Friendship, cake and poetry


It was my birthday at the weekend, and I must say I approached it like a dog going to the vet. This is NOT a good time for the sort of existential stock-taking that birthdays tend to trigger. Nope. So I set about digging some defensive earthworks – almost literally, as I spent much of Saturday morning weeding the back garden. A lovely friend invited me to dinner, but said to come at 6 so that her daughter could wish me happy birthday. It’s hard not to melt when faced with a chocolate cake sprinkled haphazardly with tiny marshmallows and the telltale trail of small fingerprints in the icing. ‘Mummy made it’ said Anna, aged four and three-quarters, while Mummy mouthed ‘Waitrose’ over her head.

The next day was spent with another chum and family, wandering around Borough market and the river in the fleeting sunshine, fuelled with chocolate brownies. ‘Look, there’s another one,’ we’d say, diction gluey with cake, pointing at the odd Lycra-clad medallioned marathon runner who was still able to walk. Good on em.

The only task I had for the weekend was the choosing of a poem for my mother’s memorial service. I poked around the bookshelves and managed a surprisingly hefty haul of anthologies. I had no idea I was so cultured. Though truth to tell, one of them was a schoolbook, with various works illuminated by my curly cursive in the margins. ‘Metaphors from nature’ I’d pointed out helpfully beside a poem called The Sea. More blush-making still, ‘He is a coarse man. He uses coarse language’ alongside a translated chunk from The Miller’s Tale.

Besides confirming the long-held suspicion that I was the world’s dullest adolescent, reading all that poetry did something to my head. It rearranged the furniture, opened the windows and threw out some old crap that I’d been holding onto for far too long. One of the anthologies was edited by Daisy Goodwin, 101 Poems to Keep You Sane, where she reproduces Sydney Smith’s advice on fighting low spirits. (Yes, it’s prose – what’s the point of being an editor if you can’t change the rules on a whim?). When I went looking for an online version to link to, I ended up reading more Sydney Smith observations. A lovely man – and very sound on the subject of tea.

Finally, by Wendy Cope, in her collection Serious Concerns, from 1992, which my brother gave me all those years ago. All her poems are wonderful, but this – this plopped like a gobstopper straight into the sad spot in my heart.

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.


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