I am twenty-six years old and one week. Last Thursday I began celebrations that ended when I got into bed last night. I am shattered, but determined to make this coming year the best yet.
On my birthday, at eight in the morning, I met my parents and my sister Alex at a hotel in central London. I opened my cards and generally felt special as we sipped fresh coffee and picked crumbs off the pristine white table cloth. My Mum presented me with a package, brought back all the way from the Parisian paws of my other (impish little) sister, Sophie. It was a lovely, summery cotton dress, with great swathes of bright colour leaping from it and a swishy skirt for swishing. I immediately imagined myself, be-freckled and be-flip-flopped, wearing it walking through the dusty, sun-streaked streets of London in summer. Sophie later told me that she had bought it for herself but then suddenly just knew how much I would love it and so sent it on a journey to my grateful hands.
After breakfast Alex walked me to my office and we chatted energetically, fueled by caffeine and sunshine. She wished me a happy day and I skipped up to the office.
I whiled the day away with cake until it was time to go and meet people in Soho, for a night of reckless consumption of gin and tonic which culminated, rather embarrassingly, in an earnest karaoke session in the downstairs of a sticky pub in the West End. I got the night bus home, head still spinning from renditions of Summer Nights with gin mixers, and sank gratefully into bed at three in the morning.
The days that followed flew by.
On Saturday I hung out at my Grandmother's new house in Manchester, and we had a delicious cocktail while my parents walked the dog. Then the three of us made our way down to the theatre to see Ben's one man show, which was wonderful. Beautifully written and energetically performed, it grabbed the audience's attention from the start and didn't put it down until it was time to shuffle out to the bar at the end. He had a bike on stage with a dynamo connected to the lights, so that whenever the pedals stopped going the lights faded. In order to keep the lights working Ben's central character had to find a willing audience member to come and pedal while he adopted character after character to tell the story. Within the context of an all-new pantheon of Gods, the play sensitively explored ecological and human rights issues, managing adeptly to teach rather than preach.
So, yeah, I was impressed. It is touring so I suggest that you see it if you can.
Over the next four days we were busy. I met some lovely people and some delightful children (I do love children anyway, but these were simply ace). We watched films and had drinks and coffees and lunches and dinners and breakfasts. We went to the cinema to watch Persepolis, through which I sobbed continuously but absolutely loved nevertheless, and to the Students' Union to watch a film called "On The Verge" which is about the Smash Edo campaign in Brighton. The film itself was banned by police when it was initially supposed to be shown in Brighton, ostensibly because it didn't have the right certification, but it is obvious upon watching the film that the reasons are much more sinister. The police are depicted as behaving in a ludicrously biased manner towards the protesters, at one point man-handling a man of eighty into a police van. I'm glad I saw the film, and am very keen to go down to the major protest in Brighton on June 4th. Perhaps, as was tentatively suggested, in my cheerleader outfit.
I was showered with lovely, thoughtful gifts (including this wonderful book by a woman called Anna Deavere Smith). On Tuesday night I was taken out for a surprise birthday treat. We turned up at the place and I realized we were at the Manchester leg of the Buena Vista Social Club tour. We had some of the choir seats, which meant that we were over looking the band and could see the intricacies of the playing. Choir seats do not mean you get to sing with the band, although I might well put that on my CV anyway. It was in a huge, formal hall with nice seating and shiny walls, but despite this everyone was, by the end, dancing along and having a wonderful time. It was a great present and I loved every minute of it.
I got the train back to London very late last night. The journey was dull, bar a bit of entertainment from a middle aged couple who were refusing to pay the full price for their tickets. The husband seemed to be quietly pleading with his wife to just pay, but she refused, claiming that she should not have to pay that much and it was ridiculous, this is England, sir, etc etc. She was quite irate, telling the ticket inspector in haughty tones that she did not usually travel by train and was appalled by the level of service, which was met with a blank and weary stare. She only just stopped short of whipping her Waitrose Partnership card from her bag and demanding to speak with that nice Mr Branson. The last I saw she was orating animatedly to a couple of amused-looking police officers on the platform at Euston. I would have loved to have stayed to see whether she was slapped with an ASBO, but I was simply too exhausted.
I am still exhausted. I had five days of laughter, fun and loveliness and I am a bit sad to be back at my normal post. London is cloudy but warm, and it sticks to me as I walk through it.
One week of being twenty-six and I am tired, but I strongly suspect that this year holds adventure, and if being a bit tired is the pay-off then I am prepared to take it head on.