I've just had another birthday. I won't tell you which one, except to say that it's a product of two prime numbers, x and y, where y=x+6. And it's not 91. That pleasure is yet to come.
So how to mark this milestone? One friend of mine, threatened with the same landmark, double-locked the front door and hid under the duvet for a week. But this time, I thought, let's embrace the horror. Let denial by denied. In short, it was time for a party.
The human race splits neatly into two here, and I am on the side that likes parties. I go to as many as I can, given the limitations of the human body and the patience of my hosts. They know that I will arrive early, drink everything there and leave last. What I might add to the occasion in enthusiasm and joie de vivre, I will more than compensate for with the increasing idiocy of my conversation and the stains on my clothes.
After the first few decades of such behaviour, a reputation starts to precede you, like a man carrying a flag. I am so used to waking at 6:03 the following morning in a damp fug of remorse that the absence of one now comes as a pleasurable surprise. It means that either I didn't say or do anything appalling, or I did and I have completely forgotten about it.
The best parties are the ones where you know lots of people. So the best of the best are your own parties, where you know everyone. I used to have regular birthday parties, from adolescence until my late thirties. It struck me early on that few people go to a party if they don't want to. There's always an excuse if you are not in the mood, and the sensible host forgives those who let him down, because the party will be better without them. As a result, most parties are attended by people who actively want to be there. Which means that, if other conditions are met, the party is certain to succeed. Only if you worry about it, and transmit that anxiety to your guests, can you undermine a surefire social triumph.
So I started planning, made lists of all the people I'd invite, thought about possible venues. But after April, the cash flow dried up. Direct debits eviscerated the current account, and a five-pound note found in an old jacket prompted scenes of spontaneous joy. The children will eat tonight! As spring turned to summer, and we contemplated selling the cat for its fur, it became clear that there would be no birthday party. This happens every year.
My two novelist friends, who are kind beyond measure, suggested hiring a room over a pub and asking everyone to pay for their own drinks. We were in a pub at the time, so I asked how much it would cost. The manager didn't ask for money up front, but the minimum spend he required would have deterred Donald Trump. Their room is beautiful, and never used.
The last straw came the other day, when I learned of a well-known writer who, to celebrate his latest milestone birthday, flew some friends to Venice for the weekend. I don't feel I'm in competition with someone I don't even know, but after that, a room over a pub just seems embarrassing. In fact, having costed it thoroughly, I realised that the only venue I could genuinely afford for my birthday party was my imagination. Mind you, it should be pretty wild. You can come if you want. Everyone who is anyone will be there. µ
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