Birthdays? After the age of, say, twenty-one who really needs them? Maybe those milestone years when we switch from one decade to the next – 40, 50, 60, 70 – are still a cause for celebration (as well as commiseration); but in the main the bigger the numbers get, the smaller the party becomes.
At least that was the case back in the world we all used to live in before the advent of the virus. In the old normal the experience of birthdays slightly diminished year on advancing year – fewer cards, maybe a couple of gifts if you were lucky, a less than impressive cake, cava in place of champagne.
So I had few expectations of my first lockdown birthday last week. It would be, I imagined, just another same-old, same-old day (apart from the fact that I was a year older). Yes I knew my children would manage, at the very least, a post on social media, perhaps even a card and, yes, my closest friends and my wider family would probably give me – if not a gift – then a card or a shout-out on WhatsApp. But with legally binding social distancing, shops shut and the general malaise of the long dark months after Christmas it was unlikely to be a very festive day. And since I live alone I was resigned to a rather sad, solo celebration.
The first hint I had that maybe I had got it wrong came via a flurry of those texts warning you that a package is on its way. The White Company would be delivering between 11.00 -12.00, DPD was dropping something off at 3 pm, Majestic Wine (hooray) had a box to get to me by the end of the day. But my doorstep was not just overwhelmed with these joyous deliveries. It was also cluttered with cards and carefully wrapped presents left by my closest friends (Annabel among them) and several of my neighbours. There were flowers; there were cakes, there were the most thoughtful gifts I can remember ever receiving – beautiful lounging at home PJs, an industrial-sized box of my favourite snacks (Twiglets!), a huge bottle of my favourite ever perfume (Quercus from Penhaligon’s), the prettiest earrings plus my red wine of choice (Malbec).
It was by far the best day I have had since the arrival of the pandemic – and totally the best birthday I can remember in the last decade. There was even – yet another wonderful surprise – an extended family dinner at which, separated by the virus but united by zoom, we all sat down to a Cote at Home meal that had been delivered, packed in ice, to be reheated in our various kitchens but eaten, all together, at precisely 7.45.
The trouble that my friends and family had gone to was wonderfully life-affirming. Indeed at a time when there are few positives in life, my Covid birthday turned out to be a shot in the arm for my spirits almost as uplifting as the notion of the vaccine that will, in the months ahead, hopefully, liberate us all.