Having Jackson in the flat is a real alarm call. I wake at 7.00 (although this morning it was 8.00) and walk down the hall into the living room. Jackson has taken up residence under the table, next to the settee half-on, half-off the old red rug from the cottage.
He lounges over his big tartan bed and his toweling throw (just in case he gets really wet when we go out for a walk) and it's quite clear that he really feels at home. It takes him slightly longer to get up because his hips are so arthritic but he's so bouncy now that he's having a proper breakfast.
I don't wash, or put on my glasses. I just jump into my pj's, pull on a t-shirt then dress Jackson. There is a little red dustbin full of biodegradable bags which is attached to his hand-woven rope lead which is attached to his green collar. I swing the ribbon with door keys over my head and off we go. I'm now prepared, just like a scout, for anything.
I take the chain off the door, we step onto the landing, through the green door, down seven steps, which Jackson fairly leaps now, down another seven steps, out through the front door and then down another flight of stairs.
Through the wrought iron gate, a quick left turn and then this supposedly ancient Labrador drags me to the grassy knoll by the river. We land on the turf and he stretches out. After an average 23 seconds, he's spent. We walk alongside the river, which this morning was high and grey. The wind was up and the seagulls were screeching. I tried to sing with them but they were high sopranos. My contralto rendition an octave lower didn't sound one bit like a sea gull.
The dog looks like Landseers Lions in Trafalgar Square when he sniffs the air dead imperious, leonine. When we turn round at the tree with the rubber round it's bark Jackson understands the signal, always on the same patch of brown grass he makes use of my bio-degradable sacks which I pop into the red bin provided, or get a fine, and then it's up them stairs for his breakfast.
This morning I had to get back to our garage in the country so at 11.30 Jim helped me pack the dog, and all his gubbins, into the car. Then we hugged. That's the 'oosbind and me, not the dog, and I left.
Today is Jim's birthday. I hadn't got him anything, not even a card, I've been so busy what with one thing and another and anyway when you get to a certain age it all feels a little silly doesn't it? But Jim said he really didn't care, And if you were to meet the 'oosbind you would know that he means it. Jim doesn't like fuss and bother. How we've lasted 30 years is a mystery to me since I am only fuss and bother. Still, when he says 'Oh Blood and Sand not another party' he sighs and shakes his head from side to side and draws his lips in, but when the first bottle is popped and the people turn up, he loves it.
It's not that he's complicated. It's just that he's a man who loves a good book, a good glass of wine, a little roll up, peace and quiet. But today is his birthday and I think that rights of passage are really important so whether he likes it or not, we have to honour him.
I felt so rotten leaving him to do two shows all on his own without his wife and daughters and no dog. He does love his dog, and the hound him. They bonded when Jackson was a puppy and Jim shared his breakfast with him. He still does. One or two little bite-sized Shreddies dropped from one gob into another. Don't ask!
I drove back home slowly, as I've had three days of carousing with various different parties and I was a little worse for wear. Arrived just in time for Vic, next door, to follow me to the garage. I dropped off the Jackmobile and Vic then drove me home before she zoomed off to the pictures with her kids. I slid into my little red car and shot into the village to buy the old man gifts. By this stage I had a plan.
I would go into the little gift shop and purchase him some appropriate gifts. Making sure that the a--hole who called the cops because I had parked the car too near his Vauxhall Boring would accept my apologies and the cops would see my side of the story - which they did - and buy the likes of a coffee mat that smells of coffee when you put something hot on it, a little plastic finger thingy that fits on the end of your thumb and has two strips of plastic either side so that when a person is reading a book the thumb is placed on the page and the strips of plastic hold the pages open. It'll make him laugh, the colour purple as opposed to yellow would suit his veins better. A philosopher's knot puzzle, a 'His shed' sign, since he has got one and it is 'his'. And a wallet thingy that will help him do something with his golf balls. And maybe a card which says something along the lines of 'like good wine, a man matures with age'. Something poncy anyway.
Part of the plan was popping into Waitrose to buy a cake - which I got reduced - a bottle of champagne, five custard tarts, his absolute favourite, a crisp cucumber and a bunch of nearly dead lilies that were reduced to 30 bob (if you're too young to understand that fiscal reference, ask your mum), a very expensive slab of steak that has it's own special steak bag, wild mushrooms, a jar of organic horse radish and then off to home.
The last part of the plan required a call to Gae, my knightdress in shining armour, who without hesitation would house sit until Sunday morning. Everything did actually go to plan. It all had fallen into place, so I slid back into my car, kissed the dog goodbye, tickled the cat, and laden with all the birthday goodies, set off back to the flat.
I arrived at 7.30. B helped me unload the evening's surprise.
Of course I'm exhausted, but I'm going to soak in the bath and refresh myself. I told the daughter I was knackered and she said 'Where's your stamina girl?'
Which I think was the perfect galvanising tool. When I told my mother of my antics, she sighed the sigh of the weary.
Now when he arrives home, I will hide behind the armchair so there is no evidence of my presence, only the presents. Car keys and door keys are not where they normally are. B will play her music so that he can't hear my breathing and no smells of cooking either otherwise he will get wind of the whole affair.
I have instructed Gae not to pick up the cottage phone in case he rings.
I hope he'll be pleased to see me but having a birthday bash at 11.30 after two shows when your 164, and you have to be up at 8.00 because you are meeting the director of a new show that you are writing the music for, may not be his idea of fun, but hard lines. It's done now. Anyway, I have arranged for calls to come in at midnight, from Hamburg and Los Angeles, Brighton and Devon.
There is a certain amount of fall-out from this spontaneous ruse. Gae now has to gather up Jackson's wee for the vet. I've had to cancel my osteopath and the car can't be collected now until Tuesday when I have to be in town for a voice over. But you only have a birthday once a year.
The only thing missing is the dog. He would have loved the steak and would have sung Jim happy birthday in Golden Lab. But there you are - you can't have everything. After all, where would you put it?
If I'm not too pooped after the bubbly, I may just let you know how it went otherwise you'll have to listen to LBC on Saturday night to find out whether he's divorced me or not.
It's 22.43. I have 30 minutes to get out of my pj's and into the bath as well as slicing the potatoes for sauteing - maybe I'll just crush them with some cracked black pepper and olive oil. The mushrooms and steak only take seconds. B has made him a birthday card which is lovely and there are various others unopened cards nestling under the lilies. When I jump up from behind the armchair he'll either have a heart attack - which could happen at his age -or throw me a smile and enjoy the fact that I've bothered to have a bath and change out of my pyjamas. And even though he said he didn't want anything, he'll love his little gifts which were bought whilst the cops nearly nicked me. What a day this has been. What a rare mood I'm in. Why, it's almost like being insane.
You won't believe this! He has just arrived home. B tried to cover me. I hid in the office then jumped out of the books when he saw the cake and lilies. He said, 'What are you doing here? Where's the dog? Have you seen my vat invoice?'
Who said romance was dead?
Must go. We've downed the champagne but now I need to get that steak on the go. Happy birthday to all you other Leo's. May the best of last year be the worst of this.
'Alright, I'm coming...
Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes