I shall be spending the weekend with various members of my family at Hassop Hall near Bakewell in Derbyshire (left). My father was 80 in July and my mother will be 80 in December so we wanted to celebrate by organising a small party in their honour.
Apart from my parents, who live near Ashbourne, a 30-minute drive from Bakewell, guests include my sister, my aunt Dorothy who has flown in from Switzerland where she has lived since 1948, and my uncle Roy, a retired GP and former racing driver. Including children, there will be 13 of us.
When we visited Hassop Hall a few months ago we liked it immediately. It has 14 rooms and the main house is cosy if a little old-fashioned. The grounds are lovely and I particularly like the ballroom and banqueting house in the old brewery.
Anyway, if it all goes to plan, guests will have arrived and checked in by mid afternoon (Saturday). Rather in the manner of an Agatha Christie novel, we have invited everyone to assemble for afternoon tea at four (when I shall reveal who the murderer is), followed by drinks in the bar at six and dinner in the main restaurant at 7.30pm.
Earlier this week I ordered a cake (actually, two cakes in the shape of an '8' and an '0') from a local cake maker, and I have also arranged for a photographer to take pictures after breakfast on Sunday.
To be honest, I was beginning to think this weekend might not happen. Neither of my parents is in particularly good health, my father especially. In his late fifties, having been fitter and far more physically active than I ever was, he developed serious angina.
Since then he's had two heart by-pass operations and, ten years ago, a heart transplant. Unfortunately, the side effects of all the drugs he has to take to stop his body rejecting the replacement heart have taken their toll and last year his kidneys finally failed, which now means a thrice-weekly trip to Derby where he spends 4-5 hours hooked up to a dialysis machine.
Recently he has developed angina again and this week I had to ask the hotel if they have a wheelchair on the premises. This is a far cry from the man who used to leap over fences and ditches in pursuit of some bird, rare or otherwise (he is a keen ornithologist). Meanwhile, such was the speed he used to drive, he could turn even the shortest of car journeys into a white knuckle ride. An old school friend still talks about it with awe, bordering on fear.
One thing my father has never lost is his fighting spirit. His will to live is extraordinary. I remember my mother telling me, the night he had his first heart by-pass 22 years ago, that the surgeon gave him five years at most, even if the operation was a success.
I shall say a few words when the opportunity presents itself and thinking about it the other day I surprised myself by feeling a bit tearful. (This is something that usually only happens towards the end of It's A Wonderful Life.) I love my parents to bits but it's not the sort of thing I tend to say, publicly or even privately.
No doubt I'll wing it as usual, but it would be nice to find the right words to express what we all feel.