The Cottage Smallholder

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On birthdays


Photo: De Wit hand tools

Photo: De Wit hand tools

The first birthday that I can remember was when I was two. Sitting in my wooden high chair at the kitchen table of our Devon cottage. The sun glimpsing through the small windows – the table full of people.

There was suddenly a commotion at the door. A parcel had arrived for me. Someone unwrapped the parcel and placed the contents on the tray of my high chair. A baby doll lay in a cardboard box staring up at me through the cellophane window in the lid.

It was a present from my godmother, sent from America. I was overwhelmed as much by the box as the baby. She was wearing a thin cotton nappy and a feeding bottle was  attached to the cardboard near her head. She was Su-wee the drinking/peeing baby doll. She had a hole in her mouth and a hole in her bottom. Presumably it worked in reverse too – although I was never adventurous enough to try that.

She was named Susie and stayed with me for years. Generally half clothed she sat up well and provided an audience for the adventures of my toy animals that I always preferred to dolls.

But it’s that special moment – staring into the box, touching the cellophane, the corners of the box that still remains with me. It was a time when everything else dropped away – just me and the box and the small rubber doll.

Today, so many years later, it’s my birthday again. I still get excited by cards and presents but also enjoy waking up and looking back over the past years. All those awkward teenage birthdays, the thrill of being 25, the doom of turning 30 (averted momentarily by a 30 year old bottle of burgundy and a wonderful meal made by Seraphina which included her own handmade chocolates). The delight of still looking reasonable at 40, the big party that we threw when I was 50 (followed by an indulgent foodie week in Rome). The wrinkles and aches that appear a little stronger as the years fly by.

This morning in a similar cottage room with small bright windows and heavy shadows, I opened Danny’s present and marvelled at the De Wit tools that he had given me. They needed no cellophane to enhance them. I sat on the tapestry stool and tested them for weight, balance and ease of use. All apprehensions about the relentless ongoing years dissolved as I ran my fingers over these beautiful hand forged tools and dreamt of gardening with these new companions for many, many years to come.

A birthday is the start of a brand new year, after all.

  Leave a reply


  1. Happy Birthday, Fiona.

  2. Happy birthday, Fiona!

    I have a Cape Cod Weeder, too, and I consider it my right hand out there. It took me awhile to figure it out because I was trying too hard. Now I’m amazed at what I can accomplish with “natural” and easy body movement.

    Good job, Danny!

  3. Happy Birthday, Fiona!

    Funny what thrills us as we get older. Last year (50) it was a manure fork (I needed to move the compost pile). This year it’s an electric chipper/shredder, two new pairs of overalls, and new knee high muck boots.

    I’ll get a sushi dinner in there somewhere- that’s tradition, at this point, and maybe a nice bottle of Scotch.

    But- the important thing of course, is to KEEP HAVING BIRTHDAYS! So- many more!!

  4. Happy Birthday Fiona xx

  5. Happy Birthday! I hope you have been spoilt rotten all day!

    My mum had a similar system for birthdays – you could choose dinner that night. She was set out to make fancy stuff, but I think she got miffed when my brother chose sausages, baked beans and chips.

  6. Happy Birthday for yesterday. Hope you’re enjoying those lovely tools.


  7. Belated happy birthday Fiona, and carry on being who you are. I’m not much of a one for physical presents unless they can be consumed, but those tools look great! Hope you had a really good day and that Danny cooked you a yummy birthday dinner.

  8. Happy birthday; I hope you had a thoroughly enjoyable day! I can’t be bothered with my own birthdays any more (the stress of people asking me what I want, and I don’t want anything, and then they get me something that I don’t want and I have to be polite about it gets me down too much!) but I think it’s lovely when other people enjoy theirs. 🙂

  9. Michelle in NZ

    Belated Happy Birthday, dear Fiona.

    What a wonderful and incredibly thoughtful gift from your Danny. Those beautifully shaped wooden handles are just waiting for your hands.

    Sending care, love and huggles to you each and both, and to the darling Min Pins too, Michelle and Zebbycat xxx and purrr-zzzzzzzzzzzzz

  10. Happy Birthday Fiona! Have a great day and a great year.

    For me birthdays are very much about who you spend them with and also, having a July birthday, where. I have had many birthdays while on holiday or even while traveling to a holiday and several in the company of 40 12 year olds and a small group of colleagues on school trips to France. I still have the singing birthday cake that some of the students gave me one year. It lived in school until I left and was brought out on many occasions. Now it lives at home but will travel if requested!

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