Wednesday 16 October 2019

Barry Egan: 'From ghost of birthdays past to the joy of birthdays present'

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Stock photo
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Birthdays used to be occasions where GBH of the liver was expected.

I remember my parents buying me a briefcase for my 21st birthday. The clear implication was I was 21, an age where I should grow up and own a briefcase.

I further recall the moment, like it was a ritual - my father handed me the briefcase over dinner in The Peppermint Garden in Parkes Hotel all those years ago... and me trying my best not to look bemused as I caught my mother's eye.

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I am ashamed to admit that that night I went out on the town with some friends and, having perhaps sufficiently enough of a good night, I promptly disgraced myself by losing the briefcase.

I felt a terrible crushing guilt upon waking up the day after my 21st birthday without this most precious of presents - a briefcase as important as the one the US president carries with the nuclear codes; or the red one the British chancellor of the exchequer carries with the budget in it.

Whenever I see a briefcase, a part of me dies.

But back to those birthdays when the nights turned into hazy mornings from too much alcohol.

I remember going out for brunch on my birthday many years ago in Dublin and finishing the night with dinner in New York. It was somebody's spur-of-the-moment crazy idea.

Those days - like that version of me at that time - I am happy to say are long gone.

I marked my 52nd birthday last Thursday by visiting my late parents' grave in Harold's Cross on my lunch hour at work (I think - in fact, I know - I'm obsessed with death in various ways; my own and others).

After work, I was met off the Luas by my wife and two young kids. We went home to have my birthday party.

There was no booze.

Only lemonade.

My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter led me by the hand into the kitchen and told me to close my eyes. "Keep them shut, birthday boy!" she ordered.

That said, through my eyes wide shut I could just about make out that there were lighted candles on a cake. When I opened them, my wife and kids burst into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. It was then time to blow out the candles.

This proved to be a complicated process with personal politics. It had been agreed in advance that my daughter would blow out the candles. Which she did. Bar one. The politics came into play, however, when my 19-month-old son managed to blow out the final candle.

The moral outrage from his big sister was such that we had to re-light all the candles and start the process all over again. It was like a Brexit debate in south county Dublin conducted by under fives.

Once this intensely fraught process had been negotiated, the home-made chocolate cake was cut into four extra large pieces, the lemonade was poured into plastic cups and the party began in earnest.

Until 8pm.

The party included both kids, and mum and dad, competitively bashing the s*** out of a pinata with a stick.

When the pinata finally exploded, after my wife delivered a fatal, final blow, the sweets inside burst out on to the kitchen floor, causing mass panic among the two children and their parents in a frenzied dash for sugary treats.

Come 8pm, come bedtime, the children had consumed so many treats - combined with literally gallons of lemonade - that it's a wonder that they are not still awake now, buzzing their little heads off like sugar-junkies.

At 8pm, the birthday boy proved that CS Lewis was on to something when he said "some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again". I read my daughter Jacob Grimm's Teutonic fairytale Snow White to soothe her to sleep.

Which took some doing given she had eaten the entire contents of the disem-bowelled poor pinata.

Mercifully, the youngest child was soon fast asleep too, with my exhausted wife who planned the big birthday bash.

Determined not to act my age, I stayed up and watched an old DVD on my own.

I have millions of old DVDs that I never get to watch gathering dust in an upstairs study.

So, on Thursday night when the house was silent, but with the gentle murmur of slumbering kids, I put on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg from 1964 and settled down for a quiet night in.

Feeling my age - and feeling good.

Sunday Independent

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