OUR house is ram-packed, as Jeremy Corbyn said of that train when he sat on the floor.
This party is the last tumble of the birthday dice. Friends and family are squeezed around the rearranged furniture to celebrate my survival for 60 years. This anniversary is still a surprise to me; how did that happen? I think as I weave through the throng, checking that everyone who wants a drink has one. The ones who usually like a drink are liking it today, so that’s reassuring.
As the birthday boy, I should like a drink, too. I fill a glass for myself but put it down to greet another guest. I do this again and again (possibly with another ‘again’ attached). And each time I forget where the full glass went. My wine remains undrunk, as do I. This is just as well. Too much wine can send me a bit tearful at such occasions, and nobody wants to see that.
I tell friends what we’ve been up to and they say they know as they read it in the blog. That’s the strange thing about parading bits of your life in public: you forget you already put it out there.
Nowadays I don’t have a career so much as a pick-and-mix bag of occupations. Bit of this, bit of that, and now a touch of guest lecturing for two hours a week. For a class on personal stories in journalism, I contact Tim Dowling, who writes about his family in the Guardian Weekend magazine. He obliges with some thoughts on how he approaches his column, including the fact that he always makes himself the butt of the joke.
He says he keeps the details vague. He doesn’t specify his socio-economic background, the kind of car he drives or the names of his pets. This is interesting advice, but a little late in the day after all those mentions for the dear departed Volvo and an appearance or two by Lucy the cat.
One of my brothers is at the party, the other is in France. The absent one phones up and says hello against the party clamour. Parents, in-laws, a couple of cousins, two nephews are here, plus friends carrying bottles. As I greet newcomers and supply more drinks, a dim memory surfaces of a column in the Manchester Evening News years ago in which the writer recounted his 60th birthday meal out at a restaurant. Reading the column at the time, I wondered why someone would rattle on about their 60th birthday in a column, but there you go.
Time for more circulating. Three male friends have been standing in the same spot for two hours now, so perhaps the world has been put to rights. I join them briefly to point out how long they have been at it, then head to the garden. This is where the journalists are gathered. Journalists always seek each other out like that. And the one who normally holds court with his tales is doing that now and everyone is laughing. I stay for a while, then set off matchmaking. One South African is introduced to another; and my violin-playing father is introduced to a friend in a string quartet.
Back at the table, the food cooked by my wife or brought by friends is disappearing fast. All evidence of meat has disappeared, as too has my mother’s Bakewell tart (damn, that is one good tart). I eat salad and some of the bread I made.
When the birthday cake arrives I blow out the candles, but sidestep a speech. No one wants to be making speeches, apart from that old friend in the garden.
I go in search of another glass to fill and then put it down again, liquid untroubled. Later I manage a glass. Later still, happy and tired, I nod off on the sofa. That’s allowed at this age. But it was allowed before as well.