Tuesday 5 June 2007

Another year, another date

It was my birthday on Sunday. Thanks for all the cards. Actually, make that “both the cards”. Despite the complaints I receive about my terrible grammar, I do know that “all” implies three or more.

Still, I’m not complaining. I stopped making much of my birthday long ago, when I entered that infertile middle ground where each year brings consciousness of a further slight reduction in one’s mental and physical powers; and the reluctant awareness that one is another step closer to the bottomless, dark chasm of eternal oblivion.

If I last another 25 years or so I’ll doubtless start celebrating again, out of sheer amazement that I am still alive. I love the way that coffin-dodgers revert to the mental level of kindergarten pupils, kicking off every conversation with a proud announcement of their age.

I was kindly offered two options to mark my birthday. The first was a lunch party with my extended family, ranging in age from 11 days to 82 years, and in IQ from … no, perhaps best not to pursue that one. The food would have been of the most excellent quality (my aunt is a great cook) and in ample supply, despite our recent co-option by marriage of a world class trencherman called Dave. However, inviting a man in my condition to celebrate in this way seemed to me like handing a recovering addict a large bag of heroin.

Few things vary more crazily than humans’ consciousness of their weight. At one extreme there are those who feel vastly fatter than they are: hence anorexia, bulimia and the rest. At the other, there are those wobbling lard-buckets who imagine that they are going to look really appealing in leggings and a tight T-shirt, ideally with a bit of midriff on display between the two. I have always tended to the former camp. At any rate, I’ve felt a bit chubby since childhood, even though the ancient black-and-white photos reveal a perfectly normal-looking boy. Nothing like the spherical horrors one sees these days, little piggy eyes peering out through their rolls of adipose tissue as they lean comically on the handlebars of their specially reinforced bikes, wheezing.

But the norm back then, in the aftermath of rationing, must have been exceptionally skinny. Because I can distinctly remember little old ladies inspecting me and saying to my mother, “He likes his food, doesn’t he?” I commend this form of words to you as a way of conveying disgust at the appearance of someone’s offspring without attracting an immediate punch in the face.

Anyway, all things considered, I decided that food was out. I mean, who would want to lag behind Journal editor Brian Aitken in the weight and fitness stakes? Willy Poole has left a big gap in these parts since he emigrated to France, but I have no ambitions to fill it entirely literally.

So I moved on to consider the second option: going for a longish hike with the latest woman to seek me out after mistaking this column for an extended, right wing version of one of those Dating Point ads. It appealed on multiple levels. Apart from anything else, I’ve always admired the symmetry of those, like Shakespeare, who manage to make their dates of birth and death the same (not the year, obviously). I felt a timely heart attack halfway up some Durham hill would do me nicely.

The only snag was that she fancied going out with an organised rambling group, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my last sight on earth being the knobbly knees of a crowd of 70-somethings who know all the verses of “The Happy Wanderer”. Luckily she relented and I ended up spending a perfectly delightful day in the hills with just two brown-eyed beauties: her and my Border terrier. Combining healthy exercise with harmless flirtation is surely the perfect recipe for elevating the spirits and restoring the will to live.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: