My battle with Time is legendary, but last week just seemed to disappear in even more of a blink of an eye than usual. One moment it was the beginning, the next it was the end. And I'm not quite sure what I achieved in between.
Looking back, it's fair to say it was a week of ups and downs. We know it started badly (previous post) with post holiday blues and a general sense of dislocation from my normal life. Tuesday was unexpectedly up; Wednesday was down-ish; Thursday was up-ish; and Friday was, well, the end of the working week and the start of the World Cup. Say no more.
The weather remained vile and unseasonal all week which clouded my mood considerably. The house felt dark and lonely and the garden - normally my sanctuary - looked cold, unappealing and so very sad as its early summer finery was lashed by winds and rain under leaden grey skies. All was lightless, both within and without. I love tennis, and Queen's was on, but even that seemed melancholy under the same grey, cold skies. Summer should be about sunshine and Pimms, smiley faces and Ascot, hot summer colours and long warm evenings. Yet here we are, fast approaching the longest day, and still it feels like winter. Why do we live in England? Let alone the north west. It is a question I have frequently asked myself these last seven years...
Yet today, as I write, I am looking out on a tranquil, green, bucolic, quintessentially English landscape, with sunshine fading in and out from behind white fluffy clouds and my question is answered for me. It can be so very beautiful.
So, if you remember, Tuesday was my birthday and it was looking bleak on Monday night. The usual birthday girls' lunch had fallen by the wayside because of a clash of dates with a school trip that one of my friends was accompanying, having forgotten it was my birthday. We re-arranged for Thursday, but it left me with nothing to do on The Big Day. If the weather had been good it would have been no problem - I would have been happy as Larry (who is Larry anyway?) at home in the garden in the sunshine. But a day cooped up indoors with nothing but my chores for company and rain lashing against my windows was not wholly appealing as a way to celebrate my declining years.
When N got home on Monday night I was past caring about my stupid birthday. I had resigned myself to nothing much. The one set of friends I had called - my special Italian friend and her pilot husband who we don't see enough of these days - were hoping to come but hadn't confirmed because he was only flying back home from Jo-burg that day and had to get back up here from Heathrow with a car with a dodgy exhaust, sleep deprivation and a Governors' meeting to go to. The others I would have loved to see were only just back from two weeks in Spain and might not be able to get a babysitter at such short notice. N took control (mercifully). He grabbed the phone and booked a restaurant I love which we only ever go to on my birthday. It is at the Cavendish Hotel in Baslow. On a fine summer's evening you sit outside at white wrought iron tables, sipping your drink and perusing the menu with a splendid Peak District view stretching before you. The food is fabulous and the dining room lovely - a beautifully proportioned room with tall Georgian windows reaching up to the ceiling and down to the ground. I am very happy there even if the weather's too awful to sit outside first. There's an equally attractive seating area with oil paintings, sofas, armchairs and low lights to calm the soul. I was feeling better already.
Birthday morning dawned with much whispering outside the bedroom door, cups of tea, home-made cards and a smattering of presents. I opened the girls' cards but then they had to dash for the school bus so we left the rest till later. N returned from taking them for an hour at home before heading off for a meeting. He suggested I come in to town and have lunch with him. Behind the curtains the day was as foul as predicted, so a little shopping in Manchester and lunch seemed highly preferable to all the jobs which were lining up for me at home. So I had a shower and drove to the station, getting there as the train pulled in (my timing was a little tighter than even I had expected). I spent the journey responding to Happy Birthday texts and then stepped straight off the train and into Accessorize. And then Monsoon. By the time I was nearly due to meet N I hadn't even progressed out of the station concourse! Still, I was happy and had bought a couple of lovely dresses and some other bits and bobs. No shoes. Can never get shoes. Tricky feet.
I hopped on a tram, feeling very grown up and independent suddenly (too many years now spent in parochial small towns) and had flashbacks to another life in London. Seems so long ago sometimes. We met at our favourite Italian restaurant, Piccolino (though not before I'd managed to squeeze in a flying - and successful - visit to DKNY. It was my birthday, after all). Although it is part of a small chain, the Manchester venue is unarguably the best. Its atmosphere and style really makes us feel, for a brief moment, that we are back in Italy in a glossy yet gritty urban sort of way. It just has BUZZ. And I particularly love it at lunchtime. We started with a glass of prosecco (a lifetime's habit begun in our Italian days) and eased smoothly into a nice glass of white. Paper thin prosciutto, ciabatta toast and a delicious olive tapenade were produced, on the house. We then had a fantastically garlicky tomato bruschetta and I followed that with a small risotto (which they enlarged for me!). N and I had a lovely chat - so nice actually to spend time with him, during the week, without the children. Again, it reminded me of our pre-children Italian days when I would go and meet him for lunch on a regular basis, so easy in Milan and Padua, so much more difficult here. I always felt it was a way of staying connected during the day, especially when his days are so long. We ordered coffee and the bill. It came, but not without three of the waiters first producing my favouite pudding (affogato - vanilla ice cream with expresso coffee and amaretto poured over it) complete with candle and a fulsome rendition of happy birthday. The whole restaurant clapped. It was a lovely moment. Very simple, very sweet. The child within is never far away, I sometimes think.
So I bumbled out of the restaurant (N relieving me of some of my bags) and scooted off down to House of Fraser, which was the one shop I had originally intended to go to. I had about 10 minutes at best to pop in and then grab a cab for the station. As I hurtled through the cosmetics on the ground floor, heading for the lift, a voice called out 'Have you got a minute?'....
(to be continued)