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Drowning not waving November 3rd 2011
One of my mum’s finest achievements was to give birth to me at the end of October.
It meant my birthday always fell during half term, so I always got a lie in, and I also never had to go through the ritual humiliation of standing at the front in assembly and have 240 of my worst enemies sing happy birthday at me.
And it also meant that in the run-up to my birthday the air was already charged with excitement. Halloween was staring us in the face, bonfire night was just round the corner – all neatly arranged, I believed at the age of six, to ensure the period around the celebration of my birth would last as long as possible. The tricks and treats and half-cooked potatoes blackened in garden fires and Catherine wheels veering dangerously off the fences to which they’d been loosely pinned were all laid on to ensure that the celebration of my advent onto this odd, confusing planet should not, like other people’s birthdays, be transitory, but should endure for weeks and weeks.
In my little head, my birthday began about mid-October and only diminished when the shops starting stocking up with Spacehoppers and Tressy dolls, and my attention at last turned to Christmas.
Well, that was then, and this is now.
These days we don’t seem to get a week off in the autumn, unless we’re teachers, which I’m not. So most of the time, I get up on my birthday, forget what day it is, head for work and then wipe a few years off my life expectancy with the shock of finding a strange man sitting menacingly at my desk.
It’s only when I wipe my glasses that I realise he’s probably not the threat that I thought, what with bobbing about on the end of the string and with Many Happy Returns scrawled across his face.
This year is better, though. My mum’s presence of mind more than 50 years ago has resulted in an unexpected but very welcome gift indeed. It’s something money just can’t buy – an extra hour.
I wake up on Sunday morning and look at the clock. Aha! It may say half past nine, but it’s actually half past eight! I, who normally abhors the switch between BST and GMT, am a convert at last. My birthday is going to last a whole hour extra, and given that we’re meeting our student son for a posh lunch later that’s excellent news. A bit of a lie in, a relaxing train ride and time for pudding and cheese and a drop of medicinal liquor afterward. Bring it on.
My husband is fussing over the computer as I get together the camping chairs and airbeds. Not that we’re going to camp at the restaurant, obviously, but I’ve promised our son we’ll lend him some soft furniture so he can have his mates over to stay now and again. My husband is against this gesture, despite the fact that we’re unlikely to need the outdoor equipment ourselves in the winter.
“They’ll get beer and worse over it,” he says.
“That probably says more about your student days than his,” I retort, wondering what the word ‘worse’ refers to. Then I remember, because I was there. Oh dear. I wish I hadn’t said ‘yes’ now.
“You do know it’ll take us 45 minutes to get from the station to his flat, don’t you,” my husband goes on, staring at Google maps.
I look at him blankly. Then the penny drops. I’d forgotten our son’s in different accommodation this year.
“And there are railworks today,” he says, swapping to the train times website. “So they’ll be putting us on a bus as far as Didcot. We need to set out half an hour earlier than I’d thought.”
In the click of a computer mouse my birthday gift to myself has evaporated. That’s it. Back in the Stop all the Clocks Going Back camp, I’m going to join the campaigners who want to put us on a par with continental Europe.
“Bet you don’t,” says my husband, as we’re running for the coach.
And why not, pray, I ask. He grins.
“You’ll just never find the time.”
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