Tomorrow I turn 40.

There… I’ve said it!

For months, it’s been there, creeping up on me, peeking out from behind the corners of my consciousness, shimmering silver from beneath the receding black, etching a bit deeper into the smile lines. On the one hand, I’ve been dreading it, thinking, “Oh shit, here we go with this interminable passage of time thing. Twenty-two years since I left school? Seriously?” And on the other hand, I’m thinking, “Wahey! Hold on for the ride!”

Now, as I sit here in the final quiet hours, contemplating that today is the last day of my 30s before I tumble headlong into a new decade, the transition just feels arbitrary. Indeed, part of me rebels against the societal expectation that I should be feeling or doing something BIG. Counting the passing of days as meticulously as we do is so uniquely human. Yet, like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day, I do sometimes wonder if birthdays were constructed to encourage people to consume. But equally, I know that if I don’t acknowledge this in a way that feels meaningful to me, I’ll regret it. Arbitrary or not, tomorrow I turn 40 and I need to process that fact in a way that makes sense to me, even as a flotilla of memories travel like logs down the river of my mind.

And so I write. I write because that is the way my soul makes sense of life. I write as I’ve always written – throughout my childhood in my little red school notebook, with poem titles like “Rover” and “The Flaming Immortelle”; throughout my angst-ridden teenage years when I was desperately trying to define myself by the externals of good looks and good grades; throughout my 20s – the thrilling journalism years – when I did it for love and a living even as the panic and anxieties of life grabbed me by the neck, before the diamonds inside the anxiety finally started to reveal themselves; throughout my 30s as I settled down in a new country, started a new career and a new way of life, loved deeply and lost bitterly… each time being turned inside out by the transition.

In my heart I carry all those people I’ve been before. I’m all those versions of myself, four decades of transition.

And speaking of transitions, as I turn 40 I can also feel myself shedding parts of my personality that are no longer serving me. For example, I was recently chatting with a friend about how people – ourselves included – often put up walls around themselves. I later mulled this over well into the night, and by morning I felt a palpable shift. The part of me that tries so hard to connect with people that aren’t open to connecting – work colleagues, acquaintances, neighbours or supermarket cashiers – fell away. I realised with total certainty that it’s not me. If someone isn’t open to connecting when I approach them with a genuine smile and real interest, it’s not because I’ve said something offensive or done anything wrong, it’s just walls. And just like that, I stopped caring so much about what others thought of me.

It was like stepping a little further into my true self, a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger and calmer than I’ve ever felt, a little bit closer to my calling in life, whatever that may be. It was like I suddenly recognised the freedom I had all along to choose how I “do” life.

Tomorrow I turn 40.

There is a pang of grief as I let go of a familiar number; a twinge of trepidation as I wonder what lies ahead. But mostly, surprisingly, I feel joy, gratitude and excitement. I have much to be thankful for. I’ve survived the challenges of my twenties and thirties and now know how to stay true to myself and what I hold dear. And that’s something worth celebrating as I continue to experience, to feel, this glorious thing called LIFE.

So farewell dear Thirties. Now bring on the next adventure!

Happy birthday to me

My birthday is next week. Sunday, December 4, to be exact. I wasn’t thinking of doing much, but I don’t want to end up like some of my friends who, unlike me, are reclusive sorts who emerge from their dank, squalid flats only to grab groceries, score weed and report for jury duty, and they aren’t really into their birthdays that much. You hang out with them one day, doing very little of consequence, and you find out a week later, by accident, that it was their birthday, and all you did to celebrate it was watch some shit on telly.

Honestly, I don’t understand these people. If you can’t celebrate your birthday, shit, what can you celebrate? On my birthday, I revel in my own self-indulgence. I organise and announce my own birthday party, preferably at a spacious bar with plenty of cheap drinks, invite any friend within a 100-mile radius and then kick back and enjoy a drunken evening with my closest associates. That’s what a birthday is supposed to be about – your most beloved cronies, gathered around a large table, talking shit and enjoying one another’s company.

This is a yearly ritual for me, inviting all my pals in my chosen area and begging them to come and chill out with me. Birthdays are our checkpoints, the times we can sit back and reflect on how much has changed in a year, discover whether we’ve moved forward, or backwards, or whether we were running on the spot for all those months.

It really only started with my 30th birthday, in Camden Town, London. It was a crazy time; my mate Ross organised it and we ended up in some bar or the other with Rowan, Sarah, Sergio, Joe and some others. Ross, bless him, even got me a birthday cake. I don’t remember much else of that evening, although from the photos, I must have had quite a time (there is one of me kissing a girl I don’t know who, I am told, was also celebrating her birthday that day). There were also text messages on my phone that I did not send… I think… including one to a girl I fancied at the time that went something like this:

Her (responding to a text from my phone): Are you drunk?

My phone: Yes! So come and take advantage!

Her: OK. Where are you?

No reply.


And so it went from year to year, the only blip being a couple years ago when I was under strict doctor’s orders to take it easy. Still, I insisted on travelling some distance to attend an office Christmas dinner at which everyone surprised me with a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday and a cake.

Last year, it was surreal. I was in Covent Garden, with just a handful of buddies, when I was introduced to this almost preternaturally attractive girl who won my heart by buying me shots all evening. At the end of the night, she came over to me, gave me a hug, told me it was great to meet me, then took my right hand and put it on her left breast. I didn’t see her again until about a month ago, when I learned she was a nurse named Kate that I had quite a connection with, and we sat down over a couple drinks, and she denied the whole birthday thing, but I knew she was full of shit and I liked her anyway.

And that leads us to this one. Another year gone, and I will start this birthday, as always, uninspired, unmotivated, undisciplined, unworthy… But then I will find myself at a bar somewhere, having scrounged together the few real friends I have in London willing to come out on a Saturday night. And I will drink and smile and laugh, and all will be well. My birthday always reminds me how lucky I am to have people who care about me, a decent job that pays the bills, a roof over my head, and good health.

I will not allow myself to be one of those birthday people, the ones who get all freaked out about their age, ohmigod I’m almost 40, I’m not married, I haven’t achieved this or that, I’m wasting everyone’s time, boo fucking hoo. That will not be me. I will drink and I will smile and I will laugh, and all will be well, oh yes, it sure as shit better be. I will not wallow, become depressed, wonder how in the world I ended up here, ended up doing this, ended up acting this way, ended up thinking this.

True, I don’t always feel like I have it all together. Of course, maybe no one ever really does. But next week is my birthday and goddammit it, I’m going to celebrate, even if there really isn’t anything special to celebrate. I am not going to let anything get in the way of a drunken birthday. If I’m going to earn any kind of small victory, it will be that.

Happy birthday to me…