Tomorrow is the birthday of my wife, Elisabeth. She is spelt with an S, not a Z, as I was forcefully told when we met. She was to be called Elisabeth, not Liz. It was one of those relationship ground rules, which determine whether a relationship stands any chance of survival. There are others, but that is not the point of this post!
Anyway, because she reads this blog, I will wish her a happy birthday. I shall, of course, wish her this more personally, as we do live in the same house – for our generation, to do it via social media or just on a blog would be clear grounds for divorce!
No, this post is about buying birthday cards.
Buying Elisabeth a birthday card is a nightmarish labour of love. It’s not her fault. It would be exactly the same if I were buying a card for anyone else. The only difference is that with Elisabeth the consequences of me getting the wrong kind of card can be much more serious.
Friends will forgive you for sending them a Christmas card on their birthday, or even a Get Well Soon card. But your wife . . . ?
Not worth the risk, mate.
So I go to a shop that sells cards. A card shop, I suppose. There are hundreds of cards – nay, thousands. And, in relationship terms, every one of them is a little cardboard roadside improvised explosive device. Those of us who can’t see must work carefully and steadily, maintaining the icy concentration of the bomb disposal soldier.
If I ruled the world, which I no longer want to do, there would only be one card. It would be multiple-choice, and all you would have to do is tick the boxes.
Happy Birthday / retirement / wedding, and so on.
This is not because I’m not romantic. I am the most romantic man I know, and can craft a verse as good as anyone, and I know what colours suit the colour of my wife’s eyes.
No, it’s cards that stress me out.
I know the parameters I am working with. It absolutely must say “to my wife”, it must have an appropriate verse, teddy bears are not looked on with favour.
When I look at a card I don’t know what the verse inside says, I don’t know if it’s a birthday card or a Welcome to Your New Home card. I don’t even know if it’s for a man or a woman.
So I find a shop assistant, and we begin a strange, semi-flirtatious conversation.
I open with what is probably a common gambit. I ask her where the birthday cards are. She tells me. I think she probably has to do that. It’s her job.
I then ask her to take me to the cards and help me choose one for my wife. This is a bit strange, she thinks, but she can see my white sticks. So she takes me to the birthday card section headed ‘For My Wife’.
“What sort of card would you like? she asks.
“I want one for my wife, with whom I am very much in love. Beneath this wrinkly exterior there is an ardent poet who wants to marry her again beneath a sky of tropical stars. It – the card – must have the right message inside – romantic, tender, intimate but not too intimate. She is a woman of allure and beauty. She is x years old. You must read the cards to me with feeling, and help me choose.
Me: My wife’s fussy about her cards. When we first met I just bought the first one I found.
Assistant: And did you learn?
Me: Oh yes, never again.
Assistant: You’re a keeper, then. Most men don’t learn.
It’s all a very strange and momentarily intimate conversation between two strangers who will never see each other again.
When I started to do this, when I first lost my sight, I found it funny, but now I respect the opportunity it gives to me to tell another person how much I love my wife. The white sticks remove the embarrassment for the assistant, and it’s lovely for me, too.
Perhaps we should all do this exercise, every time we buy a card for a loved one.