Whenever a big birthday of mine appears on the horizon I get a little nervous.
This is because I worry that my wife will attempt to throw me a party – a perfectly reasonable concern, because she always does attempt to throw me a party.
Once a decade, we go through the same script. She tells me I should have a party because I’d absolutely enjoy it, and I respond that I certainly wouldn’t. She explains that my family and friends will expect one, and I point out that they are highly unlikely to care one way or the other.
But what about the children? The children can have parties when it’s their birthday. She sighs in exasperation and I sigh right back at her. Then she gets somewhat ratty. I remain nobly stone-faced and immovably slab-hearted until she lets it go.
Mrs D won the argument once, but only by tricking me. We went out for dinner à deux to mark my 30th and, to my horror, the restaurant contained a large table of my nearest and dearest, some of whom had travelled quite long distances to be there.
I think everyone else had a nice enough time, but when I finally acceded to their demands for a speech, I’m afraid it consisted in its entirety of (an only semi-jocular): “I have absolutely nothing to say to any of you.”
Does anyone really enjoy a big celebration of which they’re the centre? Perhaps some do – celebrities whose ego requires the constant reinforcement of external validation, the teenage daughters of billionaires because daddy can pay Beyoncé to perform a quick set on the family island, or those insufferable individuals we call “extroverts”.
Not me, though. My main ambition in life is to be left alone, which I admit is a desire I have so far seemed spectacularly unable to fulfil.
Many years ago, when I was departing one newspaper for another, my soon-to-be ex-colleagues insisted on throwing a leaving bash. Under intense pressure (when the prospect of booze is involved, there is always intense pressure from journalists), I eventually gave in, and then simply didn’t turn up. As I sat at home that evening watching a movie, my mobile phone filled up with messages that were at first jolly, then puzzled, then quite cross.
The secret is to spread the glory
I suspect I’m coming across as a massive misanthrope (my wife, reading over my shoulder, just let out a loud and possibly sarcastic “noooooo…”), rather than the friendly but shy and solitary chap I am. So, in my defence, let me say that I have a big birthday coming later this year – it lies somewhere between 20 and 51 – and that I have agreed to engage in a “public” celebration.
The secret, I have realised, is to spread the glory. There are seven of us who have been friends since school and who, therefore, share life’s tectonic stages. Aware that we are entering a particularly grim new decade, which marks what Martin Amis called the moment you “stop saying hi and start saying bye”, we decided to do something a bit different.
A joint party was out of the question, as our dates of birth are spread widely across the year – and, anyway, the others, with their narcissistic lust for attention, are throwing individual jamborees. Instead, we would indulge in a special experience.
For months, the WhatsApps flew back and forward.
We didn’t want to take a flight somewhere hot simply to drink ourselves silly because, first, ugh, and second, we can do that at home. We’re all football obsessives, so we discussed a trip to watch Barcelona v Real Madrid or the Milans, or even to risk violent death by attending a derby in Argentina. Finally, we settled on getting tickets for one of the cooler overseas music festivals.
A birthday adventure for one?
Then the inevitable began to happen. One friend pulled out because he has to pay an expensive visit to his son in Australia. Another was “talked into” touring Europe with his wife instead. Yet another couldn’t do any of the dates we had because he’s a teacher and has to turn up for work. The archaeologist almost destroyed himself at Glastonbury and must stay in a darkened room until 2024.
Due to this staggering selfishness, there are now only two people left in the game – me and Bass Chris (we’re in a band together and I’m the singer, so naturally he has to be Bass Chris).
We have decided to go to the Primavera festival in Benidorm in November, where we will get to see many of our favourite popular if ageing beat combos, including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr, and the magnificently named punk band, Fucked Up.
Bass Chris has let me down before, though – the odd wrong note, the occasional wandering solo, the joltingly off-key backing vocal. But I’ve realised, with some excitement, that if he does, then I’m on course for what is probably my perfect outcome: an aeroplane ticket for one, a hotel room to myself, and a weekend of solitary, blissful musical appreciation. Now that’s what I call a birthday party.
Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank, Reform Scotland