One of the blessings of a “milestone birthday” away from your family and your best friends is that the people who you do have around make an extra special effort to make the day magical and memorable, and those you can’t be around tend to tell you things which they wouldn’t necessarily say if you were around them.
I was lucky enough to be able to go back to Oxford in the weekend prior to my birthday and celebrate with some of my friends there, and then with Marcus’ family the next evening.
A lovely dinner, bottle of wine and endless chatter with my friend Charlie from university started off the Oxford birthday weekend nicely, and the following night saw a group of us enjoying cocktails and some somewhat inventive dance moves out in Oxford.
Although some of my closest friends couldn’t make it, those of us who were out made sure we had a wonderful time. We seemed to have the city to ourselves and not many people were about, but all the better to make claim to the dance floor! It wasn’t a crazy night, but it was a fun one.
The next night Marcus and his parents took me out to a lovely Chinese restaurant where we were met by his sister Amanda and her boyfriend James. It’s an incredible thing to be on the other side of the world to your own family, yet to have another family who truly make you feel a part of them.
It was such a nice night, and saying goodbye to Mama T at the bus-stop the next day where she gave me an extra special hug I had to fight to keep the tears at bay, and a similar sensation occurred when I received a beautiful message from Amanda later that afternoon. So much love made me miss my own parents and siblings a lot, yet at the same time made me so grateful for the family I have here. Getting back to Brighton I found a bouquet of beautiful flowers waiting for me out the front of the flat. Opening the card I found they were from two of my best friends from Melbourne. Again, the tears welled up, but again I managed to keep them at bay.
On my actual birthday I woke up to open a bottle of champagne and a chocolate hamper from my Dad, Stepmum, brother and Granny, and a gorgeous signet ring from my sisters to replace one I had since childhood and lost 2 years ago. I managed an unexpected Skype chat with Dad and co. Rather cheery, I went to work and after registering delegates for the workshops we were hosting that day, I managed to take calls both from my Mum and older sister, Tennille. Following that and sitting at lunch at a nearby restaurant surrounded by the couple of hundred delegates another surprise was awaiting me. My workmates had organised a gigantic piece of cake surrounded by profiteroles and accompanied by a chocolate sauce message saying “Happy birthday Skippy”.
Needing some help to polish it off, I was very well fuelled to enjoy the rest of the day before heading home to get ready for a nice romantic dinner with the man. Once again I was greeted at the door by a beautiful bouquet of flowers, from another of my closest Melbourne friends, Gee. Beginning to wonder if we were destined to start a florist, I showered and readied and Marcus and I headed down to one of our favourite restaurants, Terre a Terre.
On the way, Marcus realised he had forgotten a gift, one he was determined I was to open over dinner, so left me to make the reservation time and ran back to the house to fetch it, and glad I am he did. Handing it over just before the mains arrived I opened it up and found a book inside. Opening up the first page I was greeted with a photo of my dear friend Rene, and a beautiful letter she had written. I saw the photo, and no longer could those sneaky tears be held at bay. Page after page followed, full of pictures, messages, wishes and some of the kindest words I have ever read. It truly made me realise that I am so very proud of the life I have created, and the friendships I have forged and so very grateful of the people who make that happen. I may have missed all of these people so very much this year, but to know that even with time and distance separating us, we are all still as close as the day I left, made me feel so very loved. It made me think, if I was back in Australia, sure, maybe I would have had a party, maybe I would have had more people around, but I doubt I would have had the same sentiment expressed as I did over here, or appreciate the book and messages inside as much as I do, so even if I could, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.