Canadians Invade Canberra for Great Uncle Jimmy’s 85th Birthday

2 Apr

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March 18, 2012

After only 2 hours of sleep, the alarm on the iPhone started to go off. It was time to rise and shine and begin our journey to Canberra where we would be meeting my Australian cousin, Jamie, to take us to my great Uncle Jimmy’s 85th birthday celebration.

The 20 minute walk from Kiera and Dave’s to the train station was no easy task on very little sleep the morning after St. Patrick’s Day while carrying our big backpacks, especially considering the walk was down a steep hill (hey, at least it was down and not up!). We arrived at the station at the bottom of the road to catch the train that would take us to Central station, where we then caught the bus to Canberra which was a very droopy-eyed 3-hour journey from Sydney.

The bus arrived early to Canberra but Jamie was already at the station waiting to pick us up wearing his ‘smart casual’ birthday party clothes. The look on his face when he saw us get off the bus in our travel clothes (read: Lululemon from head to toe) was priceless. I quickly explained that we had clothes with us to change into before we headed over to Uncle Jimmy’s and the colour returned to Jamie’s face.

I wore the only nice dress I have with me, a navy blue and white striped knit tank dress from Zara, and J.J. changed into jeans and a polo shirt. Jamie had brought a black blazer for J.J. to put over his polo which J.J. laughed off, thinking it was a joke. When we arrived at Uncle Jimmy’s home Jamie handed J.J. the blazer, explaining that his grandpa (Uncle Jimmy) is different from my grandpa (who is Uncle Jimmy’s brother), and while J.J. has met my grandpa a number of times he had not yet met Uncle Jimmy.

A little bit of background: My grandpa (Papa) and Uncle Jimmy grew up together in Scotland before going their separate ways – Papa settling in Canada and Uncle Jimmy eventually settling in Australia after moving around quite a bit. Papa was an engineer by profession and is quite tech savvy while Uncle Jimmy was in the army (he’s a war vet) and prefers snail mail to anything preceded by “e” (or “i” where Apple products are concerned).

We arrived at Uncle Jimmy’s, wine and bags of ice in tow, and walked up to the front door to discover an 8.5”x11” university graduation photo of Jamie taped outside with the word “Grandson” hand-written across the top right corner in Sharpie marker. By this point we already knew that Uncle Jimmy had assigned tasks to each member of the family that would be in attendance and he’d told Jamie he would be playing the role of the greeter. This meant that Jamie would essentially playing the role of glorified butler, greeting guests as they arrived, taking their coats, giving them a name tag and pouring them a drink – especially funny since for some reason, unknown to anyone, Uncle Jimmy calls Jamie McTavish. Yep, this was definitely different than any birthday party I’d been to for Papa.

As we walked into the house, Jamie took the photo down from where it had been posted on the outside of the front door and quickly hid it before rounding the corner to let Uncle Jimmy know he had arrived and had brought 2 surprise guests. Uncle Jimmy was very surprised and quite pleased, I was told, that we had come in to Canberra for the occasion, though he was a bit flustered that he hadn’t made us a name tag as he had done in advance for all of the other RSVP’d guests. He disappeared around the corner to the front hall table where there were blank name tags and a Sharpie marker. He wrote mine first, scribbling “Caitlin Cullens” (Cullens is Uncle Jimmy’s last name and my mum’s maiden name) before handing it over to me. He had to ask J.J. for his name again before writing him a name tag. When J.J. told him his name Uncle Jimmy decided he didn’t care for a name consisting of initials (likely too informal I imagine) and asked what the J’s stood for. When J.J. replied that they stood for Jonathan James Uncle Jimmy decided he liked James best and proceeded to write a nametag for J.J. that read “James Canada” (apparently Jamie isn’t the only one that has been re-named by Uncle Jimmy). J.J. was then introduced by Uncle Jimmy to many of his friends, not to mention family, as James and so as not to confuse people I had to remember to call him James as well. Thank goodness he had a nametag on to remind me!

Once we had nametags and had been introduced around the room as Caitlin Cullens and James Canada we learned a couple of the rules from Uncle Jimmy. The limited seating in his living room was reserved for ‘the oldies’ (his words, not mine) and ‘the oldies’ were to help themselves first to the buffet lunch that Uncle Jimmy’s daughters had prepared and only then were the young people were allowed to eat.

After a curry lunch (in honour of Uncle Jimmy’s tour of duty in India) everyone was handed a glass of champagne. Obviously Jamie aka McTavish was responsible for making sure everyone had one for the toast that my cousin Andrew was about to make. Andrew spoke very well and his toast was great to hear as I learned a lot about Uncle Jimmy as well as the friends and family that had gathered to celebrate his 85th birthday.

Next up was Uncle Jimmy’s speech and he spoke a lot about his army days and the different places he’d been. He ended with a long-winded rant about Great Britain and India which had Aunt Lindsey covering her face with her hands before whispering to me “does your grandfather go on rants like this?” Don’t worry, Papa, I said that you didn’t.

Toasts were followed by cake which was followed by coffee and tea. The party was winding down and J.J. and I jumped in to help Aunt Anne with the cleanup. By the time we’d finished most of the guests had gone and Uncle Jimmy took this quieter time to show me a number of family photos he had up around his home. I couldn’t get over how much my cousin Sarah looked like Uncle Jimmy’s wife, Aunt Aileen, when she was young.

Once the cleanup had been finished and Uncle Jimmy and I had had a chance to chat and make plans for him to take J.J. and I to Parliament House and the War Memorial during our stay in Canberra, Jamie announced that it was time for the 3 of us to leave. We said our goodbyes and thank yous and climbed into Jamie’s black Mitsubishi Lancer. Jamie pointed out a number of buildings and monuments on the short drive back to his place and recommended the things we should see and do in the following days.

We unloaded the car and took our things up to Jamie’s 3-bedroom bachelor pad that was immaculately clean. While I did a load of laundry, J.J. and Jamie went out in the car so that J.J. could practice driving stick on the left side of the road for our upcoming road trip to Melbourne. They arrived home with groceries and we cooked a chicken and vegetable stir-fry for Jamie that we ate while catching up and recapping the events of Uncle Jimmy’s birthday party.

Exhausted, we said our goodnights early and headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.


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