Everyone who used to give me birthday presents is dead.
Well, not exactly everyone, but quite a lot of them. That’s the downside of birthdays at this age (I will be 57 tomorrow) - you tend to reflect on the past and all the people who are no longer around to celebrate the occasion with you.
But it’s also an age where we have (hopefully) acquired most of the things we ever wanted. Life is no longer defined by possessions or gifts; true value lies elsewhere, in the friends and family who are still around. What I really look forward to is getting together with lovely people over a few drinks and, basically, having a fun-filled evening full of laughter - which it always is.
That’s why my 40th and 50th birthdays stand out. The first, in Soho House, I have always called the happiest day of my life. Although my beloved father had passed away eight years previous, my mother, brother and a ton load of friends shared the night with me in London’s Soho House, the private members’ club that has now mushroomed around the world. One of the first to join, I am now one of the oldest members; that feels weird. I’m tempted to book it for my wake.
I had three celebrations for my 50th. I cooked for 60 people in my Cardiff house, held a restaurant dinner for close friends in London, and had a party in my apartment in Paris, where I was living part-time. The last guest fell asleep on the stairs on her way out. Well, I say asleep: she was out cold and couldn’t be shifted. I had to call les pompiers to remove her. They were not impressed. My French wasn’t great, but I knew enough to understand that a man in uniform who spends his days putting out fires and yelling at you is saying something along the lines of “Our job is not to rescue drunken women in stairwells.”
Last year, despite my having been in New York just five months, I had managed to acquire around 20 people, none of whom I had known before I arrived in the city, to meet for drinks. That was terrific, too, and nobody passed out.
I’ve never been someone who minds getting older. Why sweat over the things you can’t change? And I would rather be in my 50s than my 20s. Or 30s. My 40s were much better (well, apart from the men, but then no decade has been good on that front), and while the 50s have been a financial nightmare, I’ve done a lot of travelling, experienced the United States, and met a wide variety of people from a non-European culture. That has been, and continues to be, fascinating. What writer wouldn’t enjoy that.
I am lucky in that my health is pretty good. My blood pressure is too high, and I get shredded at the top of escalators when when I try to run up them the wrong way, my brain telling me I am still young and sprightly, my knees telling me to sit on the couch and watch telly.
I’m still able to exercise, I’m not on any medication, and I haven’t been to a doctor for four years. I’m not sure that my daily, or even hourly trips to Dr Google, who convinces me that I have every disease ever created, is a good alternative, but healthwise, I don’t feel any different from how I did 30+ years ago.
Even The Change passed me by. I sweated a bit on and off for a while in my mid-40s, but that was it. I take natural supplements and have resisted going down the HRT route. There has been no diminishing of interest in the opposite sex (in fact, it’s increased), although obviously there is less interest on their part because they all want younger models. The good news is, though, that ageing men become less capable of servicing those younger models, so serve their own right for rejecting the older woman, I say.
I’ve been looking at my baby book that catalogues my first five birthdays. There are lots of “frou frou pants”, whatever they were, and money - lots and lots of money. Where did all that go? And why wasn’t I able to hold on to the skill of acquiring so much?
That’s the only thing that age has changed. But at 27, I was sitting in a London Camden Cafe, crying into my cup of tea bought with some of my unemployment benefit, bemoaning my lack of money; today, I sit sobbing over money with a glass of champagne in Five Star Four Seasons hotels. Same story. Better venue. My chosen house of misery has definitely improved with age.
So, as I spend the last day of my 56th year contemplating all this, I just want to say that I am so grateful for the people in my life who, despite my problems and stresses, get me through and make it all worthwhile.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
And that’s something you’ll never learn from Dr Google.