Birthdays

George cake cuttingNinety years ago this week, a baby boy to whom his parents gave two names entered the world; he was George Arthur. Ever since, for various complex reasons, there have been two distinct groups of people, one of which has always known him as George and the other, as Arthur.

Despite falling firmly in the George camp, Kate and I were honoured to be invited to join a distinguished group of ‘Arthurs’ proudly celebrating his birthday at a small dinner. The venue for this, the guest list and even the menu was organised and selected by himself. Throughout the day he had been showered with gifts, with cards and with best wishes although none of this prevented his first putting in a couple of hours gardening, raking up fallen leaves from his back lawn. The guests at the meal were his friends and his peers – hardly surprising, therefore, that we represented the younger contingent – and inevitably one begins to speculate on one’s own future at times like this. As we approach George’s age will we too have the energy to keep the garden tidy, the presence of mind to remember our birthday and the strength to cut a cake to celebrate it. Ben's birthday partyFinally, a few days after the meal, as companion to my mother, he jetted off for a few weeks’ holiday in Hawaii. I am greatly encouraged by his comment about needing to be equipped with shears to deal with the grass skirts out there. There’s plenty of life in him yet!

Also celebrating a birthday this week is our son Ben, considerably younger and far less sober than George, as can be seen in this picture. He is of an age when one just doesn’t ask too much about what he gets up to late at night – it is better not to know. One just has to hope that it is legal. All we know about his birthday is that he organised a ‘tea party’ for his friends and at some point this picture of him was posted on Facebook. And he is not likely to be jetting off to a Pacific island any time soon.

On our way back from the meal with George we popped in on friends Rich and Gerry and repossessed our long-abandoned cycle trailer, something we’ll be putting to good use around Yeovil when we need to transport building supplies. Sailing Barge Greta in FavershamThe mice who had lived for a time inside the body of the trailer while it languished in storage in Rich’s garage had left their bedding behind (along with one or two smaller gifts) but the wheels still spin happily and no harm has been done.

Then whilst away from home we found time to visit a few more old friends down in the mud-silted ditch they call Faversham Creek. There was a time when out sailing in this area we would regularly cross the paths of the sailing barges Greta, Lady of the Lea or Repertor during one of their match racing events in the Swale or the Thames estuary. On more than one occasion we found ourselves returning home to our mooring on the River Medway just when such a race was beginning or ending and steering smartly aside to avoid being crushed by one of these beautiful lumbering giants.

Stepping onto the quayside at Faversham today is like moving into another century, home as it is to so many of the surviving barges. This is one of the few places left in Britain where all the skills needed to maintain and sail these vessels are being kept alive. Each time we visit there is a new restoration project under way and our old favourites, like Greta, gleam with new paint. How all this activity is funded, how those working on these big restorations are paid for their efforts, is a mystery but I am certain that without the quay on Faversham Creek most of these hard-worked old ladies would be lost to us and the skyline of the east coast of England would be forever changed.

Finally on the subject of birthdays, one of our builders admitted having one of his own this week. Andrew has a talent many would admire, particularly those engaged like us on house improvement. With consummate ease he can lay a film of plaster on a wall, regardless of the angle, and produce a perfect surface, smoother than a baby’s bottom and minus the smells. Watching him closely as he runs his float over what we think is a finished section of wet plaster, we experience a mild panic that he is going to spoil the surface he has just created. But no. He slides his fingers over the surface to sense the moisture then glides on another layer, his efforts always bringing a slight improvement, even when it seems impossible to better what he has already done. The job is done and our steel beam now lies forever hidden. The illusion is complete.

Although we will be needing their help again elsewhere, the two brothers have now completed re-modelling our downstairs space so we must now crack on with the painting and decorating. We have run out of excuses now. The hard work starts here.

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