It seemed rather sweet at the time - my father's birthday coming just four days after my partner's and our first child being due right between the two. He came diplomatically, bang on time, settling the argument that had raged throughout the pregnancy. "He'll come on my birthday." "No, he'll come on mine!" I'm not sure what an astrologer would make of a woman, three of whose four main men were born so closely under the same star sign, but they all appear to be pretty decent chaps.
It didn't seem quite so sweet as my wallet braced itself for a week in which "him indoors" turned 50 and number one son 21, with Dad either 77 or 78 - he's either not sure or not telling . . . Something about him being a year younger than my mother, her swearing him to silence in the days before equipping yourself with a toyboy was considered a stylish fashion accessory, and him having lied about it for so long that he now finds he hasn't a clue what the truth is.
At first, a big joint party with a marquee and a band seemed a good idea. But what music would be suitable for three generations, how would kids just restarting their university term manage to gather in one spot, and could I really be bothered anyway?
Some weeks ago, I tentatively suggested a dinner at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant in London and a night at the Savoy for "him indoors" and me. This is a family that, with one exception - of which more in a moment - loves its food and creature comforts. It readily agreed.
For the youngsters, in addition, I would pay for the booze at a party in their lodgings at university, and I agreed to spend Dad's birthday at home setting up his present. Now that Mum's virtually bedridden and Dad is getting deafer by the second, their one old-fashioned phone in the sitting room (no answerphone) is becoming positively dangerous. I bought them a flash job in Tottenham Court Road.
The main unit would go in the sitting room and has a phonebook to avoid the need to look up numbers. No need to bother dialling, either. The answering machine would enable me to say I'd called if they happened to be at the doctor's or the hospital. That way they can no longer accuse me of being a less than dutiful daughter. There would be a cordless extension in the bedroom and another in the kitchen, which Dad can carry with him
into the garden while he tends his onions.
There was a slight concern about Ramsay's. Number two son (16) has yet to sit down to a meal without complaint. He doesn't like seafood, thinks rare meat is "yuk!", and cooked apple makes him want to throw up. It may have been that even he realised there'd be something pretty special about a Michelin three-star meal, or maybe he was terrified that Gordon would steam out the kitchen in a torrent of effing and blinding if there was a hint of complaint. He ordered lobster and langoustine ravioli, duck ("We do serve it pink, sir." "Oh, that's OK") and tarte tatin with cinnamon ice cream, and scoffed the lot, speechless with olfactory delight. Thank you, Gordon!
Dad's day did not offer quite such unalloyed pleasure. It is almost impossible to accept, when you become the meat in the generational sandwich, that your parents are physically and mentally less adept than they once were. What to me seems a perfectly simple and useful gadget, to them appears as complex as the controls of a jumbo jet. We sorted out ring tones for each phone - Mum has Mozart in the bedroom, there's an Irish jig in the sitting room and Beethoven's Fifth - set to very loud - on Dad's extension. I fear that he will be driving the neighbours insane with his da, da, da, dah.
The phonebook with all their most used numbers programmed into it remains a mystery and I'm not sure they've yet mastered the answerphone, although I know they can pick up and dial out. I'm certain of this because they answer my calls, and because at least three times a day my phone rings and it's Dad.
"What did you say we have to press if I'm in the garden and your mother wants to call me from the bedroom?" This is the most useful function of all - an intercom for when she wants to go to the loo or have a cup of tea.
"It's INT1, Dad."
"Oh, of course it is. Speak to you soon."
"Yes, I know you will, I know . . ."
To a dinner at the House of Lords organised by the International Women's Federation. The guest speaker is Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, who tells us that she assumed the political career she'd enjoyed in the Eighties and Nineties - justice minister, first female defence minister of a Nato country, PM - meant equality had now happened and that there would be others like her. There weren't.
She puts this down to deeply held beliefs about what is appropriate behaviour for women and men, and says that the idea of women in power still hasn't broken through the collective consciousness as a norm. Which presumably explains why, on a recent visit to the flat my son shares with his girlfriend - which is a tip - my response to the state it was in was: "She's a slut." They are, of course, both sluts, but if someone with my awareness of gender politics could even think otherwise, we have an awfully long way to go.