It was my birthday at the end of June and I decided to have a proper celebration last Saturday, leaving it a couple of weekends for various reasons. I wanted to try and get a fair number of my friends together for it – they are diverse bunch and I thought carefully about what I could arrange that would be fairly low key and appeal as widely as possible. I settled on having a bbq in Preston Park with invitees bringing their own food. My first mistake was choosing an outdoor event! I spent no small amount of time worrying about the weather and disappointing people if it wasn’t good enoug to bbq. I had a panic the Monday before where I managed to convince myself that if the weather was bad everyone who turned up would stand and stare at me in undisguised boredom and/or contempt. Not that I hadn’t a back up plan – that was one of my first decisions after choosing a bbq. My back up plan was to head to the nearby pub. A plan that, in all likelyhood, was not going to go down badly.
So I had my panic and my housemate talked me down, nice chap that he is. As the week wore on I spent more and more time obsessively checking the weather forecast and wondering what the day would bring weatherwise. I was anxious about when to make the call to abandon all plans to bbq, especially as people would be bringing food with them. I was anxious about parking near the park. I was anxious about us managing to meet up (even though, at the suggestion of another friend, I had specified meeting at the clock tower). I was anxious that my friends wouldn’t get on. I was anxious that no one would turn up. I was anxious that people would turn up and I would disappoint them. All this anxiety, though, is pretty much par for the course in my life. In fact, I suspect that I would find things to worry about, bbq or no. At least the focus of organising a bbq meant I had something to look forward to at the end of it and a constructive focus for my anxious tendencies rather than random/unanchored anxiety.
I remember wailing to Martin (my housemate) on Monday, very possibly with full dramatic lip wobble,
‘Nothing ever goes right for me unless I plan it to the nth degree, things never just “work out in the end” for me!’
Oh the melodrama!
As it happens, we drove into Brighton (Martin very kindly drove), found a place to park immediately and also realised we parked right near the bbq spots. We were also in direct line of sight to the clock tower. Result! The weather was fab in the afternoon – blowy but very sunny and warm. The next lovely thing was that friends started showing up. For once I didn’t have to turn up somewhere on my own and wait, because Martin, his son and I got there together. I started on making up the Pimm’s (which has somehow become my signature contribution to outdoor events in the summer) and permitted myself to feel pleased. Then other friends started appearing. Michele was first, followed closely by Juan and Elona. Juan immediately got involved with the bbqs; he was my partner in fire-creating-crime for the staff bbq I organised at work recently.
While I am off on a tangent about the staff bbq – I organised a bbq for approx 80 people on a budget of £3 a head (money recouped by donations from attendees). That was a bit scary, but organising a bbq for my birthday with only my friends was scarier. Perhaps because the people at work were a captive audience – I had managed to negotiate with the Head of School to have the bbq as the last School meeting of the year which was a fairly popular decision. And I had more help with the staff bbq. Perhaps also because my birthday mattered more personally. My professional reputation may well have been more at stake with the work bbq, but my feelings and my sense of identity within my group of friends were much more at stake with my birthday celebration.
Back to the arrivals of my friends. Harry showed up soon after, and was subjected to a mild inquisition about his recent vegetarianism. Next to arrive was Mark. Later on some of the group with whom I jaunted to Amsterdam earlier in the year arrived – Jason, Rob, Grant and Kevin. Even later, when I had completely relaxed and forgotten who else I’d invited, James (there are many people called James I know – this was a chap from work) and his girlfriend showed up. We cooked loads of food, worried a bit about food poisoning, drank and were merry. At some point I stopped finding things to faff about with to distract from my anxiety and relaxed. The weather was fab and I was surrounded by lovely people who clearly had an interest in celebrating my birthday. I brought chocolate gingerbread cake (I make myself a birthday cake every year, because I love making cakes). Elona decorated it with leftover strawberries and it looked fabulous when she’d finished with it. James started off a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday and I thoroughly enjoyed being the centre of attention. I haven’t had any one sing me Happy Birthday for years and it was wonderful! They sang so loudly and I jumped about and threw my arms in the air so joyfully that we attracted stares from the nearby group of people bbqing. I was thrilled to bits!
After all that we played frisbee for a bit and Martin very kindly drove back home with the rubbish and left over bits, leaving me free to linger as long as I liked. People had started drifting away by this time, but a few of us were still sitting chatting at 7.30 pm. I remember interjecting to a conversation between Mark and Harry, where the objective was to persuade Harry to use twitter. I remember Michele bringing fabulous chips from Bankers and a bunch of beautiful flowers. I remember enthusiastically recounting my recent dating fail, which amused those that hadn’t already heard it. I remember lying on my back, staring up at the sky, listening to the conversation around me and feeling incredibly happy. I remember recieving many thank yous for organising a get together, which I find amazing; I organised it simply because I wanted to. I wanted their company and I wanted to do something fun and make a bit of a fuss about my birthday. They obliged me, not the other way round.
There are other friends who I know wanted to make it and couldn’t, so thank you to all of you: those that came along on Saturday and those that couldn’t/didn’t, you are all instrumental in my life. I would be nowhere without my lovely friends who keep me sane, listen to my neurotic ramblings and for some reason continue to find me interesting. You are all wonderful and I love you all dearly, you know who you are.
Once things wound up, I went for a lovely wander along the seafront with an especially dear friend meaning I didn’t have to go home too early, but could step down from the business and bustle of a largish group which is what I needed at that point in the day. I normally struggle with winding things up/finishing things, but it all worked perfectly. I got to do the shouty, organisey, in charge bit; the fun, chatting, soaking up sunshine, drinking bit and the winding down with philosophical musings bit. What a perfect day!