Wheaton’s Way

It was my birthday last week; I won’t specify exactly when, in case hackers use the information to steal the tens of dollars in my bank account.

Some friends and I went out for dinner on the date, because I always love celebrating it. I’ve never understood people who say they’d rather forget about their birthday and don’t want it recognised. Maybe it’s because my whole attitude is ‘lookatmelookatmelookatme’, but the idea of cake, balloons, a banner and definitely a song or two, fills me with joy.

It can be difficult when you’re a kid. Will children show up to your party? Will it be considered a ‘cool’ event? Will it be better than Bettany Riley’s one, where there was a magician AND every kid was sent home with an iTunes card? I can’t imagine the pressure on parents to make sure their child’s party is a roaring success. They want their baby to be popular and maybe even show the other parents that they can throw an awesome shindig. Senior government officials have less to prove.

I don’t have strong memories of my early birthdays, beyond the fact that my mother was fantastic at thinking up games to keep us all occupied. At the risk of driving home how old I really am, back when I was under 10 years old, growing up in Cayman, we had no iPads, iPhones, Xbox or ColecoVision, and Atari was only just coming onto the market. We didn’t even have television (gasp!). That meant classic entertainment like ‘Pass-the-Parcel’ and ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’. Mum would also invent new games that none of my friends had played before, which was what made my parties special. That, and the fact that she is a born entertainer.

As I got older, I learned that having a DJ and a wide selection of drinks from The Pop Shoppe (used to be located on Eastern Avenue) was what you needed to gain some street cred. Then, of course, there was the inevitable coming-of-age birthday when drinking fermented beverages was allowed.

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I think it was my 18th when we hosted a party at our house. I wanted everything to be perfect and even though I didn’t drink, I organised wine coolers or similar for my guests.
Despite trying to relax, I didn’t sit down for a moment, running hither and thither to make sure everyone was having a wonderful time. I’d also put money on the fact that, at some point, I was holding back a friend’s hair as she called dinosaurs in the spare bathroom. It was hardly what I’d envisioned (me, swanning around like a queen, while others showered me with compliments and presents) – it was more like an exhausting nightmare, with mess to clean up afterwards before I dropped like a petrified Vicki onto my bed.

By my 21st birthday, I had definitely discovered alcohol and had no idea how to handle it. I have two memories of that evening: Being sick at Sharkey’s nightclub (located upstairs at Cayman Falls, back in the day) and slow-dancing with a guy near closing time (they always played a slow song at the end of the night) where we were more holding each other up than anything else. Of course, I had friends to look out for me at all times, and they helped me out of there and down the stairs with my dignity relatively intact.

Once I got to an age where I had more than $20 in the bank, I started to look farther afield for ways to make my birthdays – particularly significant ones – more memorable. At the same time, I had met a Canadian gal whose birthday was eight days after mine. We became thick as thieves, besties for life. Yes, I’m talking about Lynne – my flatmate and partner-in-crime.

For my 30th and 40th, we flew to her hometown of Toronto to attend the Toronto International Film Festival, better known as TIFF. These days, TIFF is huge. Major ‘A’ list stars attend every year and hotels get booked out months in advance, but back when we went, it was a few soap stars and producers and directors we’d never heard of. The gala was held at the Royal Ontario Museum, and I wore a dark blue velvet ballgown with a knockoff ‘Heart of the Ocean’ necklace in cubic zirconia that I’d bought at Caché – a huge thing that tested the muscles in my neck. Every ‘diamond’ in the chain was about three carats and the blue heart made the Taylor-Burton Diamond look like a Tic Tac.

‘Titanic’ had been released less than two years prior and was still very much present in people’s minds. When I think back now, the idea that I wore something like that to a film festival makes me cringe, but I loved it at the time.

The gala itself was a bit of a non-event, but the excitement ramped up when Lynne and I tried to get ourselves and two gentlemen we’d met into an after-hours party. The doorman was possibly considering it, until I yelled that we shouldn’t be kept waiting as I needed to use the toilet. Apparently that is considered non-velvet rope behaviour, as it killed our chances. Accepting defeat, Lynne and I got a taxi back to our accommodations and the ‘Heart of the Ocean’ went back into its polyester bag.

We didn’t always go big on our special days, but for some reason, we had quite the party for my 34th. I had clearly moved on from ‘Titanic’, as – at my request – Lynne festooned the interior of Café Med (used to be in Galleria Plaza where Saltwater Grill now resides) with SpongeBob SquarePants decor. I was a huge fan of the character that lived in a pineapple under the sea, and so my best friend kindly obliged with balloons, napkins, plates, centrepieces and a huge cake, all in the bright, eye-watering Pantone SpongeBob yellow I craved.

Lots of people attended that particular brunch, and I actually had a date, which was rare. For some reason, however, our romance crumbled not long after. It could have been my clear obsession with the residents of Bikini Bottom that gave him pause, or maybe it was the fact that when my parents left the proceedings early, my Dad went out of his way to shake his hand, saying, “Very nice to meet you, and I hope we’ll be seeing a LOT more of you in the future.”

Awesome.

My 40th and Lynne’s 50th, which were combined for a dual celebration, was possibly when the rumours of us being a romantic couple began to circulate. Family and friends had organised a limo for us, an original song, and extravagant dinner at Seven Restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton. I think it was when they wheeled out the multi-tiered birthday cake – decorated to the nines – and encouraged us to cut it together with a big knife, that it looked like a crossover to a wedding reception. I know there are pictures somewhere of me towering over Lynne, with both our sets of hands on the knife handle, poised to cut, as we grin at the camera. “I now pronounce you…”

We also went on a Mediterranean cruise that year, stopping in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and the Greek Islands. It was one of my best birthdays ever.

Now, you’re going to find this hard to believe, looking at my beautiful skin (ahem), but we still have one more decade to go.

You might think that I’d be a bit depressed about turning 50, and Lynne, 60, but not at all; we embraced it. We were luckily able to travel to Toronto, New York and London to see friends and family overseas, with great meals, some shopping (we spent two hours on Oxford Street and moved a total of 30 feet) and a couple of theatre productions. I don’t know whether it was the temperature in the Palace Theatre or the semi-comfy seats, but I could barely stay awake through both parts of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’. Perhaps I’d been hit by the Deepsleepius charm… or maybe I’m just getting old? Nah; can’t be.

I hope I continue to look forward to birthdays – I guess we’ll have to see. At least it’s going to be quite a few years before the next big one comes along. Until then, as Celine Dion would sing, my heart will go on and on.

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