Year Abroad Diaries: 5 September 2012

Although I’m not officially another year older yet, as I was born after 9pm, I’ve been looking at last year’s diary since C left an hour ago. How much things change; how going to France will affect things. Before, I had a night out clubbing with cadet and school friends. Now I’m just content to have dinner with my family, C and grandparents.

It’s strange. This summer, my birthday seemed so far away, almost simultaneous with my departure to Normandy, but now it’s here and everything is so close. Last day at the shop, Freshers’ Week, my flight away, Brother to America – which was myself only three years ago.

If one year goes so fast, and so does three... imagine a decade.

Welcome to Twentydom, where theoretically I should think about settling down, acquiring a ‘proper’ job, graduating, and just generally taking life seriously. Well. We know which one certainly won’t happen.

Until late afternoon, relaxing was the order of the day, but you can’t hide from presents forever. I am notoriously bad with birthdays – I’m unsure if it’s the surprise, the embarrassment or the ageing – but each year I am more red than the last. Perhaps it’s just me. Regardless of cringing levels, I got some perfect, personal gifts.

Little sweet pink parcels were tagged with French inscriptions: ‘Quel dommage qu’il y a de la pluie en France’ and inside an umbrella; ‘Quelle belle fille Laura!’ uncovered a make-up bag. My grandparents bought me some beautiful things: perfume, book tokens, a huge scrapbook, and a gold embroidered scarf that Grandpa had bought in Bermuda. I don’t think there’s anything better than a vintage possession that is passed down the generations.

At dinner, the threat of my family and C’s gifts still threatened, but the seven of us sat up for a meal and I put it off a while longer. We retired to the living room, wee chats and after-dinner tea, and the talk began dwindling and I thought, surely we won’t be here much longer, and I can get to my bed (now I’m old) when –

An uncle and other grandparent showed up, bearing envelopes. Travel cards from the Uncles, dollars and euros respectively, cake passed round, and village gossip shared. C and I had been demoted from the couch and were now using the bookcase as spine support; I was tired and uncomfortable. By ten o’clock, after what had seemed like half a day, not a quarter, of celebrations, all the visitors departed and I was left to reflect on my new status as a twenty-something.

C returned to the sofa with his presents, which we opened alone. The first a denim shirt, the next parcel heavier: a large floral-embossed photo album. The inside cover was inscribed “to many more memories” and the pages were full of photos of us, places we’d been, and of landscapes we’d driven through.

I would have happily quit then and been chuffed with my loot, but the last gift was heaviest. Underneath the wrapper rested a large leather case. I wasn’t too sure what to do with it. C said, “I got you a big suitcase for when you go to France.” I thought, what the hell? He elbowed me, “Go on, open it.”

I was tentative in raising the lid. Darkness lifted and I made out square black keys with alphabet letters, a clear white rule and a long spacebar. The machine sat cuddled by its case, looking forgotten yet still alert. I pressed my index finger down on a key and the spindly ink finger shot up and hit the paperless roll.

I can’t speak for others. Maybe most people enjoy birthdays, being pampered and owning that day. That’s not me. Most important is knowing I’m loved. I don’t need gifts to tell me that. Yet when special people take the time – scribbling petite French notations, investing in books, photographs and memories – that’s when I tear up. A 1960s vintage typewriter being the epitome of my past and passion.

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