I’ve just celebrated (sic) my 41st birthday. Last year I revelled in turning 40, as I used the milestone as a thinly-veiled excuse to experience all manner of excitement under the guise of 40 Days of Fun… When we originally planned these, the intention was to mix up occasional indulgences with closer-to-home (and cheaper) experiences – like picnics with the kids and so on.
As I’ve written before, that’s not quite how it turned out. But now my birthday has rolled around again, I have been asked to confirm that I did, in fact, enjoy 40 Days of Fun. So, here goes: in chronological order…
1. We went to see the migrating birds at Slimbridge. An amazing spectacle.
2. We took the girls to Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I’m not a massive fan of musicals, but this is a terrific show.
3. We saw one of my favourite comedians, Mark Watson. This evening took a stranger turn when we tried to drive home from Bath. Severe snowstorms came down, meaning our cars ended up practically skiing down the roads around Bath, and driving on the wrong side of the main A46 home. It took 2 hours to do 20 miles.
4. Once the snowstorms had died down, we had great fun building snowmen and igloos.
5. We enjoyed a fantastic Sunday Lunch with The Brealy Bunch, long-time friends we don’t see often enough.
6. Rachel and I enjoyed a blissful pampering evening at Le Spa in Cirencester
7. We had a blast at The Cheltenham Gold Cup with friends. Champagne and canapes in the car park, followed by quite a few pints of Guinness, an occasional win on the races, rubbing shoulders with the toffs and not-so-toffs, followed by a cheeky curry and 7 people in a VW Golf on the way home!
8. We saw our very good friends Leonie & Martin, Richard & Jo, and Andy & Izzy (and young DJ) – home visiting the UK from Singapore, including a tremendous dinner and somewhat overpriced lunch at the otherwise lovely Kingham Inn
9. I enjoyed a very amusing clay-shooting session, courtesy of my brother Mike, who also introduced me to the charms of a proper country cap! That afternoon was even more special as he asked me to be his Best Man (more of which later)
10. Dad treated me to a complimentary wine tasting evening. Lord knows why we were there, but the wine and nibbles were lovely, and apparently there were people trying to sell us outrageously expensive holidays, in the sorts of villas where they just assume you’ll be bringing your own staff with you!
11. We saw Waiting for Godot, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Just wonderful.
12. Rachel treated me to an evening’s cookery course at The Chef’s Table in Tetbury. Omnomnom.
13. We saw Lennie Henry starring in Othello. He was actually very good
14. We hosted dinner with two very good friends, Pete & Gerard, who also turned 40 within a few months of me. I’ve known them for over 10 years, since we met on a wine-tasting evening class in Cheltenham. I dread to think how much wine we’ve drunk together, but the quality is definitely improving as we get older.
15. Rachel and I returned to Overwater Hall, our favourite retreat in the Northern Lake District. We spent part of our honeymoon there and have returned several times since. It’s proper unreconstructed hospitality, and astonishingly good food.
16. While we were there, we walked up a mountain. True, Catbells isn’t the biggest of peaks in The Lakes, but it gives great views over DerwentWater, and up the Newlands Valley. And it had poured with rain all morning, so we only had an afternoon (that’s our excuse…)
17. We visited Tarn Hows, another beautiful spot near Hawkshead. I had spent a week volunteering with The National Trust around the Monk Coniston estate in 2008, and indeed it was the setting for one of Rachel and my first ever trips away together (ahhh)
18. We entertained more very good friends, Becca & Anthony, for a huge Sunday Lunch. Luckily for us the children all ran upstairs to play, leaving the adults to get stuck into the dessert wine and discuss the merits of Bob Dylan and U2…
19. I had my first (and probably last) Surfing Lesson at Bigbury in South Devon. Suffice it to say that someone of my age and plank-like flexibility was always going to struggle…
20. We had a fantastic time on Bantham Sands with Leonie & Martin and their terrific kids. We discovered by chance that we were renting cottages barely 600 yards apart, and the great weather during May half-term made for a fun-packed week
21. A lovely day in and around Salcombe, including a Boat Trip up and down the estuary, pasties fresh from the butcher, and a wonderful visit to the National Trust property at Overbecks.
22. Rediscovering Dartmoor and Exeter on the way home from South Devon. We went back to Haytor, where I had proposed to Rachel nearly 12 years earlier, and found that Exeter City Centre is no longer shabby…
23. Had a great time at Katherine’s 40th Birthday Party – where I enjoyed Stewart’s terrific retro playlists and we drunkenly plotted a future camping trip…
24. (There’s definitely a Food theme running through this – how come I don’t weigh 20 stone?!) Gill & John came for Lunch and we laughed. Lots.
25. Caitlin & Alan & Lou & Tom came for Dinner, and again, we ate, drank and were merry.
26. I had a blast from the past at Jackie’s 40th Birthday Party. I hadn’t been back to her parents’ house since we had a party or two there as students. This was more sedate, as it was a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon, there were toddlers and children playing everywhere, and I met up with many old friends we don’t see very often
27. Kate & Ben came for Lunch, and we (probably) set the world to rights.
28. After the School fete, we enjoyed the terrific local sound of ABBA’s Angels! A kind of West Country Bjorn Again, they gave everyone just what we expected. It was pouring with rain, the marquee was leaking all over the place and it was standing-room only. Hilarious.
29. Gerard, Pete and we fulfilled a promise to ourselves from over 8 years ago, and went to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for Dinner. We feasted on the 1o course Tasting Menu, and for good luck indulged in the delights of the Cheese Trolley as well. Omnomnom doesn’t quite do justice to this experience.
30. We had a great day in London with John and Claire, going on The London Eye, exploring The South Bank, then back to theirs for dinner
31. Experienced the fantastic Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. Hannah enjoyed an enormous slab of cake, we heard stories and sat in the great man’s chair. Best of all, we met up with my dear friend Fiona, visiting from the States with her lovely children.
32. We borrowed the kit, but successfully tried our first Family Camping Weekend at the Cotswold Farm Park. In a generally ropey summer, we went camping twice and got very lucky twice!
33. We saw U2 in concert in Cardiff. Despite the best efforts of the godawful Glasvegas, the gig was astonishing.
34. I enjoyed an incredibly civilised day at Lords in the Members’ stands, as a guest of John. England were mostly hopeless, but the picnic, wine and company were terrific.
35. The drunkenly-planned camping weekend with Katherine & Stewart, John & Justine came off beautifully. We had a great late-night campfire and wonderful weather.
36. Tetbury Music Festival is a gem of a weekend. We saw Steven Isserlis give a masterful recital on Saturday evening, and our cellist friend Sarah even persuaded him to show her his £6m cello… then the following evening we basked in the warm glow of The Sixteen’s gorgeous choral singing.
37. Shappi Khorsandi is a very funny writer and comedienne. We saw her at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.
38. Rachel and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at No.65 in Tetbury. It’s sort of like dining in someone else’s living room, but we were the only customers that night, so it made for a nicely peaceful, intimate evening.
39. We went with my brother Mike and (his then fiancee) Kate to see Eddie Izzard in Cardiff. Often side-splittingly funny, I loved his depiction of a velociraptor getting stopped for speeding.
40. New Year’s Eve with Julian and Juliette. This has become a bit of a regular event for us in recent years, probably because they’re such great friends, our children get on so well, and we don’t ever have to try too hard. Excellent time at the Harpenden Duck Race on New Year’s Day.
41. (and one for luck) I took Mike to see the terrific Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People at The Bloomsbury Theatre in London; a terrific cabaret evening of science and comedy hosted by Robin Ince…
42. (and another one) Mike and Kate got married. The girls were bridesmaids, and I was Best Man. Aside from a couple of small fires during the reception, and one of the girls vomiting, all went smoothly. It was the best day of fun not just of my 40th year, but quite possibly almost any year. Apparently I fell asleep in an armchair in the hotel bar cradling a glass of Lagavulin. Like that would ever happen.
Roll on 50…