Birthday Largesse

The day before yesterday I slipped my son a fiver just before we stepped into a garden centre gift shop.

He grinned wolfishly.

”No,” Felix, I said, maintaining a thumb and index finger firmly on the five pound note, “this is not to spend on toys. It’s for you-know-what.”

”What?” Said Felix.

“It’s for…..” I raised my eyebrows Spokkily ”….a certain day.”

”What?” Said Felix. “What special day?”

Men. They begin training young.

”It’s a day”, I sighed wearily, “which starts in b-and ends in -day.”

Dawn broke across my son’s puzzled brow, but the wolfish grin never quite disappeared. My daughter assessed the situation swiftly.

“Felix….it’s Mum’s birthday tomorrow and that’s for a present!” she hissed in a stage whisper, to attempt to preserve some mystery. I had already slipped her a tenner, for I have faith in her ability to select a stylish gift.

It is a sad fact that occasionally, when one has a busy husband who works his socks off in the city, one must be the funding agent for one’s own birthday.

For gift giving, goes the wisdom, is an art in itself; and sometimes we teach children to make gifts themselves, and sometimes we equip them to buy a gift from a shop, because after all, that is what we would like them to be doing independently in later life.

Thus I had got just enough money out to give to my children to shop for my own birthday.

We lunched and browsed. Maddie ushered me away while we were in the pet shop.

This in itself was disconcerting. Would she hand me a moving parcel the following day? My love for hamsters is well documented and the children both adore my tales of my student hamster, Ben, who travelled in a small travel compartment back and forth with me to university.

Erk, I thought, and wished instantly I had not given Maddie enough to fund a four-pawed purchase.

My son was cruising the books. Most suitable, I concurred approvingly, and kept a discreet distance, busying myself among the pink and cream enamelled gift buckets and cat door stops.

A few minutes later the children had to all intents and purposes finished, but for one last request to go and see the tropical fish.

We gawped at neon tetra and angel fish and guppies and such. Felix stared with unrestrained admiration. If that fiver was not already gone, it was being fingered by a fish prospector right this moment. “When I grow up,” he ventured with unwarranted authority, “I want to have a fish tank.”

Sagely, I offered him the tale of every fish tank I have ever known. Felix, they are a little corner of death’s dominion on earth, I told him. Fish love to eat each other. Nature red in tooth, claw and fin, so to speak.

When we bought our house the delightful Cornish couple who sold it to us waited until we were speeding down the A303 towards our new home to tell us they wouldn’t sign the contracts until we had paid £500 for an outrageous built-in tank.

We hated that tank. The overbearing angel fish inside ruled like Stalin: every now and then it would turn its cold fishy stare on another fish in the tank and the following morning, the poor unfortunate would be gone.

A year later we were moving again, this time with a contract which specified decommissioning our expensive acquisition.

Son, I said, as we stood by the fish, think very carefully indeed before you get a fish tank.

We trundled home and the day wore on. Phil brought home stiff card and the children were dispatched upstairs to make cards for the morrow.

I woke at 5:30 with a head full of to-dos. For the family was decamping to a hotel in Oxford as my birthday treat. Dogs must be walked in the forest and then dispatched, cat left with mountain of chow, bags hurriedly packed, gizmos charged and ready for action.

My daughter appeared with beatific smile by my bed. “Happy birthday, Mummy! Would you like to open your presents now?”

She passed me a lovely card and a blessedly inanimate package, inside of which nestled sundry small cloth mice. One had a string pull which made it vibrate. Clever girl.

And in came Felix with a beautiful card. A tall tree with me at the top, smiling. That boy could charm the mothers out of the trees.

I opened it. Felix grinned wolfishly. Slipped inside, with the largesse of some grandiose uncle or other patriarch, was the five pound note.

Thanks, son.

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59 thoughts on “Birthday Largesse

  1. “Men. They begin training young.”

    I am typing in the dark, smothering myself with my pillow in an effort to keep my cackles from waking poor sleeping MTM. I hope you buy yourself something exquisite with that fiver, Kate, a thing that can’t be used by anyone but you. Enjoy your birthday trip to Oxford!

  2. He he, your son is another in such a long tradition. Men who can’t shop for women, but then we do so poorly for them.

    Fish, the most flush able of pets. The years I spent finding only the fish that would et flakes and worms but not each other!

      1. It has nothing to do with anything, Pseu: I needed to fill the blank feature pic- I’ve been away from home and blogging on the iPad – and I chose one of my favourites. It’s a gateway at Basildon Park near Reading.

  3. What a cute story, Maddie with her very thoughtful gift and young Felix knowing that what you gave him was so valuable that to gift it back was the very best thing to do.

  4. Happy birthday, Kate.

    You told this birthday tale so well. Me, over here, sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what Felix would do and the brilliant boy (not to mention the equally brilliant girl) comes up with the perfect gift for the moment. I would be tempted to keep that fiver hidden away for a one of your, or his, birthday many years hence and regift it with your story.

  5. Happy birthday, Kate!

    My world continues to populate with marvelous Aries birthdays. Happy sighs. And that Felix, what a charmer.

    “If that fiver was not already gone, it was being fingered by a fish prospector right this moment.” How I love that.

  6. So sweet!!! Happy Birthday Kate. So you are an Aries like Capt Sensible! My Ye Olde Mystical Booke (pub 1970) says “You possess an appealing and persuasive personallity. You have ability as an orator. One aspect in this horoscope shows a judicial and perceptive mentality couples with a high-strung nervous system. You are extremely fond of your family and friends. You may be fortunate in business and vocational affairs. You are artistically inclined.” Hedging bets towards the end there, I feel.

    I love the sound of your “student hamster.” Like the student prince – the Mario Lanza of hamsters.

    1. And he was, Jan, he was. A prince amongst hamsters. If the train compartment was empty enough I used to get him out to have a bit of exercise on the long haul from Southampton to Reading. Lovely chap.

      And Ye Olde Mystical Booke isn’t far wrong 🙂

  7. Yesterday we read of Snow White . .. today it’s all about Prince Charming! 🙂 Good job, Felix!

    I, too, am amazed by the number of Aries personalities I’m discovering in my world. Maybe there’s more truth than we know in that old axiom, “birds of a feather. . .” Happy Birthday, Kate!

  8. Now you have an excuse to take yourself shopping . . . at the bookstore! Then you MUST tell Felix what you purchased with his wise gift.

    Sounds like a lovely birthday, Kate.

  9. I hope you had a wonderful time with your special birthday plans. You deserve to be celebrated, and it is obvious to me that you have the greatest gift possible in your lovely family…I do, too, but I admit I like a thoughtful present once in a while. 🙂 I miss the children’s small gifts, and now enjoy that same delight in what Sophia and Karina want to give me. Last year Sophia insisted that I needed some pretty soap! I’m not sure what that implied 🙂 I love your family stories best, Kate. They warm my heart. Happy Birthday! Debra

    1. Yeees…not the most sought after birthday gift for most women, Carl! Mind you. My gift was an extra drive to store all my photos on and a copy of Microsoft Office…so you never can tell…

  10. Kate–I’ve missed way too many of your posts while I was overwhelmed with work and just ruthlessly deleting everything in my inbox, as if that could clear my mind too, but I’m glad I caught this one, if only because it gives me a chance to say I’m so glad you’re alive and have opened your beautiful window on the world for us to admire. Many happy returns of the day, as well as thank you for sharing your many gifts.

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