Age shall not wither her
To put Pop's unwonted gravitas into some sort of context, discussions about what might constitute an acceptable birthday present had been ongoing for some time. He complained that I was very difficult to buy for, given that I'd already made him cross off spiders in a box, a wormery, scented drawer liners (don't ask), an anorak, and the complete works of Catherine Cookson from his list.
He said he was going to phone me first thing to wish me a happy birthday, and then turn his phone off for the rest of the day. Or possibly for the weekend. Or possibly for ever. He promised that any parcels which might arrive wouldn't contain spiders. They particularly wouldn't contain a toy spider on a spring. I could trust him on this: he was a Pop of his word. I said that was very fortunate, given that, should I receive a toy spider on a spring, it was unlikely to take me very long to decide on an alternative - and rather creative - use for the spring.
True to his word, Pop phoned early this morning to wish me many happy returns. He then hid under his desk. (Ok, that last bit might not be true. I haven't actually had surveillance equipment installed in his office. Yet. I'm just assuming he was hiding under his desk.)
Eventually, a nice man from Parcelforce arrived with a brown paper parcel and asked for my signature. It was immediately apparent from the calibre of the wrapping of said parcel (oh, ok, and the handwriting) that it contained my present from Pop.
Fascinating aside alert: many years ago, in his callow youth, Pop was a professional parcel-wrapper. Don't laugh. I laughed, and he was mortally offended. (I thought he was joking. He's usually joking. Just my luck that, the one time he was being serious, it was about something so unlikely.) Anyway, it must be a bit like riding a bike. Not in the sense that you get to enjoy the feel of the fresh air on your face and the mud on your trouser legs, but in the sense that, once mastered, the skill is never lost.
Boy, can that man wrap parcels. Using a variety of papers and two different kinds of sticky tape (clear for the inside; parcel tape for the outside). Whilst they're never going to come adrift in the postal system, they're a distinct challenge to get into. Particularly when a small voice in the back of your head is warning you that despite Pop's claims to the contrary, there may still be spiders in the box, so you're trying to unwrap the parcel in a manner which will ensure that any spiders which might be in there would spill out away from you rather than directly into your cleavage. Thus giving you approximately 1 extra nano-second to avoid being crawled on by a spider. (Spiders are nothing if not speedy in their movements. Not to mention hypnotically drawn to cleavages.)
Anyway, I got into it eventually. And this is what my lovely, lovely friend had sent me:
As soon as I'd revealed the hideously-insulting contents of the parcel (and pausing for only the briefest of moments to check that there were absolutely no traces of previously-unnoticed spider lurking anywhere in the pile of wrapping paper), I phoned Pop on his mobile. He pretended to be his own answerphone message. A pretence which he continued until he was sure I wasn't cross with him. Once I'd chuckled enough to allay his fears, he unbent so far as to concede that she looks slightly older than me.
I'm reminded - and not just on account of the spooky similarity in outfits - of Prince Charles asking me whether I'd been awarded an MBE to mark my retirement. The teensiest bit galling when you're still twenty years off retirement age. And you were thinking - up until that precise moment - that you'd scrubbed up rather well, all things considered.
But I digress. Of course Pop hadn't misjudged my sense of humour. My Old Biddy is fab. And it wouldn't cross my mind to retaliate with one of the figures from the complementary Old Coot range. Not even for a moment. Come to think of it, I wonder whether that's why Pop always refuses to tell me when his birthday is...?