I turned 37 last week. It is a thoroughly unremarkable birthday, 36 is no different, 38 is incredibly similar, in fact it may be the most utterly pointless birthday I have ever had. It only occurred to me a few days before, when I was listening to this song (which by the way, if you do not love, you are wrong, it belongs up there as one of the best track one side one songs ever, right next to Janie Jones)
Just how old I actually am now. Because I remembered my brother buying me this album for my sixteenth birthday, well, he bought me a dodgy tape from Bideford market, that almost certainly wasn’t original, but I loved that album, and didn’t care. Sixteen wasn’t that long ago was it? Well, I then realised that 1993 was the very year of that album. I then remembered that my stepdaughter Rudi was born that year. And that it was also her 21st birthday the same week. Which makes that album 21 years old. That tape my brother bought me is now old enough to drink in the USA, and I suddenly found myself feeling a little ancient. For perspective, the gap between the Spin Doctors album and now, is larger than the gap between the spin doctors album and the first Clash Album with Janie Jones on it. And the same as the gap between it and Black Sabbath vol 4. Feeling old now?
I think after a certain age you should probably only celebrate your birthday every half a decade, or possibly only when there’s a zero in your age. I realise that makes me sound a curmudgeonly old sod, and you’d be right there. I am very much a curmudgeonly old sod, as my wife and step-kids are wont to remind me. I did in fact have a lovely weekend, Rudi came all the way back from Falmouth especially to see me, my parents took me out for lunch, even my usually slack stepson, Adam came through with a card and a very decent bottle of wine (as well as the invention of the phrase multi-celebration Sunday). I was made to feel loved and special, which is always nice, but not entirely deserved I suspect.
Let me elucidate a bit, getting a year older is very easy, for most of one’s life it requires very little effort. At the beginning and the end, it is something of an achievement, but at 37, it’s just the mileometer clicking over, the inexorable slide towards forty is in full swing, and there is no way you can stop it now, unless you’ve got troubles, in which case celebrate all you can. I have always felt that on my birthday, I should buy my mum a present and take her out, after all, she did all the work that day, I don’t even remember it. Dad also deserves some credit, as he did punch the windscreen out of his car on the fast lane of the M3, which is pretty bad ass. Either way, they should be celebrated a lot more than me, I did nothing except tie myself up in an umbilical cord and jump out a month early, causing all kinds of problems for everybody concerned.
Birthday celebrations for children, I suspect, go back to the days of high infant mortality, when your child remaining alive for another year was definitely something worth celebrating. Also, birthdays when you are a child, are just awesome, the best thing ever. You tell your family all the things you want, and they get you as many of them as they can. Well, they do now, when I was a kid, I told my mum and dad a bunch of things I wanted, and I got one. Or sometimes half, as if it was expensive, it got stretched out over birthday and christmas, which taught me a valuable lesson about the value of money, or stuff, or something, I forget. My gran on the other hand, got me pretty much everything I ever asked for, and my every whim would be indulged as she truly was brilliant, and I miss her every day. The point is, that when you are a child, your birthday is very much your day, and you get what you want.
As you get a bit older, birthdays become very much an excuse for a party. By the time I was in my late teens and early twenties, I did not care at all if there were any presents, as long as we were all drinking, and having a good time. Again, it was a day entirely for me, and I could indulge my every little whim without reproach. Until a few days later, when those around me would let me know what an arse I had been, and I would have to go and apologise to the multitudes of Bideford. But again, the point is, here you tell your loved ones what you want to do, and they do it.
After a while, the presents become thoroughly pointless, because you are a grown up, if there are moderately priced things you want, you can go out and buy them. This of course leads people to buy you novelty gifts. These are invariably pointless, and a bit shite, and you have to keep them, because you usually live with the people who bought them for you. Get some shelves, get lots of shelves, it never ends. You can hint as much as you like about the book or DVD that you really want, and not buy it in the run up to your birthday, but it will not be there, you can buy it the week afterwards. And enjoy the almost but not quite as good as you’d like gifts that you have been given. Don’t even think that complicated musical equipment and other expensive specialist items are going to come your way, your friends and family do not understand your hobbies, and will not buy you vintage stratocasters. And you now have too many records, books and DVDs for any sane person to look through and check what you already have before picking something you might like and buying it for you. Welcome to adulthood, expect inappropriately stayed clothing as gifts (I am talking cardigans here).
Then you have your own family, and here it changes forever. As because it is your birthday, your children want to spend it with you, and make you happy. They are not going to get you drunk, they are not going to buy you a jet ski. They are going to want to spend the day with you, and they will want to do something they like as well. You may even get given something home made, do not under any circumstances ask what it is, tell them it is beautiful, and the best gift you could have had, and ask your significant other quietly what it is supposed to be. Chances are you won’t even be lying about it being brilliant, as it genuinely is the thought that counts. But the dynamic has changed, your birthday is no longer about you, or what you want to do. It is about what the people who love you want to do, and you will have to share it.
I, for example, would like to spend every day sitting around in my dressing gown drinking cider and swearing at inanimate objects. I am not allowed to do this every day, as it is a stupid idea, and would alienate me from polite society. Even on my birthday I cannot do this, as it is still a stupid idea, which is a good thing. My family want to celebrate with me, and luckily, they are now all old enough to drink, so we do. We do get dressed, and we lay off the swearing at furniture, and they gently coax me into being happy, and having a good time, rather than being the miserable shite I am 90% of the time. And I am glad about that.
I have always pointed out that I don’t like cake much, and would rather have a birthday pie. Occasionally this whim has been humoured, but generally, there is a cake instead, because other people like cake, particularly the kids. Equally, this year, I was told by my lovely wife that we were going out for the day, the day before my birthday, as my parents had already bagsied the actual birthday for a family meal, because my sister was unexpectedly in Devon (this worked out very nicely, it has been at least a decade since I was with my parents on my birthday, and as it was fathers day as well, both me my Dad, and my brother in law did quite well). Being the curmudgeonly old sod that I am, I kind of wanted to be left the hell alone for at least one day of the weekend, but as I said, birthdays when you are older are for the people who love you to let you know, not for you to indulge your own strangeness.
Equally, the saturday night (generally one which would be spent in the pub, where I would have been all day probably) was spent at a play, as all my current batch of local friends were going to this play as well. It was outdoors, and there was a bar, so my habitual drunkeness could be indulged, but again, I was feeling railroaded into doing what other people wanted. Of course, all this being forced into doing things other than sitting around drinking meant I had a far more pleasant and memorable weekend than I would have done had I been left to my own devices, or indulged like a seven year old. The very reason I love my wife so much is that she has a knack of knowing what I will actually enjoy a lot better than I do. And my stepkids are fast becoming the most pleasant drinking company I have ever known, so the future is looking bright.
I am sure one day, they will be too busy with their own families, and I will be lucky to get a phone call saying Happy Birthday, so if I were to waste these last few family birthdays in a scrumpy induced, misanthropic dressing gown clad daze, it truly would be a waste. For one day I will probably be sat in a stinky arm chair, with no idea who I am, and if I am lucky, once a year there will be a sofa full of scared looking grandchildren wondering why they have been made to come and sit with the weird old man on such a lovely sunny day, and why he is swearing at a cupboard.
I apologise to my future grandchildren for the misery I am going to inflict on them, but I will anyway, as they need to learn the importance of family, so that one day they will have scared grandchildren in front of them.