The Big Surprise

It’s my birthday week (yes… I do get a whole week. Why? What do you get?) so naturally friends have been gearing up for a month or so with plans, even though I told them not to (ha ha).

Me and Frances in getting ready to head out for a night out on the town
Actually, in light of the developments surrounding my dysfuntional body, I wasn’t feeling much up for any kind of celebration reminding me of my age progressing naturally. But fortunately Frances didn’t listen to my morbundity talking. She had a “just us” girls night planned for Saturday, the 3rd (she was leaving town the 5th and wouldn’t be here for next Saturday) and ordered me to make sure I was dressed up.

I had no idea what was planned except I had to get dressed up. As my raging hormones have ensured that I am 15 pounds heavier than I would like to be (what woman isn’t though?), I had to go shopping for something that fit. Fortuately I found not just one, but three cool, hip-forgiving dresses at H&M … a shopping coup if ever there was one.
Elizabeth and Frances
A lovely black taxi avoided traffic and wove its way through Marylebone and Mayfair to the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz (the first surprise), where not only did we throw back a couple Dirty Sanchezs (served by gorgeous foreign men in white jackets), but we walked through what could only be described as a scene from a Bond film.

On the settee in the lobby bar, an aging Duchess in a pistacho silk gown and ruby and diamond tiara sat with a much younger nephew/consort/son?, dressed in full foreign military regalia, flowing hair, and handlebar mustachio. They held court to a half dozen or so friends, while the room spun with men in tuxedoes and overcoats. Tuxedoes that they clearly owned and wore often.

As we left the Ritz for our second destination (while Frances was texting Alex about the babysitter — he and Colin were going out for a movie together), a little Spanish doorman in a grey tails and striped waistcoat held the door for me. He had a spanking white pair of gloves buttoned to his shoulder. “Thank you,” I said, “Nice gloves.”

He chuckled. “They are only for show. The ones I wear are in my pocket.”

My head was spinning over the glitz. It was London and it was like nowhere else. We crossed Piccadilly and headed up a sidestreet. For me, already it was pure luxury. It was people-watching to the hilt; I was dressed up and wearing gorgeous shoes with three inch heels that were somehow, miraculously, comfortable; and best of all, I was so completely and utterly NOT in charge. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to decide. I just had to follow Frances. And, at the end of the night, another black taxi — that most magical of time and space portals — would whisk me home.

We didn’t have far to walk, but on the way, Alex called again. Frances answered him in clipped phrases as I watched my feet and the taxis go by. “Here we are,” she said, opening the door for me.

Alloro was the restaurant name, I saw as we walked to the desk. I only had time to think “Oh, good. Italian,” as we approached the hostess.

The couple in front of us handed their coats to the woman who disappeared with them, then returned a second later. As she was returning, Frances pointed at the bar, in the room to my right, and said “Why don’t you go wait in the bar and I’ll take care of the coats?”

I don’t know why I didn’t argue, but I did what she said. I just slid off my coat and handed it to her and walked into the bar.

And there they all were: Colin, Alex, Tim, Peter, Michele and Michael, just hiding in the corner, waiting for me. I was dumbfoudned. For a second I just stood there with my mouth open. Then, naturally, I started jumping, and jumping, and probably squealing too. The English men smoking a cigarette just in front of me slid away as I sqealed and jumped more: “I win! I win! I win!” There were even a gifts!
My surprise birthday 2007 at Alloro
I am not sure if you have ever considered hosting a surprise party for a friend or loved one. But I can tell you, if your lover or friend is anything like me, they will never forget it. I think, because I was single for so long, living a “city life,” my friends in my life are very important, I consider them family. Only they can say, for sure, how important I am to them and this was a great way to show it. Gosh it sure was nice for all of them to come out for dinner with me. Especially when they are all hiding in a bar and I had no idea they are going to be there and I looked good in my brand new dress.

Alloro Chef did Cake art
I should say that the restaurant, Alloro, and its staff played a big part in how much I enjoyed my evening. Being a server and control freak in terms of service, I was literally floored at the style and sophistication at Alloro. And the cake, as you can see, was gorgeous. I even got to make a wish and blow out the candle, something I haven’t done in years.

Of course, you know the best part of the evening was Frances. Not because she booked the evening and made diabolical plans behind my back. Not because she was so thoughtful and knew EXACTLY the kind of night I would want out for my birthday.

No. It was because she was just there, sitting beside me at the restaurant, the same Frances after everything. My friend, who opened London up to me. Happy birthday to me!

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 


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