A 21st Birthday to Remember
“I’m not really excited. I don’t want to get older,” she says.
And still she’s up at 8. She, my daughter, who wants to stay a teenager forever.
It is her 21st-teen’s birthday.
Her face when she opens the first present shows excitement, though. When she opens the second, a collection of miniature bottles of fruit-infused vodkas and brandies, she declares that she’s just imagining we’re in America where the 21st is so much more special as she can now legally drink.
“Even here, your 21st is still special. It just is.”
Morning routine interferes with more opening of presents (it’s Monday and she has to go to a funeral – of all days on her birthday; and I have work to do).
But first, I have a secret errand to run. Birthday Girl might suspect that a better cake is in the offing when the confectionary on the birthday table only consists of two Red Velvet cupcakes, supermarket-bought, with no candles.
I make my way across Thanet to a genius cake-lady’s house. Little Brown Fairy Cake. I’ve asked her to make a peacock cake. And she has.
It’s absolutely wonderful: two layers covered in iridescent blue-teal icing with more of the same in different colours building an image of a peacock’s tail, finished off with glitter and hand-drawn fronds and feathers. A glittery 21 sits proudly on top of this stunning masterpiece.
Now I have to get it home, keep it safe and secret all day, then transport it to Canterbury for our special meal in the evening. Easy, you think.
Cake safely stowed in the foot well, I set off like an old lady driving at 13 mph and maybe 3 around corners.
Then it happens. It goes as quickly as it comes – the car beeps loudly and flashes STOP in big red letters.
“No! I have to get home.”
Heart-pounding, I creep forward and nothing more happens until I turn the corner into my own road.
“BEEP!” accompanied by a short flash.
“Shit! Not today!”
I park, tell my 21-year-old to go to her room (something I rarely did when she was younger) and carry the cake into mine. I squash the 2 slightly. Oh well!
Birthday Girl is allowed back in the front room, where nothing has changed.
“Oh, that was disappointing,” she says. “I need a lift. I need tights.”
The dazzle in my heart is fading, slowly replaced by frazzle. I smile. I beg the car not to beep while she’s in it. It does. She freaks, as I knew she would (a left-over from an accident 8 years ago).
“You have to get that looked at.” Her voice is full of fear and panic.
I know I do, but I have no money. I beg the universe to let it be something simple.
Back home, I phone my garage only to be told that they can’t do anything for me until Thursday.
“That’s not good enough,” I say and hang up.
The frazzle grows. What do I do now? I have to work this morning, then pick up our best friend, drive the cake to the restaurant before parking and meeting Birthday Girl. I have no time to deal with a temperamental car.
Nor do I want to stop half-way to Canterbury and wait for 3 hours for the AA to arrive. So I drive to the Accident Repair Centre run by my neighbour – he may not do mechanics, but he has knowledge and advice. On the way there (3 minutes in total) the BEEP BEEP BEEP and STOP STOP STOP goes absolutely berserk. Shaking like a leaf, I park on the hill by the garage when a diagnostic flashes up for the first time.
I see myself in a ditch somewhere.
My neighbour is busy, so I pace and wait. The frazzle is pounding through me like a jackhammer by now.
“Please let it be something simple.”
It was. After consultation with a mechanic friend three buildings over, the men reckon they have the answer. My brake fluid is low. It’s difficult to tell, because the cap and container are so well hidden. Nevertheless, they’re sure. They disappear and come back with a can and a funnel with hose hopefully long enough.
They pour and pour. They inspect and pour some more.
“Yes, it was low on brake fluid,” one of them declares.
They drop the hood and switch the engine on. No BEEP. No STOP.
I drive round and round the town, looking for the steepest hills – it was the sloshing of what had been left that caused the warning, they reckoned. The car purrs along but otherwise stays silent.
I drive home, much relieved, and text Birthday Girl that the car is sorted.
Half a day later, we all manage to meet up in Canterbury and get to the restaurant without my daughter realising that I’ve already dropped off the cake to be brought to the table by the phenomenal people at Café Des Amis.
It’s Happy Hour, so we start with cocktails (expect for me as the designated driver).
Food. The choice, the phenomenal, delicious choice. Everything looks so amazing. In the end we settle on a favourite chicken dish, a yummy-sounding burrito and a duck sizzle for build-your-own-fajitas for 2.
Do you know that feeling when you’re really hungry and your food arrives and you look at it and you think:
“That’s never going to be enough!”
Initially, silence reigns as we absorb the multiple layers of flavours. Until the first rush of hunger is satisfied. Then we start to share and compare experiences. All food is unparallelled. Everyone is happy with their choice. By the third fajita, I begin to feel pleasantly sated and I still have one to go. We all eat slower now, and talk faster.
I watch my Birthday Girl and glance at the time.
“This time, 21 years ago, I was in pain.”
Finally, the table has been cleared.
Full, we’re pleasantly full, lingering in that satisfied land before we have to decide what to do next when we hear it.
“Happy Birthday to you…”
Accompanied by song and the entire staff (I think), the cake is brought to the table.
Birthday Girl goes bright red, her eyes as round as saucers. Pictures have to be taken before she’s allowed to blow out the candles – I hope she’s remembered to make a wish.
The whole restaurant is watching, some with amusement, others with envy on their faces.
The cake is imposing, magnificent. A thing of beauty and grace.
What a shame it has to be cut. The knife is ruthless, and then the first slice appears.
“It’s chocolate with Baileys frosting,” I explain. “And the bottom layer is chocolate with peanut.”
“My favourites,” my daughter groans.
Now that the slices are on the plate, they have to be eaten.
The cake, a light, moist, fluffy, chocolatey moorish mouthful of perfection. Followed by another and another.
The frosting, where you can really taste the Baileys. Have you ever indulged in eating your favourite spread straight from the jar? That pure decadence of dipping in the spoon and licking it off. That is how good the frosting is and I don’t like frosting – normally.
Similarly, I don’t like icing, which is normally white, bland crunchiness, or indeterminate, sickly sweetness, which I peel off and discard. A world away from this soft and silky-smooth sweet seduction.
Combine two of the elements or be bold and take a big bite incorporating all three and you have endless taste combinations, one more amazing than the next.
First a visual feast, then a party on your palate.
Beyond pleasantly sated, I am now stuffed to the gills. But that’s the joy of a special evening, a special meal with special friends in a special restaurant and topped off with a special cake.
I get a stitch on the way to the car, which I have to fetch as we’re not carrying the cake all the way to the car park.
Home later that evening, we have to have some more cake, and some of the fruit liqueur.
Full, fuller, fullest.
So I went from dazzled to frazzled to full on this very special day.
And Birthday Girl? She said that it had been the best day of her life.
What more can you ask of a 21st birthday?