Sunday 21 April 2019

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to - but at 51 I don't want to

I've avoided celebrating my birthday for years but I'm finally able to embrace it all this year

'A lot of people don't have birthday parties as they get older, because they think back to their 21st and figure the party they have now will never be that much fun, so there isn’t any point trying to recapture it'
'A lot of people don't have birthday parties as they get older, because they think back to their 21st and figure the party they have now will never be that much fun, so there isn’t any point trying to recapture it'

Victoria Mary Clarke

I'm having a birthday party. People have asked: "Is it a significant one?" Well, it is to me. They all are. I just turned 51.

For the actual 50th I was so embarrassed about having got this old that I had to hide in another country far, far away and pretend it wasn't happening. I also defied my lifelong phobia and forced myself to ride a motorbike at 20mph to suggest to myself that even if I am 50 I can still be a daredevil and go crazy. My niece Rosa, who life-coached me through the motorbike thing, presented me with a hand-painted card on which there was a drawing of me in a red swimsuit with the words: "You've been alive for 50 years! Congrats, man!"

I responded by saying that I sincerely hope I will be able to say the same thing to her in 35 years. Although I also hope that when she gets to 50, being 50 won't be embarrassing.

Don't get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to be one of those people who genuinely is impervious to ageing. It'd be miraculous.

The other day I invited a twenty-something acquaintance to my birthday party and when I revealed my age she looked at me as if I had said I was not only addicted to crack, but also in the habit of mugging old ladies and stealing their handbags.

"You really don't look that old," she said. It is difficult to know how to respond. I vary it depending on my mood. "Neither do you," or, "Thanks, I have lots of Botox," or, "Fifty is the new 75."

Millions of words have been written about ageing and millions more will be written, but I suspect that we will never be thrilled to inhabit bodies that begin to visibly crumble not long after we get them, and cannot so far be replaced with new ones. And no matter how much we kid ourselves that 40 is the new 12, the truth is that almost everyone aspires to remain hot and vibrant and to look their best.

And so I have come to the conclusion that the only thing to do is remind yourself that today's teenagers will also get wrinkles if they are lucky, and concentrate on doing what you can to make the world a happy place for everyone. Hence the birthday party.

A lot of people don't have birthday parties as they get older, because they think back to their 21st and figure the party they have now will never be that much fun, so there isn't any point trying to recapture it.

I am very lucky because my 21st was the worst night of my life so far, so subsequent parties don't have to work hard to be better. When I was 21, I had most of the things that young women dream of having. I had perfect skin and a gym-honed body. I had a rock-star boyfriend who I was madly in love with. He had formed a special band and hired the Mean Fiddler, in Harlesden, North West London, to celebrate my birthday.

It should have been perfection. But I spent most of the gig crying and puking in the toilet because I had drunk too much and I was jealous of his ex-girlfriend who was in the band. After a massive row, I walked home alone in the snow. It was a long time before I had another birthday party.

There are some bad things about no longer being 21. For my 51st birthday, I don't have the perfect skin or the model body. I don't have the capacity to drink a whole bottle of whiskey and then walk home.

But there are some good things about being older. I still have the same rock-star boyfriend, and we still adore each other. But my whole world doesn't collapse if we have a row or if he doesn't call me, or if he talks to other women, even his ex-girlfriend.

Over time, you get to try out lots of things and get to know what is a really bad idea and isn't any fun when you do it. After lots of experiments, I discovered that drinking so much that you puke is not a recipe for feeling good. And walking home by yourself in the snow is OK only if you are in the mood to do it and not if you are bawling your eyes out.

I have had time to figure out that having your boyfriend play a gig for your birthday isn't necessarily a good idea, you need to think it through before you agree to it and not just do it because he thinks it will be a laugh. As you get older you can have disappointing birthdays, but they all teach you something. I've learned that friends and family generally want you to enjoy your birthday, but you can't rely on them to make that happen.

You have to be proactive. You have to think about what is really, really fun to do and then work out how to do it. For me, dancing is something that has been fun. So I have hired a cheesy DJ and a few neon lights and bought hairspray and pink lipstick and I've invited lots of great people to come and dance with me. I have invited a few rock stars too, but I know that no matter who turns up or what they do, I'm going to have a good time. And that is because I am old enough to know these things.

Sunday Independent

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