On the Beach

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


I don’t like birthdays at all, my birthdays that is.

Like a lot of people, I am pretty much always ill around my birthday. I think it might be the universe’s way of reminding every child of how much their mother suffered when they were born. Call it Birth Karma.

I suppose I must have liked my own birthday at some point, I remember my mum organised some amazingly imaginative parties for me when I was little and, of course, when you’re small it’s SO important to be that whole year older and, let’s be honest, a lot of (all of) it that age is PRESENTS, cake and friends.

It was my birthday recently and I got to thinking: why do I not like birthdays? And when did I stop liking them.

It is easier to answer “when”. I think in the teenage years, most people hit a wall of awkwardness that is impossible to shake for the longest time. This is not helped by the politics of school and what is “sad” and what is “cool”. Inviting the wrong people to the wrong McDonalds on the wrong day is tantamount to social suicide. And, if your parents are even visible when dropping you off or picking you up, you’ll be blushing with shame for years to come.

As to “why”, well I think the “when” stays with you for quite some time, for a start. I also blame it on the “Birthday Monsters” that I have known.

Don’t know what I mean? Sure, you do. A Birthday Monster is a person who in the period around their birthday every year looms larger than ever in your life, your phone, your inbox. This otherwise perfectly normal individual, suddenly morphs into a beast around 2 months before their birthday asking that you diarise, days, weeks, months in your calendar and insists and dragging you into every detail of a party or event that will involve 400 people you don’t know doing something that you will not enjoy. Such is the effect of the Birthday Monster that the emails, SMS and calls day after day, week after week wear you down and you have no choice but to attend a hula party at London which is “no big deal”, just a few friends getting together. Shortly, after said Monster’s birthday occurs, they resume their normal, delightful persona as if they had had a blackout for 2 months and have no recollection of the emotional blackmail of the last 2 months. People who know Birthday Monsters are often to be found on holiday, without working email or phone or in a bunker when they know the BM is emerging (it’s a bit like the Incredible Hulk).

It may sound odd for someone who blogs to say, but I don’t really enjoy being the centre of attention and the idea of forcing people to do something on my account is something I cannot bear. So I’d rather not do anything except low key stuff with family. We accept we are at each other’s mercy.

The other reason being that a birthday, like any type of anniversary, by its very nature, asks for a review of what has gone before. And the review generally doesn’t look very good to me.

When I was younger I had (clearly, very realistically) assumed that by my age I probably would have achieved the combined efforts of Kofi Annan and Tony Blair. Or at least won a Booker Prize.

It never helps that every year around my birthday, the author Zadie Smith (who is pretty much exactly my age and an amazing author- her book White Teeth was so prescient and brilliantly written) seems to do something wonderful like publish another book, have a TV series made from one of her books, open an orphanage, save a species…..something that makes me feel like I just haven’t achieved everything I was “supposed to”. It’s like she’s a reminder of that.

This year was my first birthday as an adult in South Africa and I did lots of South African things- I had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the ocean, I had brunch in a winery (where my girls love seeing the cheetah and bird sanctuary) and my husband had organised my good friends to come over (and they came laden with food, drink and gifts) for afternoon tea. The kids played in the spring sunshine, the men ate all the food and the women complained that the men ate all the food while we’d been too busy gabbling to notice. It was actually a wonderful birthday and I am glad my husband “forced” people to do things for me. It was relaxed, low-key and good fun with great company and great food. A bit of a microcosm of Cape Town for me.

I didn’t open any of my presents myself of course- my four year old does that. I suspect I won’t be opening any until the younger one is too cool to care what mummy got for her birthday. I wouldn’t mind, except she ruins the surprise: “this one is a book, mum and this one is cheese” (she was wrong, mercifully, the “cheese” was halva, cheese would be a bit weird, wrapped the day before as it was).

And then I got to my yearly review and realised that, whilst I may not have achieved peace in the Middle East (neither has Tony Blair, to be fair to me, although at least he tried-arguably) or published a novel, I have done one or 2 things which I should maybe give myself credit for; I have 2 kids whom I have managed not to break (a fact that never ceases to amaze me, they didn’t come with instructions or anything), my family and I moved to Cape Town, in what appears to be (so far) a successful emigration- unlike one we attempted to NZ, that was a bit like “National Lampoon emigrates to NZ”- not pretty). I’m going to be starting my own business.

And, actually, I’m pretty happy.

Which must count for something.

I’ll get round to that Peace Accord eventually…

(Oh, and Happy, Happy Birthday Alex! Wish you were here/we were there xx. We miss you. Maybe you'll get to that Peace Accord before me?!)

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