I held my 60th birthday Family Gathering at my home yesterday. I now need to examine how it went. It was an important event for me. My stepdaughter A--- attended with her husband S--- and their two little children, T--- and K---. A--- and T--- had not seen me since 2008, S--- not since 2007, K--- never. Basically none of them had met 'Lucy Melford' before. So as the time of their arrival approached, you can imagine how nervous I was getting.
In all it was a party of fifteen, most of whom had met Lucy, and were well-used to her, one or two of them (my immediate neighbours) on a daily basis. I can't express how grateful I was for my neighbours' warmth and goodwill. The same for the one friend whom I invited (she deserved to be there, as I had met her family, and she had worked tirelessly to get my garden in good order). It would have been a social or culninary disaster without their help. This was the list of guests who could actually attend:
My sister-in-law G--- and her husband C---.
My nephew M--- and his partner C---.
My niece J--- and her partner K---.
My stepdaughter A---, her husband S---, and young children T--- and K---.
A---'s schoolfriend E---, whom I'd known almost as long as A---.
My friend R---.
My neighbours J--- and T---.
Fifteen is not a large number for a get-together like this, but I rarely entertain, and I'm not used to organising such a gathering. So for me it was a potential nightmare! Fortunately it was all ready on time, and so far as the basics went, nothing was lacking. Even the sunshine! Despite a terrific downpour at breakfast-time, it was dry and warm by kick-off at 1.00pm, and it stayed warm and sunny all afternoon. Everyone arrived punctually, they were all cheerful and chatty - model guests! - and all seemed to agree that the sun was lovely, the seating great, the food was excellent, and the tone was spot-on. The kids behaved themselves - although I expected nothing different - liked the presents I gave them, and so far as I was concerned moved from initial shyness to easy familiarity. I was 'Auntie Lucy' by the close of play.
All this said, I don't think it was, for me, an unqualified success. I quickly overcame my first nervousness, but then I made the classic error of staying too much in the kitchen, and not being outside enough with my guests. Not that I needed to be constantly in everyone's eye. Although it was my chief 'birthday event', it had to be held on a day convenient for everyone, and not on my actual 60th birthday (6 July), when in fact I'd be away in Cornwall. So although I was presented with cards and a present or two, I didn't feel I should personally behave as if it were My Day, and my day only. It was just as much a chance for bits of my family to see each other again. And indeed, I wanted the children to be the ones made a fuss of.
In any case, I hate being the star; I shy away from too much attention, because it quickly gets overwhelming. I'm not good in crowds. Even fifteen was a little too many for me. So I think that to some extent, although I was genuinely busy, I 'hid' in the kitchen, merely emerging for brief periods. Nothing wrong with that. But it wasn't what I should have done if I wished to let A--- and S--- get a proper idea of what I was like nowadays. I did talk to them, but it was in snatches: nothing deep. An opportunity missed. And I hardly spoke with one or two of my other guests. Not good. Not good at all.
It wasn't how I'd dreamed in the past of first meeting A--- and S--- as Lucy. I'd imagined a trip to New Zealand. I'd be so changed, so womanly, that on arrival at Auckland airport I'd actually be able to walk past them as they waited to greet me in the Arrivals hall, and I'd have to tap them on the shoulder, to their delighted surprise. This so-much-less-exotic first encounter in Sussex was not ideal. And that decisive moment of initial appraisal had now gone forever, never again to be experienced. I was so glad to see A--- again now, in 2012, and not in 2017 or 2018, but I felt I'd missed some better opportunity, and perhaps a delayed first meeting would have turned out happier for me.
Everyone had gone by mid-evening. I was very tired. I'd been on my feet for nearly twelve hours, with almost no sitting down, and of course a certain mental and emotional overload was present. But despite this, my driving instinct was to get the furniture and ornaments back into their normal place, tidy up, wash up, restore Ted to his regular spot, and generally recreate the old, familiar, comfortable home. Then, and not next morning. I badly needed to. I felt a huge sense of anti-climax. An escape into ordinary daily life was as vital as a nice cup of tea. I felt upset that I'd not had a breakthough with A---, no definite moment of total acceptance for Lucy. There was still only cautious goodwill. I kicked myself for not being much more at the heart of my own event.
But this morning I do take a more relaxed view. The agreed arrangement in Cornwall is that A--- will phone or text me when up to a meetup down there. That's fine; it's their escape from London, a holiday within a holiday, and I certainly won't intrude unless invited. But of course, if they don't actually meet me in Cornwall, then I may not see them again before they depart for home in New Zealand at the end of July, and that might mean not seeing them again for years to come. So I'm now pinning rather a lot on some beach or afternoon or early-evening rendezvous, just them and me, at which some more significant conversation might take place. We'll see.
So what went really well at my Gathering?
Well, apparently the food I served up - mostly cooked or created by myself - got a big thumbs up. There was a lot of it, and I won't go into everything that I offered, but the star components were the tasty Old English sausages bought from Clive Miller the Hurstpierpoint butchers, the cold meat pies I bought from the deli counter at Waitrose, the vast Vegetable Bake I made, and the delicious Eton Mess made with my neighbour J---'s help, using raspberries. Not everything was consumed: the lychees, for instance. Not a problem - I finished those off myself, with relish!
I greatly over-estimated the amount of meaty things that people might want to tuck into. So I now have a boatload of sausages, chicken breasts, burgers and thick back bacon on my hands. But I can freeze it all, and gradually eat it up between now and Christmas. I simply regard it as ordinary food shopping done in advance.
And now, today, the attention is on getting the caravan ready for Cornwall. Off at nine tomorrow morning. There's not a lot to do, compared with the frenzy of the last couple of days. If I want to take a break, there's even an invitation to a barbecue at 1.00pm in Stanmer Park on the edge of Brighton, but I think I'll have to keep focussed, stay at home, and send my apologies. It's a seven-hour journey down to Cornwall, stops included, and I need to be all packed, and properly rested for such a trip!
Incidentally, I think that I'll probably have to resign myself to 'radio silence' while away, so far as this blog is concerned. It may be possible to find some place in Bodmin, Launceston, Bude or Liskeard that offers wi-fi in suitable surroundings, but I'm not too hopeful. I'll see what I can do.