| 11.4°C Dublin

Why I'm more Bill Murray than Matthew Broderick

'WE'RE creatures of extremes, we middle-aged men,' I decide to myself as I scrub my hair dry and examine the sky outside our bedroom window, wincing a little at some nagging pain in my back.

Who am I fooling? We're just big kids, only achier.

Even something as unpredictable, as uncontrollable as the weather, for instance, can seem to conspire along with the entire world to make this our 'best birthday ever' or 'the worst of all time'.

But I'm still on the fence about which way it's all going this year when my wife decides pleasantly that we're to celebrate a day early, with an overnight stay in a city hotel.

"It's cheaper tonight," she reasons, "and easier to get Jessica taken care of in after school today . . ." she says, ticking off fingers on the invisible clipboard that her hand has become for an instant.

I try to sneak a peek over her shoulder as if I might see a nice surprise lined up there – or any mention of my name at all – but she conceals her hand tight against her chest as if there's really something there.

"We can have dinner somewhere nice," she continues, "and I can do my diet tomorrow instead."

"On my BIRTHDAY?" I sulk.

"This IS your birthday," she explains as if for the umpteenth time. "Go pack," she orders.



I'm not completely convinced, but there's a wheelie-bag on the bed, I notice – one that appears to be already near capacity with several pairs of women's shoes, a number of her outfits, along with knots of knickers and tights.

"How long are we going for again?" I mutter. "Take another bag if you like," she says, rushing in and back out of the room again, organising things.

"No," I say, nose in the air, to no one, "this is fine," and I roll up a single pair of socks inside a single pair of boxers and deposit these in a side pocket proudly, marvelling at my own efficiency. "Done," I say.

We decide to drive the car in, which makes it feel even more like being on the lam.

"Only suckers are taking the train today," I say out loud as we sit for over an hour in traffic and it begins to spit sleet.

It's early afternoon when we finally pull in to the car park behind the hotel, so we check in and hit the nearby National Art Gallery, which all feels very Ferris Bueller's Day Off, I think, and I begin to hum Danke Schoen like the lead character does in what's actually my favourite movie.

Of course, I realise, catching sight of my reflection, at this age I'm less of a young Matthew Broderick lookalike, more a middle-age Bill Murray in Broken Flowers or Lost in Translation – which is okay, I conclude, since I like both those films, too, even if there isn't one stand-out tune from either I can hum.

We lose ourselves like this, meandering together through rooms full of familiar paintings and statues, though the whole place seems smaller than I remember. We visit a painting of a little boy that we've always liked, but it turns out to be called The Cottage Girl. "Who knew?" I shrug.

And we finally find our favourite statue, a female form hugging a blanket to herself in a howling wind. This, says the little sign next to it, is actually a boy. "They've changed everything," I tell my wife.

She nods quietly, a little shell-shocked I think, so we seek solace in a nearby gastropub and munch our meals in silence as we watch busy people struggling by outside in the worsening weather. "This is the best almost-birthday ever," I deadpan, flagging down the waiter for second pints.

We're a little woozy by the time we agree to go separate ways for an hour to shop, meaning she'll look at clothes and I'll walk around a few of the city's remaining record stores and rue the demise of all that used to be cool about culture; things we each like to do but hate being there as the other does them.



"Room service," I say, knocking when I get back to the hotel room again later.

"I didn't order anything," says my wife as I let myself in, but I can see she's bought fizzy wine somewhere and found some plastic cups, which all seems to suit the almost-occasion perfectly. "I wonder how the kids are getting on," she says, phoning to check as I wrestle with a TV remote control attached to the bedside table by a curly wire and Come Dine With Me appears overhead.

When we wake up several hours later, it's almost 10pm. "How the hell did that happen?" I say.

We narrowly make it to the first reasonable restaurant we can find before the kitchen closes, settling for something quick just before catching the closing lines of a stand-up comedy show around the corner, the final encore of a band somewhere else, then hurried last orders at a pub up the street.

"Happy birthday," says my wife, looking at her watch on our way back. "That was fun," she chuckles. "You're telling me," I say. "Most couples our age would probably just fall asleep watching telly."

I twist away just in time as she goes to thump me. "Ow," I tell her.

"I didn't even get you," she says.

"I know," I groan, "but I think I've just done my back in."