Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Castle Moat

It’s summer, it’s June and therefore double birthday month at Castle Moat. A pair of Geminis for those who attach importance to such matters.

“So, what do you want for your birthday? Anything you can think of?”
“Hm, what about you? Is there something you’d really like?”

A perennial problem, one which we rarely solve. There was a time when Beloved bought me jewellery. Gold one year, amber another, jet from Whitby a third. Silver, pearls, a not terribly precious stone or two, rings, bracelets, necklaces, ear rings. I enjoyed them and wore them when the occasion arose. I hardly ever wear jewellery now. In fact, when I look at individual pieces I wonder who in the family, or more likely, among my friends, might be glad to have it.

Clothes too, a silk blouse, a cashmere jumper, stuff I don’t wear often because I can’t be bothered with frequent dry-cleaning. In London things were different, with a dry cleaner in walking distance and your cellophane wrapped item speedily returned. In the country it takes a week and costs a fortune. Besides, when would I wear really smart clothes? Gardening and dog walking demand jeans and a fleece to cover the t-shirt.

What about perfume? Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps was my favourite for years and I frequently found a pretty bottle on the breakfast table on the big day. I still use perfume occasionally, but so seldom, that I have a whole untouched bottle waiting to be broached in my dressing table drawer. (Heavens, that antique dressing table was a present once.)

Hawthorn Blossom

The dressing table came when we hit on the idea of joint presents, after all, our birthdays are within two days of each other. A small piece of antique furniture, or a non-essential household item, a beautiful bowl, or a painting. Something decorative. (I hate ‘practical’ presents, I hate ‘useful’ presents). Something we could both equally enjoy.

Now our house is full of stuff which we would love to pass on to an appreciative recipient, we are certainly not in the market to add to it. We look at our acquisitions and wonder “ would X like it?"

Wild Orchid in the Field

We bought each other books galore, music CDs too. Now we mainly read ebooks and listen to digital music. That leaves the choice of vouchers for digital downloads. How romantic is that? 

For a while, we bought the more expensive bottles, a crate of French vintage wine or an oak-aged single malt. True, we still like a glass of wine and Beloved will have a glass of whiskey on cold winter nights, but an ordinary wine will do now. We never finish a bottle at one sitting and letting a good wine stew in the bottle for days on end is a crime against Bacchus. Beloved has also finally admitted that single malts do nothing for him and he much prefers an ordinary Scotch.

 Laburnum hanging over the Back Wall covered in Red Valerian
and long fronds of honeysuckle waiting to bloom.

What remains? Can you think of anything? A good meal at a nice restaurant is always an option, but we do that anyway when we feel like it. Our needs and wishes have shrunk dramatically and those few things which could be deemed special and worthy of present-giving are within reach any day. Should I wait for that book, the silk shirt, the box of hand-made truffles until my birthday or buy it for myself now, while I feel like it?

What to do? What do you do? When I asked Beloved just now he said “I can’t think of a single thing that would give me more pleasure than for us to have a nice day, maybe have a special bite to eat and lift a glass in a toast to us and our pleasant life together.”

Lovely man, if a bit unimaginative.

I won’t even get a bunch of flowers. There are untold bunches to be gathered in the garden right now, all of them more beautiful than artificially bred, stiff-necked, one size fits all supermarket arrangements, irradiated for long life.

Hold on a minute, though. I’ve just thought of something I really want: a cottage on the coast in Germany. And while we’re at it, how about a small flat in London for those hard to reach theatre visits? Not asking too much, am I? Oh yes, and a chauffeur to drive me from one to the other. And a housekeeper to take care of things while I’m away living in one of my several abodes.

There you are, I knew I would come up with something if I thought long and hard enough.


  1. What a gift to arrive at the place where there is nothing to desire except to live each day well. What joy! What freedom! Celebrate!

  2. To have so much of everything that you cannot think of a gift. Well, how about an original poem or a professional portrait? I agree with hubby, as that is usually what I want.

  3. I'd like a chef.

  4. Your delightful post is a gift to your readers. Happy birthday, Friko.

  5. Ah I too once loved lAit de Temps but now scented products knock me off balance, cause awful panic as allergies beginning their course of playing with my mind and bodt!
    A cottage in Germany would be a rare treat. I would love that too.
    Happy birthday this June.

  6. We're very bad about celebrating birthdays (gifting holidays, too). Often J is away at a conference the very day of my birthday, as that's how the ones she's required to go to fall. And, like you, heaven forfend we accumulate any more things! I think for us, best is a trip or an evening out doing something special, as tonight when we go down to NYC to see Wolf Hall Part II. As for a cottage somewhere wonderful, well, even renting a cottage in Germany would be a lovely treat!

  7. Well, shoot, I forgot to say the most important thing: Happy double birthday to you both!

  8. Isn't it wonderful not to want anything, and even better not to need anything.
    My husband and I have solved the birthday present problem by choosing a little gift for ourselves (but the other one pays for it!)
    Many happy returns to you both!

  9. Happy double birthday.
    Increasingly we are giving experiences, rather than things.
    One special one was a trip to the zoo to pat a cheetah. A balloon flight was another.
    Love that you have reached the stage where having each other is enough...

  10. We don't buy each other gifts -- at this age, we're trying hard to get rid of clutter! But we do usually go out to dinner or a movie.

    One time, when I was out of town on my birthday, I came home to find that in my absence my husband had cleaned the garage. He knew the messy garage was driving me crazy. That was more thoughtful than any present he could have bought me.

  11. We are going through the exercise of "would X like it" right now as we prepare to move to our new house.

  12. “I can’t think of a single thing that would give me more pleasure than for us to have a nice day, maybe have a special bite to eat and lift a glass in a toast to us and our pleasant life together.” Wise, or at least very close to our thoughts as my own birthday is next week.....Just more of THIS, Together! Please

    Though your dream wishes too are lovely!

    ALOHA from Honolulu,

  13. My husband and I are right where you two are regarding gifts. We buy what we need or want, and don't need or want much. Tho the cottage on the coast of Germany sounds mighty nice. In general we don't want more things.

  14. You could, you know, rent a studio for a week or so either in Germany or London?
    We have so much stuff, books, CDs, etc., like you that birthdays are hard. We usually go to a very good restaurant – one that we have not been to yet. Although our 48th wedding anniversary is in June and we did not know how to celebrate it. I decided on an impromptu trip – going to a port to see the arrival of the Hermione – the French replica ship that Lafayette used to go to the US. It took them 13 years to build to be exactly like the original and they left the coast of France a month ago – what better gift than going to greet the French and visit the ship. For some reason, when I think of a gift for my husband or myself, it usually means a trip somewhere -:)

  15. Friko, as we skip deeper and deeper into June, I send you and your Beloved my very best Happy Birthday wishes.

    If I were to have such a beloved of my own, I would wish for another year in which to enjoy his company, and the prospect of yet another birthday's arrival.

    (My favorite brother is also a Gemini, so perhaps I am very partial to those folks born during these lovely weeks of the year.)


  16. Yes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to even respond when asked what I would like for my birthday, let alone thinking about what to buy my partner. A nice lunch outdoors in the warm fresh air might be very nice. Best wishes for whenever your birthday falls.

  17. You could use the money you'd otherwise spend on each other's birthday presents to at least partially pay for a trip to London or Germany, rent somewhere nice and stay a few days.
    All year round, whenever someone close enough to me to expect a birthday or Christmas present mentions something specific they have seen at the shops, thought about getting, or would like to have, I make a note on the notepad in my mobile phone. When the time is near, I check those notes and choose something from the list.
    As for myself, I sometimes have very specific ideas about something I'd like - a particular book or DVD, for instance - which I mark on my Amazon wish list. Or I know a particular type of jewellery, shoes or handbag would be just perfect for this dress or that suit, or I "need" something new to dress for a specific occasion such as my parents' Golden Wedding anniversary. But often enough, I feel I have everything I need and want, and can't come up with anything spontaneously when asked.

    1. Forgot to mention: I really like useful presents, am not one to use much deco at home. Actually, I really think I want to write a post about the most useful and appreciated presents I have received over the years.

  18. Happy birthday to your both! We, too, have everything we need. Maybe an ice cream cake?

  19. We also have too much stuff that we no longer appreciate. I would be very happy with your beloved's suggestion, but I would also be super happy with a flat in the city, a country home in another part of the world, and housekeepers to watch over all my abodes. It is nice to dream.

    Happy Birthday to you both.

  20. Happy birthday to you both! It's wonderful to be contented with what you have. Life is less stress and more enjoyment. :)

  21. That's exactly what we do these days: nothing except a acknowledgement of the specialness of the day and skipping the presents and the eating out. We are in the same boat of letting go rather than acquiring. Happy birthdays! :-)

  22. Only you could wrap up prose in such a lovely package and give it back to all your blogging friends in such a neat package, Friko. Thank you and happy June birthdays.
    Our presents these days are simple; a bag of licorice works for me, a prepaid card for coffee for him. The one thing Tom always gives me for Mother's Day, which is in May, is a fuchsia. I know he will buy one, hang it on a shepherd's hook inches from our living room window, but I will ooh and ah just the same for the color of the flower he has chosen. Then we will sit, mornings, and wait for the hummingbirds to come and sip from the flowers.

  23. after years of disappointment expecting a birthday gift from my husband, especially since I always made a big deal of his, I finally just started buying my own birthday presents. and stopped buying him any. mostly I buy art.

  24. It's rather nice to have a birthday gift you can share wiht the other person. Outings that you wouldn't normally get round to going on - that kind of thing. It works well. Or, sometimes, holidays, if the money runs to it.

  25. Hi Friko - I hear your dilemma ... not easy - let's just hope both days are warm and sunny .. and perhaps a gentle stroll in a leafy wood, or meadow hills with Millie ... and a big hug ... and a delicious meal somewhere different - taken by taxi - so no driving needed by either of you ...

    Enjoy the days ... and summer does gladden our hearts ... you could have my January ice and snowy one?! Cheers Hilary

  26. Oh yes, just how I feel! Only my cottage would be France I think, or Sweden where my mother came from: I do not know Germany well enough to wish for one there:) As for the jewellery, you know the old adage amongst the upper class elderly women, "They garden in tweeds with pearls and feed the pigs with a diamond brooch on".

  27. The older I get, the less gifts of things matter to me.

  28. Happy birthday Friko, material crap means nothing to me now. I'm always amazed when I get gifts, particularly valuable ones. I never know what do with them. A whole wank of jewellery (all gifts) was stolen from my luggage in Heathrow a few years ago and I have to tell you I was relieved.

    Time is the best gift. Handcrafts. A gorgeous card.


  29. Birthday blessings to you both. You summed up changing birthday desires for our season of life very well indeed.

  30. My daughter tells me her new puppy destroyed her sofa. I will give her mine soon. As for jewelry, with four granddaughters, I have plenty of recipients. My only real weaknesses in terms of buying stuff are books, yarn and pots and I need more!

  31. Birthday wishes to you both, Friko. Since I can't come by in person, I'll just send along this little gift for you both. Somehow, I think it might be just right. And it won't take up any space! xoxo

  32. Happy birthday to you and your beloved, Friko! My husband and I have birthdays in April that are three days apart. We stopped giving each other physical gifts long ago and opt for a nice day or two doing something we don't usually do -- going out for dinner or to a movie or a play. Or just enjoying the day. I think we're all at an age where we're thankful to have a good day together.

  33. My husband and I are also puzzled as what to do about birthdays and big occasions. I don't want anymore 'stuff' and neither does he. Dinner out is an option but the long drive home is a difficulty, particularly if we've enjoyed some wine. So we usually opt for a nice meal at home with some Cava..When I say that we chose to spend our 50th anniversary butchering 25 chickens for the freezer, it says everything. We have made a life that suits us and are happy to live it, no matter the day. But if I could have a wish, it would be for a crew of gardeners to deal with my overgrown plantings.

  34. And I should have begun with best birthday wishes to both of you!

  35. Problem solved! You buy him the flat in London, he can buy you the cottage on the coast in Germany.
    I remember years ago wanting a new house and my daughter buying me a miniature mansion for my birthday that year. It was about three inches tall and wide and sat on my bedside for years.

  36. I don't know either what to ask for my birthdays anymore. Jewelry ? no interest, I always wear fashion necklaces and changed from gold to silver. I never would think about living in Germany ! I lived too long here to cope with their mentality. I thought about a horse riding, I have never been on a horse because I feared them. Now I love them, just one little ride for my birthday would be nice !

  37. liebe friko, ich wünsche dir von herzen alles gute zum geburtstag und welches geschenk ist wunderbarer als diese liebenswürdige aussage von "beloved" ?!... liebe und gute wünsche euch beiden! renée ( du wirst bald von mir hören)

  38. Happy Birthday to both of you
    Understand all your sharing
    and I now live solo.
    In the past it was all there
    now I would like just time for my children and grandchildren.
    Also and out of the question
    but if I could
    a gardener once a week along with a housekeeper,
    a cottage on the ocean,
    a trip to Italy
    and wish my children could spend more time with me...

  39. Many happy returns on this feast day of your nativity
    Diamonds and jewels are never out of style.

  40. Well, first of all, happy birthday this month! I suspect you will have a lovely day no matter what -- and who knows, maybe a surprise or two! Rick and I have a bit of the same dilemma. We both have stuff, we'll still do the good wine (and finish it off!) but only a really good bottle of wine is "special." He knows about as much on buying something for my art addiction as I know about buying something for his bike, so we are hands off there. Lately we're into experiences -- taking a jaunt together someplace we don't visit normally. Or doing something extra special while we are there. Perhaps a theatre trip to London for a long weekend might be something to add to the list if the cottage is Germany is out of the question! Rick is riding his bike from Michigan to Ottawa, Canada this year for his 60th and I'll pick him up. We'll probably do our July/August birthdays there or on the way home, maybe a stop at Stratford or Shaw festivals, a nice B&B, a nice dinner... Who knows! As we often say in our household, "It all depends on the weather!"

    I send you big cyber bouquets of flowers that aren't from the store that don't grow in your own garden and a lot of lovely wishes for a year of good health, happiness and joy.

  41. Yes, the wishes at the end are always the one that if one thinks hard enough one will remember that it would be nice to have that too.

    Happy birthday to you both. I know exactly how beloved feels. I agree. A nice day together and a satisfying meal with a glass lifted to celebrate is just the right wish for a perfect birthday or anniversary.

  42. Happy Birthday to you both! We are in the same boat if we want something we buy it...time spent quietly together works for us...oh I would love an Island in a warm place in the winter:)

  43. Yes, definitely: a treat, a trip or a special outing. You got there in the end!

  44. OMG, Friko, you live in such beautiful surroundings ... just look at your garden pics ... so wonderful !!! What more would a person want ??? Love, cat.

  45. Belated birthday greetings to you both. We solved the problem many years ago when we agreed not even to try to give each other presents for birthdays and Christmas. It works for us.


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