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Monday, August 09, 2004

Yesterday was the day of my aunt's surprise 70th birthday party, an event which has been in the planning for months, making it all the more surprising that I've managed to avoid mentioning it to her. It took place in St Ives, so naturally certain people (Lisa) were under the impression we were heading for Cornwall, and were packing the surfboard, but instead we set off along the A14 to Cambridgeshire.

In a spooky coincidence, my friend Helen also lives in St Ives, and in a far spookier coincidence Lisa and I actually arrived early, meaning we had time to drop in on Helen first with a thank you card for the Ben Folds tickets she was kind enough to send me for my birthday (which for anyone wishing to plan their 2005 present-buying, is on July 29th - only 354 shopping days to go). Helen, being an intelligent kind of gal, had the common sense to celebrate my aunt's birthday by going away for the weekend, possibly due to the very real fear that she may have to meet Lisa. So we admired Helen's curtains, put the card through the letterbox, and made a quick getaway.

Arriving half an hour early for the party, we naturally had time to mingle and chat with long lost relatives as they arrived. We didn't, but we had time to. Personally I was just waiting for the buffet to open. When my parents arrived, we found ourselves introduced to more cousins than you can shake a stick at, most of them so many times removed you can barely detect them. For some reason they all seemed to be female too. I suspect the distant male cousin gene has been deliberately bred out of my family. Possibly for sinister reasons.

But we chatted to an elderly cousin wearing a CND badge, who claimed to have heard of Shotley Gate, and I got the run down on my aunt's life from a friend she's known for 55 years. Apparently she once fell off a motorbike, and her ex husband still cares for her. That was about the gist of it.

I also spoke at length to my first cousin once removed, who credited me with the success of her current relationship (I'm a bit of a teen counsellor on the quiet) and then told me she still has the remote control for the stereo she sold me in May. I was tempted to demand my money back, but in the spirit of family unity I said she could send it to me instead.

My aunt duly arrived wearing a badge which proclaimed "21 today", with the added comment "(in 1955)", and to my relief the buffet was thrown open, allowing us to tuck into the mystery vol-au-vents and onion bhajis while two of my cousins (unnaccustomed as they are to public speaking) made amusing speeches about Saga holidays and washing machine repairmen. I found it difficult to concentrate, as my mind was preoccupied with the realisation that there were no desserts, but I battled on and made do with birthday cake instead.

An hour after my Dad first started dropping hints about leaving, we said our goodbyes, received an offer of a holiday in Christchurch from an elderly cousin, and made straight for Brighton, where we shamelessly took photos of ourselves looking squeezy in our party gear, before I insisted on taking off my socks and slobbing around in my shorts.

St Ives, it turns out, is three miles nearer to Lisa's flat than Shotley Gate is, so I may move in with my aunt just to save on petrol costs.