With apologies to those of you who were unable to book into Aspen House this weekend because of The Secret Birthday Party, we feel it only fair to tell you that a good time was had by all.
The Birthday Girl (aka Billy Whizz, aka The Dynamic Duo, aka Sal’s Mum) knew nothing of it until Saturday morning, when we had to confess that she would be eating with us that evening. A look of perplexity settled immediately on her face, demanding an explanation for such extraordinary behaviour. In order to put her off the scent, I told her that Monday (her official birthday) is such a miserable day to have a birthday that we had merely decided to bring it forward to the weekend and celebrate it with a birthday meal. She seems satisfied with this. So we didn’t have to tell her that two of her sisters and her brother-in-law were joining us and that it was going to be something of a relly-fest.
It all seemed to make reasonable sense to Birthday Girl once the three rellies in question had arrived – intimate family gathering, surprise guests, meal on the Saturday night. But you could see that BG was wondering why there weren’t at least two more people sitting at the table – her son and his partner. Under inquisitorial pressure, Sal’s dad cracked and had to admit that she ‘would be seeing them tomorrow’.
The meal was fine and the wine flowed well, but BG still carried a mystified look which showed itself from time to time. This became more apparent when she was told that ‘reasonably smart’ would be the dress code for Sunday morning, and that if she wanted breakfast she should make it early. “After all,” we said, “It wouldn’t do to spoil your lunch.” Sunday lunch is not something that generally happens to the star of this particular show after a Saturday night party, so the mystified look gave way to one of perplexity, languishing stubbornly on her furrowed brow.
It was still there the next morning. As we set off, not long after a light (and early) breakfast, said look of perplexity remained unassailable until we pulled up outside the Bell at Skenfrith, whereupon it was ousted by wonderment. There were now nine in the party, and Birthday Girl had her son and her daughter with her as well as two sisters. Did she think this was the climax of the weekend? Who knows. She certainly seemed satisfied with the way things had panned out, and it was certainly a scrummy meal in a splendid old hostelry in an equally lovely location. A fitting place to celebrate a birthday. I could tell you what we all had to eat, but you don’t want to hear that . . .
The meal being over, we piled into the cars and headed for Hereford. BG looked perplexed again, having assumed that we were going home.
However, before she really had time to wonder what was going on, we were parking in reserved spaces behind the cloisters and she was being introduced by her son to the Dean of Hereford. Still wearing that look, she was told that, after a short service in the Cathedral, we were all invited to witness the unveiling by Dame Janet Baker of a new statue of Elgar in the grounds.
For me, one of the high spots of the day was during the service, watching one of the choirboys, suitable angelic in blue cassock and white ruff, looking everywhere and anywhere but where he was supposed to. He was fidgeting, drumming his hymnbook with his fingers, checking for spiders amongst the lofty beams, probably thinking about Big Macs and skateboards. He hardly glanced at the choirmaster or his book – but he didn’t miss a note. It made me wonder how many times he had had to sing at evensong.
Service over, and the throng surged out of the north door to witness the unveiling of the statue. Birthday Girl was in amongst them, but hardly had a ringside seat when it actually came to it. I could see her thinking, “If only I’d worn my red hat. I would have been in the front row by now!”
Certainly brightly coloured headgear and outerwear, notably red, appeared to be a way to get attention. Being Dame Janet Baker or the sculptress seemed to help too (both of them wore red, I might add). Wearing a bishop’s mitre, however, didn’t seem to hit the spot at all. Despite such a tall hat, a very ornate set of robes and a really funky walking stick, the poor old bish seemed to be getting short shrift throughout the afternoon. He was last seen detaching himself from the mass hysteria taking place around the Elgar statue and heading off across the greensward like a man with a purpose, robes billowing and his shepherd’s crook helping to gain him extra momentum.
As for Birthday Girl, the excitement of the weekend was beginning to settle down. After the speeches and the official unveiling, it was all back to hers for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. We didn’t like to tell her that she would be missing out on the Civic Tea, but then, maybe she didn’t fancy a triangle of cucumber sandwich and a Welsh cake . . .