This weekend has been an odd one. Saturday was my son’s birthday, which on reflection may well be the reason for my own age-based insecurities mentioned yesterday.
He turned 8, and is now older than my eldest was when their mum and I split up, which feels odd. He had a great day and was obviously over the moon at the attention he was getting - completely the opposite to myself at that age.
I bought him a couple of XBox games which he had asked for and then said that I’d take him and his sisters to lunch at the restaurant of his choice. He immediately opted for Subway, which drew moans and complaints from his three eldest sisters who chastised him and tried to make him change his mind. I reiterated to him that it was his choice and that we would go to Subway if he wanted.
He thought about it for a while before deciding that he wanted to go to Frankie and Bennys instead, which is where we ended up. Strolling into the restaurant, he immediately announced to the waiter that it was his birthday - a mantra that continued throughout the day with anyone we met.
We ordered and ate, my son whispering to me “when are they going to sing happy birthday to me?” each and every time the waiter came by the table. After ordering dessert, the waiter asked if my son wanted to be sung to, to which I replied he did. This was out of earshot of the kids, and ten minutes later the tell-tale sign of the volume for the music being raised was heard. This is the sign to staff that a birthday party is in and that singing is about to take place. I saw the waiter slowly walking towards the table, dessert in hand, his other hand gently cupping the flame that licked at the top of the candle he’d placed in it.
His concentration on keeping the flame alight as he walked was admirable. unfortunately, due to his attention to this, he failed to immediately see three girls and myself all trying to indicate to stop. Yes, believe it or not, despite having sat at the table for 90 minutes, that was the two-minute interval that my son had chosen to use the toilet.
The waiter looked up just a few paces from us and saw us all frantically waving. “He’s gone to the loo!” I said, and the waiter raised his eyebrows, nodded and turned around rapidly.
Seconds later my son skidded back into the booth, excitement all over his face. “I heard the music!” he said, wiser than his years. The waiter came back again, this time with the birthday boy fully in place, and we gave a decent version of Happy Birthday to him, which he absolutely adored.
A trip to town followed in order to spend some of the birthday money he had been given. Minecraft toys were the aim, and they were soon found and purchased. Middle daughter had been given £10 of her allowance in advance to enable her to buy a present for her brother. Somewhere between leaving the flat and arriving in town, the £10 was lost. I was furious that she seemed unable to look after her money. A quick retracing of our steps unsurprisingly turned up nothing.
It was after an hour or so of moping that she turned to me and said “I’m not upset that I’ve lost the money, or because I can’t buy the present I wanted to. Or because I can’t afford o go out tomorrow. I’m upset because you’re disappointed in me.”
“Yes, I’m disappointed,” I replied, “but stuff like this happens sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up over it.” I pulled her close and gave her a cuddle, but she was still upset.
To round off our afternoon, we decided to take a walk down Moulsham Street, which is the secondary shopping street in Chelmsford, and known for it’s unique and independent traders. They’d organised for the street to be closed to traffic for the day in an event they called “Independent’s Day”, which I thought was rather clever. We meandered down the street, taking in the various pieces of entertainment on display.
The Punch and Judy show was being performed to a collection of toddlers, all sat cross-legged in front of the tent, confused looks on their faces. Quite frankly, if they can watch Iggle Piggle and friends without too much problem, the sight of a male puppet beating his wife whilst shouting in a squeaky voice should be easy to cope with for any infant.
The Bay Horse had opened its garden and they had an inflatable slide for the kids to go on at 50p per go. Mine were naturally enthusiastic about playing on it, but I made them take in the entire street before coming back to it, primarily as I thought there would be something else to catch their eye.
As we got to the end of the street it dawned on me that the idea was sound, but the way it had been carried out left a lot to be desired. Even the promise of 10% in most stores didn’t really raise my spirits too much, and I felt that the whole event was aimed more at making money at side stalls than promoting the strength of the street, which is the unique shops it holds.
We strolled back the way we had come, stopping to have a go on the inflatable slide. The guy looking after the slide sat, unmoving, in a chair, fag hanging from the mouth the whole time we were there. If there was a face fit for Mr Apathy UK 2014, this guy was surely a front runner. Middle daughter decided that she didn’t want to go on the slide, instead cuddling up to me as we watched her siblings throw themselves down the slide.
After that, we ended up at Bah Humbug! The sweet shop sits towards the end of the street and is a favourite haunt of the kids. Despite being tiny, the walls hold just about every sweet you can imagine, and we stocked up on £1 bag of sweets each. I made a mental note that the treacle toffee was so sticky that it managed to keep the kids quiet while they ate it for several minutes.
Dropping the kids back to their mum, they all seemed as though they had enjoyed the day. I, despite having also had fun, made a promise to myself not to look at my bank balance for fear of crying.