Many thanks to all the kind folks who sent birthday greetings and wishes. I did indeed live through another one yesterday, and I have to say it was pretty forkin' good. Really.
I did a little grocery shopping in the morning, and Natalie took the kids on an expedition to Find Gifts For Dad. So... you know: stuff. Note in the picture below, for example, I am wearing a "World's Greatest Dad" medallion. Courtesy of the Younger Son. Barnes, Birmo -- I guess that just about fuckin' settles the question, doesn't it? World's Greatest Dad: says so right there on the medallion, and there's no gainsaying that, eh?
Happily, I'd done a cunning bit of planning, and conspired with my friend Smileyfish to do an afternoon of river ecology science stuff with the boys. As usual, things got a little larger than life, so instead of just my lads, the boys from the nursery Down The Hill came along, as did the three youngsters who were here earlier in the week. And naturally, since numbers were up the post-river barbecue got shifted up a gear into more of an Event...
Smileyfish In Her Element
The river science thing went off beautifully. We went over the mountainside to the St Patrick's river. Smileyfish and her partner (Cuddlefish!) took a couple kids in their trusty Corolla, and followed the two 4wd cars along the riverbank to the chosen site. Then we jumped out, apologised to the quiet family camping there, and plunged into the river in pursuit of Science.
Searching For Science!
Smiley led the way with the big net, but the boys were right behind: turning over rocks, scooping stuff off the bottom, grommiting around under overhanging banks... nothing better in all the world than a cool, clear river on a hot summer afternoon.
People got wet. Smiley fell on her butt, and lost a pair of sunglasses to the riffle. Kids argued over nets. Stones were skipped. And then we took our catch back to the main base and pored over what we found...
The idea was to go looking for diversity -- to see what kind of species lived in the water, and find out if there were any surviving which were pollution-sensitive. Indicators of water health, in other words. I'm delighted to say we found all sorts of great things: tonnes of mayflies, caddis-flies and stoneflies, all of which are quite sensitive, suggesting that the river is currently in pretty good condition.
The boys were fascinated and delighted, and so was I. We slurped up all kinds of greeblies and creepies, put them into ice cube trays and stared at 'em with magnifying glasses. We found a cool nematode and put it in a sample jar. Every new critter had to be admire and exclaimed over -- the whole two hours went by in a flash, and the visiting boys announced how pleased they were that they'd gone to the river instead of to the fair down at Bridport. I thought that was pretty cool: they passed up rides and junk food and stalls of toys, and felt they had the better end of the deal.
We made it back to Chez Flinthart, and I started cooking. The kids went out and mobbed the trampoline, and the drinks got broken out. Someone had actually left a slab of beer with my name on it at the surgery that morning - as well as a couple bottles of very palatable red! - but we started off with the infamous Gay Blue Drinks, and went on from there. I grilled sausages and chops (Nigel's famous wonder-lamb, thanks!) for the kids, and some chicken skewers with lime and salt and chili. All that was just to keep the wolf at bay while the big lamb haunch roasted over charcoal, with garden-fresh rosemary and garlic and sea-salt. And then there was the infamous salad of smoky grilled vegetables with sea salt and balsamic vinegar, and a couple nice green salads, and roast potatoes, and then a chocolate birthday cake, and finally, a small serve of freshly made super-rich vanilla ice cream with blackberries from the garden.
Heh. Smileyfish isn't good with gluten. I promised her a decent feed in exchange for her aid at the river... and I think she probably would have been happy with dinner. But just to be sure, in the morning I made a batch of fluffy gluten-free pancakes which were eaten with still more of the ice-cream and blackberries. I suspect the Flinthart kitchen acquitted itself okay.
Overall? I had a brilliant birthday. Best I've had in years. I sat up late talking with the Fish Folk, and it was marvellous. They're smart, interesting, cool, funny, and we share a range of interests. It's wonderful to catch up with somebody new and simply enjoy the whole process... I'm extremely grateful, delighted, and all kinds of pleased. And I even got a birthday present from the Fishy Friends: vietnamese mint!
The new plant is going in my herb garden this afternoon. In the meantime: here's a photo of the Mau-Mau in her new fairy dress, with her nifty new curly-toe felt slippers...
Thank you to everyone!