Birthdays of Our Lives

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A birthday away from home

Next week is my sister's 23rd birthday. I can always remember how old she is. She's always two years younger than me, except between Deecember to February, when she's only one year younger.

Her coming birthday has made me think a lot about the so called 'coming of age'. In recent years, the time was when a person was an adult at 18, later this became 16. The BBFC made this even more complicated by dividing films into suitable age groups; 12, 15, 18 and there used to be a 21 for the really heavy horror films and certain 'top shelf' videos. Then there's PG, which no-one understands.

It used to be simple. At 16 you could get married, get laid and get shot for your country. At 17 you could drive a car. At 18 you could get drunk and a man could openly declare his love for another man. I was disappointed that by the time I reached 21, that category of film had been dis-continued.

But thinking about my sister's birthday made me think about all the other special ages we go through.

When you're 17 people look at you funny if you say you don't have any interest in learning to drive, and at 18 they look at you as if you've just landed from Mars when you say 'No thanks, I'll just have a coke' at the pub. They start trying to press you. 'Go on, have a drink' and push beer, Guinness and white wine spritzer into your hand. They seem to think you're over-acting when you take a sip and screw up your face in disgust while trying to wash the taste away.

At 21, most people are presented with a ceremonial silver painted plastic key to the house with a tacky '21' in the centre of the keyhold, as if this is the first time your parents are going to give you your own keys. I'd had my own set for seven years by the time I got the plastic version. It's up in the loft somewhere now.

But after these important milestones, come the ones no-one tells you about.

At 23 you have to start doing mental arithmetic to remember how old you are. People ask you and you say 'Err... 23. Um, yes that's right. 23.' My sister is lucky in this respect. She was born in 1980, so the maths is always going to be easier for her.

At 24, you start to worry that even with the best health in the world, a quarter of your life has gone. More worryingly still, you find it difficult to remember where it went. Then you start worrying about where it's going.

At 25 you start getting looks from your relatives, silently asking 'Why aren't you married yet?' and when you do get married, at 27 the looks ask 'Why aren't you expecting yet?'

At 30 you're wondering why you are redecorating the nursery for the third time, as if the baby is going to notice that tiny peel of wallpaper in the corner or the almost washed off crayon drawing on the wall.

At 40 you start worring about your plumbing. The kind that no plumber can fix, and no 24-hour call out insurance is going to cover. Strange things happen to your intstines in the middle of the night, and you find it no longer possible to sleep all night without at least one trip to the bathroom. Curries late at night on a Friday are no longer an option.

Forget what everyone tells you; that after 21 there are no more important birthdays worth celebrating. These people simply don't understand that every birthday is important, if you know what it means. Just as everyone remembers that the 25th Wedding Anniversary is silver and 50th is gold, almost no-one remembers that the 1st anniversary is paper.

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Atlantic Cable

04.12.03 Front Page

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