I’ve long been looking forward to being 50, partly because the fun I had in my 40s (and I did have a bit) was offset by some pretty bloody awful times – in a decade I just couldn’t wait to put behind me, my mother died after a long and painful illness, and my family (of origin) fell apart; and, as a result of this double emotional burden, I went into early menopause and developed galloping psoriasis. But that’s not all! (as they say on TV). My daughter went through a horrendously difficult adolescence; I injured my back and eventually had to have hair-raisingly expensive emergency surgery; my son dipped out of varsity after what he described (heartbreakingly) as a ‘very lonely year’, and for a long time it seemed he would become one of those boys who lives forever in his mother’s basement; I lost two close friends over trivial disagreements we should easily have been able to weather; the world economy collapsed, taking my freelance workstream with it, so I was reduced to typing transcriptions to pay the bills (and, as boring and tedious as the work was, I’m not knocking it, because it was all I had for many months)… I could go on but I’m starting to depress myself so I won’t. But you understand what I’m getting at here – my forties were filled with flak.
So it was with great anticipation that I headed towards 50, and I celebrated the actual day – 19 October – as I intended to go on through the decade: my friends Jenny, Bruce and Pieter, my sister Bev, my niece Emma and I (and, of course, Balu) climbed the Kasteelberg at (literally) dawn’s crack, and celebrated near the top with a fantastic view of the valley bathed in early-morning summer sunshine, with champagne and strawberries.
My actual party was on 1 November, two weeks later. This was to allow my Dad time to celebrate his girlfriend Catherine’s birthday with her on 24 October, and return to South Africa in time to celebrate mine with me. (And thanks again, Marianne, for coming up with that very elegant solution to what felt to me – pre-50, haha! – to be an intractable problem.)
The celebrations began on the Friday night with the arrival of some very dear old friends. Chris (in the yellow, below), who I met back when we were both in our early 20s and whose life has since taken him to Europe and elsewhere, and who knocked my socks off by popping back to South Africa specially for my 50th party; my dear old high-school friend Alex (far left), who came from Johannesburg; and my oldest and bestest friend Amanda, also from Joburg (far right), who I met on the first day of Grade 1, and who has through the last 44 years remained close and precious to me. My sister Bev also joined us, for a very cheerful meal on Friday night. (Thanks, Jane-Anne, for the giant sparklers – which you gave to Daniel on his 21st three years ago and which we finally got around to using that night!)
Early on the Saturday morning, Bev and I went for a walk around Het Vlock Casteel farm – the farm at which I’d be having my birthday lunch – before returning home to collect the others and heading up to Het Vlock Casteel to set the table. Bev was the brainchild behind the table centres – the ‘Tracey trees’ with the letters spelling out my name and their bright-orange spiders (below, at the bottom – and I can’t work out why this photo simply refuses to be the right way up!); and the jaunty yellow potplants. Isabella was the creative energy behind the origami flowers that were the place names.
Unusually for Kasteel, the wind blew that morning – a minor disaster for the table, as almost everything on it was made of paper, and the strong gusts blowing across the deck sent napkins, place names and other bits and pieces flying about. Ansie, the events coordinator, lowered the plastic blinds, which helped a bit. The blinds had to stay in place throughout the afternoon, which was a shame, but at least we could still see the beautiful view through them.
Preparations done, we headed home to gussy ourselves up. Cullum arrived bearing big (local – Pulpit Rock) wine – although Mands, Alex and I posed with the bottle (below), we had nothing to do with drinking it; that job, successfully accomplished, we left to Cullum, Chris, my Dad and a few other enthusiastic volunteers.
The lunch was wonderful – everyone got along fabulously, and I realised, as I looked around the table, that not only are my friends who witty, loyal, wise and kind, they’re also all very goodlooking! Bev said a lovely speech, I stumbled through a speech (speaking at the speed of an express train, as usual, and crying quite a lot, so I don’t know how much was even audible), and my father gave me the most wonderful tribute (I still get all teary when I think about it), and made family history by not sneaking in even one veiled insult! (An example: when he spoke at my wedding, he informed my guests that my feet were so large he’d made extra money by renting out my shoes as catboxes. Which I actually found very funny then, and still do now.)
The birthday cake was made by Liesel’s team at Wicked Treats – who’ve been making birthday cakes for our big occasions for some years, and have never disappointed.
We had to take the opportunity to have a family photograph taken, of course – our family of origin isn’t together much any more these days.
I’m irritated with myself for not thinking to have a pic taken of the whole gathering – something we usually do religiously, and which I forgot. But thanks to Lood, who snapped away merrily all afternoon, I think I do have a photographic record of everyone – or at least almost everyone – who was there. (If anyone else has photos, please email them to me!)
Once the lunch was over, around 5pm, the guests who were staying over helped me take everything – including a rich haul of gifts! – back to my house, where we partied on into the night. It was almost like the ‘old days’ in Roos Street, except that I was stone-cold sober!
Lee (below, far left), another dear old high-school friend, who came through from Kommetjie, spent some after-party time with us. (The person lying next to the pool in the background of this pic is Flip. A few moments later, he stood up and in the process dropped his iPhone into the pool. A day in a bowl of rice – the phone, not Flip – did the trick, fortunately.)
On Sunday morning, I was up at dawn’s crack, as usual. I’m sure some people wanted to murder me but since it was my birthday weekend, nobody did. Bev and Cullum made us breakfast, which we ate outside in lovely early-summer weather. (Below: Mandi and Jenny; both the beautiful tablecloth and the lovely mugs were birthday presents.)
I loved every second of my 50th birthday celebrations. Thank you to everyone who shared them with me!
* For the photographs, thanks also to Mands and Alex.