Last week was my 30th birthday. My friends are quick to assure me that it was not really my 30th birthday, and that my real 30th will take place once lockdown is over. Once lockdown is over, I will have a real party. Once lockdown is over, we will put on small dresses and do the whole thing properly. I assume many birthday celebrants have been reassured with the same sentiment over the last two months.
Since neither the UK nor Irish governments have elected one, I have elected myself Minister of Birthdays. Somebody has to hand down an official decree on these matters, and since no one is brave enough, it is time for newspaper columnists to take on the role. Here it goes.
My fellow Taureans, my noble Ariens, I beg of you: let’s just agree to let it go.
All of us non-essential workers are looking for ways to help the country aside from staying indoors, and the bravest act of national service we can do is sacrifice our birthdays. There will be simply too many things to celebrate when lockdown is over.
Expecting special treatment is simply not on. I actively encourage citizens to rent a room above a pub post lockdown and send out a mass invite, but you are banned from having unrealistic expectations of your friends: Do not expect them to dress up; they don’t know how anymore. Do not expect them to get you a gift; they have shag-all money, and they’re probably still afraid of going into shops.
In fact, I will extend this to birthdays generally, in lockdown and out of it. I once attended a 30th birthday party where the invite was simply a Kensington address, followed by an instruction to be there “from 7pm”. I was fairly new to London at the time.
Had I known a little more about the place I was living in, I would have clocked that the party was taking place at a private members’ only club in one of the most exclusive addresses in the city. I arrived after a day of sunbathing in the park, wearing a pair of denim shorts, a white shirt, and a straw hat. Everyone else was in evening dresses, and sitting down to a three-course dinner. Years later, I met one of the other guests through work, and she recognised me right away. “I always remember you, at that dinner party in your Daisy Duke shorts,” she said.
I had never felt more sorry for a person in my entire life.
Birthday celebrants will agree to gamely sacrifice a dedicated birthday celebration; however, Birthday-tolerators will have to be more flexible about the small joys we seize in the lead up to the big day. The phrase “it’s my birthday week”, which was famously banned in 2010, will be temporarily re-instated. And an ‘out of office’ response reading simply “it’s my birthday” is also acceptable. Telling the deli guy “tomorrow is my birthday”/“yesterday was my birthday” is encouraged. Maximum tolerance is important at this time.
Birthdays are not about marking the effect of time on a person, but about celebrating the effect of the person on their time. What you want most on your birthday is to feel like you are making a dent in the world, and that the people around you, regardless of how vague the connection, are witnessing it. On a good year, it is hard to think about your birthday without thinking about your own death.
On the maudlin, death-obsessed year that is 2020, it is nigh-on impossible. This is why “it’s my birthday week” is important. Birthday-celebrants have to kick a dent into the world extra hard this year.
I have received a dozen cards from loved ones this year, and roughly half of them have apologised for the awful card. We are going to have to accept that this is the year of awful cards. There’s no fancy Waterstones card of a cat reading Anna Karenina, no museum gift shop card that cost a tenner and is made of recycled kimonos.
We’re on supermarket cards now, baby. We’re on cards that hysterically scream “ANOTHER YEAR?” like time itself is a new concept. We’re on cards that are so bad that they’re ironically bad: I have already received one “Number One Dad” from a friend who is three years younger than me. I think I’m going to treasure these tacky supermarket treasures most of all, because they’re not the product of tasteful browsing, of a Saturday spent idling in a book shop.
These are the cards of desperation: of standing in Tesco with no bra on, fretting about what to get their friend Caroline. The fact that someone would think of me in this moment is oddly moving to me: the sense that in a time where we must only think of essential purchases, birthday cards still count as one.