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Simply Looks Like Fun

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Something makes the beach party go with a swing.

Simply Looks Like Fun

 

“Darling, what a clever idea. We’ll see you tomorrow. Must dash or my lasagne will be beyond crisp and you know what your father’s like about his food. See you tomorrow. Kisses to the boys.” I replace the phone and take a deep breath. Now I have to break it to him.

As I begin to serve up our supper he strides into the kitchen in search of a corkscrew. I begin the charm offensive, “How about a bottle of fizz tonight?”

This stops him in his tracks. Forty-seven years together makes us likely candidates for Mastermind, with each other as our specialist subject. He knows I’m up to something, even while my back is turned and I’m wrestling with the oven door.

“Broken something? Or have I forgotten a significant date we’re meant to be celebrating?” he asks sarcastically.

“Stop being so suspicious. I just thought that since it’s the start to the weekend and we have Jed’s birthday party tomorrow, we could…”

“Don’t remind me, I still haven’t abandoned all hope of coming up with a plausible excuse to get out of it.”

“Don’t be like that, darling. Susie’s expecting us. I’ve just got off the phone with her. Besides, we couldn’t wish for a better son-in-law. He’s so good with the children.”

I wish I could take that last bit back. He’ll take it as a criticism of his parenting. I’ve explained it countless times. Things were different when we were younger; fathers were expected to provide and be the ultimate deterrent. Anyway, he detests all that touchy-feely stuff. I know perfectly well why he isn’t looking forward to the party. Jed’s parents will be there and since the wedding, both sides of the family haven’t exactly bonded.

He doesn’t need much encouragement to open up a bottle of champagne. We sit across each other at the table. I dish out the food and he pours the drinks. Over the years, we have reached an agreement over the division of labour; although not entirely equal. As he raises his glass to me, he smiles, “I was thinking we can pop in there about three, do the rounds and be out of there within the hour, ninety minutes tops. What have you bought him? Anything half decent?”

“I thought you were getting him something?” I can’t quite carry this one off convincingly. He sticks his tongue out at me. Purchasing presents is decidedly on my list of household chores. It’s no use; I’m going to have to tell him. I try not to wince as I say, “There’s been a slight change of plan.”

This causes him to lay down his cutlery. “What now?” he manages to ask, once he stops chewing.

“Well, you know you’re always complaining about their ‘at homes’?”

“Ghastly, yes, where we all sit around like spare parts…”

I cut him off from one of his familiar set pieces and say, “Susie fancied trying something new. She wants to have a surprise barbeque.”

“But they live in a second floor flat.”

I can see him trying to work this one out. After a few seconds he splutters, “Good God, they don’t want us to have it here, do they? All the great unwashed traipsing over my flower beds. I couldn’t ….”

“Stop worrying about your precious fuchsias. They’re not coming here.”

“So where are they having it?”

Here goes. I swallow hard and then announce with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, “On the beach.”

“But it’ll be packed and…”

I interrupt and explain to him that it is going to be in the evening and yes, it will be late for the children and yes, I know he doesn’t like going out at night. But it’s our daughter’s decision and we will grin and bear it.

“I shall pray for rain.”

“You can be a miserable old sod at times. Besides, it might be fun”

“That really would be the surprise part.”

I prepare for a protracted sulk from him.

***

The next morning he surfs radio and television channels for a pessimistic weather forecast but all promise a weekend of unusually high temperatures with no threat of rain. I leave him to his own devices in the afternoon and prepare the salads for the party. I’d tried to offer my daughter money towards the cost of drinks, after all neither of them is working full-time, but she told me everything was under control and that we should simply come along and enjoy ourselves. I was expecting her to add ‘for once’ but mercifully she didn’t. Perhaps our daughter is blissfully unaware of how much her father hates these events.

An hour before we are due to leave, he goes on the offensive. “What on earth are we going to wear? God only knows what we’ll end up treading in? Owners never pick up after their dogs, it’s a disgrace. We’ll probably be crapped on by seagulls.”

I don’t bother to answer him on specifics. “We’re going and that’s final and if it’s the only thing you do, you will present to each and everyone there a happy and smiling face.”

He knows me well enough. I’m not bluffing. He goes upstairs and takes his frustration out on the bedroom furniture. The drawers and doors have become accustomed to his rough treatment over the years.

We live near enough to the beach to walk so we can both have a drink. He grumbles about the quantity of Tupperware we are having to take, although I made sure that I have the heavier bags.

“I bet we don’t get these back, or we’ll be given the wrong lids.”

I point out to him that each container and lid is separately labelled. I have never known him take so much interest in kitchen equipment. As we turn the last corner, the sea wind carries the sound of music from the beach. He mutters something about noise pollution, but I choose to ignore him. When we are about a hundred yards away our grandsons recognise us and race towards us. Their innocent play and requests for magic tricks will occupy my grouch of a husband while I help to lay out the food. I compliment Susie on the arrangements. She has attached balloons to the trestle tables and her sons have made a spectacular ‘Happy Birthday’ banner with multicoloured hand prints. They must have had fun making that.

“What wonderful food. Where is the birthday boy then?” I ask.

She explains that his friends have taken him to the pub and they’re not due to join us for at least another half an hour. The timing will be perfect, she adds, since it will just be getting dark and the fairy lights will be even more effective. She wants it to be perfect for him. She hugs me. I am touched by how much they always seem to want to please each other. I can’t imagine my husband organising a surprise party for me. Mind you, I think I’d die of embarrassment if he ever did. The notion is ridiculous.

A succession of people arrive with presents, cards, food and bottles. Soon, there are over fifty of us; all ages. Quite a few people are smoking. Susie normally worries, my husband says overreacts, about her children inhaling smoke. She doesn’t seem too bothered about it this evening. Strange, it doesn’t smell like regular cigarettes; must be herbal ones. Goodness me, she just took a puff herself.

My husband comes up to me. He seems very relaxed. He offers me a small biscuit from his plate, “Try one of these, they’re delicious. I’ve had half a dozen already. You must ask Susie for the recipe.”

My daughter was never keen on cooking as a child. Maybe it’s motherhood that’s brought on this new interest. My husband looks around him with a look of approval, which for once is not grudging. “Pretty impressive set-up they have here. Lights and music rigged up to that generator and a back up one too.”

His admiration is interrupted by spontaneous shouts and cheers which drown out the music. Our son-in-law appears, flanked by his parents and friends. He must have known that Susie was plotting something, but he acts the part well of the duped husband. The children lead us all in singing ‘Happy Birthday’. I am amazed at my husband joining in so heartily. He is even one of the crowd calling for a speech. Reluctantly, Jed agrees. There is rapturous applause when he finishes. This turns into whoops of delight as he kisses our daughter for what seems an immodest length of time. I usually find this level of public intimacy distasteful, but I am envious of their ability to be so comfortable together.

I pick up some cans and plastic cups which had fallen on to the ground. I might as well make myself useful. As I look for a bin bag, I knew I should have brought some, Jed takes my hand and all of a sudden we are dancing. The music is unfamiliar to me, it just sounds right in this uncustomary hot weather. I’m not sure of the right steps; I just sway. I am self-conscious but as I look around, nobody seems to judge or even notice me; they are all just having a good time. The children are jigging about, running in and out and between groups of grown-ups. A couple of our grandsons’ friends have made a camp under one of the trestle tables. Funny, normally I would panic about it collapsing on top of them and a frantic rush to A and E. But in the fading light, with shadows from the flickering candles, it simply looks like fun.

I catch a glimpse of my husband. He’s dancing with Jed’s mother. What’s this? Jed’s father good naturedly tries to cut in and they share a joke. I am too far away to hear exactly what has been said but they all seem to be laughing for an extraordinary length of time. The doctor has warned my husband about his alcohol intake. I excuse myself from Jed and work my way over to my husband. When I reach him, I whisper in his good ear, “Think you’ve had enough, dear.”

He assures me he’s only had two glasses. I believe him, but I haven’t seen him this…happy, in years.

At first, I think my watch is playing up. Then I realise it’s correct and we have been at the party for over three hours. Susie has introduced me to some of her friends. They seem ever so interested in my opinions. I haven’t talked so much for ages. I met a lovely couple of women. I thought they were sisters at first. I was surprised to hear that one is a police officer.

The music has been turned down and many people are sitting around in groups, but there is no sign of people planning to leave. I stand in front of the tables and as I match lids to containers, am grabbed from behind. It’s my husband. I listen carefully to check whether his speech is slurred as he announces, “We’re off sailing next weekend!”

“But you’ve never been in a boat in your life, unless you count the Isle of Wight ferry when the children were young….”

He explains how we are meeting up with Jed’s parents next Saturday adding, “Just because we’re knocking on, doesn’t mean we can’t be open to new experiences. I was thinking, if we get the taste for it we could get a boat of our own.”

Is this really my husband speaking? I link arms with him and kiss his cheek. He kisses me back on the lips. I am simply stunned. We are in uncharted territory.

“Let’s get you home, captain.”

I wonder what he’ll be like tomorrow.

.

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