Oh, birthday birthday. Day of sweet joy and bliss and friends and, and, and self-doubt and confusion. This day, not unlike the turn of every year, gives us a chance to pause for a moment of personal reflection to assess how far we have come and how far we still have yet to go. And least we could do that. Or, it could be an excuse to lose your mind on alcohol and try to forget that every moment we are edging closer to the precipice at the end of this mortal coil.
Last year I spent my birthday much closer to the latter example. If you promise not to judge I will tell you the entire, gory story. If you have a weak constitution, please turn away now. The day began happily enough. A handsome young math genius that I happen to share a birthday with, and who I had been dating, had come by the evening before and spent the night. We woke up, had breakfast and he went off to meet his father for the first time since the recent and sudden death of his mother. I went to meet a good friend who was taking me out for an extravagant oyster and champagne lunch in a fantastic restaurant in Borough Market. Other than this indulgence, I had resolved not to celebrate and to do my best to ignore the passing of another year; after all, past thirty you really shouldn’t care about your birthday any more, right? Well, lunch went on for several hours and really was amazing and perhaps I should have cut my losses right then and there and walked home and had a nap to sleep it off. But, by now I had a head full of champagne and was beginning to feel like celebrating. Apparently, it is not the done thing to ring people up, drunk, on the afternoon of your birthday to make plans. Luckily, out of the blue, another friend did ring up to see what I was doing and invited me for a drink on the Embankment. My lunch friend informed me that he had to get to a meeting, but he would drop me on his way. I found my friend and she and I sat through the afternoon and into the dwindling evening drinking Prosecco and were eventually joined by a couple of her friends. Eventually, it started to become obvious that the oysters were not substantial enough to line the old stomach against such an assault of booze. The beast started to emerge and the change began to be discernible. I recall asking things of people that they really were not prepared to fulfill, the details of which it is just too embarrassing to recount here. My friend had to get home as she had to work the next day and left me in the charge of her two friends. We decided to walk out of there, they were going to go to a gay club in Soho, I had made arrangements to meet my birthday sharing lover back at my place. As we began to walk up the hill away from the river, they wanted to stop at a pub to use the toilet. Once they had come back outside, I decided I needed the loo too. Well, I was wearing a silk, all-in-one romper suit and a short kimono and high-heels, and may have taken some time to emerge again, but by the time I did make it out again, my new ‘friends’ were gone. Pretty cold, ditching someone on their birthday. Maybe this is the reason you should spend it with friends, as no one else will want to put up with you when you get so annoyingly drunk. Anyway, no matter, I continue my climb up and over Waterloo Bridge, full champagne glass in hand. Everyone I passed who looked at me strangely was greeted with a tip of my glass and a, ‘Its my birthday’. Made it safely over the bridge but, as drunk and ravenous as I was, couldn’t make it past a certain burger joint in Waterloo Station without picking up a disgusting late-night snack. This was where I was stood when the call came from the lover saying he was outside my house and where was I. As I was wearing heels and crawling at a snails pace it was decided that the quickest path of least resistance would be for him to come to collect me in a black cab. Next scene, back at mine, burger in hand, look of horror on his face; having thought about it, I believe it was the first (and last) time he had ever met the beast. He had spent the evening having a somber and sober meal with his dad, sadly musing over his mother’s recent death. The beast was just too much for him to bear at this point and he made his apologies and left. What happens next is more than a little hazy. The next thing I know I am waking up, with the lights on, face down on my bed, still wearing all my clothes that are now covered all down the front in mustard. The strongest emotion in the mix of many conflicting tides at that moment: deep relief that is wasn’t my birthday anymore.
This year’s birthday (thankfully) turned out a little differently. I spent the week recording the songs that I had begun to write the preceding summer whilst in so much suffering misery. This process had brought those things that were gathered from the darkest depths out into the brightest light. Having been let down by someone who mad a lot of promises but obviously never intended to deliver on them, me and the guys found a way to record these precious gems carefully gathered from those diamond mines. We begged and borrowed all the necessary bits of equipment, dragged it to the countryside in every available inch of, even on the roof rack of Owen’s car, and cobbled it all together a make-shift studio. Somehow by day three we were, as Dave said, ‘cooking with gas’, and managed to get seven songs recorded in the remaining three days. The day of my actual birthday, I was treated to a special breakfast, complete with smoked salmon and buck’s fizz, and a happy birthday sing song cake time with friends at the end of the day. Birthdays still bring up all sorts of conflicting emotions, as does live recording. The real birthday moment time for me was the Saturday after we had finished recording. It was a buck full moon with accompanying meteor shower. Some good friends had gathered around a fire in a beautiful garden in the countryside. A wonderful cake had been baked by two of my oldest and loveliest friends and happy birthday was sung, not once, but five times, to each of the birthday people. My band was jamming sing-songs. My friends asked if I would sing some of my new songs. I stood up and belted my heart out to my beloved friends. I basked in their love and shared my stories of love and heartbreak with them. In between songs a note was hand delivered to me. It was from the little girls, playing in the upstairs room above the garden. It read simply: keep on singing, keep on singing, Love Sofia and Lucy. I am holding out hope that this note, and the memory of my friends going to the ends of the earth to help me to record my songs, will rouse me from the depths of self-doubt and confusion on my darkest days, perhaps even save me from acting like a baby on my birthday.