Monday, 10 December 2012

Happy Birthday to me!

Here's a very young me with all those exciting birthdays
ahead of me.
I always keep quiet about my birthday these days, mainly because, once beyond the age of 15 they have become progressively less exciting. In fact, the moment somebody suggested that I should be asking for clothes for my birthday – instead of train sets and toy soldiers – it was time to crawl under a stone and die. Well, perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but when socks and underpants become a key focus it's time for something. Time, perhaps, to admit that I should grow up?

For me, however, socks and underpants are things I should buy as a matter of course and should never be considered as birthday present territory. It's like waking up to a wrapped present, opening it and discovering a box of 80 English Breakfast teabags or a tube of toothpaste, shaving foam or toilet paper. Imagine gift-wrapping your weekly shop for somebody: a tin of baked beans, an orange, a loaf of bread...whatever next?

So, these days, birthdays go and come (but Earth abides) and they are nothing more than another day in the calender. There was a time when my adult birthday meant quite a lot. I had a pal who shared the same birthday – rather annoyingly he was one year younger than me and if he's reading this, Happy Birthday – and we used to make a weekend of it: a few days in Suffolk with our respective other halves, a curry, a few beers, some invigorating walks in the countryside; but those days are long gone and now, as I sit here looking out on what is a fairly pleasant day (I'm off work today) I'm looking forward to doing 'practical' things, like a bit of Christmas shopping.

I hate the word 'practical' as it shares the stage with 'sensible' and the phrase 'grown-up'. And, of course, they're all things I should be by now: practical, sensible and grown-up. In many ways I am all three: I'm married, I have kids, a mortgage and so on, but I yearn for the old days of childhood when there was little to worry about and plenty to look forward to. Now I'm sounding miserable, which I'm not and to be honest with you, what the hell would I do with a train set today? Where would I put it for a start? If I did have one, I'd be taken right back to my childhood and my mum telling me to take it upstairs 'out of harm's way' – except it would be my wife telling me to grow up and why did I waste the money on a train set when I could have bought (ahem) a washable suit from Marks & Spencer?

In the old days, once a toy went upstairs it found itself sharing the same status with the older toys from Birthdays and Christmases past; it was no longer the new kid on the block as it was on Christmas morning.

When I lived at home with mum and dad and my sister and brother, Christmas was a big, big thing. Dad would arrange our new toys in the living room and when we tip-toed our way downstairs around 4am to see what 'Father Christmas' had brought us we would be presented with what amounted to the window display of Hamley's in Regent Street. However, the person whose toys were on the dining table had to find space somewhere else in the room as lunch time approached and that would mean finding an unoccupied corner and attempting a reconstruction of dad's inspired display (it was never as good). Far better if your toys were already on the floor, somewhere away from the television and out of harm's way (as mum might say).

Christmas, of course, was far more egalatarian than a birthday. With the latter, one person was in the spotlight: the birthday boy or girl. One could say, of course, that on Christmas Day Jesus was the birthday boy, but most people have lost the true meaning of the festive season, which these days is more about greed, getting drunk at the Christmas party and then going on a diet during the month of January.

My dad tried to make birthdays more egalitarian than they would otherwise have been by giving smaller presents to whoever wasn't celebrating a birthday. This made other people's birthdays quite exciting as, on 10 December, my brother and sister knew they would be getting a present too, which made things a little more bearable for them when the 'birthday boy or girl' was parading around like Lord Snooty, getting out of doing virtually anything because it was their birthday.

There came a time, however, when the birthday cards would have to come down and make way for the Christmas cards and this was always a sad moment as it meant that my ever-diminishing 'birthday boy' status had finally ran out of juice and wouldn't be getting new batteries for another 52 weeks.

Being born on 10 December is better than you might think, mainly because it's just far enough away from Jesus' birthday to warrant separate presents. In the old days it meant that the month of December was a rollercoaster of fun as nobody would dare to suggest a 'joint birthday and Christmas present', the scouge of all December-born people. If you were born any later than the 10th, the risk of a joint present was very real.

But now, as I look out on the world from my conservatory window – it's a bright day with a mix of blue sky and cotton wool clouds against which the branches bare trees are silhouetted – all of these concerns of yesteryear are irrelevant and mere memories that bring a smile to my face. I've been fortunate enough never to have received a joint birthday and Christmas present and, over the years, I've had some great toys. My toy fort (known as Black Cross Fort) still lives round at mum's; my remote-controlled Tiger Tank – which once entered a disused war-time mortuary in our local Grove Park in Carshalton – is a pleasant (and mildly harrowing) memory and there are many other great gifts that made 10 December a special day. In other words, I'm not bitter and I'm not miserable (well, not about my birthday).

In short, I'm a grown-up with my own children to think about. My only child-like fun these days revolves around cycling at the weekends on my Kona Scrap, which is far from a sensible choice of bike and for this reason, I love it. I'm rambling now, so I'm going to stop and enjoy the rest of my day.

For a related article, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Birthday Matt! May you have many more, and enjoy them all. My oldest was born December 17th, and it makes the Season all the more Marry, your folks must have enjoyed it immensely. Cheers!