My Late‑eenth Birthday – 22 June 2014
A birthday in late-April is no time to hold a celebration: examinations begin in the early weeks of May and, from there on in, everybody’s heads are buried deep in textbooks. Two months on, however, the sun is high and everyone’s higher (almost all of the A Level papers have now been sat), making today the perfect opportunity to throw a late eighteenth birthday party.
Five years after the family hosted an evening boat party to mark Mum’s 50th and Harriet’s 18th, I picked this Sunday afternoon to hold my very own. With me engrossed in revision, Dad had done the vast majority of the organising, although I came up with the finer details: deciding on the menu, compiling the playlist, and suggesting a ‘Henley’ dress code.
From 11:45am, guests began arriving, with the first being my neighbours and ‘honorary parents’, Kate and Andrew Richards. Soon afterwards, my cousins rolled up with my aunt and uncle (who’d travelled all the way from Lincolnshire), closely followed by my great friend John Stevens. Among the guests closer to my own age, Jack Clifton, who joined me on several DofE trips, and Daniel Marlow, a buddy from my Politics classes. With their final exam (the last of this year’s A Level season) tomorrow, I felt awful to burden my friends Tilda and Geoff with the dilemma of choosing between revision and this party, but was delighted when both felt able to come anyway.
We set off from Maidenhead and, unlike 2009’s trip, went downstream. Our skipper gave us an informative commentary, pointing out the riverside houses of the great and good (and, indeed, the allegedly not-so-good) as we passed them in Bray. Also of note were the Bray Studios and the Oakley Court hotel.
Remarks of Richard Burdett —— As Prepared for Delivery
Andrew Burdett’s 18th Birthday Party
Sunday, 22 June 2014
Andrew was not an easy baby. Of course, it wasn’t easy for him being the youngest of three; when he was born into the Burdett household, Matthew and Harriet were well established so he needed to assert himself in the family hierarchy.
And assert himself he did. Although he slept through the night from quite an early age, once daylight came there was no reason to waste it and he required constant stimulation. Lunchtime naps – so vital for a parent’s sanity – were soon dispensed with, and the restrictions imposed by such irritating impediments as cot sides, stair gates, and play pens were rapidly overcome.
He was not a great one for playing with toys, but he loved books and when he roused early in the morning he would seek permission to wake up properly by calling through to us: “Can I read my books yet?”. He also discovered the computer at a very early age, so I have files of his with lovely childhood spellings dating back to before he went to school.
Burchetts Green Infants School proved ideal for him – and since Matthew and Harriet had not gone there, he was able to really be his own man. His love of words and puns was evident even then, when he pointed out to his teacher that, if when boys were naughty they could be said to be boisterous, why wasn’t there a word ‘girlsterous’.
In many ways, he was much more mature than his age would suggest, and it was interesting that a perceptive teacher at Courthouse School told me that she thought Andrew would be much happier as a teenager. This proved to be absolutely correct, and Ann and I find it difficult to believe our good fortune in having a son who suffered none of the normal teenage angst, and developed into a delightful young man who is great company to be with.
All three of our children have learned to play instruments, but Andrew is the one who really loves music. He has the amazing ability to simply pick out a tune on the piano by ear, and if he’s overstressed or just wants to relax then music fills the room. He also loves singing in the Taplow Youth Choir.
I may have let Andrew down by not encouraging his sporting life, since I was always useless at sport, especially anything involving throwing, hitting, kicking, or catching a ball. True, Ann took him swimming and he is a powerful sight pounding up and down the lanes at the pool. But another great characteristic of his is to have a go. So in the Sixth Form he took up rugby, even though he had first to go and watch a few matches and have the rules explained. He did eventually play for the school team.
But the first love of his life remains the written or broadcast word or image. We have a full history of his thoughts and opinions since he started his blog in 2009 when he was 13, which was a natural development from his diary-writing in which he kept detailed accounts of every moment of our annual family holidays. The blog gave him an opportunity to display his photographic and video skills, culminating in an amazing record of his DofE Gold Expedition last summer that drew widespread praise.
Now he has reached adulthood – but, as I said earlier, there is little change, since he almost seemed like an adult a few years ago. I suppose I can now legally buy him a drink – but it’s more likely to be a G&T than a pint of cider. And he still has to take his driving test.
He is a great lover of family. Many childhood Sunday evenings were spent preparing and presenting ‘shows’ to Ann’s parents, and he was in regular correspondence with my mother and father. They loved our family visits to Sheffield, and my mother, in particular, developed a great fondness for “her little man”. I think perhaps she saw him repeat some of her own childhood rebelliousness towards her own parents.
With Andrew reaching 18, our formal job raising him to adulthood is complete, but we have the great good fortune that he is now not only our son but also a true friend. I am very proud to be his father.
Thank you to everyone for joining us this afternoon, and thank you to Rhidian & Sally for their help with the catering. Let’s also remember all the other people who have been so formative in Andrew’s development, especially his grandparents Hilda, Leslie, Christine, and Arthur. I’m sure that if they can see us now they will be charging their glasses and will join us in wishing Andrew a happy eighteenth – and a bit – birthday.
It was a truly wonderful afternoon, rounded off by joining my school friends for drinks at the Boulter’s Lock bar. By the time I got back home, our dear family friend and former St Luke’s vicar, Richard Holroyd, was to my delight still partaking of tea in the garden. I joined the mini lawn party for a good hour, then, as he was leaving, got changed to spend the evening at Louis Freemantle’s.
I am so grateful to all those who could join me; even more so for the generosity in the many gifts that I was given, which I certainly was not expecting. Following my breakfast outing on Friday, the church fair yesterday, and all this today, it’s been “just the most perfect weekend“.