All over the world today people are celebrating their birthdays. With a great planetary puff, hundreds of thousands of people are blowing out millions of candles, maybe even in North Korea.
If these birthday people live in Portugal their cakes are likely to be intensely eggy, covered in a sugary white glaze and decorated with berries, orange and fig, so that they resemble a particularly festive skiing resort.
Toddlers, overwhelmed by the reality of turning three, gaze from one parent to another. Shy teens hold hands with their girl or boyfriends, while older types attempt to face up to the realities of entering a new decade.
When I was about ten, I remember my great-grandmother summoning me to her bedroom to “show me something important.”
Great granny had been born in Berlin, in the late nineteenth century and, even after many decades of living in London, still had a strong German accent.
“Zinc of zat!” she exclaimed, peering at a paper on her table. “Zoooo kind of Her Majesty, vizz allzthingsz to do. Yah!”.
Maria Nelke had received a telegram from the Queen congratulating her on turning one hundred.
Great granny was a life-long gourmet and the following year, climbing on to a stool to reach a box of chocolates which had been placed too high, she fell. The end came a few days later.
I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in London. I think we drank that particularly lethal Iberian rose in a bulbous bottle… I`m sure you know the one I mean. Anyway, we all felt very adult and sophisticated, in the slightly naïve way one did forty years ago. On the way home one chum threw up in my mother`s car.
What is it about birthdays that can make us dread them, particularly as we grow older? We count the days remaining before the awful event, a drawing in of time far worse then the ending of a holiday, or even the approach of Christmas, and then, at last, it`s the great day.
For the space of a few hours, we are the centre of attention. People we imagined had long ago forgotten us and whom we thought no longer cared, surprise us by sending a delightful message. We shed a few tears and drink too much. And then the next day, we suddenly feel better again, our normal self, no older really, well perhaps a day.
One of the unexpected things about birthdays, and indeed the whole process of growing older, is how surprisingly young we in fact feel when we get to the big day. In our twenties, we looked at forty as if that milestone were a Himalayan peak of agedness, an oxygenless summit from which there can be no possible descent.
At sixty, however, forty seems like a gentle foothill! But we, the sixty-year-olds, if we are fortunate, still feel so good, freed from the inhibitions of youth, at last blessed with a slightly less hazy idea of what we want from life. We look around us and, to our amazement, our contemporaries appear vigorous too, and even attractive: look at Madonna, or that sexy lady in my pilates class, or even Mick Jagger! Everyone seems not only to be hanging in there but also to be doing so much stuff!
So, dear reader, enjoy your birthday, whenever it may be, it`s only the beginning of your new life!
©James Mayor, 2018