Where did all those candles come from? Coping with birthdays for the elderly.

February 19, 2013

I have a birthday coming up. It’s not The Big One, but it’s fair to say I can see that disturbing number looming large.

This one will be relatively painless. A few nice dinners, with no need for reflection. That will come next year.

There was a time when we celebrated our birth date with gusto. My 18th party was one such occasion.

It centred around one of the all-time great games of backyard cricket. We played over an entire weekend, and into Monday morning.

There was a large keg, and little else. Our dog, the tennis ball-chasing border collie, was exhausted by the end of play.

Players came and went, but the game rolled on. The effect of refreshments meant the pace bowlers lost their line, and the batsmen had trouble seeing several feet in front of them.

Someone told me they witnessed a streak as part of the event. Up the road, past the club, and back to the game. Without video proof, I still refuse to believe it.

There were other great parties around that time. A bunch of us were born within a few weeks of each other. Each event was a triumph.

Perhaps the highlight was a mate who ended his 18th night, clinging to the Hills hoist, while playing a harmonica. Naked. There were photos, which I believe have since been destroyed.

Through the years, milestones have been celebrated in various locations. The 30th was in Cairns, during a rain storm of biblical proportions. The pub we were in became a temporary houseboat.

Year 40 was marked at the races. A lovely day at Eagle Farm with some good chums. We then had Chinese, and were almost arrested, because of a dispute over the cake. Good times.

The celebrations since have been a little less spectacular. Hard to get too excited through the mid-forties. Still good fun, but no marathon sporting events or nude musical interludes.

Next year could be different. The old boys are emerging from their slumber, and starting to prepare. Once again, we’ll have a clutch of events within weeks of each other. Medical teams will be put on standby.

I’ll keep you posted through the year as the plans take shape. All ideas will be considered. Just one condition. No harmonicas.


Forget the Horse Whisperer. Meet my mate the Woy Woy Goat Walker.

October 9, 2012

It wasn’t something you see every day. A grown man walking a goat by the side of the road. Complete with collar and leash.

Traffic slowed to a crawl. Drivers strained for a better look. It was difficult to work out who they were more focused on. The high-stepping farm animal, or the giant wearing nothing but his footy shorts and a smile.

My big mate has always done things like that. He’s not embarrassed easily. When you tip the scales at over 120 kilos, you can pretty well do as you please.

Memories of the goat came flooding back on the weekend, as a few of us celebrated his 50th birthday.

In typical style, he’d banned any party. Said he wouldn’t attend. Too much fuss.

Instead, it was decided that we’d surprise him several weekends before the actual date. A shock and awe approach to a birthday bash.

Over a few cool drinks at the club we helped build thirty years ago, stories of tall tales from the early days emerged. The goat received several mentions.

We were minding it for one of the Big Bloke’s friends. I never found out why. I just came home one Friday night, on unsteady pins, to find a new pet chained to the clothesline.

This puzzled me. I was sure there hadn’t been an animal there when I left for work earlier that day. One would remember such a development.

I checked with the housemates, who confirmed that my eyes weren’t playing tricks. So began our time with Spot the Goat.

Visitors loved Spot. They thought he was a quirky addition to our bachelor pad. Like the barber’s chair on the back deck. And the bathroom that had never been cleaned.

I had less affection for Spot. His diet consisted of grass, cardboard (as in beer cartons), and my work shirts. His other great trick was to position himself at my bedroom window, and make the most awful of noises at approximately 4am. Every day.

His time with us was eventful, but brief. Spot went to the farmyard in the sky. The Big Bloke was upset for a week.

My mate’s other great passion, aside from family, Fords and Manly, has always been food. You don’t get to be his size without knowing a little about preparing a meal.

Back then, he took it upon himself to make lunch for all three members of the house. One loaf of bread per day. White, of course.

He bought us lunch boxes, and had them packed, ready to go, early each morning. Sometimes with a treat. This, from a burly front-rower who packed down with the best of the time.

At work, my colleagues chuckled. Don’t let that one go, they’d say. I’d landed myself quite a catch.

It all worked fine, until the day I was invited to a business lunch. I’d forgotten all about it, and duly lined up in the morning to receive my allocation of the loaf.

Those four hefty sandwiches remained in my bag, as I dined out on fancy Chinese. Big mistake.

What I didn’t realise, was that my towering housemate was checking our lunch boxes each night. Just to make sure that his efforts weren’t being wasted.

It was our first and only confrontation. Me full of cheap wine and dim sims, and him waving soggy cheese and beetroot sangers in my face.

From then on, if I had a work lunch, I’d dump his carefully made sandwiches in the bin. Nothing like keeping the peace.

He hasn’t changed. Made me breakfast before I left for my flight home. Three fat sausages, two eggs, two tomatoes, baked beans and toast. And watched as I took every bite.

He loves looking after people. Always has. The Big Bloke doesn’t believe in throwing anything away. A mighty heart in that giant frame. Even the cat is a stray.

I could have asked if he had any goat’s cheese to go with my cup of tea. But I thought better of it.

He doesn’t exercise farm animals any more. That’s a shame. I guess once you’ve walked with goats, there’s not much left to achieve.


The rules for having a punt on your birthday. Champagne, laughter and ignore the tipster.

July 14, 2012

We’re off to a birthday party today.

Not just any gathering. A much-loved friend is celebrating one of the Biggies.

I’m too much of a gentleman to give her age away. Let’s just say her 40th was a LONG time ago.

I’m not on the organising committee, but I’m guessing she’ll have a few champagnes as we gather to mark the day. And a wine. Or two.

The other birthday activity I’m confident she’ll be involved in is a bet. Because that’s what we do.

I have lots of friends who don’t need a special occasion to join in the punt. Many will do so on any day that ends in Y. Let me point out that the Birthday Girl isn’t one of them.

She saves her punting for special days. And she has certain betting characteristics that will set her out from the crowd.

There’s every chance that she’ll have all her bets in the one go, at the start of the day. There will be a pile of tickets filled out early, ready to feed through the machine.

They won’t be big plonks. Just a few dollars each. A trifecta or two. A jockey she likes. There could even be some names that tickle her fancy. And definitely nothing that I tip her.

More often than not, she’ll get hubby to put the bets on for her. Allows her to keep chatting. Today will be one of those days. He’ll walk off with a large bunch of betting slips, and a handful of notes and coins.

This is always amusing, because it takes some time to get the tickets done and dusted. He’ll be standing there for an age, with a line forming behind him. There may even be a scratching somewhere in the mix, that will delay him some more.

He is one of those special blokes who’s spent his life keeping the rest of us safe. Decades in the force, taking great joy in locking up grubs. And dealing with pressure to solve horrendous crimes, that few others have to experience.

For him, holding up a line of anxious punters is a walk in the park. All those times he’s stood in that queue, I’ve never heard him complain. Not once. He’ll return to the table, with the processed tickets, and a smile. Although he may have kept the change once or twice.

The Birthday Girl will win this afternoon. You can bet on that. It will be a nag that the rest of us have dismissed out of hand. No chance. She will spot something that we missed.

It will pay a heap. Which will add to our pain. She’ll let us know, with a laugh that rattles windows, and is music to the soul.

Hubby will be proud as punch of her. And not just because he might get a sling from the winning kitty. It’s just how they are.

She deserves the very best of days today, and that’s what we’ll give her. There was a savage battle not that long ago, that she faced head-on, with incredible courage and class. A foe that doctors had to tackle, not coppers. She’s winning that too.

And so we’ll celebrate, and be thankful that we have such a wonderful friend. Sometimes you don’t need much more than mates, laughter, and a few bets. Happy birthday Jacinta.