3 score years and 10

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 28 August 2013

I should have taken pictures but I was too busy cooking, chopping, slicing, grilling, boiling, frying, seasoning and tasting I couldn't fit in taking pics as well. The 'oosbinds 70th was going to be mammoth.

It all began last Thursday.

I had done two weeks for Radio Kent then a week in London sitting in on Radio London. On Thursday I got home by 2.00 and started filling up the fridge, pantry and baskets with produce.

That night Jim and I left the cottage at 10.00, in separate cars. Arrived in Gatwick for 11.00. Out came the Swedes. he with his hair now grey but still looking decidedly rock-'n'-roll with his chained boots and black spiked belt. His daughter with her red hair, pierced tongue and ringed nose, then the new paramour with the bluest of blue eyes, a camera and a case far smaller than the tall Swede's.

We got back by midnight, they went up to the attic, and I fell into bed with the alarm set for 5.45.

Happily Friday was my last day. Parked my car, slept to Charing Cross, walked blearily to Regent Street, did the show which made me cry, and then set off home.

We talked about volunteering.

Politically I have always felt that charity should come from the Government, that the poor, the vulnerable and the sick should be helped out by the Welfare State. But since our Big Society is failing us 'us' are doing a grand job in helping each other out. Science has proven that helping others makes us feel good. The callers were so genuine and generous. Giving of themselves. Offering their own lives up for people worse off than themselves. Sometimes the programmes on Radio London are banal, said one of the callers, but when you do stuff like this - stuff that helps others then...

Then what? Well aint that what speech radio is all about. helping others.

I cried.

Which was better than Thursday when I choked twice on an oatmeal crumb. Bugger it I had to play two trails to cover my snorting and snuffling.

Friday was our first meal around the kitchen table. I could be wrong. The days have blurred into a mass of sitting, eating, standing, washing up, more food, another drink, sitting, standing, washing up, plumping cushions and then another meal.

I decided to just relax into it. People started arriving by 2.00 on Saturday. I had woken up to grey skies thinking that maybe we should go and buy a gazebo. When I got downstairs a dear friend had texted me offering TWO gazebos since the sky looked heavy. She dropped them off.

As the rain started to fall the two gazebos were assembled. Tables, borrowed from the pub, were laid. Bowls were put out. Umbrellas were opened for use between the kitchen and the garden. Wellies were used. Anoraks, jackets, raincoats covered party attire. By the time it got to cake time the garden was sodden, the food was sodden and nobody gave a damn.

The dawter had made a sensational cake from a Roald Dahl recipe book. All chocolate and honeycombe balls. Loads of candles, nearly burnt the house down. One of the children started counting - thats the done thing now. You count from one up to the birthday age. It took over a minute to chant to 70.

'Every number is a year of my life' said the birthday boy.

We were shouting and cheering and quaffing and laughing and eating and the rain kept falling.

Three tents went up, there was more grass on the rugs than there was in the garden but cold bubbly lightened the load and nobody noticed the skid marks all over the carpets.

Music went on VERY LOUD the men danced, women grooved, children bounced and the birthday boy stood - or should I say swayed - in the kitchen as over 60 people kept plying him with birthday booze.

Gusts finally started to leave, leaving 21 hard core party animals to wail along with Bob and singalonga Stevie.

Then Jim broke a glass and, like an eight year, denied he hadn't broken it. It was Mr.Nobody. Then he went to bed.

A huge double mattress was blown up, for a Swede and a Sussex singleton, a single mattress was blown up for the eldest dawter, duvets were provided for the German on the couch.

I stayed up and filled the dishwasher, tidied up and eventually fell into bed at 4.00. Two Swedes in the attic, two Wiltshire wearies in B's bed and me next to a 70 year old man who had decided to go to sleep on all fours!

The tents contained the children and their semi sober parents. People were stuffed down the sides of beds hidden under duvets. Our little cottage had 21 full grown human beings snoring.

Sunday's breakfast was a scattered affair. I was at the chopping trolley preparing more food for a whole new avalanche of guests.
Brighton belles, Kent cuties and an assortment of London layabouts. The food kept coming but I hadn't anticipated the appetites of Bank Holiday Monday mouths.

We very nearly ran out of tuck.

But miraculously the sun came out.

In between lunch and supper I had to hoover the grass cuttings which had turned into turf - the stairs looked like a hay loft.

Sunday night had 13 people sitting round the kitchen table which normally seats 6. Two younguns camped on the kitchen steps. I sat with a huge bowl dolloping out a spoonful of salad, a spoonful of guacamole and half a frankfurter. I found a packet in the back of the fridge. The only thing we had more of was beer, wine and and endless supply of fizz. When everybody had their fill, like Oliver they all wanted more. We were 'literally' scraping the bowls clean.

Into the dishwasher with the mounds of plates and glasses. more guests left, others stayed. By 2.00 the house was on snooze.

Then Monday arrived. The sun was well and truly out. The dawters laid one table under the apple trees. Bacon, sausages, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs á la Bill Granger, fresh rolls, butter, cream cheese, juices and the exploded bottles of Prosecca that had been forgotten about in the freezer. Two delicious cafetiers of coffee as ten of us sat round the table in the dappled sunlight eating a real family breakfast.

People shouted across each other, served each other, stretched across for the butter, yelped with laughter and a fantasy of mine was finally fulfilled. We were an English family in an East Sussex garden eating Jewish bagles with creamy cream cheese to celebrate my Catholic husbands birthday in true Italian style.

And then we looked at the beautiful photos that our Swedish photographer and taken, downed computers before setting off for Goudhurst for another birthday lunch. Nobody could move with the amount of breakfast that had been consumed but somehow we managed to slurp ice cold Gazpacho and sweet strawberry tarts, homemade, with a middle course of fresh vegetables and fillets of something or other.

More wine, more sweetmeats then back home to yet another meal prepared by the son-in-law that nobody felt they could refuse. We sat under the apple trees as the sun dipped gnoring on chicken legs and courgettes from the garden

Wasps died, as so many people had been stung, not one jot of guilt from anybody as the wasps were zapped, strawberry jammed or just thwacked with the rolled up Sunday newspapers. I sat up with the Swedes until 3.00a.m when their taxi arrived. They loaded their cases and left in the cool, black night.

Tuesday arrived and I finally managed a walk. The sun still out. Then one dawter left for london. The other two dawters left for Brighton taking their husbands and children with them.

Jim had gone to rehearse in london and by 6.00 I was left alone. All alone. The peace and quite was deafening.

Jim arrived home, took off his motorbike gear and we sat opposite each other in the quiet kitchen.

Today I collected my new glasses. £450 so I can see and read straight. If I had known it was going to be so expensive I would have super glued my old ones together.

We finally started the post-party-pick-apart. Nothing better than an evening of working out why 'he' looked like that and 'she' said those things. Terrific....

I finally finished hoovering at midnight. Twelve duvéts packed away. Fourteen pillows stashed. Seven loads of washing. I have tried to tidy downstairs but the cat has finally come back in and I don't want to disturb her. She kept away as we had Poppy the pug, Bailey the Staffy and Delilah the pooch, Emmy the cat knew her place. My little red car is covered in her paw prints she had the presence of mieow to sleep in the garage.

It's now 1.30a.m.

Jim is asleep. Two huge spiders have kept me out of the bathroom. But the you can finally see the carpets again.

Tomorrow I am in town doing a voice over for Channel 4. On Friday I am doing a gig for Radio London. Then my show on Sunday.

I have eaten chocolate in front of University Challenge, which I recorded, and fresh pineapple in front of Coronation Street. I have to say if you watch five Corrie's in a row you realise what a pile of pony it is....

Anyway It's now time to wind down. The gazebos have been packed away and the tables taken back to the pub.

The fridge looks more like old times, space with only two shelves of beer left.

Gods Gift has been around for three score years and ten and he's still going strong. His brother couldn't get over from Ireland but he sent him a cheque so that his older brother could have a drink on him. Make mine a soda water with a dash of lime.

I'm saving up for his 80th, if his 70th is anything to go by we'll have to start getting in the provisions now.

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes


1. At August 29, 2013 9:18 AM June wrote:


I'm exhausted! I feel I've been partying over the holidays with you all!!
Your blog is so discriptive!!!
It all sounded so joyful. On quiet cold rainy days you can look out over the garden and remember Jim's 70th birthday for years to come.
Happy belated birthday Jim.

Love June

2. At August 29, 2013 1:27 PM Soryl Angel wrote:

Even from across the pond I could feel the celebratory vibes as if we were there. We have known this fine fellow for about 35 years (a mere half of his life) and perhaps will be there for that 80th celebration. I promise some Canadian Club.

Copyright 2007, Jeni Barnett. Website produced by Chopstix.