Birthday madness and the aisle of many cheeses

I had to go to the supermarket – the kids had gone and eaten the food again – and I decided to get some cheese to go with our spaghetti dinner.  When you want a particular cheese, you really notice how many there are on offer, ranging from the absolutely inedible ‘plastic’ cheeses specifically designed to adorn burgers to rustically packaged Camembert that shows up with almost clockwork regularity on Come Dine With Me, accompanied by crusty bread they have bunged in the oven and pretended to bake.  There were about 20 different types of Cheddar alone and I found it mildly intimidating, to be honest.  And then there was the Quark.  Before today, I thought that was just something I’d heard Brian Cox wittering about – the trendy physicist, rather than the versatile actor – or even an avaricious character from Star Trek.  But now I know that it’s also pretend cheese.

There’s a back story to this cheese hunt.  Recently, our household has been experiencing ‘birthday fortnight’; it’s like Wimbledon fortnight, in as much as it happens every summer, is ridiculously expensive and invariably ends in sweaty exhaustion.  Sadly, there are no generous sponsors, no trophies and it isn’t narrated by John McEnroe, but on the plus side, I don’t have to entertain any members of the royal family or maintain a pristine lawn and it isn’t narrated by John McEnroe.

It isn’t really a fortnight, to be honest – it’s very nearly three weeks – but the structure is this: my birthday happens first and is ‘celebrated’ in an understated way with shop-bought cake and the possibility of takeaway food so I don’t have to cook.  When I don’t cook, that’s a treat for everyone.  Ten days later, it’s my daughter’s birthday and this is taken seriously.

There are birthday traditions in this house:

  • I make a cake, based on something they like at the moment and the design is a surprise, which involves me making the cake two days before the birthday so I can decorate it the following day.  This also means that once the decorating starts, the birthday child has to be kept out of the kitchen, which is an extra gift to them because it absolves them of tea-making duties.
  • I make a card, based on something they like at the moment and featuring the birthday person somehow in the design.  The acquisition of photo-editing software made this much easier than when I used to do it using scissors and paint.  This also remains a secret from the birthday person, so they aren’t allowed within sight of my laptop screen.
  • I make a poster, featuring them doing something odd-looking and with a ‘humorous’ caption.  This goes on the living-room wall for them to see when they get up in the morning.
  • I draw and write on a couple of balloons and hang them near the bed of the person in question once they’ve gone to sleep.

They seem to like these traditions.  The youngest, who has just turned 13, certainly does, although the others may be humouring me on the last one.

So, as I said, it goes: my birthday, ten days later – elder daughter’s birthday.  Three days after that is my father-in-law’s birthday, for which I don’t have to do anything except buy the present and the card, then wrap the present and tell my husband what we bought, so he won’t look surprised when it’s unwrapped.  Since it’s almost always some DVDs, he’s unlikely to look surprised, but better safe than sorry.  Four days after that, so one week after my elder daughter’s birthday, it’s my elder son’s birthday AND my younger daughter’s birthday.  They are not twins.  There is, in fact, 11 years between them and they were both born on a Monday.  I’m considering hiring them out as proof that astrology is nonsense, since they’re very different people apart from the dry sarcasm that my children all, inexplicably, share.

You may have realised by now that the birthday traditions, as outlined above, become quite complicated when two of your offspring share a birthday, but are 11 years apart and don’t like the same things.  I start making their cards and posters early so that the two days I spend, entirely in the kitchen, making and decorating cakes are not fraught with the added stress of knowing I have those jobs hanging over me as well.

But that’s not all.  Two days after the double birthday is my father’s birthday.  This year, he turned 90, which is quite special, so I made him a cake and a card.  I didn’t sneak into his house and hang balloons by his bed, because I don’t think killing him with a heart attack is the ideal way to start his 90th birthday.

So … back to the cheese.  I decided to make a cheese board, which isn’t a group of people who sit around making decisions about cheese as you might suppose, but a small selection of cheeses, arranged on a board – or a fancy tray that came with a garden candle – and accompanied by some crackers.  Amongst these cheeses was a garlic roulade, which absolutely nobody wanted to eat, so I ended up sticking it in the pasta and it tasted quite nice.  So that’s why I ended up in the supermarket, looking for cheese for the pasta.  Which reminds me of the final birthday tradition – living on leftovers.

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12 thoughts on “Birthday madness and the aisle of many cheeses

  1. Okay, okay, so you’ve convinced me why you were already worn out by the time you got to the cheese aisle, but I hold you to a higher standard than mere mortals, so I was disappointed when more was not related to us re/ the cheese selection at the end of your piece. I was not yet ready to stop reading you at the end of this story, which was hilarious, as usual. I cannot believe that you haven’t been tapped to have a column in some newspaper. You are funnier than Bombeck. Not a compliment. Fact.

  2. Pingback: Birthday madness and the aisle of many cheeses | grieflessons / a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

  3. Well that’s quite the compliment. She always reminded me of my Aunty Mary, to the point that I bought her a copy of ‘If Life is a Bowl of Cherries … ‘ Very funny – so thank you very much for that. As for the cheese, I really was just looking for roulade to throw into the pasta after the happy ‘leftovers’ accident that made me realise how nice that tastes. Any lazy cooking tips you care to share … feel free. Just remember I’m veggie! 😉

  4. I love your unpretentious tales of domestic life and dairy products. My inlaws anniversary (golden this year) is on 6/7. My birthday’s on 7/7. My only sibling’s is on 8/7. We have children’s birthdays on 16/7, 18/7 and 23/7.

    • Then you understand! We have another batch coming up with my mum’s on 10/10, niece’s on 11/10, nephew’s on 13/10 and my sister’s on 15/10. Funny how it works out – but I have a pretty big family so I suppose probability is at work. Thanks for the comment 🙂

    • My birthday is 3/7, my sister’s 9/7, and when I was growing up, my best friend’s birthday way on 1/7, her father’s on 3/7 and my other best friend’s on 28/7. With our nation’s birthday on 4/7, July was a busy month for me, too. I’ve tried to think of what about October prompted so many births 9 months later, and I’ve decided it was the onset of cold weather in the plains states. Also, during months without snow and when the days were long, my rancher father was probably too exhausted to create babies by the time he got home. My other sister was born in June, but if I were to consut an almanac, I imagine that in the year of her birth, there was unprecidented cold and snow in September. Interesting to think back and try to imagine what prompted one’s birth!!!!

      • I love that you wrote the dates European-style. Probably saved me a minute of puzzlement. Not too sure I want to do the conception maths though. 😉

      • That is the Mexican-style of expressing dates as well. I can no longer remember which is which when filling out forms! Perils of living in two cultures.

        As to your reluctance to face conception sleuthery, I recently told my niece to ask her mother as many questions as possible before it is too late, that I regret so not asking my mother a number of quetions that have come to me since her death. My niece asked me what questions and I said, like what my birth was like and whether my parents enjoyed sex. My niece responded with the predictable, “Ewwwwww–something I don’t want to think about!!!” I, however, continue to think that it would be reassuring to discover that they did. It would make up for my mom’s never finding a boyfriend “to dance with but not to kiss” in the 30 years between her death and his and for the long years of his illness, when he got crankier and crankier with her as the only person to whom he was able to express that one remaining vestige of virility: anger. J.

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