Despite it now being May and apparently “spring” the sun continued to refuse to shine through the overcast skies. Rain showers and cold winds tormented us all day. In the morning we had brunch with the other Aussie fellows from our ski club: representing the specialties of radiology, medical oncology and radiation oncology. On the way home we braved Loblaws at Carlton on a Saturday to buy groceries, with Bec and Alastair. In the afternoon Dan baked me a birthday cake and then we both had a nap. In the evening we enjoyed the company of our closest friends in Canada, comprising neighbours, work colleagues, and friends-of-friends that for now have floated into our lives. We were able to include friends and family back home in our day too; in the morning we Skyped Ben & Dion and Simon & Dan. Despite the ongoing miserable weather we smiled. At sunset we were rewarded with a few minutes of sunlight, a gentle glow pouring into the apartment as guests arrived. This morning I can see blue skies (in between clouds) and sunshine.
Friday night I called Mum, using Skype to make the international phone call. Last week Mum, Dad, my sister and partners had all made a once-in-a-decade event without me and had dinner at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant on Sussex St in the Sydney CBD. I found out about this when Dad uploaded pictures to Facebook and tagged me. I tried calling Dad’s phone. Engaged. Mum’s phone. No answer. Miranda’s. No answer. Mum’s again. Voicemail. Aunty Ella’s phone. Dad answered. He was very excited to hear from me, so excited that he immediately passed the phone over to Mum. It was a difficult telephone call as Dad couldn’t hear anything and Mum could barely hear me shouting. So I called her again on Friday night, at home. We’ve not missed family and friends as severely as I’d anticipated, mainly because we still know what’s been happening through constant Facebook updates. But it’s still good to talk directly occasionally. Yesterday morning when we woke we decided to call friends and spoke to Simon & Dan, in Melbourne, then Ben & Dion in Perth. Still in bed at no additional cost (to our internet service) we could see and talk to friends on the other side of the world using a handheld tablet device. This was science fiction when I was a kid. Now we take technology for granted.
We shared a cab with Bec & Alastair to King St West where we met up with other Aussie fellows that were all in the same ski club and had brunch. We ate at Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. It was a busy place. I ordered a croissant with eggs benedict that had smoked salmon. I don’t particularly like smoked salmon as a breakfast food so I should’ve considered this before I had to eat an entire croissant that smelled and tasted like smoked salmon. We met some new faces and shared stories about the little things that we missed (being able to find groceries and knowing the names for produce) and small grievances that we found peculiar to Canada (like the reliance on written cheques; they still exist). We all caught the streetcar East along King St West, back to the East side of downtown where we all live. Bec & Alastair had brought their granny wheelie grocery trolley (we should get one) and we joined them at Loblaws on Carlton to buy groceries. Dan had made a list. This prevented me from filling the trolley full of things that looked delicious but had no relevance to our dietary or entertaining needs for the week. We managed to collect items, get through the checkout and walk all the way home North up Church St without killing each other this time.
As I’d done a double work out at the gym earlier in the morning (we had got up at six and even after two Skype calls still had a few hours until brunch) I was falling asleep by the time we got home at about two. Dan baked a flourless almond chocolate cake, which I sprinkled with brightly coloured chocolate chunks I’d picked out at Bulk Barn (what is the use of turning 35 if I can’t recall my 4th birthday cake decorated with Smarties and completely out-do Mum’s attempt with a blanket of colour?). We both napped.
I was initially thankful that Dan had gone grocery shopping on Friday to buy things for the evening: we’d planned on making pomegranate cosmos (Ur told me the recipe) so I’d asked him to buy vodka, Cointreau and pomegranate juice. He’d gone to the LCBO (the one store in Ontario that you can purchase intoxicating beverages). I unpacked the bottles from their brown paper bags. Triple Sec. “This isn’t Cointreau!” I was incredulous. “It’s orange liqueur!” Dan retorted. Still not Cointreau. I fumed. We’d asked people to arrive at 19:00. Thankfully almost all or friends were fashionably late because at twenty-to Dan realised that one bottle of vodka wouldn’t be sufficient to make my proposed pomegranate cosmos and his planned strawberry vodka things. I had to put my shoes back on, get an umbrella and traipse across Bloor St back to an LCBO to get another bottle of vodka. Maybe I should’ve audited our supplies a few hours beforehand, not half an hour. Maybe Daniel could’ve thought of how much vodka we’d need when he bought it. I muttered to myself as I stormed past the two homeless people drinking their Tim Hortons and smoking cigarettes on the corner of Bloor and Church.
I got to the LCBO next to the subway to find it closed at 18:00 (the website said 21:00) and was about to explode into a small mushroom cloud when a man carrying an LCBO brown paper bag saw me staring at the closed store and explained how to walk further down the underground mall to the Manulife Centre on 55 Bloor St where the LCBO that was open until 21:00 was located. Ur and Israel were meant to arrive early to help us mix the cocktail but my traipsing around underground and up our elevator must have put my phone out of reception as I missed both of Ur’s phone calls explaining why they too were running late, in pouring rain and crowded bus and getting off the wrong train that turned out to be the right train, then not knowing how to get out of the subway…
I find hosting very stressful. Whenever we go to anybody else’s house and they take my jacket or offer me a drink I think, “Wow! Thanks! Why didn’t I ever think to do that?” So last night after I stopped being an ungrateful wretch and thanked Dan for getting everything else ready, while I was storming around the rainy streets under a rainbow-coloured umbrella, we started to compete to take jackets and pour drinks and run to answer the door. I thought our friends were very perceptive when I opened the door and they asked, “Did you want to answer the door because it was your birthday?” but actually they could just hear me screaming, “NOOOOO! It’s MYYYY birthday! I’m answering the door!” as I’d pushed Daniel face-first into the hallway wall and raced him to the front door.
Ur and Israel helped us mix drinks. They gave me possibly the most colourful birthday card in existence. It was still no match for the cake. The sun set as friends spilled into our tiny apartment, and made perfect our view over the Toronto skyline. Royden raced back downstairs to get his binoculars so they could figure out what buildings were in the distance. Pete handed over gardening supplies for a new balcony garden and sat down. Pauline arrived, in a small whirlwind of energy, got changed and presented presents for both Dan’s birthday in February and mine in April. We’ve hardly seen her all year. Bec & Alastair arrived, freshly showered and groomed. Anna arrived carrying the sushi platters I’d ordered from the Japanese restaurant across the road from her place: they were bigger than I’d thought and Dan had gone downstairs to help carry them up. Rob & Adam climbed out of their raincoats and umbrella and I shoved strawberry vodka cocktails at them, completely forgetting Adam was in a no-alcohol state in preparation for a charity cycle ride in June. Tim & Vaughan arrived just before the sushi platters were emptied and I cleared the table to play cards.
I’d thought we’d have time to play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. We didn’t have much room in our apartment for a big party, so only 12 or so people had been invited but only 6 could really play the card game at once. I started the first game. I’m not sure when I substituted myself out – perhaps when Kevin and Adam arrived. Even Claire and Shane (from our ski club/Aussie fellow brunch) made it and found seats at the table. The “short game” went until after 2am, with several substitutions along the way. We finished all bottles of everything we’d bought, even the Cointreau that Israel had brought from home. Unlike Dan’s birthday where I spent all night making pizzas, I had a chance to sit and talk to people, which I was thankful for. I tried to encourage Tim & Vaughan to sing along to Eurovision songs on YouTube, like we do with Ben & Dion every single time we go to their house for dinner, but they were not as enthusiastic. They didn’t even want to dance along. I swapped to Cher, which roused some lethargic singing from the couch. We realised how late it was and that we have neighbours so the card game ended (it had already paused a number of times for passionate arguments about healthcare and politics), people found their jackets and I tidied the entire place, did a load of dishes, put them away and wiped down all surfaces. I woke up today with nothing to clean except the last tiny piece of birthday cake. Which I ate for breakfast.