Friday, January 20, 2012

Counting the Years

It's either very late, or it's very, very early.

My living room lights are set to a low setting. There is an odd combination of Hemant Kumar and Joan Baez playing softly on my laptop. And while I sip a glass of red wine, I write this post.

Because today, it is my 31st birthday.

I've never been much of a birthday guy. Growing up, birthdays were mostly small, private family affairs. We never did big public celebrations. As the son of parents with a hectic social life due to my father's professional responsibilities, family celebrations were characteristically personal. There would be a cake (quite frequently Black Forest) with candles. There would be presents, but never elaborate ones. Small, discreet, tasteful. There would be fine china laid out on the dining table (always impeccably dressed up itself in my mother's finest linen) and there would be your favourite food as part of the meal. But I can look back at all my birthdays growing up as being incredibly private affairs.

Things have changed recently though.

For the past few years, my birthdays have become a bit of a "thing" on my friends' social calendars. Coming as it does in January, there has been increasing pressure over the years to make it count, and to make sure that it is spectacular enough to overcome the January blues. And so they've become bigger, bolder, more fabulous each year. 

There was the year when I took a massive group of friends out to a Vauxhall nightclub for that uniquely British thing - roller disco. Oh, how they all mocked, groaned and scoffed when the invitation was sent out. Only to be recorded in every photo taken that night grinning like a child as they careened across a wooden floor, vodka & tonic in one hand, other arm outstretched as they clung desperately to a balance that could escape at any second. (There might have been some bruises the next day)

There was that other year too, when the only way to bring in my flirty thirties was to organise a Bollywood-style fancy dress party. There was the friend who came and DJ'ed the whole night. There was the coordinated dance routine. There was a Santa Claus. There was even a Ukrainian belly dancer. All in the name of Bollywood.

And even I, the eternal melancholic, has to admit that things could be worse. 

So here I sit. Hands on my laptop. Sipping some wine, and drinking to my own health. It is a night I ring in another year, a night I look back at the year past, and celebrate, amongst many things, the fact that I've survived another year on this planet. Which, given how horrible this planet can be to people, is not a bad thing. 

But it is a year that brings with it much promise. The promise of change. The promise of hope. The promise of despondency. And the promise of... life. 

Which is not something to be taken lightly.

Perhaps it is a consequence of old age, but I have become even more introspective with age. And so, oddly enough, the first thing that came into my head as the clock struck midnight was how I've lived my life. 

And again, I cannot complain.

There are things I've done that I'm incredibly proud of. There are things I've done that I cannot decipher, but that I am very glad I've done. And then there are things I've done without quite figuring out to this day why I did them.

So here, in no particular order of importance, are ten things I am proud I've done. 

1. I went backpacking. On the cheap. If ever there was a stereotype, it's that the best way to see a place is to do it on the rough. And boy, can I tell you, doing Asia on the rough is... ROUGH. I think that at certain angles, my butt will still feel the impact of a bad seat in a ramshackle van and the worst of Java's roads. But also of the fun that came with it.

2. I've skinny dipped. Not being someone who lives in either a C-grade porn flick or a bad Hollywood horror movie, this is not something I ever thought I'd do. But it's amazing what the combination of a wedding by a lake in upstate New York, poisonous amounts of alcohol and a warm July night can do.

3. I've had random, hot, sweaty, anonymous sex. Not once, not twice, not from a relationship perspective, but the ultimate in rough & tumble slap & tickle.

4. I've had dull, boring, it's-a-Sunday-morning-and-you're-here-in-bed-well-why-not sex. Which, though not really exciting, can be incredibly satisfying. Especially when you're hungover.

5. I've been to a movie premiere. In London. With real celebrities. Sadly, my own celebrity status was not appreciated.

6. I've got street credit in some awesome cities. I can get into high demand places in Barcelona, New York, Hong Kong and Berlin. Just because. 

7. I've had my heart broken. Badly.

8. I've cried in public in an unhappy place. It was in Auschwitz. It was horrible. It was important to see.

9. I've cried in public in a happy place. It was in Angkor Wat. It was beautiful. It was one of the best moments of my life.

10. I've broken into song & dance in a street. Because every so often, it's important to do that. Even if you don't live in a Bollywood movie.

None of which is spectacular, or exceptionally awesome, but is actually pretty fucking cool when taking collectively. Or so I'd like to think.

And so, I think it's fair to say that it's not been a life I can regret. Or resent. 

So I guess I can say this now: Happy Birthday to Me.