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10-BOLLAN

50th cake is just what The Doctor ordered

A significant birthday brought a week of sun and celebration for THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS - By FR JOHN BOLLAN

Apart from one significant blip—which put paid to the Catholic schools centenary celebration in Falkirk—the months of May and June were blessed with plenty of hot sunshine. Not only does this make everyone look happier and healthier, but it inevitably makes everyone remark that ‘if the weather was like this all the time, you would never go abroad.’

My sisters took me down to Seamill for a birthday overnight and, as I threw open the balcony windows overlooking the beach, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Greece. It was a wonderfully relaxing treat and signalled the start of a week of significant birthday celebrations.

After Mass on Sunday morning, I was ushered into the hall for a surprise party. There were two cakes, including one with my head on David Tennant’s shoulders. Such a Frankensteinian hybrid would normally be the stuff of nightmares (especially for David Tennant) but, in this instance, was a nod to my well-known love of Doctor Who.

The walls were also decked with collages of photographs from the past 50 years: from baby pictures through to more recent snaps. Some of them I don’t recall seeing before. I was especially moved to see a photo of me with my dad. I had recently remarked to someone that I don’t have a single photograph of us together.

He didn’t make it far into his 50s, succumbing to a blood clot after routine but very invasive varicose vein surgery at the age of 52. I was just nine. So we were robbed of a lifetime of memories, and of photographs to reinforce those memories.

Anyway, it was a lovely gathering and I’m very grateful to the organisers who kept it under wraps.

Of course, there were a few wags who couldn’t resist using the occasion to have a little fun at my expense. One comedienne had made me up a bag of accoutrements ‘for the older gentleman,’ from non-slip socks to other items I shall pass over in silence.

Members of ‘The Molly Maguires,’ implacable quiz night opponents of ‘Les Quizerables,’ had the cheek to get me a book of Stuff You Need to Know to Win a Pub Quiz. I was about to point out that ‘The Molly Maguires’ haven’t won the past two quizzes, but that would have been churlish: I have resolved to be magnanimous in my 50s.

The last instalment of birthday fun came in the form of a family barbecue, laid on by a friend with extensive experience in the hospitality industry.

For a few hours, the back garden of St Joseph’s was transformed into an open-air pleasure park, with paddling pool, swingball, and tables groaning with goodies. The younger members of the family had lots of fun with water balloons (the adults, less so).

I think the main point of the paddling pool was to provide the dogs with a way of cooling off.

Unfortunately, last week, Sandra had used her paddling pool as an underhand way of giving Jasmine a bath and, as a result, she gave ours a distinctly wide berth. Not even luring her with a treat worked. She kept her paws obstinately dry.

The irony is, of course, that she absolutely loves the water. She dashes off into the river or the sea without a second’s hesitation. But she’s clearly learned that paddling pools lead to foam and the application of unguents that she can’t stand.

As the scorching day gave way to a slightly cooler evening, we dispatched the children into the forest to gather twigs and fallen branches for the firepit (the firepit doubles as the receptacle for the New Fire at the Easter Vigil). In no time, they returned lugging branches taller and broader than themselves. As the flames leapt and danced in the twilight, we the elders shared stories of the distant past.

There was something strangely primitive about the scene, although I daresay that a tribe which sent its children unprotected into forests probably wouldn’t last long.

All in all, my birthday was a fantastic day, spent in the best of company. My two elder nieces surprised me with yet another birthday cake—this time in the shape of a Tardis (clearly there’s a theme developing here). I’ll need dimensionally transcendental trousers to cope with the extra calories I’ve consumed over the past few days.

My birthday coincides with the anniversary of the First Battle of the Somme. JRR Tolkien, whose stories were suffused with ‘the Catholic Imagination,’ fought in the battle.

I discovered The Lord of the Rings as a teenager. Not, at first, through the books, but through the colossal 26-part radio adaptation made by the BBC in 1981. I listened to it so often, I could probably still reel off chunks of the dialogue and the narration.

Back in those glorious summers (and they were like the one we’re currently experiencing), I and my like-minded friends would play in the hills overlooking the Firth of Clyde.

There, running through the grass, we would recreate scenes like the attack on Weathertop (there was a hillock we had named after the site of a chilling ambush by Ringwraiths). In reality, that merely translated into us beating the living daylights out of each other with big sticks (no PlayStation virtual reality back then).

It was only years later that the deeper resonances of Tolkien’s storytelling took hold of me: that salvation always comes at a price.

I’ve been thinking more and more about those echoes and may well give the book another reading during the summer (or the radio series another listen).

The lighter summer schedule should allow me to get on top of my ‘sick Communions’ list after letting it slip slightly.

Although Margaret, our pastoral assistant, does the work of 10, I need to do my own ‘bit’ in support of our housebound and hospitalised parishioners.

Tomorrow, I have the funeral of a parish stalwart. Albert was an amateur photographer (although he stretched the definition of ‘amateur’ somewhat).

He was our go-to cameraman for decades, so much so that people just assumed that it was his profession. Until very recently, there wasn’t a photograph of a parish event which hadn’t passed through Albert’s expert lens.

Of course, the real lens through which Albert viewed the world was love (and Faith).

If photography is nothing other than captured light, then his life was a whole series of ‘moments of light.’ He was famously devoted to St Joseph and our statue of ‘sleeping St Joseph’ was his gift to the parish. May he rest in peace and awaken to glory.

This week I have a wedding in Glasgow University’s Memorial Chapel. I always enjoy returning to my old stamping ground in and around the cloisters of ‘the Yooni.’

Folk have commented that I’ve been losing my West End twang of late, so, hopefully, this will allow me to soak up the nurturing atmosphere of Gilmorehill and conduct an entire service in my best ‘telephone voice.’

Thankfully, the sun should still be shining on the happy couple and their guests.

Right. Once I have filed this column, there are still a couple of post-party tidying jobs to attend to, not least the draining of the paddling pool. I’ll give Jasmine a final go at it to see if she wants to take the cooling waters before I pull the plug.

Incidentally, may I take this opportunity to thank the reader who very kindly sent Jasmine an ultrasonic tick tag. I had mentioned how she’s not keen on the spot-on treatment, so this is seen as a high-tech solution. People are so kind to us.

I think one of the reasons I can’t get worked up about birthdays (even big ones) is that folk are so nice to us all the time. It’s as though every day is our birthday.

 

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