Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Cecil Harding and I am a gentleman of leisure.
I live in a large house with Mother, and apart from a brief yet nonetheless unpleasant spell behind bars, I have done so all my life. We have an arrangement, Mother and I: so long as I agree to leave her to herself of an evening, she does more or less everything I ask of her at all other times. What she gets up to in those few hours is none of my business, and I am happy to keep it
that way - we all need our own ‘ space ' in these modern times, and I am no exception. I have everything I need in my rooms to keep me entertained until Morpheus comes for me. More often
than not, I ' ll lose myself in a book - my quarters boast a modest but well-stocked library - and it is not uncommon for me to wake in the morning with the book still open on my lap, the contents of its pages having fuelled my dreams.
Not so this morning, however. Today is one of the days a chap in my fortunate position lives for - a day when family and friends come together in joyous celebration of … well, yours truly.
For today is my birthday.
You find me sat up in bed, pillows plumped, not with my habitual book on my lap, but instead a tray laden with more breakfast than any man could manage which Mother has kindly brought up to my room. What would I ever do without her!
She has already laid out my wardrobe for the day – I ' ve never much been one for sartorial co-ordination - so I take myself off to my bathroom and perform my morning ablutions.
Washed and robed, I descend to the kitchen where Mother has presented my post neatly on the table. I take a seat and set about it as she looks on, hands clasped and smiling. One by one the cards are opened and messages read aloud as I place cheques and cash aside. All in all a handsome haul! Fifty pounds from Uncle Bertie alone - dear old Uncle Bertie. I hand the monies over to Mother - I allow her full control over my financial affairs. Life ' s too short for that sort of thing, and after all, what is life if we cannot trust the ones we love?
Mother pours herself a coffee and asks if I would like something. I decline the offer and instead take myself off for a short stroll to take the morning air and clear my head.
I spend the rest of the morning reading in the garden - a little calm before the storm, if you will. We ' ve decided on a lunchtime celebration this year, dinner parties having in recent years proved too taxing for the, shall we say, more mature guests, nodding off and curbing the enthusiasm of we brighter, younger things.
My reminiscing is curtailed by Mother ' s shrill call from the kitchen window - a car has pulled up outside. I glance at my watch - they ' re early. I close my book and make my way to the front door to ‘ meet and greet ' . I am unsurprised to see that it is Gerald - he ' s normally the first to arrive at such events. I wouldn't say Gerald has a drink problem - not yet, at any rate - but he is certainly fond of the stuff, and true to form he rushes past me in the hallway with a cursory
“ Happy Birthday ” and makes a beeline for the liquid refreshments. Mother appears with a tray of nibbles and the party has officially started.
The rest of the guests arrive promptly at noon, and after an interminable succession of well-wishing and gift-gathering, I join everyone in the living room to rapturous applause.
Uncharacteristically I blush, so wonderful it is to see the happy faces of so many dear friends and family members. I must be getting sentimental in my old age! I take a bow, and a drink to steady the ship. Gerald is already on his third, but it ' s my first of the day - got to pace myself, don ' t want to make a fool of myself like last year. Besides, Mother will be watching: my conscience embodied.
The music starts up and the festivities commence. To get everyone into the spirit of things ( not that they need much encouragement! ) we begin with a game of Pass the Parcel - still terrific fun after all these years. Appropriately, dear Aunt Flo wins the whoopee cushion prize and hilarity ensues. She sportingly joins in the mirth, unabashed.
I challenge my peers to a spot of croquet on the lawn, and we leave the crinklies to aperitifs and chat. I pair up with Sarah, a game girl with ruddy cheeks and a twinkle in her eye. Sally and George make up a brother and sister team, leaving poor Pamela no choice but to partner Gerald, by now on his fifth, but who ' s counting? He may be the life and soul, but his aim is lousy, and what with the siblings ' incessant bickering, Sarah and I romp home to victory. The high-jinks have worked up an appetite, and we are glad to hear Mother ' s call to dine. Arm in arm, we all head back inside, singing raucously.
Mother has prepared a sumptuous buffet lunch. My eyes agog, I load up my plate with a mismatched assortment, take a deep breath, and mingle with the old folk. I can feel Mother ' s gaze on the back of my head as I dutifully remember to thank each one for their generosity and splash about in the intellectual shallow end of idle chit-chat.
Having done the rounds and in need of a breather, I grab a glass of the hard stuff and take myself “ far from the madding crowd ” and upstairs to my room. I stand by the window, listening to the lively hubbub below and watch the others indulge in another game of croquet.
We ' ve been friends since kindergarten - I ' ve known them so long they ' ve become almost part of me. I ' d be lost without them. A squeal of delight wakens me from my maudlin daydream - it would seem Pamela has enjoyed more success now that her handicap is asleep in a deckchair!
As I drain my glass there is a knock at the door. It ' s Mother - I ' m needed downstairs. We share a private embrace at the top of the staircase, then descend to rejoin the others.
As I enter the room, a rousing rendition of “ For He ' s a Jolly Good Fellow ” bursts forth from the assembled throng. They part, as they sing, clearing a path to Mother who lovingly holds my cake before me. As I walk towards her, the singing switches seamlessly to “ Happy Birthday to
You ” - I take a deep breath, and blow out the candles. The sound of cheers engulf the room and I see Mother mouth “ Make a wish! ” as she sets the cake to one side. I look around at all the smiling faces. There ' s Gerald, back amongst the living and with another glass of orange squash in his hand; Pamela, beaming with pride at the frilly pink rosette Mother must have given her; George, sticking chocolate fingers up his nose as his little sister Sally looks away in disgust; and Sarah, impatiently asking her mummy when the party bags will be handed out. It ' s all too much - perhaps the fizzy pop I just had upstairs has gone to my head, but I ' m suddenly overwhelmed and burst into floods of tears. I bury myself in Mother ' s dress and she holds me tight. But I suppose it ' s all to be expected … after all, I ' m only eight.