DUTY AND THE FEAST

“HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY YOU OLD GIT!!”

My husband opens one reluctant eye and glares at me over the crumpled duvet.

“Could you not have waited just 10 minutes more before dragging me out of oblivion? Kylie and Danni will not be happy that I’ve had to remove myself from the naked locomotion at such short notice. What time is it?

I look at the clock. It’s only 7.30am. The ‘surprise’ party doesn’t begin until noon but I need a few hours to remould my pillow face back into its pre-sleep position. By the time Piers Morgan has offended most of the British public and Lorraine takes over the helm the creases should have ironed themselves out (marginally) so I can be allowed out in public.

“I’ve got a surprise lined up to celebrate you still having your own teeth and hips dear husband. Granted it’s not Miami as previously planned, but hopefully it will be fun and will involve friends, food and alcohol. You need a shave and Brian needs to be walked”

The greying haired form opens his other eye and yawns. “So basically, it’s like any other normal weekend pre Covid but I’ll be officially inaugurated into the SAGA club along with all you other oldies”. He suddenly pauses mid sentence, reality dawning, “Ooh do you think they’ll bring me presents?”

I leave the man child to ponder the merits of Tonka toys and trifle and head to the bathroom to wash away my misgivings. Organising a birthday party in lockdown February hasn’t been the easiest of tasks. We are forbidden to leave Mijas so the only guests I can invite are from within this allotted area. Old friendships have been resurrected and spanx have been dragged out from the back of the dusty knicker draw. Luckily for us, a good friend has offered us the use of his wonderful restaurant in the hills ‘The Carob Bar’ and has decorated 5 socially distanced tables with balloons and frivolity. Party food and a compère will be provided alongside a cake baked by a willing accomplice.

Surprisingly, all 18 people accepted the invitation to celebrate this landmark birthday, no doubt relieved to be able to step out of the confines of their sunny prisons to pretend that covid hasn’t as yet destroyed their sanity or livelihoods and the past year had been nothing more than an MSG induced hideous dream.

I look at myself in the steamed up mirror. I guess it’s time to resurrect my party face with the help of Mr Rimmel and Mrs Revlon.

“Are you going to be long mum? I’ve got to clean my teeth for school!”, yells the 15 year old from the teenage pit.

Sighing, I place the trowel back on its stand. The facial grouting will just have to wait awhile.

A few hours and several layers later I’m adorned in my disco spangles and gripping my husbands hand for dear life. My trotters have been crammed into a pair of 4 inch heels that haven’t seen the light of day since Bros were in the charts. I feel like the worlds oldest drag artist as I step into the restaurant alongside the smartly attired birthday boy. Masked faces turn in unison and wave greetings of recognition, ageing elbows are banged together in the new socially accepted way and laughter embraces the room. My husbands face lights up like Blackpool illuminations on a November eve, and he grips my hand tight in a way I haven’t experienced since this whole pandemic began.

Friends I haven’t seen for almost a year smile with optimistic eyes as laughter is muffled behind an assortment of elasticated fabric. Everyone searches for their allocated tables and embrace the freedom that this special birthday allows.

The room is alight with animated chatter and glasses are raised in celebration. I internally breathe a sigh of relief and remove my mask to inhale the vodka that has been placed before me. A game of ‘Singo bingo’ suddenly erupts and all of us who remember life in the 1980’s are suddenly transported back to the days we were allowed to gyrate alongside hormonal strangers and kiss whoever appeared wiling after several Pernod and blacks during the 2am erection section of the local disco.

I turn to my husband. He’s having a whale of a time. Yelling the lyrics to a Bon Jovi tune and smiling at his friends scattered around the room. Another glass of jack Daniels is placed in front of him and he removes his mask to take a sip. I catch his eye and he mouths ‘thank you’ and nudges my knee with his.

I smile and congratulate myself that I took the chance to embrace this day, to look forward to the future we will all hopefully achieve and enjoy the remnants of the past we were privileged to live.

“Time to waft out the cake”, yells a voice from behind the bar and my husband rises and smooths down his shirt. No one is allowed to blow candles out anymore. That was the privilege of yesteryear. All eyes are on him, today is his day. Applause ripples around the room and I can feel the man who was reduced to a husk not so long ago, embrace his new found stature and march over to the sugar laden trophy.

“Go waft em cowboy”, I whisper to his retreating form and raise my glass to our future, whatever that may be and more-so, wherever it may be.

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THE HOKEY JOKEY

“Marcus, theres a chap on TV who has five wives, five! They all have different skills and he chooses which one to visit at bedtime based on that! If you had the choice of five wives… when would you visit me??”

“When the other four were busy, Paula”

…and so 2021 begins. We have a little more freedom than the U.K. but not much sign of the vaccine. The new midnight is 6pm and most hangovers are achieved by the time Coronation Street begins. Bums are shoved off bar stools while the sun is still in the sky and we sit sombre back in our individual prisons, staring at the gogglebox wishing we could be ordering a kebab instead of watching overpaid northerners play themselves.

We’ve also moved apartment again. The latest one has just 2 bedrooms and we don’t have to sell a body part to pay the rent. Nobody can visit us here from the UK so there’s no point in paying extra for a spare room. The balcony is the size of a fridgefreezer but Brian still finds space to fling his ball around it and if we all sit close together at the table we can eat our evening meal in the last remaining sliver of sunlight as we watch it set over the Andalusian mountains.

We are managing to put food on the table when many families can’t and that is something to be grateful for in these trying times. Days of the week have no meaning apart from weekends when we treat ourselves to a Sunday roast at whatever establishment has managed to weather the storm and keep its shutters open to cater for the residents.

Facebook is now full of people clamouring to relocate to Spain, unaware that post Brexit the rules have changed and you need to be in possession of deceased relatives inheritance or a substantial hedge fund to even be able to request residency. Trevor and his wife plus 3 kids want to know if €10,000 is enough to step over the border for a new life in utopia meanwhile spanish home owners are stuck in the U.K. because they failed to apply for residency while here or left their little green card on top of the wardrobe nestling underneath a pair of redundant flip flops. Desperation fills the forums. No one asks what the weather’s like in February anymore.

Meanwhile British pensioners roam the empty aisles of Iceland, unrepentant in their choice to exit the E.U., seeking out the solitary tin of baked beans nesting in-between it’s Spanish interloper. Fully stocked trucks are taking weeks instead of days to arrive over the borders with the taste of home steadily rotting in its enclave. Here is where you’ll find me today in Mijas, standing at the till gripping a much coveted bottle of salad cream, biting back the bile as I listen to yet another deluded expat, indignant about the lack of crumpets in the empty freezer, spouting without irony that this isn’t what they voted for on the 2016 referendum.
I join in the conversation without invitation or forethought, “What did you vote for then, the resurrection of Winston Churchill or just the incarceration of your grandchildren?”
I slam my euros onto the counter and storm out. I’m furious with those that have disabled our offspring from experiencing freedom of movement and equally angry at those who were too apathetic to vote at all.

So here we are, in limbo once again. Exactly one year into Covid-19 and still no idea when we can drink overpriced vodka in row 17F.

“So what are we going to do for my 50th next week then, have you arranged anything? I bet the other 4 wives would have organised their husband something spectacular involving wrestling and jelly” a voice yells from the confines of the solitary bathroom.

I sigh and turn the volume down on the rantings of a surgically enhanced housewife with more money than style residing in Orange County.

“What would you like me to arrange darling? A socially distanced orgy? We can’t do anything, we’re not allowed to do anything. I’ll push the boat out and let you watch Game of Thrones again and throw together a meat feast pizza. I may even shave my legs to mark the occasion although it may look like a small Gorilla has been murdered in the bathtub”

Silence greets my reply and I can feel the petulance radiating through the stone walls.

I smile to myself and look down at my phone as yet another message flashes up on the private group chat, “we’d love to attend the surprise party, let me know where and when and we’ll be there! Is it tables of 4? Can we sit with Bob & Doris? I’ll make a cake!!”

Placing the phone on my lap I look at my chipped toenails and stained jogging bottoms. The face reflected in the TV screen isn’t the one I arrived here with. The past 3 years have definitely taken their toll.
I make a promise to myself, tomorrow I’ll get my Jane McDonald face on but today… today I’m comfortable in my Covid-couture, ensemble, enjoying the company of Kevin Webster and celebrating the fact that we are still alive.

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