Monday 18 November 2013

The 21st Birthday Treasure Hunt

This is the final segment of my 21st birthday, and the greatest and most extraordinary gift I have ever, ever been given.

I'd always lived so in fear of turning 21. To me, that marked the end of my window of opportunity to make something spectacular of my life. If I hadn't started to put wheels into motion by the time I was 21, the next thing I know I' be waking up 40 with a live of sheer dissatisfaction, any potential I once had, irretrievably gone.

However by the time I turned 21, I knew that I'd done it. I had chosen to change my fate, and I knew that that seeming inevitability I constantly lived in fear of, was now never going to come true.

But when the day finally came to say goodbye to being 20, after the warmth of my friends and family's wishes, I just felt... deflated.

I suppose in the back of my head I'd half been expecting some triumphant fanfare and a ride in the back of a convertible, waving to the crowds while confetti drifted down across everyone welcoming me into adulthood. But it didn't. Being 21 felt suspiciously similar to being 20.

So at the end of my day, with gratitude and thanks to my nearest and dearest, I resigned that any big event that you so hotly anticipate cannot help but be somewhat anti-climactic, and went to bed.

So I closed my eyes on my birthday and began looking forward to seeing Oliver in a few days, completely oblivious to what was just round the corner.


Now if there's one thing that every single person I've ever met will be able to say about me, it's that I'm either super early or super late for everything. There's never any middle ground. 

So when Oliver repeatedly over-stressed the ultimate importance of me turning up on time to his flat in a few days, my suspicions were first raised.

Making sure I had plenty of time (super early mode) I headed over to his flat in East London. He buzzed me through the front gate, and I smiled up, expecting to see his little face hanging over the plate-glass wall balcony as he always did.

But he was not there. And there was no movement from inside the flat.

That's when I first realised something was up.

With a slight frown I climbed the stairs, and crossed the walkway to his front door. 

When I arrived, I froze in my step.

Then I exhaled a whooshing string of 'Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohhhhhhmygod'

I hastily pulled open the envelope, which I found to contain a letter, a badge and two other envelopes.

With my heart pounding hard in my chest, my trembling fingers opened the envelope and I nearly collapsed onto the decking. (See full screen for ease of reading)

That was the first of many times that day I felt a lump in my throat and tears pricking my eyes. 

I read it over and over again, each time noticing new bits that I'd accidentally skimmed over before. My hand had been over my mouth in awe since I read the first line.

After about 10 minutes of staring down at it, I snapped out of it, and realised I had to get going. I only had 90 minutes and I had no idea how many stops would be on this tour. So without further ado, I pinned on the birthday badge and joyfully skipped out of his apartment block and onto Kingsland Road.

The first clue read:

It took a moment then I got it.


'HER' or 'Haggerston Expresso Rooms' is an adorable little coffee shop just round the corner from his flat, with some of the most genuinely lovely staff I have ever met. It was the place he recommended I go for breakfast on my first day at my internship, after I'd stayed at his flat, many many months ago.

So with my silver badge a-shining, I popped down the road, paused outside to take a deep breath, and entered the shop with a little tinkling of the bell above my head.

"Hey, how can I- Oh..." The barista said, noticing my badge. She looked at me expectantly and I gave a little sigh.

"I'm a super wicked cupcake missus and I think you have a present for me." I said and she grinned heartily, producing two small packages and an envelope from behind the desk.

The 'Super Wicked Cupcake Missus' name originated from my Cosmpolitan Cupcakes idea. When The Independent wrote the article about it, Oliver forwarded it to some of his friends, to which one of them replied 'Great idea. You've got a super wicked cupcake missus there mate.' and it's been a running joke between us ever since.

I excitedly tore open the packages to find one containing a set of customised Scarphelia Stickers which made me put my hand to my heart, and the other containing a book called 'F*%# I'm In My Twenties.' which made me giggle.

The next clue read:

'The Bridge Cafe', of course!

I was bade a goodbye and good luck from HER, and made the unexpectedly mammoth trip from Hggerston to Shoreditch High Street on foot. It took about 15 minutes of walking before I wished I'd got the bus or the tube instead. However, it was quite sweet seeing everyone's faces light up when they saw my badge and the occasional 'Happy Birthday!'s I got from strangers.

A sticky and breathless 30 minutes later, I arrived at The Bridge Cafe. I smiled as I recalled him taking me there for the first time last week, no doubt to make sure I was aware of where exactly it was.

I said my line, and with a smile I was handed over a package and an envelope.

This time, the little packet contained a DVD of Back To The Future and I actually laughed out loud. Oliver always said that the only way he could notice the age difference between us was how many more films than I he'd seen. He'd said the deciding factor on whether I was too young was if I'd seen Back To The Future. My silence had said it all.

I grinned as I stroked the cover.

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"Mister paid for this for you. He says to enjoy." The small Asian barista said, holding out a small strawberry tart on a plate for me.

I smiled and thanked the man in disbelief.

Even after all this, he'd still bloody got me a birthday cake.

And as I enjoyed my delicious strawberry birthday tart, I opened the envelope and examined the clue:

I grinned as I remember the night fondly.

Oliver and I had been out with one of our close mutual friends, back in the days where we'd kept our relationship a secret still.

We'd been playing a drinking game, where if anyone said something remotely outrageous or scandalous, if another shouted 'STATUS!' within 3 seconds of them saying it, that person then had to set it as their facebook status for an hour.

Suffice it to say it got very out of hand.

By the end of the drunken evening, I blurted the secret that Oliver and I were together, and to our delight, he took the news joyously.

And the place where this had happened was none other than Shoreditch's very own extravagant electro-camp Cuban cocktail bar, Barrio East.

I popped the few doors down from The Bridge, and said my usual line to the waitress, who looked very excited to see me. I was instructed to wait at the bar for the manager whilst a few of the bartenders and waiting staff gathered round having been expecting me, and told me to tell them all about it and show them what I'd got so far.

Everyone was captivated and breathed a little 'wow' when I'd finished, and that's when I began to realise truly how lucky I was.

"I gotta say, guys don't do that for just any girl you know... sounds like this one is crazy about you." Said a waitress with a knowing grin before heading over to her tables. I felt a warm glow in my heart.

"They you are." I turned as the manager handed me a package and an envelope. "Oh and, one more thing before you go. The Gentleman insisted." He said, and after a couple of minutes presented me with a drink.


A jagerbomb.

"Is it your favourite or something?" The manager smiled.

"No," I replied, shaking away the bittersweet taste in my mouth after I'd downed the lot. "It's because he knows how much I hate them." He laughed and went to attend to another customer.

I began to excitedly tear at the packaging of the gift, before I suddenly stopped, froze and hastily tried to cover it back up, looking around myself nervously.

"What was it then?" The waitress said, returning.

"Uh let's just say it's not something to open in public..."

"Ahhh I see." She said with a playful nudge.

I quickly stuffed it in my bag before anyone else could see, and opened the next clue:

I grinned as I worked it out instantly.

'The Love Shake' - the alcoholic milkshake (hard shake) parlour where we'd gone together for the first time right at the very beginning, where we'd both inadvertently picked the strongest shake on the menu called 'The Clint Eastwood' and got very, very drunk. Two double shots of bourbon in an amaretto cookie milkshake gives a whole new meaning to the term 'sloppy drunk.'

I headed over, all whilst furiously trying to fight against the conflicting emotions of sheer unprecedented happiness and wanting to burst into tears, and shakily said my line to the bartender, who handed me a package, an envelope and, yep, you guessed it, a 'Clint Eastwood'.

Sipping on my shake, I felt my mind begin to swirl a little bit with the mixture of jager and bourbon. I opened the package and my just about stopped dead in my chest.

No. No. No. No. No. Oh please god, no.

I pulled off the last of the wrapping paper and stared down at the small velvet box on the table.

An engagement ring box.

Surely, surely he wouldn't... he couldn't... he wasn't... would he?

Before this, the age thing had been playing on my mind a little bit and I made the terrible mistake in confiding in the girls at the office with it.

'Oh no he's DEFINITELY thinking about settling down, how could you not at that age?'

'I give it less than a year before he proposes.'

'Just think, by this time next year you could be married with kids! Don't worry, when you're young your body bounces right back into shape.'

And although I was pretty sure I knew him like the back of my hand, it had really began to permeate through and get to me. I'd briefly mentioned it to him before, but he seemed to brush it off and I was certain he hadn't got the seriousness of my tone.

Now this.

With trembling fingers and a pained expression I edged open the box, only to find myself exhale a sigh of relief and then suddenly inhale in a sharp gasp.

There was no engagement ring in the box.

He done it on bloody purpose.

What was inside though, were two tickets to go and see Crystal Fighters in November.

For many reasons, I nearly jumped out of my seat in joy.

That was finally when I started to realise something else too.

These were not just random cafes and bars in Shoreditch and East London.

They were places where we'd had our first dates.

Everything had a meaning behind it, a private joke between the two of us, something no-one else but us would understand.

And as I finished my hard shake and felt my senses a little more blurred, the lump in my throat returned and I had to choke back the tears.

Not yet Katie, not yet.

I took a deep breath paused, then opened the next clue.

That was also when I first started to wonder how many clues there actually were.

What if there was 21, and I was getting progressively drunken and more emosh at clue 6?! That would not end well.

Regardless, I packed up my ever-growing possessions and headed over to where I knew the next clue would be, The Shoreditch Grind just outside Old Street Station - where we went for the first time after I dyed the ends of my hair lilac.

As I was now accustomed to, I said my line at the bar, and was presented with a rather heavy package and an envelope.

"Oh yeah and there's an espresso martini coming your way, take a seat."

I smiled to myself.

We always said that we've probably tried every single espresso martini in London and could rank them in order. And we always said that Shoreditch Grind was definitely #1.

As I waited for the drink, I tore open the heavy package.

Oh my god.

Inside was a Liberty London red leather-bound notebook, engraved with my initials in silver, with matching silver-lined pages. Inside was the most beautiful inscription I'd ever read.

It so very nearly pushed me over the edge then.

 And as I finished my outrageously tasty Espresso Martini and continued to choke back tears, I opened the clue, and I knew it was the last one.

I tried my hardest not to run.

I thanked the guys at Shoreditch Grind and focused all my attention on getting to Hoxton Square as soon as possible.

I knew where he would be.

'Happiness Forgets'.

I tried to rehearse what I was going to say but my heart was pounding and I was a little bit drunk and totally emosh and could barely piece myself together.

I arrived in Hoxton Square carrying all my various belongings and cards, and as usual, paused and took a deep breath.

He knew how long I'd been in love with Shoreditch and East London, even before I knew him.

He knew how much I enjoyed surprises.

And he knew how much I'd been completely enchanted by the book he'd just lent me, about a guy that's sent off on a crazed treasure hunt across the world to chase his destiny.

He's listened to everything I'd ever said, even the pointless little stuff that I'm not even aware I say sometimes. Not even I could have thought up something for myself, that I'd love just as much as that.

He truly did know me better than I knew myself.

And I descended the stairs down into Happiness Forgets, I completely lost my shit and burst into tears in front of everyone, and threw my arms around him.


That night, after I'd composed myself and he told me all about how he pulled it off, we dined in a secret little restaurant in Soho, and had a VIP table at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club with prosecco and cocktails. 

And it was the single greatest day of my life, and the most amazing and personal thing anyone has ever done for me.