Journal for 3 March 2001

Still reeling from surprise birthday party

I'm still coming to terms with the enormity of it all.

I knew Katie had been up to something, but nothing had quite prepared me for what she'd done in organising a surprise 50th birthday party.

I now discover she'd been plotting it for months, under the code name "Henry", organising people around the world via email and mobile phone. I haven't got to grips with all that must have involved, so this is written from the perspective of a stunned recipient.

I knew Roddy and Susie were coming to stay with us just before my birthday, but was told they then had to travel on to see Susie's mother in South Africa. They arrived on the Saturday night and we dragged them off to watch a one-day cricket international between Australia and Zimbabwe at the WACA on the Sunday. It was stinking hot - 36 degrees C, nearly 100 degrees F - but turned out to be a great match, with Zimbabwe losing by 1 run chasing 302. Given what happened subsequently, my memory of the next few days has blurred, but it included lots of meals, a large dinner-party here, and an evening sailing in a twilight race at Freshie.

On Thursday, I went for a long bike-ride with the RSBCA and ended back at Old Papa's for a farewell breakfast with Roddy and Susie - at least that's what I thought at the time. The rest of the day was quietish, though Katie kept disappearing off on mysterious errands.

My birthday was on Friday, and I'd arranged to go cycling with the Walker Street gang before meeting Katie and others for breakfast at the South Beach cafe. The night before, Katie had presented me with my birthday present - a Grateful Dead cycling shirt she'd had specially made. And when I arrived for the start of the ride, there were John, Mike and Ian also in Grateful Dead shirts. We cut quite a dash as we twiddled off around the south of the river. When we got to the kiosk, we posed for photos - see the photo selection for these and other pics - before joining the others for breakfast.

It was only when I headed for the table that I found my mother sitting there. So far as I knew she was in the UK, dealing with the flash flood that had swept through her house not long before. In fact, she'd flown in from England a couple of days before and stayed with Barbara Sawyer while she was recovering from jet lag. One of her presents was a book of photos of me over the past 50 years, which caused great hilarity as all my friends studied them - I may put some of the less embarrassing ones up on this web site later.

My mother then moved in to stay with us, and we spent the rest of the day catching up. In the evening we were due to go out to dinner with John and Jenny Longley at a restaurant on the Swan River, and they'd volunteered to take us on their boat. When we set off, John announced he was diverting to the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club to pick up some ice. We moored, and he and I headed up to the club, only to walk into my surprise party.

It was overwhelming. Apart from lots of friends from Perth, people had arrived from the UK and all over Australia. Roddy and Susie reappeared - the visit to Susie's mother having been a fiction. Also from the UK were Mike Hutton and Judy Uren, Jan Burnell, Andy and Gilly Lloyd, Jono Callow and Harold Cudmore. From the eastern States were Alan and Carol East (Katie's sister and brother-in-law from Sydney), Margaret and Dennis Tierney (her sister-in-law from West Wyalong), Andrew and Susie Main from Sydney, Val and Jo Jessop from Mittagong, Martin and Susie Beaver from Canberra and Chrissie and Pete Buckle from Townsville. It took me a while to spot everyone, and to realise just how far people had come.

It was a great party. A warm evening, so people could sit inside or out. And lots of dancing before and after a sit-down dinner. Katie had thought of everything, including slipping the DJ some Grateful Dead records stolen from my collection.

I gradually discovered that Katie had visitors billeted out with friends all over the place - and had been secretly dashing to the airport picking people up and depositing them all over the place. Those who had arrived early had to skulk around for a day or two to avoid bumping into me!

On the Saturday, Katie had organised for all the visitors to set for Rottnest Island - about 20k offshore. Mike and Fiona Dunham kindly took some on their motor boat, and Charles Russell-Smith took the others on his wooden 12 metre Zigeuner. It was a perfect day - a sea breeze got up just in time to enable Zigeuner to sail over, and we anchored alongside each other for a picnic and swimming before a sail/motor back home in what was by then quite a lively breeze.

On Sunday morning it was off to display my Grateful Dead cycling shirt with the RSBCA, before meeting up with most of the overseas and interstate contingent for breakfast at the South Beach kiosk. Katie had then invited everyone for a barbeque in the late afternoon, which turned into another party. Even though it started at 5pm, it carried on late into the evening - we ran out of food but not drink - and included some very bad singing by Katie, me and some of the other guests. I eventually crawled off to bed leaving Katie still animatedly talking to some of the stayers.

It took me quite a while to come down from all this. There were some good opportunities during the week to see more of the friends who'd come such a long way - including a large gathering to play boules and watch the sunset on the beach on Monday evening. It all felt a bit flat when everyone finally departed.

But that was a spur to get down to some work on my PhD - for those who haven't caught up with that, I'm doing a PhD at Edith Cowan University in online strategies for sporting and community organisations. It's a subject that naturally appeals to me, and there seems a lot of opportunity in that field. I'm getting back into academic life after a gap of 25 years - it's a very different environment.

Lots else going on all around. A change of State government here in the election held the day after my birthday, with Geoff Gallop, the Labor leader and an old friend of Tony Blair's, sweeping into government. Building work now finished on Katie's studio (which was our garage), and Chris has arrived from England and started to put her presses together. Another memorable birthday party, this time a combined 50th and 40th for Ron and Philippa Packer. And we're keeping on with sporting activities - cycling, rowing, sailing, tennis - plus going with Vern and Liz Reid to our first Fremantle Docker's game (Aussie rules), which they won rather to everyone's surprise.

As I write this, the weather has hotted up, even though summer officially ended on 1 March. High 30 degrees, so it's a good excuse to take Holly off to the beach

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