Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me 11/5/11

Today is my birthday.

I’ve had a lot of them, so I now know what to expect.

It’s very different from what I could expect over four decades ago. Then, my party guests would arrive not only with a present but a box of fire-works, which my father would set off in our garden after the sausage rolls and party games (which I had to, and did, win).

During the gunpowder part of the proceedings, I was the child hiding under the table in the dining room. I wanted everyone to go home so that I could play with my presents.

I also hated fire-works. I still do. When it’s the main noise that greets you on your first day in the world, it’s hardly surprising. I’ve never really understood the appeal of standing around in the cold, eyes streaming standing next to a roaring bonfire, watching a pretend man being roasted alive and having your ears invaded by loud bangs.

Decades on, the friends I once invited to parties usually cannot come to mine now because they are going to their own children’s bonfire events (and that’s what they are now: events. Unless you can reproduce The Towering Inferno on your lawn, it seems you are nothing these days). The most I can hope for is friends who are divorced and it is their year to do Christmas with their children, which frees them up for Bonfire Night. For ME. To every cloud and all that.

The last few years have been ruined by the All Blacks playing Wales in autumn internationals. Three years ago, I sat at a table I had booked for 20 in the Indo Cymru in Canton in Cardiff, with just five people: one was my mother, two my brother and his girlfriend, and another couple I suspect I might have hired off the street. I choked through tears on my Biriyani.

I remember my big birthdays very clearly. On my 18th, I had a hairdo that could have competed with the Taj Mahal as one of the world’s great free-standing structures. I had a turquoise top and trousers that has been in fashion at least five times since.

On my 21st, I was dressed in a long brown crimplene frock. My grandmother came for tea but I remember the day mostly for the hysteria in our house trying to keep Emma the menstruating poodle off the sofa and away from my grandmother’s nice suit.

I have had three birthdays that I recall as being the happiest days of my life. The first was my ninth and I had been given a gorgeous cream plastic tea-set decorated with brown flowers. As usual, I couldn’t wait for my friends to leave so that I could get it out of the box and play with it.

My 40th, in Soho House, the central London private members’ club, was extraordinary. Surrounded by colleagues and friends, I had never felt more loved. My brother had tracked down Ricky Valance, who sang the number one hit Tell Laura I Love Her. I was a big fan of his, not for that song, but Movin’ Away, which I used to sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror in my youth. Ricky had recorded a message, which my brother played to the room; I also had a framed signed photo.

My mother also threw a family party for me near her home in Bristol and that, too, moved me to tears.

I wanted to celebrate the last day of my 40s with people I admired. I visited Simon Cowell in his smart London office and, in the evening, went to the theatre and shared a glass of champagne with Kenneth Branagh in his dressing room after the show.

I had three 50th birthdays: one, for close friends in the Bleeding Heart restaurant in London. Most people there had been at my 30th, too (apart from my therapist – if you haven’t had one by 50, you are so not of the NOW), and I felt blessed to have acquired – and kept – so many wonderful friends.

The second was at my Cardiff home, where I cooked for 70 and brought together many new friends with older ones who had known me since childhood.

The third was in Paris with friends I had made during my decade in France, and there were also new ones from the Paris/Welsh society. The last departing guest was lifted away, unconscious, by the pompiers, who were not happy, shouting that it was not their job to take away drunks of an evening. Ha! You want to be in Cardiff on a Friday night, I called back – or would have done, had my French been better and I did not harbour a fear of being beheaded.

I love birthdays. With each passing year, I am reminded that everything changes – and, yes, some things stay the same, and that is no bad thing, either. If I go tonight, I have still had a better life than most people in the world, let alone the country.

Age is not something that should frighten us, and the passing of days is not something we should mourn. Time is an ongoing period of learning: we have our successes and we have our failures. But we pass our wisdom – and our regrets – to others, who hopefully learn a little from both.

For me, it is the true meaning of everlasting life. Today, I celebrate it.

And, if you see me, you can celebrate it with me too.

Triples all round!

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