Belfast Telegraph

Pull up a seat and help me celebrate another birthday

By Frances A. Burscough

Birthdays are good for you: it's official. According to statistics, people who have more birthdays live longer.

It's mine this week and I will be 44. I realise that this in itself isn't a celebrated landmark, but I intend to treat it like it is because it will mark the end of one of the toughest years of my life.

I'm so relieved it's approaching that I'm even considering hiring a stretch limo to do the school run on that day.

I've not had much luck with traditional landmark birthdays in the past anyway.

My grandma died on my 18th so my whole family and I spent it in mourning.

I celebrated my 21st birthday in hospital and my marriage ended just before my 40th. But the most disappointing damp-squib of a birthday so far and by far was, without doubt, my 30th ...

After having made a huge fuss for his 30th birthday, I was sure that my (then) husband was going to arrange something special when mine came around three years later.

So, when the phone kept ringing every evening the week before, and he had insisted on taking all the calls, I naturally assumed that something was afoot.

And, although Saturday afternoons in October were usually reserved for watching football, he had specifically told me in advance and without any explanation to keep that whole afternoon free.

Other than that, he was being suspiciously vague so I had few clues. But I was sure something was going on.

When the day finally arrived I made sure that the house was spotless, just in case.

I bought new towels for the bathroom, polished every surface, put fresh flowers in vases in each room and vacuumed every carpet.

He noticed none of this, or at least he didn't make any comment.

What he did do, though, was to fill the fridge with alcohol and then, just as we were about to leave, he surreptitiously re-arranged the furniture in the living room, while I was putting on my best outfit for our mystery trip.

"I was right!" I thought as we drove off, "he's taking me out of the way to somewhere nice so that friends and maybe even caterers can slip in undetected and set up a surprise party! How fantastic!"

I was quite overwhelmed. He'd never done anything like that before.

Of course, I didn't let on, but went along with the ruse.

Even when we stopped at the garage for sandwiches and I noticed him buying a box of chocolates and birthday card then hurriedly writing it on the shop counter, I thought it was all part of an elaborate plan to make me think my birthday wasn't at all important.

"So, where exactly are we going?" I asked coyly as we sped along a country lane I'd never been before.

"Just wait and see ... " was the tantalising reply.

As my excitement was about to register on the Richter scale, we pulled up outside a rural furniture store in the Rearend of Nowhere.

"Great," my husband said. "The sale's still on!"

"What?" I asked, trying to fathom it all out.

"Well, this guy at work told me that if we order and pay for a sofa before 3pm today, it'll be delivered before lunchtime tomorrow, free of charge.

"I didn't want to tell you in case we got here too late. But we aren't - so it'll be there in time for when my mates come round to watch the match tomorrow!"

So that was it. My auspicious 30th birthday: an hour looking at sofas followed by sandwiches in the car park. And then the surprise birthday party I had foolishly imagined got off to a flying stop.

When we returned to our pristine home, fragrant with the flowers I had bought for myself, no one was there and it was just as I had left it.

Except, of course, for one small alteration. The furniture had been hastily rearranged in the lounge to make room for our new exciting acquisition - a new sofa to go in front of the TV.

History repeats itself with kate expectations

Remember in 1980, when Lady Di was not-very-secretly courting her not-very-handsome prince and the papers were full of paparazzi shots of her walking to and from work?

She was 19 and ultra-feminine while I was a 17-year-old punk wannabe. My mum used nag me to dress more like her, in floaty feminine dresses and ballet pumps with a perfect blonde 'flick' hairstyle.

But I had other ideas. I thought of myself as a bit of a rebel and my preferred image role models were the punk goddesses Debbie Harry and Siouxie Sioux (both of whom are still kicking a** and looking amazing incidentally).

Nevertheless, I was constantly being reminded of Diana.

Then suddenly, almost overnight, I recall her image changing. I remember being quite shocked by pictures of Diana wearing sensible tweed A-line skirts, thick tights and brown brogues, topped with a twinset, pearls and a silk Hermes scarf, striding purposefully through the Highlands. She was morphing into another royal clone before our very eyes.

Then, within weeks, the engagement was announced and I remember my mum tutting and saying: "That poor sweet girl: they've ruined her."

The same appears to be happening with Kate Middleton. One generation and a lot of painful lessons later, Prince William seems to be allowing 'the firm' to alter her image and hone it into something more acceptably Winsorial. A sort of establishment-friendly make-under: a bit like a make-over but intended to strip away any individuality, rather than to enhance it.

So, as recent history repeats itself, we now have a slightly less trendy, slightly more tweedy Ms Middleton, striding through the Highlands taking pot-shots at unsuspecting game, with Prince Charles at her side nodding approvingly.

What are the odds that before the year's out another royal engagement will be announced? Kate and Wills will be photographed in Scottish shortbread tin scenery; he in a plaid kilt, she in something equally traditional and frumpy, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes under the headline: Kiss me, Kate!

That poor girl. They're going to ruin her too.

No chat-ups, just vodka

A recent report in this paper told how doctors in Australia managed to save the life of an alcoholic overdose-victim, by putting him on a vodka drip when their medical supplies ran out.

"Now there's an idea!" I thought (Homer Simpson-like) as I read it: clinically-administered Milk of Amnesia, going straight into the blood-stream ...

No standing at the bar being chatted up by undesirables, no mess, no fuss. Just a constant stream of vodka. Imagine the possibilities ...

There's just one thing I would have requested, though, had it been me: " Could I have some Red Bull with that, please?"

Award for high-flying hamsters

And the award goes to ... Yes it's gong season again. From the MTVs to the Q awards, barely a week goes by without a much-hyped event celebrating luvvies from across the starry stratosphere.

But the prize for the craziest awards ceremony has to go, without further ado, to Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts - the home of the IgNobel Prize, where boffins of every category and sub-category are recognised for their quirky, funny and sometimes even legitimate scientific achievements. For example, one team from Quilmes National University in Buenos Aires won an IgNobel Prize for its research into hamster jet-lag.

After exhaustive research, they found that hamsters given Viagara needed 50% less time to recover from a six-hour time zone change. They didn't fly rodents to Paris, just turned the lights off and on at different times to replicate the effect.

Another team won recognition for its conclusive mathematical study into the science of worn bedsheet crease patterns.

Meanwhile, the most coveted award, The IgNobel Peace Prize, went to the US AirForce for its no-longer-very-secret weapon invention - the 'gay bomb' which, when targeted at enemy troops, makes them find each other so attractive that all they can think about is making love, not war.

Unfortunately, no one from the military was available to accept the prize, or to receive it on their behalf. Perhaps they were all in bed together ...

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