May 20 Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and Mr Young, attentive and loving husband that he nearly always is (he may come from Mars, but I like to make sure he has a season ticket to Venus), is whisking me off to Cambridge for a night at the Crowne Plaza and dinner for two at a gourmet restaurant.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a stickler for doing these things properly and so, therefore, is Mr Young. (After all, you can’t have just one stickler in a family, can you? Otherwise you’d spend all your time stickling while everyone else just did whatever popped into their heads and your stickling skills would go completely unnoticed and unappreciated.) So, in true stickling fashion, Mr Young and I each have to find a small token of our love and appreciation for the other in traditional style. This year’s traditional symbol, though, is apparently cast iron, which comes as a bit of a blow. If you Google ‘anniversary presents’, you’ll find dozens of websites falling over each other to try and sell you fluffy little romantic gifts in silver, or gold, or wood, or paper, leather or pottery. Fluffy little cast iron gifts, however, are woefully thin on the ground. Unsurprisingly, the choice dwindles to either heart shaped trivets or ungainly keyfobs that look like something your three-year-old might have fashioned out of grey plasticine and then sat on. I know my husband quite well, and no matter how loving he might feel towards me on our special anniversary morning, Mr Young would find it hard to arrange his features into an expression of gratitude if I presented him with either something to stand hot saucepans on or a great lump of metal to attach his keys to that would seriously compromise the alignment of his trouser pockets.
But who doesn’t like a challenge – I know I do! – and after a great deal of lateral thinking (both physically – on the sofa – and metaphorically), I discover a cast iron dragonfly that has a cunningly designed body of blue glass and a tealight holder within; in the photograph, it perches either daintily on a garden table or clings to a garden wall, glowing softly through its blue glass body. A charming addition to anyone’s garden and a romantic gesture into the bargain. I am glowing softly myself as I enter my Paypal password; glowing with the satisfaction of a job well done.
If I’m honest, I’m also glowing because of the fact I am bound to have trumped Mr Young in the Best Anniversary Present competition.
All this was two weeks ago; it arrived last week, the parcel left with a neighbour while I was out. “That looks interesting,” she said, handing it over. (It is a fact that other people’s parcels always look more interesting than yours, just as a stranger’s shopping list – ‘courgettes’ and ‘SR flour’ – left behind in your Waitrose shopping trolley will always look far more exotic and exciting than your own.) With pride, I explained what it was. “It doesn’t look very dragonfly shaped,” she said doubtfully. We both stared at the long rectangular box. I don’t know a lot about entomology – so little, in fact, that I had to look up the spelling and the meaning of the word – but she was right. It didn’t look very dragonfly shaped. “I expect you have to attach the wings afterwards,” she said. I hoped so. I was beginning to feel slightly worried.
Fortunately Mr Young was away, so Archie and I were able to open the box immediately and while one of us played with the bubble wrap, the other one laid the contents of the box out on the table. The wings were indeed separate so I screwed them on. Once assembled, the dragonfly was very large. Very very large. It looked like it had done in the photograph on the website….just a lot larger. And really quite sinister. I put a tealight inside its blue glass body and lit it. It didn’t help to transform it; it still squatted malevolently, only now with a sinister blue glow. Archie and I took it out into the garden, and experimented with it in various places. In the end, we tried hanging it from a hook on the pergola where, if not attractive, it at least looked slightly less alarming. “It’s the thought that counts,” I told Archie. If he hadn’t been crunching bubble wrap, he’d probably have agreed with me.
We hid the dragonfly away in the airing cupboard, where it crouched ominously under a pile of towels.
This morning, Harriet came home for the weekend. Over supper this evening, I describe my special anniversary gift to her and her boyfriend Jonny, confiding my misgivings about its possible lack of inherent romanticism. Supportively, they laugh a lot.
“It’s the thought that counts,” I say, again. I’m getting quite tired of hearing myself say this.
“Do you think he’s got you a present?” Harriet asks. “I expect so,” I say. We suddenly become aware that Mr Young has been away from the table for a while. “Where’s he gone, anyway?” I say. “He’s probably welding something for you right now,” she says.
May 21 While Mr Young is making my anniversary morning cup of tea, I retrieve the dragonfly from the airing cupboard and hide it inside a large pink shoebag which I then place on his pillow.
“Happy anniversary!” I say, gesturing – unnecessarily, as it is so large – at the pink bundle on his side of the bed. He feigns surprise and picks up the bag, then nearly drops it again. “Oh!” he says. “It’s very heavy, isn’t it?” He pulls the dragonfly out of the bag. “Oh!” he says again. He’s clearly lost for words. “It’s a dragonfly,” I tell him, the entomologist in me coming out again. “It’s quite big, isn’t it? But then it’s cast iron. Traditional, you see.” “Yes,” he says. “Very unusual. Lovely.” The wings wobble as he lifts it up to inspect it. “The wings came separately,” I say unnecessarily. “I screwed them on.” “So I see,” he says. “You didn’t use a screwdriver, did you?” “No, of course not,” I say. “I’m a woman! I used a knife.” “Of course you did,” he says.
He gives me my present, which is in a little teeny, tiny bag of frothy net and ribbon. It’s certainly not a dragonfly, or a cast iron key fob. “Have you cheated?” I say. “This doesn’t feel like cast iron.” It’s a delicate garnet charm for my bracelet. Apparently, garnet is the traditional anniversary stone this year. I feel quite proud of him, even if he has won the Best Anniversary Present competition. Luckily for me, first prize is taking me out to dinner tonight. (It’s one of those WinWin situations.) He puts the dragonfly on the chest of drawers where it crouches balefully, watching through its bulbous blue glass eyes while Mr Young attaches the delicate little charm to my bracelet. I really must stop reading so much Stephen King.
May 22 The dragonfly is still on the chest of drawers when we get back. Mr Young has decided to hang it on the pergola. I think this is probably a good idea. Probably at the back. Under a lot of greenery. Next year’s traditional gift is copper or wool. Bloody anniversaries.