saw it yesterday on the open top bus tour?' 'Yes', she replied, 'Very nice'. I'm still not sure she knew where we were! lol. It didn't matter. All that really mattered was that we were together!
In we went and we were a little early so we just took up position in reception and waited for another surprise (one of my other brothers who lives in England too was going to be joining us). We were there to do one of my favourite things to do as a treat, afternoon tea. We were seated near the pianist who played gently, not too loud, so we could all chat and relax. It was a wonderful afternoon. There were plans for a very special dinner in the evening as well but Mum said she didn't think she would be able to eat dinner as we had all eaten so much at tea. Well, it was her birthday, and as much as we wanted to make her feel special, whatever she wanted was fine by me! It was such a lovely afternoon and a precious memory I will never forget and one I am sure we will talk about for many years to come.
Next day it was up early and out again to take the tour of Buckingham Palace. I had done this before a couple of years ago, but it is so impressive that I was more than happy to go back. The opulence and splendour, the beautiful paintings, the stately rooms and the exhibition of the Coronation robes were mightily impressive and made for a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours. We exited the palace via the gardens where many of H. M. The Queen's garden parties take place so we felt it was incumbent upon us to stop and take afternoon tea, again!! lol. Well we were celebrating (not to mention overindulging!)
During our open top bus tour, Mum and I had gone into St. Paul's cathedral and caught a snippet of the choir rehearsing for Evensong which was to take place about 45 mins later. We couldn't stay that day, but as I am huge fan of choral music as well as sacred music I asked mum if she would be interested in coming back another day. Mum is a woman of faith and attends mass most mornings of the week (it's part religious, part social event for her – despite what she says – as she always ends up out for coffee with her girlfriends afterwards). So she and I agreed to return for evensong on the Saturday evening. It was beautiful, sitting under the dome of St.Pauls cathedral listening to that ancient, almost celestial music, reverberating around the dome, galleries and walls of that breathtaking building. Just Mum and I sitting together.
Another memory to store away like a precious keepsake, to be taken out when a little happy thought is needed. As the family were in London it felt like a given that we would see a West End Show, to ensure the complete London experience. This was the cause of much debate – which one to see. After a process of heated debate, elimination, review checking and the odd threat we all agreed to see Matilda: The Musical. Before the theatre though, we decided we needed another treat! So we booked a table at famous London eatery The Ivy for dinner to ensure a truly theatrical night from start to finish! For those who have never heard of it, its were stars of stage and screen go to eat when in town and I thought it would be great if we could all celeb spot over dinner!
Well this was mum's 75th birthday week of celebration, and when else would we have a complete blow out if not now? I already knew from Jill Franks (who had seen Matilda at least four times at that point) that it was a great musical so I felt we would all have a great time. Well, the phrase, 'Great Time' doesn't really do it justice. It was outstanding! I can not recommend it highly enough. The performances were second to none, the music was so brilliantly written by comedian Tim Minchin. We were all humming and singing the tunes the day after – the true sign of good music!
It was an amazing week, one I will never forget, one I never want to forget. It was so special for me and even now as I write this I am smiling recounting the laughs, the conversations, the beautiful memories. What more could I have asked? Nothing. In this modern world were we have all been trained to demand perfection in all things but are often disappointed this is one time in my life were perfection reigned supreme. At least that's how I will always remember it.