Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Sunday Summary | This is Forty

Dear FOQ

Y'know, people have said to me lately, "you don't look forty"/"I can't believe you're going to be forty".

Nor can I.

But here I am, forty.



In rented accommodation.

In other words, hitting none of the benchmarks of many of my peers.

But, y'know what, that's OK.

To paraphrase Pasek, Paul and the divine Keala Settle, This is me.

I think it's much too easy to get sucked into worrying, at this 'advanced' age, about how life should look. Perhaps if at 21, 25, 30, whenever, you might have had certain ambitions, certain visions for how your life would look at 40.

Thinking back, I didn't have any of that, at least not in any realistic terms; I didn't sit down and map out where I wanted to be. That way a life of disappointment in oneself can only lie.

All I wanted was to be a writer.

I like to think that's ticking along OK even if I've decided that the novel needs severe redirection.

Oh and there's a good chance that at some point in my life I was convinced I'd be married to this guy:

{Peter O'Brien, in case you wondered}
and live in a house that looked like this:

or perhaps this:

but, weirdly, that hasn't happened.

And that's fine too.

Compartmentalise the naive ambitions of your adolescence, QB, and move the chuff on.

This is forty.

And the parameters have changed.

I had this idea that I'd share photos from my last few decades as part of this post: my tenth birthday, twentieth, my thirtieth. Which is a nice thought.

But two things held me back.

1) I couldn't be bothered to hunt through my numerous photo boxes in search of said shots
2) the quote "Don't look back, you're not heading that way" which I may or may not have paraphrased wrongly but you get my drift.

I can look back on my 39 million previous years on earth with great fondness, and I do, but after a while, nostalgia becomes dangerous.

It becomes a place to stay rather than a place to move on from.

And if I'm going to achieve any of the benchmarks of my peers in the next ten years or so (with the proviso that I don't plan to be normal, ever) I need to look forwards, and look forward to what might come.

Perhaps it still won't look like My Imaginary Husband Peter O'Brien, a ridiculously expensive terraced house in Brighton or a sprawling beach house not dissimilar to that seen in psychological thriller Sleeping with the Enemy. (Inbuilt psychopath with bad moustache comes as standard.)

But I hope it looks rosy, whatever the future holds.

I might not have the man-tachment, the house, the suckling babes.

What I do have, and for which I'm infinitely grateful, is my fabulous family, superlative friends, a job I love plus epic workmates, a fairly decent flat (although the bin shed lets us all down), a great landlord, and because of most of these things, the freedom and licence to do silly things for my 40th birthday weekend.

I'm extremely happy with my lot.

This fort(y)night, I have mostly been:

Walking 👣

... in the roasting heat, yet keeping cool with a couple of shrewd Harwood Hacks, which I shall share with you shortly, since I'm feeling especially generous today.

My route, yomped last Saturday even after having spent Friday night enjoying myself at the work summer party (inference being, I had quite a lot of prosecco), took me along the Weald Way then the Eden Valley Walk from Tonbridge (big up the hometown massive) to Chiddingstone (where, weirdly, Penshurst station can be found; that's not confusing at all, is it).

It was a wonderfully quiet, bucolic sort of a walk, and I didn't feel the need to switch on my iPod; the tromp-tromping of my own footsteps and the chatter of the kayakers on the river were enough accompaniment. Oh and the roar of the A21 over Haysden, but that was temporary.

Starting out ...

{Why yes, sometimes an actual paper map comes in handy!}

{Weald Way signpost. Always good to know you're going the right way. For now.}

{One of many, many bridges on the route. I like a bridge.}

{Spot the kayaker}

{Aah, these bridges do have marvellous, poetic names!}

On the way to Haysden ...

Picking up the Eden Valley Walk in Leigh. 

O hai!

{Ah, looking a little ... pink here.}
This may be an apposite point at which to mention my Harwood Hacks:

1) Carry frozen ice packs with you and jam them down alongside your water bladder (that expression still grosses me out);
2) Fill ziplock bags with a decent amount of cold water before you set out; double-bag if necessary. Place bandannas (multiple!) and cooling towel in the water inside the bags, and remove to wear.

Ta-da, epic coolness!

On the outskirts of Chiddingstone/Penshurst ...

{Theresa May just out of shot ...}

At this point, the route got ever so slightly woolly. Footpath signs led to nowhere and there was no clear exit back onto the main road.

You'll see from the portion of the map here where things went a bit dodgy and resulted in me hastily hotfooting it over a locked gate and back onto the main road. Oops.

You know nuffin'; please don't shop me to the coppers ...

After that, the road was moderately straightforward, leading me back to Penshurst Station in good time to miss a train by about ten minutes (no regrets), thus justifying waiting it out until the next one, with a very well-earned pint (of OJ and lemonade) ...

... here!


Stats, should you be interested, were as follows:

{Spot the squirrel.}

Celebrating a Big Birthday 👵🎂

Yo Forty, it's ya birthday; we're gonna party like it's ya birthday.

I think it's safe to say The Birthday Shenanigans started on Thursday evening, really, as my lovely workmates endeavoured to plot to decorate my desk; the major obstacle being that I am incapable of taking the smallest of hints, and just wouldn't go home

I do believe a hitman may have been on standby to remove me from the premises at one point.

Nevertheless, I came into this spectacular view on Friday morning:

{Thanks, May!}

{Photo by Katie F}

and from there the day just got better and better, with pizza and prosecco for lunch, followed by a superlative flamingo cake crafted by Clever Miss Chloe

{By Cloee's Cakes and Bakes on Instagram}

and some truly gorgeous gifts. They may all want to murder me a lot of the time (especially Maz!) but they're a good lot, my work tribe.

{Fabulous Tatty Devine cassette necklace!}

{Let's just have a Moment for the ombre ...}

We continued the celebrations in the evening with cocktails:

curly fries and confessionals at The Barn: with thanks to Megan, Chloe, May, Inger and Freyja, and Lyndsey for rocking up to support me! It was a gorgeous evening; and to Megan and Chloe especially I say:

The next day, the Go Harwood or Go Home/Party Proper element of the birthday weekend began in Bay-oo-tiful Brighton.

No night out with Natalie in tow would be complete without a video montage so I'll slot that in in a moment, but first ... #lemmetakeaselfie allow me to share a few moments from the afternoon, when Natalie and I arrived at the fabulous Hotel Pelirocco just off the seafront near the skeleton of West Pier.

From here on in, the photos are a mix of those taken by me and the ones taken by Nats. (With massive thanks to Natalie for being my official photographer of the weekend!)

{Time for a bit of present- and card-opening in between room admiration ...}

{The ceiling!}

We trotted into town for a wee while, and Natalie did a spot o' Primarni shopping, before we returned to the room to start dolling up for our Night Out, starting with dinner at Pizza Express because we're classy and that's just how we roll.

And here's where the video montage kicks in.


I should mention that this largely consists of five minutes of photos of us lot singing. 

Karaoke was provided courtesy of Slam Star Karaoke; we had the best time there – it's typically Brighton (very colourful and quirky), and we had our own booth for the best part of three hours.

Lots of hard songs to sing in that time, trust me.

But I think we rocked the majority of them, right, girls?

{Leaving da club ... with leftover wine and pizza
in the basket of your mate's scootay}

An outing with my VR Lovelies would not be complete without Chips Eaten Outdoors somewhere; so, true to form we hunted down some fish and chips, tea, coffee and a can o' Fanta from a seafront establishment; and as the clock struck midnight we each in turn transformed into pumpkins my Lovelies sang Happy Birthday.

Perfect way to kick off the 14,611th day of my life, I can tell you.

{Jenny's asleep already, I see; can't hack the pace, eh, Harrison?}

What did we take away from this experience?

When selecting C'est La Vie (by B*Witched) from the playlist, one should always style out one's vocal performance with, a) the words, "What are you like?" and b) quality Irish dancing, in much the same vein as this:

Except backwards.

The following day we were up (not terribly) bright (in spite of the glorious sunshine) and (much too) early; Natalie and I had a pre-breakfast wander down to the sea and, being the raving lunatic/water sign I am, I had to go in for a small paddle at least.


We returned to the hotel for our breakfast, which was gorgeous: we both opted for the scrambled egg combo (Natalie had bacon, I had salmon with mine):

{Love the whimsical decor!}

plus coffee, all the coffee, a bit o' fruit, yogurt and freshly squeezed OJ. It was absolutely delicious.

After having a Silly Moment with the Jedi dressing-gowns:

{Collective age: 81; can you tell?}

we checked out of our room, but were able to leave our case and hefty holdall with the hotel, and we headed down the seafront to meet Jess and Charlie for coffees and giftettes (Jenny had already had to leave).

I will say at this point that my girls utterly spoiled me, all weekend, and I'm very lucky and thankful to all of 'em. And I'm already working on my design for my custom Converse; it's happening, chicks!

We shopped in the Lanes for a while:

then Charlie said her farewells, and Natalie and I set off for Sydney Street, to await the arrival of Clare L who very kindly came all the way down for the afternoon.

We headed for the Pier, and after some considerable queuing, and after having spoken about riding this bad boy for the best part of three years ...

Clare and I went on the Booster!

Yes, the honking big crane of a ride at the end of the Pier.

40 going on 14, I tell you.

{The lunatics prepare for takeoff ...}

See that flash of fuchsia? That's me, that is.

Natalie headed off after nearly baking alive on the Pier (eek); Clare and I decided that it might be a good idea to get some chips down us (after wisely staving off prior to having been tossed 360 degrees several times in succession):

Neither of us felt up to the spinny swirly rides after that, so we ended up on the log flume, which provided a much-needed cooldown!

We caught a train shortly before half four, Clarey McClareyson back up to Clapham, me just as far as as Gatwick then onwards, and by the time I reached home it was time to come back out again for the next event of the birthday weekend:

Dinner with the family.

Needless to say I chose The Home Cottage as my venue of choice and it didn't disappoint (although it's definitely getting pricey, from what I glean); I had some gorgeous pork croquettes to begin with, and pan-fried plaice (mmm, bones – nah, I'm kidding; I mean, there were bones but the fish itself was scrummy) followed by three scoops of ice cream, and we even managed to wangle a free bottle of prosecco as a birthday bonus.

Then back to my toasty flat we went for present-opening and cake.

'Twas lovely to end the weekend with La Famille, even if (especially as) they're mad.

All mad.

{That's right, Forty. You stand over in the corner and think
about what you've done.}

It's clearly not hereditary.

With massive thanks to all of you who sent gorgeous messages, posts, cards or gifts; and uber-thanks again to my weekend crew, especially my best of all besties Natalie, and my Lovelies Charlie, Jenny and Jess, and representing the glorious Foyles Goyls, Clare.

And to my family. Wow.

40 years of me.

No wonder you like your prosecco.

qb xx