Vicky Ewan: Celebrating sweet 16th birthday - and leaving puppy home alone

Torbay Weekly

It was our elder son's 16th birthday recently - why, thank you, I do occasionally get told I don't look old enough.

Admittedly, with less sincerity and eye contact as the years pass, but I'll take it.

My vain claim to fame is that I was asked for ID a few years ago, in my late 30s. Me asked for ID! OK, I grant you, it was at Halloween, and I was bedecked in costume and make-up; nonetheless, I was sporting the broadest of smiles - possibly complete with fangs - as I fumbled for my driving licence.

Sixteenth birthdays have assumed a certain significance in our family.

I don't recall them being specially marked for my generation; there would perhaps be a reference to 'Sweet 16 and never been kissed' with a knowing wink from well-meaning relatives - and how fitting, at least in my case - but there was little in the way of major celebration.

My 16th was spent in the company of my cousins, who were staying for a spell over the summer holidays before we all travelled to Taizé for a week's camping.

Lunch was courtesy of Burger King - even now, in homage to my younger, more principled self, I have a tendency to choose their spicy bean burger should we dine therein: delicious.

I remember visiting the cinema, although I can't bring to mind the film we watched. In the evening, we enjoyed my favourite dish, at my mother's fair hands - cheesy brown rice and vegetables.

Or, to give it the name which Delia grandly bequeathed upon it: brown rice and vegetable gratin - undoubtedly more sophisticated, although infinitely less gastronomically-appealing.

My brother made me a beautiful cake on the theme of The Beatles, with a miniature John, Paul, George and Ringo stood one in each corner; we still have the icing banner that graced the top.

It was a brilliant birthday, but low key by today's standards.

I fear 21st century teens have been influenced by celebrations across the pond, where, if the hype is to be believed, 16ths are very sweet indeed, featuring custom-made cars, helicopter rides, lavish gifts, and parties with hundreds of names on the guest list.

Certainly, when our eldest child turned 16, we felt moved to observe what seemed a more meaningful rite of passage than of old with a special family dinner at an proper restaurant, an evening that featured grandparents and dressing up.

No occasion, however, has seemed as anticipated as this latest manifestation, for our son.

For weeks before the date itself, outfits were planned, discussed, rejected, reconsidered and locked in. The venue was selected. The booking was made. A cake was produced and clandestinely couriered to the restaurant in advance, awaiting its epiphanies entrance.

My mother, who had been so seriously unwell a few short weeks prior to the birthday, declared herself strong enough to attend. My sister-in-law caught the early train down from London, to join my brother who had been staying with our parents. All was in place.

The one fly in the ointment was an increasingly large puppy-shaped fly, who had scarcely been out of sight of one or other of us since we welcomed her into the family fold.

We pondered, plotted and projected, and came up with a plan: we would take her for a long walk in the afternoon, arriving back a short while before go time.

We would feed her dinner, settle her in the lounge with a new and tasty chew, turn on the television, bid her a fond farewell, and leave, crossing our fingers and hoping the neighbours didn't feel compelled to break down the door to relieve the strains of any suffering which fell upon their ears.

With hearts in our mouths we executed the plan, mentally preparing ourselves for the potential train wreck we would discover upon our return.

The evening went beautifully; the food was delectable, the service exemplary. Wine flowed, laughter abounded, and a merry time was had by all, from eight to 86 years.

The cake, borne in by gracious staff and complete with sparklers, was happily received.

Not wishing to linger lest Miss Pup was disconsolate - and fearing for the sanctity of anything chewable - we sacrificed a final coffee and hurried home.

An initial and disconcerting silence from within the house was swiftly broken by manic barking, and the rapture with which we were greeted was effusive to the point of insanity - but no trace of distress or disruption was to be found.

As we breathed a collective sigh of relief, I reflected that, all in all, this latest 16th was possibly the sweetest yet.

We have another seven years to organise the occasion for the final offspring. Wish us luck...