10 March It’s been a day of subterfuge, at which, I have to say, I’m rather good. At least, I’m rather good at it once I remember to subterfuge (is that a verb? It is now!) which is usually right on the verge of not saying what I’m not supposed to. Just writing that sentence was exhausting, so you can probably imagine how tiring it’s been trying to act as if Harriet is not having a surprise family 21st birthday party at the Beehive tomorrow lunchtime. So far, she believes that just a few of us are gathering at home for a ‘special lunch’, and so I’ve had to pretend that the utility room is stuffed full of secret food, drink and other birthday-type items and that she must under no circumstances go in there.
I’ve also spent a lot of time whispering theatrically to Mr Young, Tom and Lucy in her presence about secret things and hinting at jobs they must remember to do. As you can tell, it’s been an elaborate plot with quite a few inspired embellishments. This afternoon, I have to go into John Lewis for something – as usual, I can’t remember what it is once I get there and just stand blankly in the handbag department for a good thirty seconds (fortunately, this is never a chore). While I rack my brains, I notice that on the cosmetics counter there are a few shiny balloons stuck into vases on balloon sticks which look very stylish; how lovely they would look on the lunch tables tomorrow, I think. Now, Improvisation is my middle name (no, really, it is) so I go into Paperchase and buy some purple balloons and then a box of striped drinking straws from Waitrose. Mr Young is sceptical but polite and obligingly spends a fraught half-hour with me in the utility room. We finally produce a lamentable and far from stylish balloon arrangement that could easily be a two-year-old’s attempt at a gaggle of blobby Blue Peter robots. They hang limply and accusingly from misshapen straws and even as we watch, their sellotape fastenings start to unravel. I can now see the necessity of using bespoke balloon sticks. “Maybe we could prop them up somehow in a glass,” Mr Young suggests optimistically, but deep down we know that these sort of arrangements would in no way enhance tomorrow’s celebrations. Instead, they would squat forlornly on the tables in our makeshift vases, eventually escaping their sellotape restraints while everyone would have to pointedly ignore them.
A sort of herd of balloon Elephants In The Room, if you will. “I suppose we’ll have to actually buy some proper helium filled balloons and give these,” I gesture contemptuously at our wilting creations, “to Archie.” (Archie has a thing for balloons and rubber gloves. It’s a rather unwholesome fixation which I try not to indulge him in too often.) We decide to carry out this mission early tomorrow morning. I hide the evidence behind the tumble dryer. Sometimes, having Improvisation as a middle name can be a heavy burden to bear.
Much later, Mr Young and I go next door to collect The Birthday Cake from Mrs P, who is a professional baker. She and Mr P insist that we stay for what turns out to be definitely more than one glass of wine. Mr Young and Mr P spend what seems like hours discussing Blu-Ray and HD while we watch Avatar on their huge flat-screen television. I spend a long time scrutinizing the pores on the end of Sigourney Weaver’s nose. I’m sure this isn’t why HD television was invented.
The cake is huge – a magnificent chocolate tower topped with a ring of sparkly purple flowers – and I worry about its safety as Mr Young carries it home. “Oh, do be quiet,” he says irritably as he weaves his way through the lavender hedge on their drive. “I’m quite capable of carrying a cake home.” Which he turns out to be. (But only under my supervision. Thank goodness for me.)
11 March Tom takes Harriet into town on a rather flimsy and last-minute excuse (my powers of Improvisation and Subterfuge are rapidly waning, as if my arch enemy had hidden some Kryptonite behind the sofa) so that the whole extended family can gather at the Beehive, ready to jump out and shout Happy Birthday! as she arrives. Fortunately, she is delighted rather than alarmed, and it all goes without a hitch and I think she is pleased. I’m pleased, anyway, and it’s a relief to finally give up all the Subterfuge and Improvisation. I can sympathise with Guy Fawkes having to creep about suspiciously for weeks – although my plot was successful and I didn’t get hung, drawn and quartered. Poor Guy Fawkes. If only he’d stuck to surprise birthday parties instead.
12 March “Do you think that Tom would mind if I borrowed that old school desk in his room?” Mr Young asks. I wonder if this is some sort of fetish that’s he’s finally plucked up the courage to reveal. I shall have my work cut out coping with both our dog and his rubber compulsion and Mr Young in a schoolboy cap and shorts. I long for the good old days of last week when all I had to do was pretend I had a pile of asparagus quiches in my utility room. But to my relief he just wants to use it as a second work station for his study. Good old Mr Young and his non-existent fetishes, I think. As a thank-you (although I don’t tell him why I’m grateful) I bring him a cup of tea. He’s already brought down the desk and enthusiastically demonstrates its suitability. “Look,” he says, “I can just use the main desk like this..” he pretends to type something on his laptop, “…and then turn round to this desk when I need to.” He twists to his right with a triumphant flourish. I can’t resist. “But are you sure it’s the right thing to use?” I ask, building up to my punchline. “Are you sure you haven’t just made a schoolboy error?” “Oh yes, very funny,” he says witheringly, “At least it would be funny if I didn’t know you’d spent hours thinking that one up.” He thinks he knows me so well. “Actually, I came up with it on the spur of the moment,” I say airily, and this is true.
And just like that, I’m back in the game.
Like I told you, Improvisation is my middle name.