It was my partner Lynne’s birthday last week. All her friends knew about it, it popped up all over Facebook and all of my family and hers sent cards. I alone forgot.
Well, not the birthday exactly. I knew, from being frequently and sometimes rather forcefully reminded about it, when it was; I just failed to match the day of the birthday with an awareness of what day it was. It’s as trivial a mistake as missing Christmas day because, although I know it falls on December 25, I didn’t realise that December 25 was falling.
Because Lynne’s birthday was on a Saturday, I had a whole weekend to make up for my understandable error, which I did by spending two whole days being alarmingly generous and caring. By Monday, Lynne had had quite enough of it and I returned to normal.
Not that Lynne had been unduly upset by the birthday misdemeanor; both of us are in the 65-to-69 age bracket, when, barring alien abductions, nothing significant is likely to happen to us except death or winning the lottery, with death the overwhelmingly more likely option.
However, the age of 70, which once seemed to me so ancient that just to achieve it would be a reason for celebration, has changed in character, as I learned last week when my elder brother held his very enjoyable 70th birthday party.
There were speeches, dancing and well-cooked hot food served on china plates (my last experience of a birthday buffet being a congealed chipolata slipping off my flimsy paper plate and landing in my trouser area). There was also a very adept and witty magician who made us all feel relaxed and happy, possibly in reparation for the 40 years he spent being a dentist.
Now I’ve become worried about future 70th birthday parties, particularly my own. It’s not a worry about forgetting them (I’ve learned my lesson) but a more subtle worry about failing to gauge the correct level of response to the occasion; I don’t know how big a deal 70th birthdays are any more.
Until my brother’s party I didn’t realise that 70 was an anniversary worth investing in. It seemed to be a kind of in-betweeny age rather than a landmark one – a little achy and forgetful, perhaps, but not properly old, as in walk-in baths and fond memories of Max Bygraves. That begins, for most of us, at 80 at the earliest.
I had to make a speech at my brother’s 70th, which was about the only speech I’ve made in my life. It would, I realised, have been far better to leave my once-in-a-lifetime speech until an 80th birthday party, when, with minimal updating, it would have done for the memorial service as well.
On the other hand, a 70th birthday party is perhaps the last chance of arranging a drinking-and-dancing event which doesn’t carry a severely negative risk assessment. It’s also an opportunity to redress the balance between us stinking-rich (they tell us) pensioners and young victims of the gig economy. So my 70th will be based on delivered pizzas all round and the cheapest band available.