gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

And whatever you do, don’t look the ducks directly in the eye

  

It’s not every Saturday you get to enjoy a punt on the River Cherwell and champagne and strawberries in the sunshine at an Oxford college.

The alarm clock exploded at 5am. Both the dog and the hens looked in bleary eyed disbelief that the two legged beings were dressed up and heading for the airport at such an early hour. Believe it or not, Gillyboy number 2 is coming to the end of his second year in college at Oxford, it doesn’t seem that long since I wrote about him leaving home. Proud parents are invited for a second year garden party- how very English! And prior to the party Number 2 treated us to a trip on a punt along the river Cherwell. 

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. The punter generally propels the punt by pushing against the river bed with a very long pole. A punt differs from a gondola, which is propelled by an oar rather than a pole, is found in Venice and costs romantic souls a small fortune to hire for an hour!

Gillyboy number 2 took charge, bringing a huge punnet of strawberries, Pimms and lemonade, glasses and crisps, and announced several rules, sit still, don’t rock the punt’ watch out for low branches, the most important of which was “never look the ducks directly in the eye. They will board the punt. They will quack until you feed them. Then they will spit out the food and start quacking for more. They will not leave you alone. You have been warned” . So well warned and to be honest feeling a little terrified, I hauled my less-than-flat bottom into the flat bottomed punt, which teetered and rocked quite dramatically as we all boarded and away we sailed or punted or whatever. It’s a lovely way to travel, watching someone else do all the hard work, lying back as the trees cast dappled shadows on the quiet flowing water. 
  
We did come across a lovely flotilla of geese, but were kept relatively duck free until we stopped for our Pimms and strawberries.  

 

As you can see Mr Drake adopted us, chasing away any other ducks who arrived by lowering his head and running hard at them. All this effort was to ensure that Mrs Duck got as many. strawberries as she could gobble down, which stained her beak quite red.  As long as we kept feeding her we ourselves came to no harm. 

In the end when we wanted to get back in the boat, smallest Gillyboy chased them away, in a technique borrowed from his feathered duck friend. So no killer ducks today. We could rest easy.

 

As for me, I enjoyed the punt back down the river, catching a few sun’s rays and admiring my pretty new shoes. 

my new Rocket Dog Daisy sneakers


There are of course other rules for punting – 

  

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Four legs bad, two legs good *

  

For the past month I’ve been hobbling around with the aid of crutches.  Too much exercise, it appears, is just as bad for you as too little. For the medically minded over-running resulted in a stress fracture to my right medial condyle.  For the rest of you, I broke my knee and carried on running and walking (limping) for two weeks before seeking medical attention. (For the record I would like to point out at least I got a Personal Best in the 5 k Parkrun that day. Go me! )

Today I cast off my crutches! And headed straight for the park for a long overdue dog walk. The voice of the knee consultant ringing in my ears. Slowly, slowly. And NO running for at least another four weeks. Boo.

This is not a major injury. It has caused pain, sleeplessness, frustration, disappointment but it will heal. And quickly. I’ve missed out on running events I had planned for this Spring, including a leg of the Belfast Marathon. I spent ten days on a ski holiday confined to the Great Indoors watching DVDs, crocheting and reading until my eyes bled. My mother in law has moved house and I haven’t been able to assist in any way. I missed a great day out climbing a Northern Ireland’s highest peak with a bunch of good people. 

It has been a learning experience too. How we take our mobility for granted. Stairs, heavy doors, revolving doors, rickety disabled access lifts, not being able to push a shopping trolley, disabled toilets, getting comfortable in restaurants or on planes, having people tut loudly in Tesco if they get stuck behind you in a crowded aisle. Thank goodness for Internet Grocery shopping. Staff in restaurants and shops have been really helpful I’m pleased to say, offering chairs to sit on while queuing, suggesting alternative ways into buildings, letting us park in disabled spaces, generally making me feel less of a nuisance and more comfortable with my mobility issue. It’s the general public who still have a lot to learn.

Carrying a handbag, or indeed carrying anything is impossible unless it’s a rucksack. Heading downstairs in the morning I learnt to pack my rucksack with all the essentials – glasses, phone, iPad, lip gloss, crochet hooks etc. Also your hands get so very sore pressing down on the crutch handle after a while.  Could they not be made a little softer? And in nicer colours?

As a very active person I’ve had to rest up, sit down, take a break, just stop doing all the things I love. And that’s been really hard. And it’s only been for a very short time. With it being Easter visitors brought an unending supply of Lindt  Chocolate Bunnies (my fav) so lack of exercise and a diet of creamy Swiss chocolate has taken its toll.

On the animal front thankfully hens don’t require regular walking. They haven’t been neglected in any way, nor have they looked reproachfully at me with big puppy dog eyes as I sat day after day with my leg elevated on a footstool wearing slippers not walking shoes.  Fortunately the crutch crisis occurred when Gillyboy number two was home from Uni so he has clocked up a good few miles tethered to a small naughty dog. Thanks P.

 I’ve travelled through airports in a wheelchair. People, cases, bags, trolleys come hurtling towards you at this lower level making you feel very vulnerable. Everything is right in your face. Unless it’s a check in desk or passport control. Then you feel like a very vulnerable tiny person. And how hard it is to make conversation with your helper who is both behind and above you, so much easier face to face. Funnily enough one assistant told me he was a chicken farmer as well as an airport worker.  I told him I had two hens. He told me he had 16,000. How we laughed! All credit and a big thank you to Easyjet and the staff in Belfast International and Geneva Airports. Every assistance to get me and my busted knee checked in, through security, and on and off planes in a cheery manner. Including a fancy coach taking me right to the airport steps when as if by some miracle I rose from the wheelchair and made a cautious hobbling dash up the steps. 

Today as I parked far, far away from the Knee Clinic and struggled on my four legs up the road, carrying my large folder of MRI photos, (and my huge handbag- what was I thinking?)  a car stopped to offer me a lift. Now like all mothers I caution my children from accepting lifts from strangers. In this instance i accepted the offer from a kindly student nurse who helped me into her car and drove me to the door. 

Now that my crutches are gone I’m looking  twice at those on sticks or crutches, in wheel chairs. Looking for ways to help, to make life a little easier. Just like I try to do for everyone.

And enjoying every step!

out walking again!

*apologies to George Orwell pinching a quote from “Animal Farm”

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You are radiant with charm

Were you ever aware of the Victorian language of flowers? Lilies symbolised beauty. Roses represented love. If your suitor gave you red roses you knew he was mad about you, if they were pink you could be assured of his affection, if yellow roses arrived he was only interested in friendship. And black or dark roses – well, make sure you put your affairs in order as someone wanted you dead. Flowers were used to say what could not be said in those more formal times. A bouquet given to you upright sent a positive message, and beware if you were given flowers facing the opposite direction. Mind you nowadays if you get a bunch of Bonnie Jeans from the garage from your gentleman caller I would maybe encourage him to try a little harder!

Anyway, while on a recent holiday in France I was entranced by these beautiful flowers in a restaurant.

  

These are ranculus asiaticus, a cousin of our buttercup. A Victorian maiden would blush with pleasure at being told, without words, that she was “radiant with charm” should she have been presented with these. Whereas Mrs G headed straight for Amazon.co.uk and ordered a delivery of ranunculus asiaticus bulbs in an attempt to cultivate these very special pretty paper-like blooms in time for the summer.

When the bulbs arrived they looked anything but charming 

Actually they reminded me of the hens favourite snack of meal worms. They had to be planted with these little “fingers” pointing down. I worked very hard, filling pots with soil,  planting bulbs and watering.  Only to discover that Naughty Lucas had jumped into a big pot and dug out and scattered its entire contents when I was tidying up the tools.  The Victorians would suggest he should give me a purple hyacinth to ask for forgiveness.

For now, here’s hoping by the summer I will be posting pictures like this 

there are no words for such beauty 

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Out with the Old and In with the New

It’s January. A new year, a fresh start. And yet, like the two-faced god Janus, a time to look back as well as forward.
Mr G, smallest Gillyboy and I spent a few days of what we call twixtmas in Portugal helping grandma start to pack up her beautiful home to move back to our damp and grey little island. Not an easy task for anyone to box up a lifetime of memories, embracing them in bubble wrap, hugging them with cardboard; deciding what to keep, what to pass on, what to discard.
We did take time to holiday in this most beautiful of holiday destinations too. How we loved the sunshine and a chance to recharge our solar batteries for the start of the New Year. There’s nothing I love more than the freedom of kicking off my shoes and walking along the shore.

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On New Years Eve I had a chance to reflect on 2014 as the waves lapped at my feet. Last year here at The Coop there were big celebrations, excellent holidays, good times with old friends and family, as well as the challenges, worries, troubles, illness and losses that make life, well, real life. Looking back it was good to recall all those who walked alongside us, giving encouragement, support, even just by being there.

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Looking ahead at a bright and shiny new year, there are many things to look forward to- planned holidays, significant anniversary and birthdays. There are challenges and issues that will need to be addressed; potholes, sinking sand, big waves that we cannot foresee standing here at the start of the year.

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What footprints will we make through the year? What shores will we find ourselves on? Will life be calm or stormy?
Like grandma, we all have a new start this New Year. We may not be moving house or changing country, but we are all moving on. New jobs, new struggles, new babies, new challenges, new friends, new interests, new attitudes, new beginnings. We hope to make wise choices in what baggage from the past to carry with us and what to leave behind. The lessons of 2014 giving us courage to meet head on all that is to come in 2015.
2015. A new chapter. Maybe even for some a whole new book. It’s life.
Let’s Live it to the Max.

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Writing 101 – Happy Halloween!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

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We always went to granny’s South of the border for Halloween holidays. Mum would have been packing clothes, filling tins with cakes for days and once dad secured everything to the roof rack and we had a last trip to the toilet we were on our way. 114 long miles of pushing and shoving and keeping an eye that those brothers of mine didn’t cross the imaginary line into MY space in the back of the car.
Past all the landmarks – small towns, big towns, the creepy forest just over the border, the “buckets” at Drogheda, through busy Dublin, spotting the tall red and white chimneys of the power station near Howth, the last big bend in the road when mum would spit on her hanky to scrub our faces and then ignore our protests as she combed our hair.
As we climbed stiffly from the car the smell of Granny’s lamb stew bubbling on the hob would fight with the smell of her forest fern talc she loved so much.
Granny had one big room in which we ate, watched the grainy black and white tv, played the piano and played with our cousins. Having two brothers, granny’s was great as all I had were girl cousins. Loads of them. We had such fun there whatever the season – swings and swimming in the sea in summer, parties and presents at Christmas, but best of all was Halloween.
This was the 1970’s. No pumpkins, no fancy dressing up shops with expensive outfits. No scary zombies or naughty nurses, or even naughty zombie nurses. No trick or treat. It was innocent fun that we made for ourselves.

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We spent days carving turnip lanterns. This gave us RSI in our hands and wrists, and had the terrible consequence of having turnip at every meal time. But it was worth it. Our frolics were lit by a wax candle (pre tea light days) gently toasting the inside of the hollowed vegetable, filling the air with the aroma of burning turnip.
We always had brown lemonade which we thought was very sophisticated and for a treat there was barnbrack – a type of fruit loaf- that for Halloween had a ring in it. If you were lucky enough not to choke on the cheap metal ring then it meant you would be getting married in the next year.
Then there was mum’s Apple tart, containing more 5ps wrapped in tin foil than apples it seemed. If you were cute you would watch as she cut it into slices ensuring your piece got the most money.
There were sacks of monkey nuts. These were peanuts in their natural state, still in the shell. Little piles of dry peanut shell would litter the room. Harder to crack were the more exotic hazel nuts, Brazil nuts and the tricky Walnuts. Cracking them open with granny’s ancient nut cracker took much more effort than the small reward of a slightly fusty dry tasting nut, usually with a great deal of shell still attached.
For games we ducked for apples and there was a nail above the doorway so we could tie yarn to an apple, let it swing free while we tried to take bites out of it. How we never got terrible diseases from the sharing of apples covered in slobbers playing both these games I will never know.

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Dressing up was a mask made of brittle plastic of a pig or a witch, eye and nose holes in places where no human face had features held on by elastic that would snap within the first few minutes.
If you were really lucky you got a cardboard witches hat which didn’t even have the luxury of elastic to keep it on.
We entertained ourselves by dancing along to granny’s LP collection of James Last, Mantovani and a Wombles record owned by a cousin. I remember vividly choreographing a ballet routine to the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” and a dance number for everyone singing “Remember You’re a Womble”. Aunties, Uncles, parents, and granny sat patiently cracking nuts and scoffing Black Magic Chocolates through all these antics.
And no Halloween was complete without sparklers bringing their own scorched odour and glittering showers of sparks and the thrill of twirling something so magical.

Two highlights stand out of these not at all scary very innocent Halloween parties.
We always had a box of indoor fireworks, which wowed us with the Magic Fern and the volcano, and especially when a good linen table cloth caught fire from a spark.

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And writing, producing and performing a sketch based on the Two Ronnies skit on TV known as the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town. We thought we were very racy getting away with blowing pretend farts in front of the grownups. Granny in particular loved it!

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I still love Halloween, I love to decorate the house, cut pumpkins, play the same games – yes we too have a nail in a doorway for the specific purpose of hanging apples, I have tasteful Yankee Candle tea light holders that smell of burning turnip of course!

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These is My Words

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Now that school is out and life is a little less frantic it is time to flex my holiday reading muscles.
First on the list was ” These is My Words, the diary of Sarah Anne Prine” by Nancy Turner.
I have blogged before about pioneer women – Laura Ingalls, and the sweet hen lady Nancy Luce, and now I have a new pioneer voice Miss Sarah Anne Prine. If you enjoyed the Little House books, and the sharp dry voice of Mattie Ross in True Grit (another great book) you will love following the journey of Sarah with her family by wagon from Arizona to Texas, and their trials and hardships as they settle to life there. Along with tragedy there is romance, courage, faithfulness, a desire for knowledge, a heart that seeks true love and an indomitable spirit. I loved every page. It made me cry several times. There are two great dogs in this story, and also Sarah keeps hens and is very worried about them when the weather causes trouble. (Sorry no spoilers)
I was thrilled to learn there is a sequel! Hoping Mr Postman with deliver it soon.
“My life feels like a book left out on the porch, and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop to read it.”
― Nancy E. Turner, These Is My Words

This copy was sent to me as part of the Good Reads First Read programme. I can’t wait to pass it on to the next lucky reader!
Thanks Good Reads 🙂

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Cat Sitting

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My name is Mrs Gillybirds and I am a cat person.
As the official owner of two dogs and three hens this may come as a surprise. I love cats. Really love them, but due to Mr G’s cat hair allergy we don’t have cats in the house.
I haven’t been owned by a cat in over 20 years.
So it is very exciting for me to be cat sitting for Miss Izzy and Miss Cookie whilst their lady takes a well deserved holiday.
And since I have opposing thumbs and the ability to open a pouch of cat food they are apparently just as excited to see me.
I had forgotten just how aloof and independent cats are. And how utterly silent.
In comparison if I leave the dogs at home even for ten minutes my return is greeted with a full parade of wagging tails, big doggy grins and loud barking.
When the back door handle is rattled the Gillybirds stop whatever they are doing and look up to see who is coming out and more importantly what treats they may be bringing.
But cats… Not so much.
As every good cat sitter knows, I spent some time last week in their home chatting with their lady about feeding, sleeping arrangements, waste disposal, and home security. (not wanting any cat burglars. Ha)
Cookie and Izzy have met me before, Izzy is a one woman cat, Cookie who is adopted, is more friendly and likes a head rub every now and again. She even let me pick her up, it’s amazing how little cats weigh, no wonder they move with such quietness and ease.
It’s much better to keep cats in their own home where their comforts are and things are familiar. So I’m calling round twice daily, for food and fellowship. Cookie is generally waiting for me, tail twitching, ready for breakfast. Izzy is more cautious, stealthily sneaking by when she thinks I’m not looking.
Izzy loves her lady so much she brings her love tokens on an almost daily basis, so I have a good check around for dead partially consumed wildlife which would not be a pleasant welcome home for anyone!
I chat away whilst they eat with such fastidious daintiness, today I even played the piano for them. Not sure how appreciated that was.
Hopefully we will get along just fine. And I can enjoy being a cat lady once more, provided I remove all traces of cat hair for fear of setting off allergies or alerting the dogs to the fact that for a short while I am reverting to my true self.

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Close encounters of the feathered kind

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It’s been a lovely Easter. The weather has been perfect with leaves and blossoms bursting out by the hour. On Easter Monday we took a walk around Hillsborough Lake, a local beauty spot, known for it’s pretty forest and plentiful wild birds. Being the holidays families were there to feed the ducks, geese and swans as I remember doing there as a small child.
Naughty Lucas certainly enjoying finding any crumbs the birds left behind, and was very interested in checking out the majestic mute swans, of which there are many. When one swam by to give him a closer inspection however it was a different matter, he turned tail and ran away.
You’ve probably never eaten swan. Neither have I. Did you know that in the UK only the Queen is entitled to have swan for dinner? A quick google of swan recipes comes up with very little to tempt the modern palate however, describing the taste as moist, wet and muddy.
At godecookery.com there is a recipe should you happen to be in royal company and have nothing but swan in the fridge.
PERIOD: England, 14th century | SOURCE: Utilis Coquinario | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Roasted swan with Chaudon

ORIGINAL RECEIPT:

11. For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept:

12. Chaudon. Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

– Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

GODE COOKERY TRANSLATION:

For to prepare a swan. Take & undo him & wash him, & do on a spit & lard him fair & roast him well; & dismember him on the best manner & make a fair carving, & the sauce thereto shall be made in this manner, & it is called:

Chaudon. Take the issue of the swan & wash it well, & scour the guts well with salt, & boil the issue all together til it be enough, & then take it up and wash it well & hew it small, & take bread & powder of ginger & of galingale & grind together & temper it with the broth, & color it with the blood. And when it is boiled & ground & strained, salt it, & boil it well together in a small pot & season it with a little vinegar.

Enjoy!

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Travelling for ten days with only one trainer…my fake statuses for 2013

So, today is the first day of 2014. Instead of some insightful meditation on the past and a hopeful reflection on the future as I take down the Christmas decorations and visit the bottle bank I am just going to post a bunch of screen shots assembled from the What Would I Say? app, which takes statuses from your Face Book history, mixes them up and creates new ones. This is hilarious and should come with a warning that it is an Internet Black Hole from which I may never emerge. You should go to there. But first, read these fake/yet strangely based in reality “statuses” from me. (I realise that I do try to avoid too much personal info on my Gillybirds blog, but this seemed to be too good an opportunity to visit life here at Gillybirds Manor as if through Alice’s Looking Glass – slightly twisted, but ringing true!)

Some modest declarations –
think I may never reappear. Hello Creativity!
And yet more modest
selling my beautiful unique hand crafted cards (this sounds like a genuine post)
delighted that my hair is so Azebijan
Really?
it’s so classy

Healthy Recipe suggestions-
You’ll laugh, you’ll scoff, but yummy chicken
number 4 hour making Katsura curry
tasted fab, must try the Yemen.
Huh?
just call me with mushy peas. Lush!
we were having a consolatory Curly Wurly for breakfast
It is no wonder that Fitches got heartburn again

I appear to have developed a passion for endurance Zumba
yesterday I was the sister of doing a fairly decent cup of Zumba
….ok?…
second hour of Zumba mates
my goodness.
number four of my Zumba first though
….sounds exhausting!

And for poetic reflections
forgive me, I will get the utter joy of all the snow

apparently a cuddle from the sky today

And some surprisingly accurate observations on my lifestyle
sunshine, kettles crisps and craft day booked for a speedy recovery
sounds like my kind of medicine alright.
not easily entertained by Sebastian Faulkes.
Yup.
anyone else thinking about the wine at the bottom of the truck
it was a mug of tea.
True.
crash helmet and dad were there.
Oops. Sounds serious.
get in with some piercings
looking out for the persistent tapping of tea.
Yes again.
Sparkly shoes swapped for something decent.
Sad. 😦
selling my son Peter.
Obviously a bad day.
too early with family.
Another bad day.
have a duvet day.
Always good advice.
smells like a rhino
.. That must have been an all time low.

And my diary was packed with entertainment –
well that’s that, at short notice we arranged a performance of Handel’s Messiah
with the exception of an enormous spider almost a performance at the Royal Albert Hall of patė.
Sounds entertaining!
it was a pretty rockin’ evening at church.
Nothing new there!
Katie may have dislocated her heated rollers so we ate it
downhill from the very beginning but sadly no Grey’s Anatomy available.
Sigh. No Dr McDreamy…

A difficult holiday-
travelling for ten days with one trainer. Nice to be back.

And some very interesting Christmas activities
Turkey and friends also without missing the craic of us
Merry Christmas and Happy Feet and no wee Danish pastry and made me long climb home
bad news rain is the Christmas music for sick children
note to catch plane to watch Father Christmas, Elf and the Snowman

Tips for today’s technology
free wifi at the facilities by candle light
remember oven gloves when your car and my iPhone still dead

References to dogs and hens
hens have no idea what a rotten day
good news. Rain coat walking dog on a wee belly today
you can talk and see how many chickens….vague

And finally….
has discovered the joy of finding it
we were the original Cheeky Girls you know</em
it’s so classy
pics will follow. So the Fitch
please ignore blog post. How long list and checking it..
Too true. Thank you for reading
Happy New Year!

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Mrs Gillybirds Celebrates

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I have never liked having a birthday at Christmas. It is a busy, busy time of the year and though my parents were very good at arranging parties with friends when I was a child, as an adult I have always felt life is too full of Christmas to get a chance to properly celebrate me. Oh dear, I do sound like quite a madam!
Last year I had the bright and inspired idea to have a proper birthday party, the reason being my birthday fell on 20.12.2012 ( although for our USA readers, this would have been 12.20.2012) my theme was pink and black, and we went to town decorating the house and preparing food. I even bought a lovely pick dres, wore my amazing sparkly silver shoes, and a pink cowboy hat! The Gillyboys and Mr Gillybird entered into the spirit and went girly pink for the night. (No photos permitted) Guests arrived at 20.12 on the dot and the festivities began. It was a great night (despite people thinking I was turning 50, which I am still a little way off)
So how was I going to celebrate this year – a whisker closer to fifty…
Anyway, this year Mr G got special brownie points by whisking me away first class on the train to Dublin for the night! I have never had first class anywhere and it was amazing. The whole experience was absolutely wonderful and I have returned home with batteries recharged and ready for Everything That Christmas Can Throw At Me. That’s a feeling that can only come from having a Christmas Tree in your hotel room (wow) and enjoying some “me time” with the one I love.

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Just a little sparkly birthday selfie 🙂

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