Today’s been an awesome day, celebrating K turning 25 – quarter of a century old and heading off to Uni to do the thing she’s most wanted to do all her life. People seem to see me as somehow admirable, but as far as I can see it, I just survived – K is doing something altogether bravery and more worthy of admiration than anything I’ve done (with the possible exception of the time I went on that Pirate Ship ride even though I was terrified because my Godson wanted to…).
One of the (many) things I love about K is how amazingly special she makes special days for all those around her. She works tirelessly to make sure that her friends and family have a great time on their days – be it birthdays, anniversaries or celebrations. Because of her unending dedication to others’ enjoyment, I wanted to make sure that this time, just for once, she had an amazing day of her own to lodge in her memory bank.
I didn’t tell her anything about what we were doing all day – perfectly aware that she doesn’t like surprises (they scare her slightly) but knowing that 1) it would be good for her and 2) it would make the day that much more special (or so I hoped).
So I started with a lie in for her and an early morning for me. As it happens, I didn’t actually sleep all night anyway, so the early morning part wasn’t too hard. I got up and sorted out her big bag of presents, laying them all out nicely on the coffee table in front of the sofa with all of her cards. That done, I headed down to Tesco to pick up some fresh pain au chocolat for breakfast, one of K’s faves. Then I watched the Olympics until she got up.
As soon as she was up and about, I made tea (always a requirement) and she got stuck in to opening her small mountain of gifts. She received some really wonderful things – very pretty, very individual and very K – and then we broke off for a bit of breakkie after she’d spoken to her sister on the phone.
After breakfast she got back to the unwrapping and got to her Wii. She’s been lusting after the Nintendo Wii almost ever since it came out, but certainly since last year when the two of us played on her brother’s. Now she’s got one of her very own (which she’s actually playing on right this very second) and loves it to pieces – a good choice, it appears.
Once we’d unpacked it all and set it up, in between showering and me doing the washing up, we played a few rounds of various Wii sports before heading to the flicks. This was the only part of the day in which she had any say – 27 Dresses was showing for one showing today, which is one that she missed when it was first out and I know she was keen to see it, so I gave her the option of catching it while it was on the big-screen today.
Post-flick, we headed over to Deanshanger to stop in on our sis and niece and nephew, who’d managed to fall over hard yesterday and give everyone a fright that he may have broken his leg. Seeing him today, it looks like the hospital were right when they said it was just badly bruised/sprained, but he certainly wasn’t himself – he’s normally running around like something that runs around really a lot, but today he was much more subdued and only wandered about the house to find one of us and plead, “More horrid.” (That’s his way of asking for another episode of Horrid Henry from the Sky+, not a request for us to treat him badly, just in case any child protection officers happen to be reading…).
After checking in on them (and picking up the birthday card from K’s ‘rents that we’d (sorry, I) left there on Saturday, we headed up the road to stop in on K’s ‘rents, the most important part of said visit being, of course, the birthday cake. With a fairy on it and everything.
After munching cake, drinking fizzy pink stuff and waking her dad up from his nap, K opened up her various presents that had been dropped at her ‘rents, including the one which had originated from there – a mini (and I mean mini) dictation machine that she has wanted to get for Uni, as it’s apparently a great way to revise the day’s lectures, by listening back to them and typing them up as an aide memoire. It’s a great little thingy, which records very clearly from quite a distance and then downloads directly to a computer. Fab.
Once we’d had a cuppa and some fizz and opened all the extra pressies, we popped round to another family friend to say hello and thank her for the present she’d left for K. After a quick stop, we carried on out and went back into town for dinner at Brasserie Blanc (or brassiere blank as we’ve heard it called recently). K’s wanted to go there since it opened, so it seemed like the perfect treat.
As you may guess from the name (unless you think it means White Cafe), it’s a part of the Raymond Blanc empire, recently arrived in the newer, upmarket area of MK known as The Hub. Rubbish name, yes, lovely place, though – full of really nice eateries with a wonderful European open-plaza style to it and much more of a communal atmosphere than many places in the UK today. Brasserie Blanc is on the outer side of the square (away from the main hustle and bustle) and it has to be said it is absolutely exquisite.
It’s expensive there, but it’s one of the few restaurants where I really don’t begrudge the prices they charge. The food was absolutely beautiful. It was hands down one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my life and certainly in the running for the best meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I had a rack of lamb so succulent and juicy that chewing was optional. K had a fillet steak, which was similarly top-quality and we finished it with two heavenly desserts which I couldn’t finish (although K polished hers off).
It’s not just the food in there that makes it worth it (although I’d have eaten off the floor in a flea-pit for food that good), it’s the whole experience. The setting is lovely – clearly catering for an up-market crowd, but without the stuffiness or coldness of many places along similar lines. It’s warm, friendly and very comfortable. The whole evening is topped off by, I think, the best service I’ve ever had in a restaurant. A waitress who isn’t just there to take an order and shove it at the chef, but rather to help enhance the whole experience for the diners – chatty, polite, helpful and informative. As I signed the cheque, I made sure to check which was the best way to pay the tip to make sure it went to her and wasn’t shared out.
(As a side note, tipping is very important to me. I object massively to the accepted wisdom of a straight 10% tip for any waitress. If I get good service, I’ll tip well, if I get average service, I’ll tip averagely and if I get poor service, I won’t tip. But beyond that, I don’t agree with pooling tips and splitting them. If someone gives me exceptional service, as was the case tonight, I want to reward them for it – not to find myself giving a tip to the not-so-good waitress who happens to be sharing the shift with my one. If they’re good enough, they’ll earn their own tips, if not, they’ll learn they need to work harder. The point is, if you want to make sure you’re tipping the right person, you need to check. For instance, had I placed the gratuity on the card I was paying with, by typing it into the machine, then it would have been split. Leave it in cash on the table, however, and it all goes to the waitress. This is usually the case, but it’s always worth checking – and making sure you ask the right questions. Asking where the gratuity goes if it’s put on the card, the waitress is obliged to explain the sharing policy. She is forbidden, however, to inform you of the cash policy. Only if you specifically ask can you find out where the tips go.)
Coming away well satisfied after a fine meal, we headed back home where we were met again by friends to help us Christen the Wii. Two hours of constant game-play between the four of us later and we turfed the guys out to take ourselves off to bed and our much-needed beauty sleep for the return to the grind tomorrow.
I’m generally not one to get excited about birthdays – mine or anyone elses – but for the first time with K’s birthday today, I was genuinely excited about it and I’ve had an absolutely brilliant time. I’m still buzzing from it and from the look of pure happiness on her face that hasn’t moved for the entirety of the day. It just goes to prove, it truly is better to give than to receive.
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