I was still in pain this morning when I opened my eyes. Damn! Admittedly, it was a slight improvement, but still enough to wrench me from bed.

The one and only plan we had for today was to visit a good friend, Cara, for the birthday celebrations of her son, Conall. Indeed, this was the only part of the entire trip that had been pre-planned. The festivities were to be collectively for Conall and me, with me now being around (*cough*) fifty-ish.

Cara is one of the original group of ladies who formed the ante-natal group with Sandy when she was pregnant with Joey. Kerry, one of the other ladies from that group, will also be there with her clan. Cara, Sandy and Kerry have kept in touch over the past 20 years, and we have all developed a family-like bond. In various ways, each of us has been there for the others when occasion demanded. In fact, Kerry took us all in a few years ago at the tail-end of Covid when we drove to the UK, and our accommodation fell through at the very last minute. We would otherwise have been stranded.

Cara lives on Canvey Island, which is about a half-hour drive from here. With so many people present, I was a little apprehensive about how Joey would cope. Given that the kids are all of a similar age (we all started families at the same time) and that everyone there is as close as family, I hoped he would be okay.

As luck would have it, we were the first to arrive, so it wasn’t a busy environment. Joey was able to acclimatise at his own pace. That started with him standing in the hall with his headphones and iPad. He made it into the front room after people started to arrive and was soon comfortable. Seeing him relatively at ease put the rest of us at ease, and we would enjoy ourselves and let our hair down a little.

Cara is a bubbly character and masterful in the art of motivation and coordination. She had everyone entertained with various parlour games, such as Shite Bingo. When Jae and I visited Cara the last time we were in the UK, we also played Shite Bingo when we visited her. It was just as hilarious this time around. Everyone got into the spirit of things. There was much merriment throughout the day. My team for the pub quiz, the Skating Crocs (we opened a children’s colouring book to a random page to find a crocodile on skates), managed a respectful second place. Admittedly, that was somewhat due to one of my team surreptitiously using their mobile phone to gleam inspiration from the great Oracle of the Internet. I had given strict instructions to my team not to get caught cheating! We had to settle for second place and the honour of winning the loser’s spoon.

At one point, a massive bag of fancy dress costumes was produced. Everyone donned something, and we all formed a conga line to the end of the street. We stood lined up along the main road, waving like lunatics and urging passing vehicles to toot their horns. Many of them did, resulting in an eruption of laughter and more frantic waving from us all. We must have all looked quite the freaky spectacle.

Sandy and Kerry decided to spend the next day with each other. What they will get up to is not yet decided.

When it got dark, and the parlour games had ended, everyone began saying their goodbyes. Joey, although had also enjoyed himself, was starting to exhibit all the signs that his bucket was full, so we had to say our goodbyes also. It was a fantastic visit and a wonderful opportunity to relax and let our hair down.

There was a brief tug-of-war about where to go next. Sandy craved another visit to Toby’s, but I wasn’t keen on the idea. Joey was finicky about whether he wanted to eat or not, so we weren’t even sure how many of us would be eating. Sandy also mentioned TGI Friday, which sounded to me like a better option. We toyed with the idea of dropping Joey off with Uncle Paul and Granddad while the rest of us ate. I called Paul David to see if he wouldn’t mind babysitting Joey. During the call, Joey said he might want to eat with us after all. Ultimately, we landed on TGI Friday. Sandy called and reserved a table at the Lakeside restaurant.

The restaurant meal was lovely. Sandy mentioned it was my birthday, and strangely enough, we were also celebrating our anniversary (albeit five months late). That scored us a couple of glasses of champagne and a couple of free desserts — not to mention the happy birthday serenade from the entire restaurant staff at the table. It was an expensive meal at £125 (excluding tip), but it was probably one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed in a long time. All four rarely get to enjoy a meal together nowadays.

Back at the house and bursting with a near-full-on food coma, we settled in on the couch to finish a Netflix movie I had started the other day. We just about hung on to the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before we crawled into bed and nodded off.