When Gap Boy and Uni Boy were younger, buying presents for Christmas and birthdays was simple. I could let my imagination run riot in the toy shop – avoiding the pink aisle and the weapons of mass destruction. We worked through Lego and K’nex whilst Tilly, Tom and Tiny watched from the toy box – we had Rosie and Jim too – as well as a plethora of other character spin offs from whatever children’s programme the Red House book club was flogging that week.
As the boys got older and diversified, all my good intentions about not allowing guns or electronic toys went out of the window; Uni Boy became a Gameboy fanatic (subsequently progressing through a vast range of must-have Nintendo products) and Gap Boy’s latent killer instinct would not be suppressed. The boy would shoot anyone with anything given the opportunity – including his mother (on Mothering Sunday) with a BB gun.
I thought that Hub was easier to buy for; I bought him things that I was sure he’d like but it took several years of him gratefully accepting my weird purchases before the penny dropped and I noticed that most of his presents were still in a brightly patterned gift bag a year later (he would never give or throw them away for fear of hurting my feelings).
I inherited the tendency to overbuy from my Lovely Mum. Neither of us ever felt we had given enough and as a consequence we would shower each other (and other people) with shedloads of goodies. I do miss Mum’s hastily wrapped bags of delight.
Increasing age and a modicum of maturity opened my eyes to the perils of inappropriate present giving and I decided to let Hub have more of a say in what I bought – as in ‘you order the bits you need for paintball and I’ll wrap them up‘. Birthdays and Christmas are less imaginative now but mutually happier and there are fewer festive filled carrier bags hanging around. UB and GB now request filthy lucre instead of presents, or as in GB’s case, get us to drive to the motorbike shop and pay for his protective gear.
Hub had a big birthday.
Big birthdays call for extreme measures.
A brand spanking new marker for paintball – his first ever because he’s been good and only had second-hand stuff before.
UB announced that he couldn’t get home for his dad’s birthday due to Uni commitments but suggested that we meet up in Manch for an evening meal. He then came up with the even brighter idea that we should go to Manch on the train.
Hub loves trains.
As I don’t drive, he spends a lot of time ferrying me about in the car. He loved my birthday weekend in York because we went on the train and he got to look at the scenery and relax.
We decided to invite Bezzie Mate up for the birthday celebrations as we love his company, he loves trains too and he has become an integral part of our family. We did ask GB if he wanted to come but the joint perils of using public transport and spending the evening with his older brother proved far too repellent. He said that he would stay home and look after Scooby – who’s minding who?
UB booked the restaurant and as the family train expert, gave me a potted version of the timetable and texyed me a list of his own commitments. I booked train tickets (not with the cheapest online source according to UB but what the hell) and baby we were ready to go!
BM arrived on Hub’s birthday with a beautifully wrapped box containing marzipan and a Spiderman helicopter both of which brought a huge grin to Hub’s face. His marker had arrived in time for me to wrap it and he’d completely forgotten about the melon vodka that UB and I had bought him.
The builders were still busy in the kitchen when BM arrived but he was able to see the glory that was the sparkly granite worktop being fitted before the three of us left to – catch a bus to town!
Hub made a beeline for the back seat; memories of schooldays obviously flooding back. I prefer the front seats especially if there is a bell to ring nearby and a pole to grab hold of. BM and I followed Hub but after a few moments of hideous bumping and the full blast of the sun, we all relocated to more comfortable and less sun-drenched seats.
We were travelling to Manch in the rush hour, so needless to say, the train was packed and it was standing room only. Nearly everyone sitting down on the train had a laptop or tablet of some description on display. Hub and I managed to get seats at the next stop but BM was so wrapped up in looking at HIS tablet that he preferred to stand.
Manchester Piccadilly station brought back memories of my misspent youth; my Lovely Mum worked for what was then British Rail, and as a consequence I got four free rail tickets per year and quarter-fare the rest of the time. This came in very useful for a homesick eighteen year old who had relocated from the seaside South to a land-locked Birmingham and the delights of drama school. Ticket inspectors often failed to clip my ticket, giving me the opportunity to make more journeys home (and back), usually on the through train but sometimes via Euston and Waterloo.
Large train stations and the Underground held no fear for me in those days as I lugged my hefty sailbag southwards and to home – or reluctantly back to the cold and endlessly damp Midlands and my tiny bedsit.
Thirty-odd years later, laden only with a ladylike Primark rucksack and accompanied by two of my favourite men, Manchester Piccadilly was a delight, even if one of the travelators wasn’t travelling – until nature called.
Thirty pee to pee!
To add insult to injury the toilets stank of other people’s stale pee – and worse.
It took a sit down and a takeaway coffee to restore my equilibrium. Hub and BM found my ire most amusing. They frequently gang up on me like a pair of naughty schoolboys but I forgive them – usually.
UB phoned as we were drinking coffee and teasing each other on FaceAche. His meeting had overrun and his train had been cancelled so he would be going straight to the restaurant and could we please stop messing around and get there first in case they let the table go to someone else. Suitably chastised for our levity and wondering how the al-seeing eye of UB knew we were messing about, we packe dup and drank up.
I would have gone for the taxi option, but Hub and BM were excited by trams (and the ticket machine) so we took the Metrolink. As we passed the Manchester Eye I had to kick Hub to shut him up because he started talking about the chap who had occupied the Eye in protest against being recalled to jail for breaking his parole. You never know who might be listening on a tram, and to my wary eye there were several fellow passengers taking an unhealthy interest in what Hub was saying. He was oblivious to it all. He loves trams.
We got off the tram before the heavies did. Hub had to use his mobile satnav to find the way to the restaurant, which was under the shade of the Beetham Tower and alongside the canal. Our progress was slow but enjoyable; BM was happy-snapping the surroundings, Hub and I were just happy looking and lapping up the atmosphere of a balmy Manchester evening.
We were on time. Our table was inside rather than out on the crowded terrace. We ordered cocktails, including one for UB who had texted to say he was on the Metrolink and would like something sweet, fruity and very alcoholic please.
It was a wonderful evening. The food was great and the cocktails even better. When he found out that it was Hub’s birthday, our lovely waiter Guillaume bought over a surprise brownie pudding complete with candles and a glass of champagne – on the house. More cocktails with dessert, UB and I were torn between two drinks so we ordered both and took turns slurping through separate straws – that’s my boy.
Despite having return tram tickets, I persuaded my men that a taxi to the station would be a better option given our varying levels of inebriation. Many cocktails made all three of them very amenable. UB’s train left shortly after ours so he packed his parents and his funny uncle safely aboard and waved us off with that curiously old-fashioned look on his face. He’s always been much older and wiser than us.
The journey home was only marred by a yoof with very cheap earphones broadcasting his boom-boom repetitive dance music to the whole carriage.
Hub rested his eyes.
BM was engrossed in his tablet.
I smiled the happy smile of the slightly intoxicated and tried to work out where the hell we were.
Disembarking was an experience. The clothing of our female companions was – skimpy – to say the least – and although it was a Thursday, there must have been something exciting going on in the town centre (or cultural quarter as the PR merchants have christened it) as most of the yoof were headed in that direction.
Another taxi and home to a shiny, shiny kitchen, a very happy Scooby, a slightly disapproving GB (aren’t you all a bit old for this?) and much needed sleep.
Just in case you were worried that GB was left out, Hub, BM, GB and I went off to our favourite curry house for dinner the next night. UB hates curry.
Hub says it was his best birthday ever. He had more cards, more messages on FaceAche, presents he really wanted and a good meal enjoyed with some of his favourite people, not to mention the bus, trains and tram.
I’ll think he’ll cope with the nifty fifties now.