Nov 102020

This was another of those cumulative sequences of events when one thing leads to another … and how! The occasion was Betty’s 60th birthday, when we decided to give her a big surprise party. So out went the invitations to all her friends and kinsfolk to attend an afternoon hosting at our Cottles Bridge home to celebrate the event. Angela (my daughter) and Drew (my son-in-law) had gone to much trouble to produce an elegant invitation, featuring a beautiful photo of Betty scanned in with a nice black border, very artistic. Jenny (Betty’s sister) opened hers and said “Oh my god is my sister dead?“, to which the other Jenny (Betty’s daughter) replied “I would probably have heard by now.” However, all was made clear by a quick perusal of the text. Problem solved.

On the day before, daughter Jenny arrived with baby Liam and the birthday cake. This was no ordinary cake, having been iced and adorned with chocolate lilies and much more – a veritable work of art from North East Victoria’s leading exponent of cake-making at Mt. Beauty. I recall a sort of strangled cry, with Jenny racing out the door to her car which had its tailgate open, our faithful hound’s head inside the cake box, and the chocolate lilies disappearing apace down Holly the heeler’s neck. After dissuading our quite disturbed daughter from carrying out a range of homicidal (canicidal?) threats, we phoned an emergency order for a supply of best-quality Carlton profiteroles, which would be ready for tomorrow, along with the re-iced truncated (un-dogged) portion of the original cake. Problem solved.

On the great day, my task was to take the birthday girl for a drive to the Windsor Hotel in town to get her out of the way while the caterer and guests arrived. Because Jenny now refused to have our dog around while preparing the repast (can’t think why), and we may not have been admitted to the Windsor dining room with our blue heeler (even on her leash?), we settled for the Upper Narbethong Teahouse, where you can tie up your dog to the tap outside the door. The weather being warm, a fire was set in our Cottles Bridge fireplace to be lit in the evening, and the flue was closed to keep out any flies. I may have forgotten to advise Jenny of this matter of flies and flues. Or maybe she forgot? Anyhow, we had a nice drive up to Narbethong and back to Cottles Bridge where, cresting the hill, we noticed our abode in the distance with smoke issuing copiously from every orifice (except the chimney). This is one of those times when truth dawns instantly and you surge into high-speed action, broadsiding to a halt while one’s beloved is forcefully enquiring what the hell are you doing to her happy home and related matters, while you hasten indoors through all the well-dressed guests with drinks in hand and eyes streaming, to find that, yes, your first-born ewe-lamb has lit the fire to warm the guests. What is more, noticing that the chimney is blocked, someone has operated the flue handle in reverse, causing it to detach from the well-jammed flue. Aha, you think, we need a stake to push it open. Where is the nearest stake? Of course, in Betty’s beloved veggie garden. Off at the double to get the stake into the fireplace; cough, cough, poke, poke, o joy, the smoke is cleared while the rather bemused guests cautiously re-commence breathing. Problem solved.

For a bit, all goes well, with witty speeches about the smoked sandwiches and smoked profiteroles and how we all love Betty on this her special day, and what a great surprise the party has been for her, even if she’s not wearing her best gear and make-up because she’s been to the Upper Narbethong Teahouse instead of the Windsor Hotel. Meanwhile, the caterer has arrived with a shortage of the fine foods ordered, but that’s ok because he’s brought party pies in lieu. On noticing my daughter’s unimpressed mien, he hastens to assure us that they are gourmet party pies, and withdraws in some haste with his cheque. By now, Limerick (the horse of a friend of the family) has found the gate into Betty’s veggies, which her spouse in his haste had left open, and reckons that this is a pretty good if unexpected birthday treat, one not to be missed. Problem solved.

All agreed that it had indeed been a day to remember, and who cares if the dog ate the birthday cake and your mum was a bit under-dressed for the occasion and the house and guests are a bit smoke-stained and the chimney needs a new flue and the horse has trampled all the veggies he couldn’t eat. After all, there are enough profiteroles and party pies to last a fortnight. Na, na na na, life goes on. If there be a moral to this tale, allow always for Murphy’s Law, Chaos Theory, plus the best laid plans of mice and men.

With all best regards during lockdown, and all best wishes for all the delayed birthday parties, and beware of leaving the tailgate open whilst the faithful hound is eyeing off the birthday cake.