Birthday Secret

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I’ve found the secret to successful adult birthday celebrations in early January. I’m prepared to let you in on it. Maybe. If you promise not to tell anyone else. I’ve been years searching and trying different places, eager to jizz it up. The collective ennui that follows the Christmas season makes this tricky. Not to mention all the empty pockets. As decorations are stripped down and the national mood seems to match this affair, anyone hoping to celebrate with more than a smile is, well, frowned upon. Until last night that is.

My sister’s birthday falls two days after the Epiphany. Elvis’s too which I always thought was pretty cool, a saving grace from Graceland. He would’ve been 80 this year which has me feeling old and young all at once. Old enough to remember enjoying some of the songs, young enough to be shocked that he would’ve been that old. As birthdays go though – and there’s nothing scientific about this – it must be one of bleakest dates. And I’ve been on a mission for years now to change this. To make it seem just as jolly and full of potential as, say, a birthday in June. Fooled she has not been though, as we sit in empty restaurants saying
‘Isn’t this great, all to ourselves, great service, sooo much attention, look at that picture, marvellous colours matching the wallpaper. Skedaddle for a pint anyone?’ Each year I feel personally responsible. Each year I feel I’ve failed her.

So last night as I set off in the gale force winds to meet her and my parents, at a destination chosen by me, again, I was feeling a little queasy. Queasy and also heavy hearted about the brutal murders in Paris. Humorists, cartoonists, journalists. Cultural producers, helping us to understand the world and its follies better. Police helping us to stay safe. Blown away. It’s all I was able to think about. I’d have to pinch myself under the table not to bring it up.

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I decided to bring marque 1, her Godson, to twinkle at us and distract us from ourselves. Nothing like a kid to keep the adults behaving themselves. So when we entered our destination to the roaring hum of a thousand voices a disorientating pang embraced me. Something was wrong. We climbed to the second floor, a vast expanse looking out across the Irish Sea, and it too was jam packed. Not a place to sit down in sight, ginormous though it was. What the hell? Something’s on. Some big event I hadn’t heard about. I must’ve messed up again. I hovered by a table of nearly finished punters while marque 1 scouted around. He came back beaming having found them, already seated, at some long medieval style table with a gang of others. Students. We like students. We’ve never quite accepted the fact that our own student days are behind us. Maybe because we’ve been involved in third level teaching. That and the fact that we grew up in UCD with Dad at the helm of one of the Departments. We were all supremely comfortable sharing our table with these lovely male students, and if they were grimacing in return they hid it well. Oldies, those past the first flush of youth and a kid. They hid it well indeed. Mentally I’m catapulting marque 1 amongst them, ’tis only a short few years. That and asking them how their courses are going. Do they need any help with anything at all? Essays. Exams. Dinners. Clothes washing. We’re all in this together, after all.

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