Growing up and moving into adulthood in working class UK suburbia, birthdays were mostly fun with only one or two exceptions. Parties, treats, a gift or two etc. Clearly, not everyone is that privileged, and I certainly appreciate that. When considering “landmark birthdays” however, it is both subjective and dependent upon where you live regarding what might be labelled as such.
I can think of a few birthdays that were particularly memorable for me as a child and adult, but that aren’t amongst the common pantheon of notable birthdays. So, with my 50th in just a few days’ time as I write this, let’s look at some of these so-called “landmarks” from my lifetime…
My 18th birthday (legal adulthood in the UK – drinking, voting and taxes!) – 1988:
I was boarding for my final A level year at school. My dad’s gift to me was my half of the joint hire of a nightclub with a schoolfriend (also a Simon with the same birthday as me), with whom I split the invites 50/50. The “happy birthday” moment from the DJ was directed at the other Simon rather than me and it became a somewhat humdrum occasion, only made better for a number of reasons by my mate Kev Palmer, a top lad.
My 21st birthday (traditional “coming of age” / old fashioned adulthood. Legal drinking in the USA!) – 1991:
My girlfriend I’d been with for 18 months, came over and she dumped me. Booo! Pretty crap as “special occasion” birthdays go. I went to the local (crap) pub on my own for an hour before going home. #sadtimes
My 30th birthday (the first “significant” [x]0 birthday?) – 2000:
My family were due to visit, but I was ill with cold / flu-like symptoms, so they cancelled (cheers lads I don’t think). It’d been an expensive month with pre-xmas expenses , a young child and a very pregnant wife. I wanted to treat myself with birthday money my mum had sent me but ended up having to spend it on groceries. Boo!
My 40th birthday (gateway to middle age?) – 2010:
Clearly a significant milestone, but I was a mature student on a shoestring budget and 4 kids. Nonetheless, a party was arranged with old friends from far and wide saying they intended to come along, many of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. A few weeks before the party however, a mistake I made on a form relating to the mortgage meant suddenly having to borrow a significant sum of money from parents. Somehow, spending money on a big party now seemed wrong, so it was cancelled.
The occasion was rescued from oblivion via a night at a local pub with a few good mates and a SpongeBob SquarePants birthday cake (!) produced from behind the bar by the landlord. Not what had originally been planned, but a lovely evening.
An (un)realistic air of expectation?
Some unwritten law seems to attach an air of expectation to “special” birthdays. People ask if you’re having a party or doing something to mark the occasion, or if talking about such an occasion from the past, ask if you had a blast. I’ve sat next to a friend on a bench watching our respective children play sport together on his birthday, when he wasn’t doing anything special, yet a few years ago on his 50th he’d hired the local rugby club and had a big party. My point is, if these landmark occasions fail to live up to this unwritten law of expectation, that makes them feel all the poorer. It’s unfortunate, but I think it really is just coincidence, however. Comparing my disastrous 21st (see above) with my 22nd in 1992 for example:
I got up on a Friday morning at 6.30 ready to be at work for 7.30. I went straight from work to the train station for the 5pm train to London, where I met my mate Gary at Paddington and had a pint there. Over to North London to our mate Leo’s house and the area we’d hung out in whilst at uni; met up with a couple more old uni mates, then out all night, back to Leo’s via breakfast in a cafe at 6am. Said cheerio to them circa 8am, headed down to Oxford St to kill some time for a couple of hours, then grabbed the tube to Belsize Park / Hampstead to meet some Student Nurse friends of mine. Went to their local at 6pm, followed by “The Backpacker” at Kings Cross and then onto a dodgy bar / eatery in Chalk Farm circa 4am on the way back to the Nurses residence. Three hours “sleep” until getting up for “The Church” (an Aussie / Kiwi / South African drinking den!) on Sunday lunchtime / early afternoon, and then home via the train to Bristol for a birthday cuppa with my mum circa 9pm.
Clearly a great young man’s weekend that wouldn’t have been out of place as a 21st, but for an accident of timing!
The fact that my 50th birthday looms on the horizon is what’s prompted these thoughts about all this. I was made redundant a month ago, and despite job searching best efforts (which I’m sure will bear fruit eventually), remain unemployed. Thus, with the memories of past special birthdays skewed for a variety of reasons, pessimism is tainting the event before its even happened.
Birthdays aren’t all bad – although the less said about some the better – and I have been privileged to spend each one since my 25th with the wonderful woman I married. The fact that I became a father for the fourth and final time on my 37th birthday, to a wonderful young lady I am proud to call my daughter and share the occasion with, goes to show that it doesn’t have to be a so-called landmark birthday to be very special indeed!
On 8th November 2020, please join me in wishing my daughter Imogen a very happy 13th birthday as she becomes a teenager. Oh yeah…I’ll be 50 too x