On Turning Thifty
It’s alright for you youngsters.
After the bar had closed and the James Peake band had left the stage; after the dance floor had cleared, the glasses emptied and the cigarettes stubbed; after, the draught began blowing through a deserted club and the last of the taxis had taken the concelebrants home, my birthday party was over and I was no longer in short trousers and knee socks but was left stranded on an island called Fifty.
Fifty! Bloody hell! How did I get here. If I was into my middle-age a few years ago what does this now make me? I’m a goldie oldie with a speed limit on my slippers. Next, I’ll be needing help to fill in a form. They’ll turn off my hearing aid when they’re discussing sex. Jokes will have to be explained to oul Dan. My teeth are going to be sleeping in a different room from now on. I’ll be sent on bus runs to Omeath and given £2 pocket money. I’ll be having Farley’s rusks for dinner and be tucked in bed by eight. This is scary.
Last year I made my First Holy Communion. I was catching spricks, squeezing zits, my voice broke and I began chasing girls. I only started shaving in August, then I went to jail. Was on a honeymoon and had a son. Then a wee girl jumped on my knee and shouted, “Granda!”
It’s not fair. I want to be a Galapagos tortoise which reaches middle-age when it turns 150.
Each instant snatches from you what you had,
the crumb of happiness within your grasp.
Thirty-six hundred times in every hour
the Second whispers: Remember! And Now replies
in its maddening mosquito hum: I am Past,
who passing lit and sucked your life and left!
What a jolly poem that was by Baudelaire. Put me in a right good mood this Friday morning. I think I’ll have a glass of razor blades and put on Leonard Cohen.
Yesterday started off ominously. When I woke up, Leslie, who was still half-asleep, said, “Happy thirtieth, birthday boy.” Thirty? I thought. Have the last twenty years been a dream? Do I still own a comb, sport a brown beard and have a 32-inch waist?
Then I became paranoid: who does she think she is sleeping beside? But she quickly corrected herself and brought me my breakfast on a tray. I opened family cards and presents, including a card which contained a CD of a selection of music from 1953, none of which I remember hearing in my pram.
The card also refers to some notable events from that year: the Castro-led guerrilla attacks on Cuban army bases; an armistice between North and South Korea, following three years of fighting and over two million deaths; the deaths of C & W star Hank Williams (29), the composer Prokofiev, the poet Dylan Thomas (39), and Joseph Stalin; the marriage of J.F. Kennedy to Jackie Bouvier; and nothing about my first suck on a bottle or filling my pants.
Aren’t parties great! I had mine in the Felons Club surrounded by more wealth than the richest king – my family and friends whose generosity humbled me. Many had travelled long distances to hear the James Peake band, according to the MC Jim Gibney, only to discover there was a birthday on. Tom Hartley said a few words about our long friendship at a personal level and professionally in the Republican Press Centre. But he also spoke about the people who had befriended us, with whom we had worked along the way, and who had help make us who we are. People of humility like the late Bingo Campbell, Paddy Loughran (shot dead in the Falls’ Sinn Fein office) and Joe Clarke, and others such as Sean Morris and Danny Devanny.
As the band played and the dance floor filled we were back in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Dora and Dorian Gray were at home up in the loft, ageing on a canvas, as we fine-complexioned striplings repeated earlier performances from the Plaza, or the Astor, the Holy Child disco (an oxymoron, if ever there was one) or St Paul’s Club.
Hold on a minute, I thought. There’s Basil McLaughlin, former managing editor of the Andytown News, who retired three years ago, out there jiving with Pat, stealing the show, and not a wooden leg in sight.
What am I worried about: 65 Fahrenheit is actually 18 Centigrade and I’m only fifty – which makes me cooler than Basil! Besides, my wife thinks I’m thirty!
Life isn’t so bad after all. I can still chew meat, cut my own toe nails and still be mistaken for an adult fare in a Falls black hack. And I shall be in my thifties until January 2013! Happy Birthday, Dan!