Saturday, 22 January 2011

A significant birthday

Friday 1 October 2010 was to see a great celebration, as it was the day of a very close and dear friend's 50th birthday party.

In the morning however it was my turn to receive cards and a number arrived with the morning delivery: from the governing Council of the church where I work and from friends. I have been both surprised and moved by the messages of support, encouragement and love received from people in a number of different areas of my life and work, sometimes little expected. I treasure and will keep them all.

The party was to take the form of a dinner upstairs in one of the locality's best-loved restaurants and would be my first social engagement since diagnosis. It was a rainy day and I spent much of it in bed, gathering my strength but at the same time doing some work and giving thanks once more from the benefits of information technology.

In due time we set off for the happy event, to which we had eagerly been looking forward. The restaurant is a building of warm character, whose entrance is a short leafy walkway. Unfortunately, but this is only a minor misfortune, when it was under previous ownership, my wife and I had a very good meal in the downstairs restaurant, but which was marred by the presence of the only other couple in the room, who argued most unpleasantly and, we suspect, with one eye on their supposed “entertainment value". I still fondly remember the white chocolate ice cream however.

The young staff on this current, happier, occasion took our coats, offered us Champagne and ushered us up the panelled stairs to the party. There was a small anteroom filled with a happy noise of conversation and there were many familiar and much-loved faces. I have to say that it was a relief initially to be talking to people whom we had met before, but to whom there would be no need to talk about medical matters.

At the due time we were summoned to the dining room where a number of round tables were laid out. We were sitting with a couple to whom we are very close and another couple to whom we are less close but with whom conversation is always warm, lively and interesting. These were all people aware of my condition and with whom I could be quite open about my experiences, which was a contrasting relief to that felt in the anteroom. All the keen to know how I was doing and I am glad to say that on this occasion I felt happy and normal, if a little tired and overwhelmed after the experiences of recent weeks.

Normally when confronted with a menu to choose from I dither over what I am to eat, but I was glad to see fish as one of the choices. Eating fish always makes me feel healthy, so I went for the trout, which proved itself both fresh and deliciously prepared. Also, since I had been told that it was fine for me to drink alcohol in moderation, I did exactly that.

I spent quite a while talking to a friend both about one of his ancestors and about the house this man had built, which had in due time been bought by George Harrison. My friend and his wife had recently been able to visit the house and speak to George's widow, after which they were given a tour by the estate manager. You can find footage on youtube from which this clear that the late Beatle held this house in great affection. It is a place of unusual character, as my friend's ancestor was very much an individualist, at least so far as his taste in architecture went and the house has many unusual features, including distinctive gargoyles and a trompe l'oeil water garden. It clearly meant a lot to my friend to have been able to see this place for himself and I was riveted by his account of it.

George Harrison MBE (1943-2001)
The tallest Beatle, by half an inch (source: Stephen Fry)

Happy birthday speeches followed, after which our friend and her husband circulated among the tables to talk with as many of their guests as possible.

As we were leaving, one of the other guests asked me the fateful question “how are you?" to which there could only be an honest answer, not least since I knew that his wife has a similar condition to mine, although different in its character, symptoms and treatment. It is an odd feeling to carry a secret inside yourself and in some ways the sense takes one back to childhood: like a child one holds the knowledge, eager to share it with some and withholding it from others and with that withholding comes a sense of reserved power. The more positive side of the coin perhaps is the need to preserve personal space by not “spreading oneself too thin".

I have to say that I was rather tired at the end of this evening, although nothing could detract from the enjoyment of it. What did take away pleasure however was my awareness of how shrunken I looked in clothes that once fitted me so well. I was going to have to get some new trousers.

The Wrong Trousers
A classic,  instantly.

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