Monday, 1 June 2009

It’s my party and I wouldn’t cry if I was able to get to it!

By the time you read this I’ll have been 49 years old for two weeks, and as I write this now, I’m not feeling too excited about my birthday tomorrow.
Most people are thrilled about becoming 21, and find deep and meaningful significance in turning 40. Neither really meant anything to me.
My 21st birthday party was a hoot for a lot of people, but for me it was a bit of a nightmare. We all went up to the West End, where I had booked a table to see the great Horace Silver play at Ronnie Scott’s.
In my pretentious youthful mind, I envisaged us sitting around drinking in a darkly-lit smoke-filled pit, but as it turned out, the famous jazz club was lit loud, while the silence imposed on the audience was oppressive.
We were a young and giggly bunch, secretively pouring vodka from hidden hip flasks into our orange juices. None of us had imagined that we’d have to sit back and say nothing at all. What about all those jazz clubs in the movies where the Mafiosi meet to make deals while strange men send Martinis to women at distant tables?
Ronnie Scott’s was not an informal swinging joint, and as the voddies tickled our fragile laddish brains, we started to chuckle a bit to each other.
After all, this was a party, wasn’t it?
I was right in the middle of telling a funny story to my friend Jon when the music suddenly stopped, mid-song. I turned around to find Horace Silver himself staring at me, his head cocked to one side.
“Some of the folk here have come to listen to the music. I say why not let them?”
As I sank lower and lower into my chair, a round of applause rippled around the room. Part of me was cringeingly embarrassed, the other pretty pissed off with having been made to look like a right royal prick on my big night out.
As soon as the band finished their set, I dashed off to the loo, but when I came out there was no sign of my mates.
I checked the ladies loo and then stood outside the club, waiting for some or all of them to turn up, but no, the low basstids had scarpered, gone without me.
Even more annoying was the fact that I knew precisely where they had gone, and how they had got there. Back in those days I had an account with a minicab firm, and had ordered three cars to meet us outside the club to whisk us off to my sister’s house, where I was staying while she and her family were away on holiday.
On paper it had looked like a great night: cool jazz followed by a hot party in an empty luxury house.
Trouble was, the gig had been a nightmare and I wasn’t at the party.
I called the minicab firm, but by now it was peak time on a Saturday night and they had no spare cars. Eventually I resorted to spending a week’s wages on taking a black cab all the way to the outer suburbs, where I finally found the drunken dribbling detritus of my own 21st birthday party.
Naturally, my friends all thought it absolutely hilarious that I’d missed my own party, and the fact that I’d been told off by a famous Jazz musician was the icing on the birthday cake none of them had thought to buy.
So my 21st birthday didn’t ring my bell, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important; just numbers, and what difference could a bunch of numbers make to me?
Maybe I’d feel different at 30, but no, that landmark came and went without so much as a mental twitch or whiff of mortality.
But then, out of the blue, 35 hit me really hard. I just couldn’t work it out at all, but for some reason I suddenly felt my age, didn’t like it, and had to come up pronto with some kind of explanation to calm myself.
Eventually I decided that maybe the reason I felt so dreadful about being 35 was because my Dad was always going on about the ‘three score years and ten’ we are allocated in the Bible. 35 being half of 70, I accepted that there might be some sad corner of my subconscious that felt I’d passed the half way line and was now headed down the inexorable slope towards death.
40 came and went without a whimper, but then, blow me down with a feather if 46 didn’t come along and knock me sideways. Why was it that such a seemingly arbitrary age made me feel so very low and miserable?
Why couldn’t I just conform and attach significance to the same big birthdays as everybody else?
And then, of course! I realised that the reason 46 hit me like a blow over the back of the head was because I was all of a sudden nearer 50 than 40, and evidently didn’t like that feeling one bit.
So now a few mere hours from being only one year from 50, with old school friends celebrating their half-centuries all over the place, I face the new frontier.
I know that 90 is the new 80 and that there are nutters climbing Everest at 75. I know that and 50 is the new 12, and that what with advances in medical science and the application of horse chestnut bark cream and octopus rennet mud and sand flea blood compound you can feel as right as rain and twice as fruity, even deep into your dotage.
I know, but I don’t care. I’m getting older and accept that. I have no choice. The other day I spotted some of those ‘old people’ freckles on the skin on the back of my hand.
So I take comfort from the words of the late great Jim Morrison, a man who embraced an early death and certainly lived life to the full. Addressing his own mortality, he offered the following comforting prayer:
“I tell you this. I tell you this. I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes down in flames.”
Amen to that, and a Happy Birthday to me.
Well, if I make it to tomorrow, that is!

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