The baby's second birthday is approaching. She is very excited by the fact and most nights can be heard singing Happy Birthday to herself in her cot. I am planning cakes and she is practising candle blowing and has told us that as her gift she would like "yellow big-girl knickers and some Play-Doh".
I am greatly cheered by the simplicity of her request as I have realised that these days even the smallest of children seem to be such sophisticates. When I was young we grew up slowly - we played with our Sindy horses until we hit double figures, then had a brief flirtation with pogo sticks and stilts before graduating to the teenage sophistication of a Raleigh Twenty – or, if you were flash, a "Shopper" (which seemed to be exactly the same but with a basket on the front).
Even birthdays were different then in the era before PlayStation and Nintendo, when apple was something you gave to your teacher rather than a byword for digital wizardry. I remember clearly the gifts that I got the day I turned 13 which included:
● 1 x Starsky and Hutch T-shirt (10 out of 10 on my personal scoresheet).
● 1 x black tracksuit with a yellow stripe down the side (9.5 out of
10 - I clearly had no fashion sense).
● 1 x pink travel alarm clock in a hard round case that my grandmother would probably have dissed as being fuddy duddy yet I believed was the highest of high-tech (9 out of 10).
● 1 x Hollie Hobbie beach set (floppy hat and matching frilled bag) that I actually used. At the time I suspect that I may have given this a minimum of 8 out of 10, but hindsight is a powerful thing and embarrassment now only permits me to score in minus figures.
● 1 x Silver Jubilee photo album, which, given it was 1978 and said celebration had taken place the year before, seemed cheapskate even to the unworldly child that I clearly was.
As my own small girl's big day draws nearer I switch into baking overdrive and she gets more excited by the minute. When, at three in the morning, she insists she needs "a piece of birthday cake and to make a camp fire" I am almost tempted to give in, partly so I can stagger back to bed and mainly because I feel guilty that I lied to her earlier in the day when she mistook my bag of Mini Eggs for acorns and I told her that yes, that is indeed what they were and therefore only squirrels could eat them.
I am a bad, bad mother.
To make amends I bake her a monkey cake for our family tea, and it goes down a treat. Forget the scooter, the soft toys and the many other generous gifts from relatives and friends. When asked what she has been given her reply is always the same: "A birthday balloon surprise and a monkey cake with candles."
I love that girl.
For her party I attempt a Peppa Pig cake - easier than I had imagined, though the red food colouring appears to be indelible and for days afterwards I am forced to explain to anyone who catches sight of my hands that no, I am really not an axe murderer.
Together we make biscuits for her friends and the house becomes a sea of sprinkles. The animal cupcakes are possibly a bridge too far - my husband is pressed into marshmallow-chopping duty and for the second year running I catch him muttering that I should just have gone to Tesco. But I am impervious to his discontent. I am swept away by my fantasies of being Nigella, Jane Asher and Annabel Karmel all rolled into one.
I am the first to admit that my handiwork does not even come close to that of my culinary heroes, but it makes one little girl very happy. And frankly, that's all that matters.