The Birthday Party (Part 1)

Stoke Newington Travel Blog

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A giraffe magically climbs the guttering whilst the daffodil keeps watch.
I guess one of the hardest things about leaving home - for a long period of time - is the relationships that you must leave behind.  For a time anyhow.  Friends, both those close to you and those with whom the connection over time for whatever reason has become faint and tenuous and in all likelihood will not survive another 2 years or so of me in The Wilds.   Incommunicado. Former work colleagues.  This one already feels a little strange.  I left work in late June to relax in England for a while ahead of my departure, but for them of course the diurnal drudgery of banking administration, targets, boredom and stress continues.  As an unemployed person I already feel slightly alien in my 'own' lands.  The biggest tear of all of course will be in leaving family.
Introducing.... TOM! :D
  Those closest to me.  But more on that another time.

This weekend I am visiting Tina and Ben to catchup, say my farewells and help to celebrate their son Tom's 2nd birthday :) "Wow!" I haven't  been to a kiddy party in like yeeeeears!  It's gonna be soooo much fun!  The last time I saw the family was the best part of 18 months ago.  I was in London to be introduced to Tom for the first time, a smiling bubbly little lad already, fairly heavy (I thought) to lift, and having a propensity to start crying after a minute or two in my arms.  His father entertained him with a Cookie Monster puppet, we bounced him up and down in some sort of bungee-seat contraption and went for a walk together.
Prezzy time! :))
  Later I crossed a bridge alone having said my farewells, to the Left Bank district by the river Thames.  The night sky was down, and I nervously descended some tide-erroded steps to the waters edge and let some of my mother's ashes, silvery in the moonlight, (or was it neon bar lights behind me?) descend and mingle with the great River's waters.  A strange day.  A greeting to new life, and a farewell to old.

Tina & Ben were then paying a king's ransome to live in a darkened basement flat in West Kensington but have since moved out to East London, Stoke Newington and pay another king's ransome in rent and rates to stay in a much nicer flat, more conducive to a happy young family.  A good thing too as Tom, unbeknownst to him has a little brother or sister on the way :)

I am usually quite terrified of driving in to London, but fortunately on this day manage to get to their doorstep pretty much without any incident or mistakes at all.
Tom points to and admires his mother's baking.
  In small ways I feel that I have entered a place quite unfamiliar to me.   Stoke Newington and its surrounding areas represent the epicentre of the Hasidic Jewish community in London (and Britain).  Many families of relatively orthodox adherence to Judaism live house-by-house by one another and form, by repute, one of the more insular ethnic (or rather religious) minority communities in the country.  The men stroll along the streets with their long black (I think in this summer weather, surely suffocating?) robes and arresting looking furred 'kolpik' hats (something akin to Russian Kosak hats...only bigger!).  The women, rarely in transit alone, dressed in modest, some would say blandly cut and coloured clothes and the children bouncing along, the boys with the fine curls of their never-cut, never-shaven 'Payot' sideburns blowing in the breeze.

It's great to finally catch up with Tina and Ben again!  A nicer couple I have not I think known.  Tom is fast alseep in mom 'n' dad's bed when I arrive, but I take a quick glance at his cherubic, chubby little face.  I find myself thinking, predictably, "My,my! Haven't you grown!".  Does saying such things make me old? Officially an 'adult'?  I am then immediately press-ganged (willingly) into action to assist in crafting some of the many fine, handmade snacks that Tina is stressfully preparing for his special party tomorrow.  Cups of tea are conveyor-belted to me throughout the afternoon as I get mucky hand-rolling vegetable risoles (egg, flower and veg everywhere!) and later, and much more enjoyably rolling out fresh-made pastry and cutting out shapes of animals and vehicles for party biscuits! "Yum!".
  In the meantime Ben's parents have arrived from Norwich to lend a hand too.  Most of the day is spent in this manner.  Food shopping and preparing.  My hosts continually apologise that "this is no way for me to spend my time with them in London", but far from it! Being immersed in this fabulous diorama of family life, warmth and the envigorating (or in Tina's case exhausting) chaos of so  many small acts of kindness and love towards their little lad, and their guests is exactly what I need.  A perfect moment, the likes of which will be few and far between for me along The Road.

The following day is "PAAAAAAARTY TIIIME!!!"  I think I'm almost as excited as Tom!  Well, actually probably more so given his probable lack of awareness as to the meaning of this hive of activity.
  He don't care.  All he knows is that more so even than usual he's the centre of attention.  There are some cards to open with inexplicable hieroglyphs (birthday greetings) written inside for his (in)attention and several super-cool prezzies to be released from the prison of their fascinatingly-coloured and patterned wrapping paper.  Some coloured fridge magnets, a teddy and a Buzz Lightyear!  Mum smiles on as the sunlight falls upon her l'il boy's exciteable endeavours, having recovered from a mini-breakdown over the home-made muffins late lastnight.

I try to keep Tom entertained as best I can to keep him from under the party organisers' feet.  We're getting on famously now, after his initial uncertainties at this bright-haired stranger having entered his territory yesterday.
Tom's fave prezzy on the day! A Bob the Builder hat! "Cool!"
   We play with Postman Pat and Bob the Builder toys, and he needs to be quickly distracted if he gets it in his mind to watch his 1,000th episode of Charlie and Lola on DVD this weekend alone... his fave ya see.  He happily grabs me commandingly by the index finger to drag me around the flat and to show me items of 'great' interest...for at least the 10th time.  He's knocked out by my attempts to make a giant cuddly 'My Neighbour Totorro' toy seemingly come to life; he giggles lots and is not bored by the 50th repetition of this act...even if I might be :)

The party is a grand picnic held not far from their home in a genuine city oasis called Springfield Park.  Ben desbribes the transition as you enter the park as "night and day" in terms of the stark and beautiful, unexpected and hidden contrast this rolling verdant park offers to the streets and council estates that surround it.
Everyone tucking in.
  A real little inner-urban paradise with many differing varieties of trees and a little pond or 'lake' fed by the bubbling natural springs that give the area its name.  There are nice areas of fallow long grasses left to Nature's course to encourage butterflies and other mini-eco systems that would otherwise be squeezed out.  Hackney Marshes can be seen in the distance. 

Following meterological inconstancy yesterday and much parental concern in devising plan 'B' should it rain we are BLESSED! The weather is sunny, and beautiful throughout the afternoon.  Loads of things have been brought along to entertain the posse of little kids, Tom's friends, who will attend the party and these I assist in setting up.  They include a fabulous little 'bouncy castle' style arena, a play tunnel, an inflatable town and there will be many bubble machines set in motion throughout the proceedings by Ben.
Rumours that alcohol abuse amongst the British Youth are greatly exaggerated.
  Magical. "Bubbles are great!" long having been a little catchphrase between my best friend and I.

The food is absolutely delicious.  Tina has certainly outdone herself, and I am happy in my own small way that the vegetable risoles I rolled aren't killing anyone, and that the kids (and adults) are enjoying the little menagerie of baked space rockets, elephants, cars, camels, cats, helicopters, bikes, lions etc, etc... that marched into and back out of the oven two by two yesterday...well, the animals anyways.

The day is a great, great success.  I gently sip a beer or two and watch this happy congregation of young couples.  Young moms and dads with their kiddies running all over.   (Occasionally all over them!)  Some are married and some are not, and most about my age.
MAKE A WISH! But DON'T tell anyone it! (oh yeah, you can't).
  For almost the whole proceedings I am the ONLY person present without a kid, let alone two kids as with some.  Another moment for pause and reflection, for I am leaving all this behind too.  By 'this' I mean so called 'adult responsibilities' or at least decisions. Let's call them life choices.  Falling in love, in that meaningful way.   Or at least getting comfortable with that one life partner you somehow know you want to have a family with.  Long-term relationships.  Marriage.  Family life.  Child rearing.  Having a home.  Sustaining and maintaining a successful family home.  The absolute necessity of employment (forever more than likely) that such decisions entail.  Forms of presumably incompariable happiness.
"RUUUUUUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!! The Bubble Monster's comiiiiiiing!"
  Forms of stress and tension and obligation through duty and love I cannot yet comprehend.  The good and the bad rewarding no doubt in their different ways.  No turning back.  New life is streaming from you.  Forging the New Generations.  That dreaded phrase "settling down", a notion to which bumming around the world for a couple of years seemingly offers a grand two-fingered salute.  Of victory?  Am I escaping?  Am I missing out?  Am I making the right decision? There's no right and wrong of course.  Only choices.  Choices that I am lucky to have.  All the formal stuff can wait a little longer I guess.  Having come within inches really of deciding to buy my first house in late 2007, I have now spun far out of the gravitational pull of any such 'real life' considerations and happiliy spinning out (of control) into the cosmos of the Big Wide World.
The fountain in the pond in Springbank Park.
  Who knows what life changes, anyhow, await me on The Road.

And everything will continue to change in small and grand ways in my absence no doubt.  I think that to be away from familiar scenes, and people for a period of time, however long, often iduces in us an assumption that the opposite will be true.  That not a lot will change.  Everybodys' lives will go on hold; be in 'Pause Mode' whilst I take a rather prolonged 'time-out' to go give the world my appraisal.   Time only passes if I observe it.  I will return with a backpack full of memories and the naive assumption that not much will be different.  But everyone, their families and aspirations will be two years further along the road of life of course.  Many things will be different.  I will have a lot of catching up to do.
  Maybe I will have to consider becoming responsible then?  But that is for the future.

For now it's about the present.  Presents!  The Birthday Party, and bouncing, bubbles, biscuits, cakes, wishes, beer, lemonade, smiles, photos, kids being amused by the man down the hill who has a pet ferret running about the field, more bubbles, more cake, salad, laughter, nappy-changing, sunshine, screams of joy, muffins, magic and friendship.  "A fantastic time was had by all!", as the saying is oft said.

The party's packed up, we wearily, drowisly return to the flat, and to memories and photos of the day.  Tina is understandably exhausted.  Tom, as usual wishes to watch Charlie and Lola endlessly, but we all eventually must sleep.
   The following morning Tina, Ben, little Tommy and I walk back to Springfield Park in glorious sunshine, and have a truly yummy full English breakfast (toast, sausages, bacon, fried eggs, mushrooms, baked-beans, grilled tomatoes...) at the picturesque Springfield Park or 'Spark' cafe.  Tom tackles a l'il ice cream and we all sit and relax as the wind plays in the trees and the train passes infrequently in the distance along the course of Hackney Marshes.  Well, little Tom.  I'm going away soon, and you may turn out to be, amongst all other barometers, the most effective in demonstrating to me how much things will have progressed in my absence.   When I return you will be 4 at least!  You will be speaking more than just the handful of words (call them commands if you will) at your current disposal.
Me and Tina (my longest standing friend from Art College in Brighton in 1997/98)
  I will have many tales to tell you, some parts of which you may understand by then.   You may be bored of Charlie and Lola.  Although I have doubts on this point.  You will have either a sister or a brother by then and maybe I will celebrate their 2nd birthday upon my return.  December 2010.  "Yikes!"  I will once more say things like "My, my! Haven't you grown!" and having uttered this, I will firmly be reminded of my place in the adult sphere of things, ready to start a so-called 'responsible life'... maybe.  :)

Afterword (written 09/10/08) [ I am so sorry little Sam.  And I regret very much that I never had the pleasure of meeting you.
The walk home.
  Fear never too much, for you will live forever in infinite tiny ways, through the force of memories and your connection to the pulse of every heartbeat radiating out into the universe from your parents (and brother in time) as they travel through this life.  For you are part of them and even with the faintest of touches we all change this world forever.  So you may feel their comforts and kindness still. Love - Steve x]

Stevie_Wes says:
"Ahhh, wow!" I've only been up an hour and you've made me pleased as punch already Pat. Much appreciated. Nah, not really thought about that yet. Primarily I've always beens more into doodling and illustrating although I do have a craving to try writing... I will attempt to knock together some kiddies stories to illustrate whilst on my travels, but Travbuddy is helping me get into writing more, so I hope to keep on improving if I can :D
Posted on: Aug 12, 2008
pms70 says:
Hey Steve, I really like your style of writing. Ever thought about doing it as a profession?
Posted on: Aug 12, 2008
Stevie_Wes says:
"hee-hee!" yep, an important part of my pre-travel training is getting used to boring the pants of people with my blogs... I'm trying to make them shorter entries!! Honest ;D
Posted on: Aug 10, 2008
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A giraffe magically climbs the gut…
A giraffe magically climbs the gu…
Introducing.... TOM! :D
Introducing.... TOM! :D
Prezzy time! :))
Prezzy time! :))
Tom points to and admires his moth…
Tom points to and admires his mot…
Toms fave prezzy on the day! A Bo…
Tom's fave prezzy on the day! A B…
Everyone tucking in.
Everyone tucking in.
Rumours that alcohol abuse amongst…
Rumours that alcohol abuse amongs…
MAKE A WISH! But DONT tell anyone…
MAKE A WISH! But DON'T tell anyon…
The fountain in the pond in Spring…
The fountain in the pond in Sprin…
Me and Tina (my longest standing f…
Me and Tina (my longest standing …
The walk home.
The walk home.
Tom helps put the raspberries on…
Tom 'helps' put the raspberries o…
Hmm?  What biscuit to chose and ha…
Hmm? What biscuit to chose and h…
Getting ready to paaaaaarty!
Getting ready to paaaaaarty!
Inside the Bounce Arena.
Inside the Bounce Arena.
Party in the Park.
Party in the Park.
The Bubble Making Maestro Ben.
The Bubble Making Maestro Ben.
"BOO!" :D
Caring is sharing.
Caring is sharing.
Tina protects her sons modesty as…
Tina protects her son's modesty a…
The parents look on.
The parents look on.
The Incredibles - yes, father Be…
'The Incredibles' - yes, father B…
Stoke Newington
photo by: Stevie_Wes