50

So it’s here. The number 50 birthday bus pulled up outside my house and I jumped on board. I’m sitting upstairs at the front, peering down at the drivers head and so far it’s a perfectly nice ride with comfy seats and plenty to look at.

old image of number 50 bus

Ting, ting, fares please!

As is often the case, waiting for the bus to arrive was painful. It took forever and I got cold and wet, because while actually being 50 doesn’t really bother me, this impeding birthday did provide me with an opportunity to examine all aspects of my own life with a powerful electron magnifying glass.

A friend actually gave me a magnifying glass as a birthday present, but I don’t think I need it. As usual I scrutinised myself and I didn’t much like what I saw. Sigh.

And then when I’d got my knickers in a proper twist about my teeny life and universe I tried to work out how to celebrate my birthday. Party? Dance? Dinner? Day out? Night in? Night away? Grown ups only? All inclusive? Shouldn’t care. Doesn’t matter. Yes it does. Aaaggghhh…

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz WW Denlow illustration

“I’m melting, I’m melting”. W.W. Denlow from ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’.

Eventually I chose my mode of celebration: tea and cake with friends. Phew. And then with perfect timing, my very own knight in shining armour rode in and whisked me off to Naples for a surprise weekend. Oh the excitement!

Naples as I can now report, is a fabulous city that lives and breathes its own history. It stands in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius which could blow at any time. In fact an eruption is overdue, so this great natural time bomb is a powerful presence. And while the streets are coated in a layer of grime, noise and graffiti – all of which I quite like, there is history everywhere; beneath the pavements, behind the walls and in the daily life of the city.

Naples collage

In a dim and dark back alley, we saw a family chapel filled with the most beautiful and extravagant renaissance art, as well as two human bodies stripped of everything but their circulatory systems – a mass of veins and arteries. And inside an anonymous apartment a bed pushed into the wall revealed steps to a roman theatre, recently unearthed in the family’s cellar. Excavations now continue underneath 89 occupied apartments.

Naples collage

We were taken on a candlelit tour through the tunnels and caverns of the old Roman aquaduct that was later used in the last war as a bomb shelter and by nuns to store wine. I also understand it was a place of horrendous torture. That wasn’t on the tour. We came across a shrine to football’s Maradona in a coffee shop and visited an exhibition of tiny nativity scenes that we could only see with a magnifying glass and torch. The smallest was set into a seed and the head of each tiny figure was made with a single grain from a pear’s flesh.

collage naples

And so in Naples I was reminded that there are wonderful things to see everywhere; just look carefully and shine light into dark corners to see unexpected treasures. I think perhaps the magnifying glass I was given will turn out to be a splendid present after all. Note to self: remember to appreciate what I see.

Back home and revitalised, our initial idea to have a few friends over for tea grew like topsy (who’s topsy?) into a vintage afternoon tea for…errr…sixty five people. And we invited guests to bake a ‘Showstopper’ cake as on The Great British Bake Off TV show.

A good party (when you’re under 10 or over 40) starts with an invite to set the scene and inspire. I put mine together on Powerpoint, using lots of fonts that are all listed at the bottom of the post.

bake off birthday invite

On the invite I made it clear that people didn’t have to bake and I’m so glad I did. Not everyone is a born baker or has time. I don’t want people to feel guilty, I just want them to be there. We would’ve had way too much cake anyway and that would just be obscene.

So we ended up with a ratio of one cake to about 6 guests. Maybe this could be supervised (i.e. check who is and isn’t going to bake), but I did a quick guestimate and thankfully it worked out perfectly.

felt bunting

The final week was a blur of organisation and preparation. I kept decs simple; paper balls and fans in the kitchen and homemade triangular felt bunting in the (newly painted) dining room. The vintage china came out, Carole brought her supplies too and so the tea table was ready to receive cake! Lots of cake.

vintage teacups & pot

The fun really started when Fergus and Erin and our girls donned their pinnies and chefs hats and got baking. We set up workstations on trestle tables and they had an adult each to help. We managed oven space amd time carefully, covered the kitchen in flour, had a LOT of fun and ended up with some great cakes.

bake off collage
I can wholeheartedly recommend the bake off idea, whether or not you have children to hand. Guests bringing cake to the table is lovely and it can work for many ages and occasions. Of course it also reduces the cooking workload, but don’t be under any illusion that the party becomes easy. There’s still plenty to do and buy and organise, but it’s all so worth it.

Come the day, the first knock at the door; guests arrive with cake and smiles and tea is served!

tea table

ta da!

There were savoury treats as well as sweet. Carole and Ross rolled up their sleeves and made a shop’s worth of cucumber, ham and cheese sandwiches and stuffed 100 mini bagels from the Rinkoff Bakery with salmon and cream cheese (maybe a little too much Ross) and there were homemade sausage rolls. We served fizz, tea and fruit punch in vintage teacups and lemonade in bottles with straws for the kids.

Oh and the flowers. Marie filled vintage cups with beautiful posies of flowers and dotted them about the place. Everywhere. Beautiful. She’s a professional florist and it shows of course, but you could achieve a similar if simpler effect with little tied bunches of spring flowers.

Vintage flowers collage

I love that the whole party was a group effort and it suited me perfectly that the cakes were the centre of attention, not me. It is slightly (very?) ironic that while I love creating parties I’d rather not be at them! On the day I just want to hide and let everyone else enjoy themselves.

bake off cakes collage

Erin’s white chocolate and raspberry tarts, Fergus’s disco brownies, Alice’s mehndi lime cake and Elsa’s birthday cake biscuits

The true stars were the cakes and their bakers. We even had cakes from two friends who’ve never baked before – yay!

We planned to do some judging but I couldn’t bring myself to choose one over another. They were all winners to me. Judge for yourself.

cakes collage

So cake and friends turned out to be the perfect birthday for me and now here I am sitting on that number 50 bus. I’ve paid my fare and I don’t mind being onboard one little bit. I have opportunities to explore, grow and change right into middle and old age (hopefully!), so the journey promises to be an interesting one. For these days, while our children grow up faster we have the chance to stay young for longer. Three cheers to that!

Oh and three little cheers to Tumblr for easing the path into 50-ness. I’ve just signed up for a Tumblr account and had to write my age to register. Declaring it openly was definitely a test of my cheerfulness at turning 50. This is Tumblr’s response…

Tumblr registration page

Thanks Tumblr. Bring it on!

50 cushion

Credits:

  • Number 50 bus photo by JGS Smith
  • Various birthday pics: Ross Sleight & Miklos Kiss
  • Invite fonts: Cursif, Postino Std, Carnivalee Freakshow, American Typewriter, Ecuyer DAX, Copperplate, Bernard MT Condensed, JFRingmaster, Baskerville
  • Luverly ’50’ cushion by ‘Of Little Consequence’
  • Danny, Carole & Ross – amazing, thank you xxx
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