There are not even notable birthday wine memories to justify this self-indulgent blog. Ah, one perhaps: I remember at my 21st buying in a stock of Here XVII Souverein, a long-gone bubbly (marketed by Oude Meester – and the “Souverein” bit recently resurrected for their brilliant 18-year-old brandy). I’m sure that Michael Fridjhon, born on the same day as me, only a year or two earlier, would have drunk Bordeaux first growths and Château Yquem at his 21st (he could have found them remarkably cheaply – costing little more than Nederberg Cabernet), but I wouldn’t have known of their existence, probably; I wasn’t much interested in wine and brandy in those days, except for their effect….
My birthday is part of the general joyous celebration of the end-of-year festive season – which is probably why I feel more curmudgeonly than usual as late December approaches. It’s taken me till now, well into January, to recover. I’m not a birthday person, especially when the birthday in question is as horrifying a monument as this past one was. Celebrating a birthday seems to me a contradiction, an oxymoron. Right now, I can only recall two birthday happenings with especial pleasure, and both were on holidays in European cities while I was living in London. First, in Paris, young and ardent and in love (I guess), when we only remembered it was my birthday late in the morning…. Secondly, in Venice, sitting in the pale sunshine, leaning against the ancient walls alongside the Giudecca canal, reading … some book I can’t recall), and being brought a beautifully wrapped, delicious strawberry pastry (money was tight, and such things were genuine treats).
Perhaps an adequate definition of youth is that it was when the sun shone in Venice in the middle of winter. I’m sure in never does so these days.
This year I had an eloquent then-and-now moment for my birthday. In the aforementioned youth, I was a good friend (we met at university) of the man who is now the famous artist William Kentridge. These days I don’t see very much of him, but he sent me a little ink-wash still-life on two printed pages describing and illustrating “Air power appliances”. The photo shows it as yet unframed, held securely on place on a backing board.
In its domesticity, the drawing is a clear allusion to an earlier picture William had given me to mark my birthday. In those days – for years, off and on, occasionally – we used to spend evenings making little watercolour sketches, while William’s girlfriend, now wife, Anne, would perhaps read to us, or we’d all talk
I do have a relevant drawing that William made of me (I think it must be from the mid 1980s). You can see (behind the reflections in the glass) a much younger me, the box of water-colours, the brush, the water-pot; the more typically Kentridgean object in the foreground looks to me like a paper-punch. I need not point out that William has taken his art somewhat further than I have….
Anyway, I do of course still have the little watercolour from the earlier birthday. I had stayed over that pre-birthday night at their house, and on leaving the next day I had left behind (I’m still notorious for that sort of thing) the two objects shown in the watercolour that William then made of them: a light silver chain with an engraved medallion on it, and a filthy little cigarette holder – one designed to help one give up smoking by admixing air in the smoke before inhaling, and also gathering tar (it didn’t work in my case – I carried on smoking for a few more decades). It is inscribed: “To Timothy Happy Birthday Love William Dec 77”. The picture has been in a cupboard for some years and the glass is cracked – can that be symbolic of something, I wonder?
1977! 34 years ago! In wine terms, it’s enough to make me really feel my age: I was already a young adult with a university degree, but it was two years before Welgemeend brought out the Cape’s first Bordeaux blend; three years before the first edition of Platter; Eben Sadie was still a milk drinker and Chris Alheit was not yet born by quite a few years. Etc.
Oh well. There’s some relief in this latest major milestone being past. After 60 one can no longer pretend to be in late middle-age; you’re definitely (in age-terms at least, however you feel) on the slippery slope of elderliness. I feel more serene about it now than I did in anticipation, I’m relieved to note. I will try to not think about what is lost, but will enjoy the few advantages I have found as I age: I am growing more tolerant generally, I think, and especially forgiving of the sins and sillinesses of marvellous youth; and I now care much less what others think of me.
If anyone has actually indulged me this far – thanks!