I had never really planned on turning thirty. Not because I hadn’t planned on living particularly long (this blog is starting well isn’t it), but because that particular milestone seemed so very far away when I was in my twenties. Life consisted of moving house 2 to 3 times a year, whilst my worldly possessions sat waiting in bin liners. The mature thirty year old seemed decades away; a different person entirely.
It turns out, however, that it wasn’t as far away as I once thought and it actually arrived rather abruptly. As Wednesday 7 September drew closer and Laura announced she was abandoning me for the Faroe Islands, I became increasingly anxious.
What was I to do to mark this ‘big’ birthday? The thought of trying to put together a night out with my friends who are spread across the country – some with babies, some with upcoming weddings, some just married – was too much. I dislike going ‘out-out’ anyway. My ideal Friday night is an Indian takeaway followed by a murder documentary, before retiring to bed at 10pm to read a book. Judge away my friends.
Stumped, I decided to go back to basics and plan my birthday around my favourite city: Oxford. Having studied and lived there for a few years before the eye-watering house prices forced me out, Oxford is my home away from home. I wanted comfort, elegance and fine dining in my old age, and Oxford was the perfect fit for a 30th birthday celebration.
One upside of no longer living in my favourite city is that when I do visit, I get to treat myself to a luxury stay and my birthday trip was no different. I was fortunate enough to be invited by perhaps one of the most iconic hotels in Oxford: The Randolph. I’ve cycled past this incredible hotel many times; peering into the dining room as people indulged in afternoon tea – something that was a dream of mine as a poor student. It seemed, therefore, fitting to stay at this beautiful hotel on the eve of my birthday. I own a house now, I’m married, I’ll even go as far as saying that I’m a sophisticated woman – it was time to make my poor student dreams come true.
After a busy day at work, I hopped on a bus to take me to Oxford. I was travelling alone, meeting my husband (eck, let’s just call him James) there and so I took the opportunity to have a small party for one on the back seat of the bus. Small bottle of wine? Tick. Packet of Percy Pigs? Tick. The next hour and a half, I’d like to say, was a philosophical time – staring out the window, reflecting back on the last decade and lessons learned – but it wasn’t. Instead, I listened to Natasha Beddingfield ‘Unwritten’ on repeat and drank too much wine.
Stumbling off the bus, I headed straight for The Randolph, letting out a yelp of excitement when I realised the annual fair was in town, and right under the nose of my hotel room. Spending the last night of my twenties trying to win a giant teddy bear and tensely watching the 10p machines slowly suck away all my money was going to be an unexpected treat!
The inside of the Randolph was everything that I had imagined it would be: thick carpets, cosy spaces and super friendly staff. Its Morse Bar, made famous as the local drinking spot for Inspector Morse (famous UK crime drama for those not in the know) was instantly recognisable and I soon realised that I was in good company as I passed through a corridor, lined with the famous faces of previous guests (including the Clintons).
Once inside our room, I made a bee-line for the chocolates that sat in a box in the shape of a mortar board (graduation hat) and a bottle of wine. There was also a huge pile of presents waiting for me in the middle of the bed but, unfortunately, these were swiftly taken away from my greedy, grabbing hands.
The evening was the perfect way to end to my twenties: dining in our favourite French restaurant, some craft beers in a local bar and the best bit of all: winning a big, pink shiny, unicorn balloon from the fair. Call me easily pleased, but as I slipped into our huge, cosy bed at The Randolph, I was exceptionally content. Tomorrow I’d be thirty and things were going to get serious (or were they).
I woke at 6.30am and lay in our quiet room, soaking up that nice buzzy, special feeling you get on your birthday morning. I allowed myself at least 10 minutes before prodding James to wake up and deliver my presents. Slightly mystified, I opened my presents to find some bike lights and the world’s most indestructible bike lock. There had been mention of me borrowing my Mum’s bike to cycle to work (keeping fit in the old age) and I was told that my ‘gifts’ were exactly for that. Slightly disappointed, but not wanting to ruin my day, I pretended to be interested in my bike lights for all of five minutes before I took myself into our spacious bathroom to treat myself to a birthday bath with plenty of the hotel’s Molton Brown toiletries.
Up, clean and in my new birthday outfit (because who doesn’t buy a special outfit on their big day?), we made our way down the hotel’s grand staircase and into the dining room, which was lined by the coat of arms of the Oxford colleges. I treated myself to a birthday breakfast of pancakes, maple syrup and bacon, and a big pot of tea; giving me plenty of fuel for our busy day. Checking out of the hotel, it became apparent that despite my protests, it wouldn’t be possible to bring my unicorn balloon (now named Florence) around with me. Thankfully, the lovely staff at The Randolph carefully tied Florence to my suitcase and led her away to be looked after whilst I was gone.
As we stepped out of the hotel – me clutching my heart-shaped picnic basket – the sun beat down and the world seemed happy. We made our way through the city, stopping to buy some strawberries to go with our mini bottle of champagne, down to Magdalen College to pick up our rowing boat. The colourful, bobbing punts and boats were waiting patiently as we arrived, and I chose a sky blue boat as my mode of birthday transport.
As we slowly drifted away from the decking, it appeared that James wasn’t the natural, confident rower I presumed he would be. Splashing, swearing, turning in circles and forcing me to shout: ‘It’s my birthday, stop calling the boat a [insert expletive]’ we slowly made our way down the river. Even the ducks knew to avoid us as I ducked under trees and tried to keep myself dry. It wasn’t the romantic experience I’d seen it films – until I stepped in.
I’ve always been known for my confidence in my own abilities and as it turns out, my arrogance in my rowing abilities was well placed. I was truly amazing. Seamlessly, quietly and splash free, I led us down the river, with not a swear word to be heard. I was like the pied-piper, with ducks gathering behind us, as I hummed ‘row, row, row your boat’ and sipped champagne in between strokes. As the saying goes: ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’
After an enjoyable hour floating along the river Cherwell, we made it back to the mainland where a birthday lunch was waiting for me at The Old Parsonage. This restaurant (and hotel) holds a special place in my heart as it’s where we chose to hold our wedding reception lunch. It was lovely to return, sip yet more champagne in the courtyard and, best of all, be served a surprise pink 30th birthday cake. As I blew out my one (thankfully not thirty) candles, I made a wish that I’d be able to move back again one day to this city.
Merry on plenty of alcohol, it was time to return home to Milton Keynes; a city that has absolutely no similarities to Oxford. As the staff of the Randolph bundled Florence the Balloon into the car, I had a bit of a grumble that my 30th birthday presents consisted of a bike lock and some bike lights. I had intended to carry this ‘discussion’ on but promptly fell asleep for the entire journey home. I blame it on my age.
Groggy and slightly hungover, I returned home and made my way into the house. As I opened the door to my living room, I was greeted by the sight of the best birthday present that I’ve ever received (aside from Tina my Tiny Tears doll). In the middle of the room sat something that I have been longing for, for years. It’s what my 10-year old self dreamed of – no not a child – a pink, Pashley bike.
A 30-year old, finally receiving the birthday gift she’s wanted since childhood: that’s what fairy tales are made of. Right there.
The rest of my 30th, much like my 5th and 12th birthdays, was spent whizzing about on my bike, feeling like the coolest person in the world. Moral of this story? Age is just a number my friends.
Thank you to the Randolph for a lovely birthday stay and for letting us enjoy Oxford in the best possible way.
PS. if anyone has any suggestions on a name for my bike, let me know in the comments below.