Thoughts on… birthdays

Presents. That’s all anyone really cares about on their birthday isn’t it. I’m not really bothered about presents, but it’s still interesting to think about them. Cos when you get older these presents change to accommodate your new found style and maturity. Except I don’t have any maturity. I still love toys! Last year I was lucky enough to still get Doctor Who figures, but this year I think people are trying to tell me to grow up. And as I do grow up, my ‘toys’ change. Whereas years ago I got action figures, this year I got a concertina! Which, if you don’t know, is a musical instrument. This I still consider a toy, cos it’s something you play with. And then you get the presents which you don’t really want but you have to admit are useful. Like toiletry sets. Useful, yes. But when given to you from other people it does seem like they’re trying to suggest you have bad hygiene. Especially when you get 3 or 4 of them… From the same person! And socks. You always get socks. My sock drawer is overflowing with novelty character socks. Or it would be if mother didn’t keep making them magically disappear. I’m sure she throws away a load of my socks just before my birthday. “Damn, he’s already got enough socks. I know, I’ll get rid of some.”

After the presents comes the cards. These are pieces of folded card with printed messages on (in case you didn’t know). The trouble with ‘special’ birthdays, like 18 and 21 is that it leads people to buy cards with 18 or 21 printed on them, so they can say “Yep, I remembered how old you are”. And whilst this is true, there never seems to be a wide enough range of cards, as you ALWAYS end up with at least 2 cards the same. This year I had 3 pairs so I decided to play snap with them. Being somewhat of a graphic designer, I appreciate nice cards. But mostly I still get the usual ‘tacky’ ones. I’m not being ungrateful here, I know the point of greetings cards is to show that you’ve acknowledged the special occasion, so it doesn’t really matter what’s on it really. And I don’t mind most cards, but it’s mainly when people get me cards with cars or golf or beer on them. I don’t have any interest in cars or golf and I never have drunk alcohol (and never will). So these cards do tend to annoy me because they show you really haven’t put any thought into it. This is why I try and make most of my cards, because if I’m going to send a card I want to make sure they know I’ve put effort into it and thought about them. Although lately I’ve been very busy so I’ve had to rely on Waldo Pancake cards, which I like because it’s exactly my style and sense of humour, so it’s more or less by me.

And these days, people don’t really buy cards, instead they opt for the Facebook message or quick text at silly o’clock in the morning when not even the milkmen are up. And these are okay. It’s quite nice that it’s public and everyone can see loads of people wishing you the same birthday greeting. Unless you’re like me and it’s just a few friends that haven’t spoken to you in years. Still, it’s nice to hear from them once a year. But the nice thing about online messages is you don’t have to take them down after.

With cards, you leave them up for a few days to remind your family that it was once your ‘special day’ and they should still be being nice to you, but then you take them down and either keep them in a box or throw them away. I usually keep handmade ones – because they put a lot of effort into it – or ones off Mike because they’re usually very funny. For example this year he gave me a piece of cardboard with ‘birthday card’ written on it, which has had me smiling incessantly. I guess that’s why people don’t make much effort with cards, because they know that in a few days they’ll be in the bin with the carrots.

Another thing about birthdays is surprises. I love surprises. But I love doing them more than getting them. I love the excitement of the anticipation of waiting to give someone something you know they’re going to love. But as I’ve grown up, surprises have become customs. I don’t know if it’s just me, but how on earth did I not notice when I was young and a group of people would huddle in the kitchen shouting about candles and “No, you take the plates!”. After a few years it’s no longer a surprise that at some point after dinner – or during a party – someone will dim the lights and bring a cake out and sing happy birthday and tell you to ‘make a wish’. And yet still we have to put on a surprised face. During someone’s birthday, I might go into the kitchen and make all the noise about candles, then come in a dim the lights and just sit down. “No, we’re watching a film… What cake?”

Birthday wishes are silly as well. One of my favourite jokes I’ve written is “Birthday wishes don’t work. I’ve been making birthday wishes for 20 years and I’m still not an astronaut!” But they really don’t work. I wish for things – just to go along with it y’know, always give in to peer pressure – and they never come true. But people seem to forget this year after year. “Shall I wish for the same thing I’ve been wishing for the past 6 years? You never know, this could be the year.”

What else??? Ah yes, the birthday meal. It’s somewhat customary to have a meal with family and friends on your birthday. This year we’re going to Frankie and Benny’s, which is nice because it’s actually somewhere I want to go. Most years we end up at somewhere like a Toby Carvery, which Nan still insists is my ‘favourite place’. It never has been, and never will be my favourite place! It’s just cos I’m so indecisive that I usually just say “Ah we’ll go wherever” and we end up there.

But meals are slightly easier to deal with than parties. Man how I dislike parties. First of all you’ve got to organise it. Which is silly, because it’s your birthday, you should have a butler to do that for you. But you end up arranging the whole thing, and it ends up boring with just food and a DJ and if you’re lucky a singer. Whatever happened to bouncy castles and magicians and clowns?! I still wanted them at my 18th but mother wouldn’t let me. And then when you’ve set the date you have to invite people. And it starts out your friends, but then – if you’re like me – it ends up where the guest list is about 10 people and mother moans to invite a load of people you’ve never heard of to the party. You end up with all of mother’s friends and your accountant (if you have one) and people you worked with years ago. And on the night all your friends go off in one corner and the older people sit in another corner, and you try and accommodate both but end up sitting talking to someone you never even invited who’s got a sore knee and wants to tell you all about it. If you do have a DJ you can’t hear anyone anyway because they’re insisting on playing 80s pop music excessively loud, and the buffet is made up of generic party food that you don’t like but everyone else has platefuls of. It’s all just a stressful mess. That’s why this year I had a low key ‘evening’ at my friend’s club where I performed some of my songs to family and close friends and we had a lovely buffet with different foods. I got to try crab sticks for the first (and last) time. And we were in control of it all so it wasn’t too loud or boring.

And the next day it’s all gone. Mother’s back to moaning at you, people carry on ignoring you, and you’re left to deal with the admin of thank you cards. You are obliged to ring around and thank everyone for following customary traditions, and half the time you forget what people have bought you and you say “Thanks for the board game” and they say “What board game? Didn’t you like the blender we got you?”. Not that i’ve ever received a blender as a present, but you get the idea. For one day a year people are a bit nicer to you and that’s it. That’s all a birthday is really. And then for the next year you have to remember how old you are now, which usually takes me a while. For a few months when I was 19 I filled out forms saying I was 18. And that’s the thing about birthdays, they highlight how old you’re getting. And I know many adults will be saying “You’re only 21, you’re still young.” but I want to be young as in 18 again. 18 was an okay age for me because I was still in my teens but old enough to be taken seriously when necessary. I really miss being a child. Childhood was brilliant, you could get away with anything and do anything you wanted and run around in your underwear. But now it’s frowned upon to play with toys and watch cartoons and run around in your underwear.

Anyway, I must go now because there’s a group of people standing over me holding a cake with candles on it. Mmm… Waxy.

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