In the end I had to have a birthday party. The Battle of Trafalgar, the best pub in Brighton, is changing hands courtesy of the pubco that owns it, the bastards. I invited my children and a few local friends on the Thursday. The party was for Saturday. The main reason I chose the Battle is that it has a lovely sunny beer garden. Dogs on leads are welcome and there is a huge bush of Hot Lips in the corner. Kick-off was at 3.30pm so I could meet R— before she went off to her Pilates class.
“So, do you have any plans or hopes for the following year?”
“It’s not my real birthday, you know.”
“I do know. Mine is the day after yours.” (I couldn’t have the party on the actual day because my frozen shoulder was too painful. It’s not entirely better but it is much less painful, thank you.)
I thought about my hopes etc for the following year, and mumbled something about as long as the writing kept going well and my health was OK, I’d be happy. Her look suggested that this was not the full answer. “I suppose getting laid wouldn’t hurt,” I added. She nodded judiciously. She is frank about these matters, and mentions them in her stand-up routines.
“The problem is,” I said, “that even if…” I paused for a moment to find an absolute ideal of feminine beauty, “… even if Beyoncé herself were to walk through that door, grab me by the hand and say ‘let’s go back to yours, big boy’, I’d have to turn her down.” I explained about the Hove-l: it’s small, and every available space outside the kitchen (which I cleaned recently and is spotless) is covered with books, papers, old copies of the New Statesman, Viz and the London Review of Books. There may also be some laundry to be done lying about.
“Well,” she said, “sometimes I wonder if being in a relationship is worth the bother.”
“Yes, there is that,” I said. Other people started arriving and when we were quorate she left for her Pilates, promising to come back later.
The kids arrived, one with his latest partner, who brought a card and a bottle of what I discovered later was a very excellent wine. The children themselves had sent me cards for the actual day. Now I won’t say which of theirs was the best, but suffice to say that I’m afraid that on the evidence available to me people born with two X chromosomes have a distinctly superior aptitude for making personalised cards. My XX child’s effort made me gasp when I saw it: the cover of Rubber Soul with my face and the children’s Photoshopped where the Beatles’ would have been.
Every detail was perfect, from the directions of their gazes to the Parlophone logo in the corner. But instead of the words “Rubber Soul” it said “Nick is old”. The boys’ card, on the other hand, had a hand-painted and somewhat rudimentary wine bottle whose label said “YOU OLD F***”, unasterisked. I could see a theme here: I think the children were genuinely upset, at some level, that their father had entered his seventh decade.
More people arrived. J— , he of the Bond villain countryside lair; and Ben and Janine, despite the former sounding like he was at death’s door. The children adore him and said they might not bother to come if he didn’t. And then R— returned with a gaggle of young people in tow. She has a knack for making friends of all ages.
“I hope you don’t mind me bringing these,” she said.
“On the contrary,” I said. I had met a couple of them before at one of her parties and one of them, studying English at Sussex, said his favourite writer was Beckett. We hit it off, as you might expect.
I noticed my children were looking uneasy. “Dad,” said the eldest, “these people are younger than us.”
Reader, I smirked. This was a lesson for them: tease me as they might for being a greybeard, it is high time they learned that time’s wingèd chariot dawdles no more for them than it does for me.
They left to catch a train back to London. Ten minutes later I got a call from them. Every train north was cancelled. They asked if they could stay in the Hove-l. I explained that there was no sofa, no floor space, and half the bed was occupied by the scholar’s mistress: a pile of books the shape and weight of a human being.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but there are three of you, and besides, even if Beyoncé herself were to walk through the door…” So they booked a hotel. I feel bad about not being able to put them up, but, well, they are getting old.
This article appears in the 12 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Tabloid Nation