Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
The year I turned 40, I kept referring to the upcoming milestone with increasing frequency as the weeks passed. A friend, for his 40th, hired a hotel and a band and had a vast buffet sculpted into a roulette table complete with chips and dice all made out of food. But I didn’t expect such extravagance. Perhaps a few friends could be rounded up to mark the passing of the day with a couple of beers.
The week of my birthday arrived and so did a trickle of cards. As the day drew nearer I openly asked if anything was planned. “No!” said my wife. “I thought you didn’t want any fuss made.” So, the night before, a friend and I went to a local pub called The Bird in Hand. We talked and drank, and as the night drew on I went home, feeling no pain with the passing of another year.
The next morning, feeling a little worse for wear, I took a shower and then sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. “Happy birthday,” my wife said. “Drink your coffee; we have to leave.” Unsure as to where it was we were supposed to be going, I asked after the whereabouts of our daughters, Hollie and Robyn. “They are at my parents’,” I was told.
I slid down in the passenger seat as we drove onto the highway. Perhaps we were off to my in-laws’. I would have rather been in my bed for a little longer. About two hours later we pulled into a parking lot, and I imagined this was a breakfast stop. A set of revolving doors and multitudes of people - I tried to comprehend where we were. I was directed to a table, told to get myself a beer and wait. As I sipped my beer I realized I was in an airport. Soon my wife was at the table holding two tickets and telling me to hurry up, our flight was about to leave.
Once we were on the plane I asked, “Where exactly are we going?”
“We’re going out for pizza,” was the reply. Apparently, we were headed for Milan and would be there in time for lunch.
Upon arrival, we headed for The Piazza del Duomo, the main square. It was packed with people and all around were stalls selling drinks and food. A few hours earlier I had been in the shower at home and thinking no further than the next cup of coffee, and now I was standing in the sun in Milan.
At one end of the square was a stage where a boy band was beginning to play. Television cameras filmed as a small group of girls were encouraged to scream and act like adoring fans. I knew someone back at her grandparents’ in England who would not have taken any encouragement to scream and even swoon at the sight of this particular group of guys. Hollie went weak at the knees whenever they sang on the radio or appeared on TV. Her bedroom wall was covered in photos and she had a t-shirt with their picture on it. The band was Boyzone. I found a public telephone and phoned Hollie, holding my phone in the direction of the stage. “Oh, Dad! I wish I was there!” came the reply down the line.
We strolled through the streets of Milan, wandered through a beautiful garden, and came across a restaurant. We sat under a white and blue canopy, surrounded by large Italian families talking loudly and laughing. Every table was groaning under platters of food and bottles of wine. There were pastas and risottos, vegetable dishes and braised meats, cakes flavoured with almanac and coffee, and gelatos, baked fruit and cheeses.
”You’ll have to go to Naples if you want pizza,” the waiter informed us. So, I ordered Manzo Brasato alla Lombarda, Braised Beef in Red Wine, instead.