Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: 'Her breath could put a hole in Jon Snow's wall'
The old dear is absolutely bulling over the surprise 70th birthday party I threw her
The old dear looks confused. She’s like, “Where are you taking me?”
Or maybe she’s just hammered. There’s a hum off her breath that could put a hole in Jon Snow’s wall.
I’m there, “I told you where I’m taking you – we’re going for dinner,” because we’re standing outside Roly’s.
She’s like, “Why?”
“Er, because it’s your birthday?” I go. “And because there’s been a lot of – as you always call it – unpleasantness between us lately. I suppose this is my way of saying, yeah, no, I forgive you for sending that social worker to the gaff to assess my suitability for a port-time carer.”
“I only did it because you filled in that application for me for a free travel pass. I wouldn’t even know how to get into one of those bus things.”
“I’m not sure the doors would be wide enough anyway. Actually, sorry, I said I wasn’t going to do that. We’re supposed to be celebrating your birthday. It’s a significant one as well.”
“You’re the only one who knows my true age, Ross.”
“There’s no need to keep saying it.”
“The big seven-oh!”
“Well, I’m happy to say, I don’t feel it.”
“You definitely look it. And the rest. And that’s despite all the sperm oil they’ve injected into your cheeks and forehead over the years. Okay, that’s the last nasty thing I’m going to say. I just wanted to get it out of my system before we go into the actual restaurant.”
Up the stairs we go, my old dear first, then me, slowly picking my way with my crutches.
“Yes,” she goes, “I look after myself, Ross. It’s one of the reasons I’ve managed to protect the secret of my true age. Even my closest friends, they look at me and think I’m 50-.”
The timing couldn’t be better. As she steps into the restaurant ahead of me, everyone in the entire place stands up and goes, “Surprise!”
The old dear ends up nearly having a hort attack. She’s like, “What? What the hell is this?”
And I go, “It’s a surprise birthday porty! To celebrate your 70th!”
She goes, “Seventieth?” not knowing whether to laugh or cry. And given how much work she’s had done on her face over the years, the effect is the same in both cases. “Maths never was your strong suit, Ross!”
She’s absolutely bulling, because pretty much everyone she’s been friends with in her adult life is there in the restaurant. It took me four days to go through her entire contacts book after lifting it from her bag.
People from the golf club. People from the tennis club. People from her campaign to stop the council building a halting site on Westminster Road and her campaign to ban unemployed people from the National Gallery.
There’s, like, banners strung across the restaurant with, “Happy 70th!” on them and balloons everywhere saying the exact same thing.
She has to put on a show of pretending she’s happy, of course, which involves engaging the various pulleys and levers that control her smile, stretching her upper lip back over her teeth in what a dog would recognize as a fear grimace.
“Seventy?” she keeps going. “There must have been a mistake at the printers! Not for another 15 years, I’m afraid!”
Various people are coming up to her and hugging her, going, “You don’t look anything like it, Fionnuala. You genuinely don’t.”
And I’m going, “Look closer – especially at her neck, then around her eyes. You’ll see she’s haggard!”
The old man tips over to us then and he goes, “Your face when you walked into the room, Fionnuala! You looked liked you’d seen a proverbial ghost!”
Out of the corner of her mouth, she goes, “I will never, ever forgive you for this, Ross.”
So, at the top of my voice, I go, “Okay, I want to just say a few words here.”
The old man picks up a fork off the table next to him and he taps his glass with it, going, “Some bon mots – inverted commas – from Kicker, everyone! This should be entertaining!”
The room falls silent.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I go, “I just wanted to say a massive, massive thank you for making the effort to come out tonight to mork the occasion of my old dear’s 70th birthday. And I want to emphasize that word. Seventieth!
“Just think about that for a moment. If the great Dan Corter was to relive his entire life again, every single day of it, he still wouldn’t be as old as this woman standing beside me. Seventy years old, ladies and gentleman!
“She was born on this day in 1947, when the world was very much a different place. Just to put it into – I think it’s a word – prospectus for you, I looked up that year on Wikipedia, to find out what was going on when this little old lady was born.
“It was the year that George Bernard Shaw was given the freedom of Dublin. I don’t know who that is but he does sound ancient. Electricity and running water were still a distant dream for most people in Ireland, tuberculosis stalked the land and it was illegal for women to carry money.
“That dude, Something Hitler, had been dead only two years. Tom and Jerry appeared on TV for the first time, Anne Frank’s diary was published and the Cold War storted. Jackie Robinson signed for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Miracle on 34th Street – the original black and white version – was about to hit cinema screens. And believe it or not, microwave ovens were invented, although the Orchbishop of Dublin, John Chorles McQuaid, described them as ‘ungodly’ and ‘contrary to the Lord’s will’ and they were banned in this country until 1987.
“I think it’s fair to say that a lot has happened since my old dear entered the world 70 years ago. So let’s hear it for Fionnuala O’Carroll-Kelly. Seventy years young. I repeat – 70!”
As her friends burst into a chorus of Happy Birthday to You she fake-smiles them and at the same time goes, “Well, was it worth it, Ross? Going to all this expense just to embarrass me?”
And I’m like, “I didn’t go to any expense! I used your credit cord to pay for everything!”