Thursday, December 01, 2005

shhh...it's a secret

Preparations are now underway to organise my Dad’s 70th birthday party. You would think that, between the seven adults who comprise his children and children-in-law (yes, I am responsible for the odd number), this would be a relatively simple event to arrange. After all, we are all intelligent, computer literate people with a good sense of what Dad would enjoy on his big day and what little extras we can throw in to surprise him. You’d think that we could arrange a little get-together in a London restaurant without too much difficulty. Send each other a few round robin emails to confirm dates, times and venue, make the reservation and each book a babysitter. This is not rocket science.

But, three weeks after the suggestion was originally mooted, we have made very little progress. To begin with, this was largely my fault. After a phone call from brother #1, I got the ball rolling by sending an email to all the ‘siblings’ suggesting that we pencil in Sunday 18th January. Half an hour later brother #1 replies, pointing out that there is no Sunday 18th January. At least, not in 2006 there isn’t. The problem is that I have a new electronic diary. Actually, it’s one of those hand held mini-computer things, and it looks amazing, but the diary function is really fiddly. It’s not always clear what month you’re looking at. So what I thought was the 18th January was in fact 18th December. This wouldn’t happen with a paper diary and a pen – but it’s not my style to take the Luddite approach. Plus it’s lovely to be using a diary that doesn’t interrupt your annual flow in the middle of September with a glaring advert for WHSmith “Buy your new diary now while stocks last” – when what they really mean is “Buy your new diary now while the price is extortionate” because you know that if you wait until February they’re practically giving the bastards away.

Anyway, that’s not important right now. The point is that because of my attractive but rather confusing diary I suggested a non-existent date to hold the party. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to be slightly fazed by all this modern technology. Brother #1, in his haste to point out that 18th Jan does not exist, pushed the ‘reply’ rather than the ‘reply all’ button. (Well, it’s a very easy mistake to make, and let’s face it, we’ve all done it. Although, compared with the horror that can ensue if you press ‘reply all’ instead of just ‘reply’ I guess this is only a minor problem).

The upshot was, however, that nobody else saw his reply. Cue five more replies over the next three hours, all pointing out that there is no Sunday 18th January, and did I mean Sunday 18th December or Sunday 15th January or what? Not a great start.

Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration. Not all of the siblings replied immediately. Mainly because not all of them have a job, like mine, where you can sit at your computer without moving from the minute you arrive in the morning til the moment you put on your coat and leave at the end of the day. Now that I don’t have to send any faxes (remember them?) I can easily sit at my desk without moving for the entire working day. If it weren’t for the fact that the snack machine is on a different floor, I’d get absolutely no exercise all day. Though I’m not sure that it really counts as exercise if you only get up to buy a snickers. My siblings all have busy lives with proper jobs – they have meetings and everything – and they don’t have the luxury of hitting the reply button the minute a message is received. So it took about a week before we’d verified the date, all checked our diaries, confirmed with our spouses and then with the rest of the group, and finally pencilled in the 15th January for the big day.

There then followed a lengthy email exchange of venue ideas. Should we have a tea party at home? Book a restaurant for dinner? Go to the theatre? Should we bring the kids along or stick to grown-ups only? The messages went back and forth and slowly the plan emerged – afternoon tea at home with the kids (Dad’ll love that) followed by dinner later on in a restaurant for the adults (ditto).

Now as you (may or may not) know, my sister lives in Jerusalem, and we decided that it would be a terrific surprise for my Dad if we arranged for her to come over for his birthday. But in order to do that we had to be 100% sure that they would be free on the 15th before she booked her flight. And so I called my parents to try to speak with my mum and arrange with her to keep the day free and the secret safe until the 15th. The problem is that phoning home (funny how I still call it home even though I left my parents house almost 15 years ago) runs the risk of having to talk to Mum about this surprise visit while Dad is in earshot. I had to think of a ploy to chat to Mum without my Dad cottoning on. Luckily, Mum answered the phone. The conversation began something like this:

Me: Hi, is Dad there?
Mum: Yes, I’ll just get him.
Me: NO NO!! Don’t call him. Just tell me if he’s there?
Mum: Yes. Why?
Me: Okay, I just want to chat about his birthday. We’ve got an idea for a surprise. Just pretend that we’re talking about recipes.
Mum: Okay, I’ll just go and get my recipe book.

This year’s Oscar for Best Actress goes to…my mother. She not only got her recipe book out, but she opened it up on the desserts page and carried on the whole conversation as if she was giving me a recipe for apple pie.

Me: We’d like to have a tea party with the kids in the afternoon of 15th Jan.
Mum: Measure out one basic mixture of Evelyn Rose sweet pastry. Divide into two.
Me: Can you keep that day free? Are you sure you’re not playing bridge?
Mum: Refrigerate for half an hour before using.
Me: Then, in the evening we’ve booked a table for just the adults.
Mum: Chop four large baking apples into cm squares.
Me: And the piece de resistance is that H is going to come over. As a surprise. Just for a couple of days.
Mum: Add 100 grams caster sugar and 3 tablespoons of cinnamon.
Me: So will you make up an excuse to come to London that day and we’ll organise the rest?
Mum: Pour apple mixture into pastry-lined tin and cover with the other half of the pastry.
Me: Call me later when Dad’s in shul to confirm that it’s okay.
Mum: Bake on regulo 4 for 45 minutes.
Me: What the hell is regulo 4?
Mum: About 220 celsius.
Me: Oh.
Mum: Have you got an electric or gas oven?
Me: Why?
Mum: Because 220 celsius is gas mark 4.
Me: I’m not really making the apple pie.
Mum: Well it’s a very easy recipe if you do ever need to make one.

All this subterfuge and role-playing clearly went to Mum’s head because, later that day, I came home from work to find a message on the answer machine. It was from my mother and she was whispering. In a very faint, breathy whisper she’d said “Hi. It’s Mum. I’m whispering because Dad’s in the lounge. I’m in the toilet on the mobile. Anyway, the 15th is fine. I’ve told him we’re going to go down to see you all. Nothing special. He doesn’t know about H. I’ll call you with any updates.” Then there was a slight pause. “By the way, I forgot to mention. If you do make that apple pie, you should glaze the pastry with egg yolk before baking and prick the top with a fork.”

Operation Apple Pie to mark my Dad’s 70th is GO!

5 Comments:

Blogger MC Aryeh said...

The funniest thing I have read all week. The conversation between you and your mum is a classic bit of comedy. Should definitely go into the routine for the tour...

8:01 pm  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Half hour later and still laughing (though admittedly not continuously straight through the entire half hour..). Does the family not refer to H as telepathic kabbalist woman?

8:45 pm  
Anonymous Plony said...

Finally come up with a name for your blog (although it is possible that you were actually Plony and me Almony?)

love the story. your mum is full of surprises. Clearly, Apple pie must be on the menu for the tea!

PS - Are you sure your dad never reads the blog?

9:28 am  
Blogger R.x said...

mc - glad it made you smile. are you sure the american public is ready for (or indeed interested in) my mum's applie pie recipe?

plony - good name. i'd definitely have guessed it was you. can't remember who was who tho.
i'm assuming Dad doesn't read the blog. given previous posts i hope to god he doesn't...

10:40 am  
Blogger tafka PP said...

Hilarious. I concur with MC that this must become part of your comedy routine.

2:08 pm  

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