Day 1 of my ‘Five Day Challenge’. Funny things birthdays, depending which one it is, we either spend the year dreading it or are not really aware of it until it is upon us. When you are young you can’t wait to get older, when you are older you hankering after youth. Mark Twain put it like this, “When I was a boy of fourteen my father was so ignorant. I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to twenty-one I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
Some people get to a certain age and either stop counting or begin taking years off! When it’s your birthday people invariably ask you how old you are. If you are a child your answer (always delivered enthusiastically) is met with, equally enthusiastic, responses such as, “You’re very grown up for your age” or “That’s a lovely age.” As you get older the responses you get vary, including, “Well, you don’t look that old!” or “You’re wearing well for your age!” or “I hope I look that good when I get to your age.” All designed to make you feel old!
Apparently birthday celebrations came about because thousands of years ago it was believed that your birthday was a day that changed your life and also a time when you were most susceptible to evil spirits. It was believed that having your friends and family around, giving presents and good wishes, kept these evil spirits at bay. There are of course a number of ‘significant’ birthdays that we all go through:
- Fifth Birthday – at the age of 5 yrs you are legally obliged to go to school. I remember starting school. None of the pampering ways that we are used to today. We didn’t get to visit the school beforehand or get taken into school by sobbing parents who have to be pushed out of the classroom, but on day one were left at the school gate to fend for ourselves. In those days men were men and five year old boys were terrified.
- Eleventh Birthday – another landmark birthday linked to school. This was the age that our secondary schooling started. I remember travelling the 5 miles to my new school on public transport, standing out like a sore thumb in my brand new school uniform, including blazer and school cap. At the school all the newcomers huddled together, a mixture of anxiety and fear. We were aware of the older boys circling the group no doubt seeking out the weakest, selecting the one who would be the first to have his brand new school caps flushed down the boys toilet!
- Sixteenth Birthday – this is the age when you can, legally, do a number of strange things like – sell scrap metal, join a trade union, leave school, join the armed forces (though you are not allowed to go into a war zone), leave home, with your parents consent, get married, with your parents consent, apply for a passport and hold a licence to drive a moped. Of course, in reality, you were not likely to leave the good life of home to do many of these things. As a teenager it was great to be a rebel, wear outrageous clothes and argue with anyone in authority, especially your parents, as long as you didn’t have to take on any real responsibilities as well.
- Twenty First Birthday – this was the age when you were considered to be an adult and were given ‘the key of the door’ to symbolise that you could do as you wish without your parents permission. The chances are that you were doing many of these things anyway – it was just that your parents didn’t know!
- Fortieth Birthday – often described as the ‘big four oh’ – the birthday we all dread! It feels that you are suddenly ‘over the hill’ and that life is all down hill from now on. For many, this thought alone is an excuse for a big party. It’s as if from now on you are going to be too old and too miserable to ever party and enjoy life again! It often comes as a great surprise to many people when they realise that life at 40 is as much fun as it was at 39!
- Sixtieth Birthday – apparently ’60 is the new 40′, what a depressing thought when you remember how much you dreaded being 4o! The difference is that while 60 may be the new 40 it comes with the bonus of a free bus pass. Sixty is the age of ‘concessions’ – as well as the free bus pass there is the senior rail card, free prescriptions, reduced prices at the football on a Saturday afternoon. It’s also the time when you have either started to enjoy retirement or are looking forward to it. OK so some of your bodily ‘bits & pieces’ are beginning to wear out but medical science is advancing so much that it’s amazing what they can either repair or replace these days. As someone who is sixty today I think that it’s a great age and I will be applying for my bus pass on Monday!
I shall leave you with two birthday quotes. Oscar Wilde once said, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.” But the one that I think I subscribe most to has an unknown author and goes like this, “Few women admit their age. Few men act theirs.”