Celebrations and Paddling Pools


Mr Young is looking wan at the moment. There’s no spring in his step – although, if I’m honest, there never really was one, it was more of a dull thud, but obviously I’m painting a picture here – and every joint is aching, he says. We’re both testing negative, so he must have one of the other viruses that presumably still exist, although no one ever talks about them any more. So he’s working from home, huddled over his keyboard, looking like the gaunt and sickly Ghost of Jacob Marley, hopefully remembering to turn his camera off during his Teams calls unless he wants to terrify them all.

Talking of other viruses, what’s happened to them? Does anyone just get colds anymore? Or plain old-fashioned flu? I feel almost sorry for them; they’re a bit like the longstanding neighbours who move away and a year later everyone says, “The Browns? Oh, yes, didn’t they have a labrador? Or was it a golden retriever?”.


I have my first Alconbury Weald book club meeting. I’m both excited and trepidatious (yes, it is a word, I’m branching out). I went to my old book club in Peterborough for years, which outdid itself every month in terms of both the debate and refreshments, so I’m not sure what the members here will be bringing to the table (literally and metaphorically). Discussion, gossip and alcohol, it turns out, which suits me just fine. I offer to host the next one and bustle home, flushed and feeling intelligent, and instruct Mr Young to finish painting the kitchen and plant things with lots of colour in the garden in case the weather’s nice. The Ghost of Jacob Marley clanks his chains pitifully, but I tell him he’s got a month and it’s doable so not to be so be pathetic.


I want to write about something important today, and make a note about it when I wake up at 5 am. Unfortunately, the note is Blt ntlj, so I guess you and I will never know. So tantalising.


I’m sure I’m not alone – bold statement – when I say I occasionally have trouble with online shopping. I mean, I’m not an idiot. I’m quite capable of choosing the things I need, checking them out and paying for them, making sure I’m in when they turn up, etc.

It’s getting the sizes right. “Ooh, that’s so cheap for a bottle of wine/tin of baked beans”, I think, clicking on the button with speedy satisfaction before anyone else realises a bargain’s to be had and snaps them all up. Then I have to pretend to Mr Young that I meant to buy a doll’s sized Sauvignon Blanc for a special and mysterious reason even though we both know that it’s because the picture made it look, at fleeting glance, that it was a regular size and I didn’t read the actual contents properly.

Still on the topic of online shopping, how can it be so expensive? I know how it can be – thank you Tories, Covid, Russia, life generally – but still? I mean, come on! We don’t even eat meat anymore and when those few pathetic bags arrive at the door and I load my fridge and cupboards, I'm not rubbing my hands with glee and gloating, well, we shall be feasting like kings for the next fortnight! The only compensation is that all those chickpeas and kidney beans and miniature cans of baked beans are definitely going to help keep the house a bit warmer at night this winter. Phnerrr, phnerr. Disappointing joke to match my disappointing bottle of wine.


My nephew is getting married tomorrow. He’s only five, so it’s quite a big deal. Of course he’s not! He’s well over six feet tall and has a proper job and a house and two children and (obviously) a fiancée…but to me, he’ll always be little Ben, jumping in and out of the paddling pool. (Maybe he still does that, of course. None of my business what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes. But I digress.)

Mr Young is still not well, and can barely manage to pull on his elasticated-waist leisure wear, let alone dress up in a suit and attend a full-on celebration so I have to break the news to my sister Rachel that the wedding will have to be cancelled. To my surprise, she says that the ceremony will still go ahead, even without Mr Young in attendance. Privately, I think this is a mistake, as what’s a wedding without Mr Young? Still, I expect Ben and Bec will be able to put a brave face on it, and, as long as the champagne is flowing, maybe the day won’t be an unmitigated disaster.


It’s not. The sun shines, Bec is radiant, Ben is tall and handsome, and the purple-haired vicar says “Smashing!” as soon as they’ve said their vows in just the right informal and yet touching way. Everyone smiles a lot, and we all clap as soon as they are a proper Mr and Mrs. It’s all lovely and I miss Mr Young because I’d like to be holding his hand in a romantic sort of way even though I know he’d be ignoring me and admiring the carving on the pew ends.

My brother-in-law Joe is on a mission to fill my glass with champagne as soon I take a sip, and who am I to let him down? After a glass or six, I am forced to play tag with my four-year-old granddaughter on the field before the reception. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that Nancy wins easily as I am severely handicapped by my lime green heels, hiccups, and hysterical laughter. I am the only adult running around. The rest of my family pretend they don’t know me and chat to other guests over asparagus canapés.

I manage to avoid falling over because of my natural athleticism and grace, and join the rest of the party for our slap-up wedding feast. Nancy is busy colouring next to me, so there’s not much in the way of conversation there, but I chat expansively to my niece Natasha throughout the meal, giving her my views on everything from Love Island to career choices. How fortunate she is to have such an entertaining, wise aunt, I think, trying to top up my glass from a screw-top bottle of wine that still has the cap on.

Joe’s speech is very moving, and Ben clearly can’t believe his luck when he toasts his new wife. Dear little Ben, I think, getting misty eyed and thinking about the paddling pool all over again. Then it’s the newly-weds’ first dance, and the DJ allows the rest of us onto the dance floor. As usual, my resolution to just sit and watch in a glamorous, dignified way goes out of the window. (Not just out of the window. It screeches off down the motorway, jumps on a plane and emigrates to Australia.) I do the twist, the Macarena, I boogie on down, up, sideways and diagonally and throw shapes that are geometrically impossible. Even Nancy looks disgusted with me. In my head, though, I know I am magnificent. Somehow I manage to avoid falling over because of my natural athleticism and grace. I do stumble a few times, but I don’t think anyone notices. Much.


The celebrations continue! Today we are having a birthday brunch for Tom, so I get up at the crack of 9.30 am and start preparations. Bacon, scrambled eggs, avocado on crumpets, fried tomatoes, croissants, pain au chocolate, toast, jam, honey… exactly the right sort of food for the morning after the night before. Poor old isolating Lucy – still recovering from Covid – watches us from an iPhone on the windowsill as we stuff ourselves with carbohydrates and caffeine. Sometimes she falls over and sadly stares at the ceiling until someone hears the faint squeaks and remembers to prop her up again. We carry her through to the sitting room so she can watch Tom open his presents. Nancy gives him her plastic shark litter-picker and glittery mermaid doll then promptly tells him to look the other way so she can take them back again, clearly regretting her own generosity.

I often feel that way. I just wish I could be as honest about things as Nancy. I give Tom four books I’d really like to read myself. I should tell him to look the other way while I quickly grab them all back and hide them under the sofa. I would definitely lend them to him later, once I’ve finished them. I really would.

Once we’ve had the birthday cake, and everyone’s gone, Mr Young is still looking wan, and – after last night – so am I.

And, as we all know, two wans don’t make a right.