Plum Pud­ding Log Fires and

She’d re­signed her­self to a lonely birth­day, but life is full of sur­prises

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

There’s some­thing won­der­ful about the Northum­ber­land air in win­ter – its sharp bite, the sub­tle smell of the sea, the mem­o­ries it evokes.

As I stand on a de­serted beach, I’m wear­ing sun­glasses to fend off the win­ter sun, but I know my cheeks will be red from the bit­terly cold air. My neck feels hot from the thick scarf tucked be­neath my coat

but my fin­ger­tips are cold. I’m wear­ing Welling­ton boots.

This is the irony of win­ter. It can give and take away at the same time. The beach is long and clean, but I can’t feel the sand be­tween my toes. The sound of crash­ing waves is re­lax­ing – en­tic­ing, even – but I can’t swim be­cause the

wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is less than two degrees.

Fit­ting, re­ally, since to­day is my birth­day. It’s a rea­son to cel­e­brate – I have, af­ter all, sur­vived an­other year of life’s lemons – but I’m here alone, and my birth­day is a stark re­minder of that.

With my hands tucked into my

pock­ets, I walk the shore­line, as I have on this day ev­ery year since

I was 6 years old. Peo­ple have

come and gone. As a girl, I’d walk with my par­ents and, some­times, my grand­par­ents.

We’d play I-Spy as we ‘mo­seyed along’, as my grand­fa­ther used to say.

When I was a teenager, de­spite never want­ing to be seen with my par­ents on most

oc­ca­sions, we still came for

‘Not for the first time to­day, I cry. But these are happy tears’

our an­nual trip. When I was

old enough, I’d be al­lowed a half-pint of lager with lunch.

Af­ter my mother passed away, my fa­ther and I would come along for the week­end, just the two of us and the dog

he’d adopted for com­pany.

We’d throw sticks for the dog,

and slip chunky chips from our lunchtime sand­wiches un­der the ta­ble for it to eat.

I met my first hus­band when I was 20. For the next 12 years, although we’d mi­grated south, we still hon­oured the fam­ily tra­di­tion, tak­ing it in turns to choose

tape cas­settes for the long car jour­ney north.

When we had our son, he’d come along too. He was strapped to my hus­band’s back as we walked at first. Later, he’d hold our hands and, later still, he’d run on ahead of us.

Af­ter the di­vorce, there were a few years where it was only my son who came along. He didn’t want to – it was un­cool to

take a trip with your mother, af­ter all.

For the last 10 years, my sec­ond hus­band

has filled the gap, and my son has come along for part of the long week­end, with a new girl­friend each time.

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ Now I walk alone to the next coastal vil­lage, where I’ll sit

by a log fire in a pub with

a steak-and-onion sand­wich

and chips, as al­ways.

I am di­vorced again. My son has a pro­fes­sional job these days and can’t take the time off. I will see in my 46th year alone.

The heat of the log fire strikes me as soon as I step into the pub. It’s de­light­ful and painful, mak­ing the tips of my fin­gers sting. The walls have had a lick of paint since last year but, oth­er­wise, The

Fish­er­man’s Inn is the same. It

has the kind of uphol­stery my grand­mother used to dec­o­rate her home with when I was

a child – 70s, velour, flo­ral. Solid oak ta­bles are set with beer mats, buck­ets of cut­lery and trays of condi­ments.

Old beer taps poke up from the bar, and the reg­u­lar, hard­ened-look­ing bar­man says, ‘Hiya, pet.’

‘Nowhere does pubs quite

like the north,’ I think, as

I peel off lay­ers and take

a seat at a cor­ner ta­ble.

As mem­o­ries of the past threaten to fill my eyes with tears, I pre­tend to read the menu, which is chalked onto a black­board hang­ing from a wall. Of course, I al­ready know what I’ll or­der.

Min­utes later, I rest back in my seat with a half-pint of lager, topped with the per­fect

amount of froth, and lis­ten to The Bea­tles play­ing over crack­ling, vin­tage speak­ers.

My sand­wich ar­rives with

thrice-cooked chips. De­spite

be­ing full, I eat the last few out

of re­spect for the dy­ing art of

deep-fat fry­ing.

‘An­other drink, flower?’ the bar­man asks.

‘Please.’

He brings me a drink and clears away my empty plate. ‘Any dessert?’

I smile. ‘Oh, yes. Plum

pud­ding, please.’

I may be turn­ing 46 on my own, but at least I have plum pud­ding. Small mer­cies!

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ With a full belly, I make my way back to the guest­house where I al­ways stay. Half­way back, the dark­en­ing sky and

post-lunch su­gar slump bring back my sad­ness.

‘This is life now – you have to get on with it,’ I tell my­self.

The sky bursts with rain when I am min­utes from the guest­house, forc­ing me to

run. I push through the doors

to the lounge bar down­stairs

and pull down my hood,

shak­ing out my hair.

When I look up, I see a gath­er­ing of peo­ple. Be­fore I can process faces and

names, I’m blown away

by shouts of, ‘Sur­prise!’

One by one, I take them in – my son, his girl­friend, my three best friends and their fam­i­lies. Not for the first time to­day, I cry. But these are happy tears!

I am 46 years old to­day, and I am sur­rounded by my fam­ily and friends.

THE END Laura Carter, 2019

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