Pointless birthdays

Did you know the Earth is weightless?

Yeah, I know: it sounds like I’ve been on the crazy pills again, and you’re probably saying “if you think that, mate, have a go at picking it up”. But it’s true! Weight is a measurement of the influence of gravity on an object, and because the main thing that causes gravity around here is Earth, it becomes impossible to weigh it.

But it does have a mass: 5,212,000,000,000,000 tons. Think that’s big? Naah. It’s tiny. Look how big some things are.

But Earth is still growing, so give it a chance. Dust and tiny cosmic debris lands on Earth all the time, adding a few million tons to the weight every year, and slowing it down. Rick Waller probably had quite an influence on our speed too, like keeping an anchor in the boot of your car. But most of the time you’d never spot the changes to our planet. In fact, you’d probably be amazed how much stuff happens to our planet that you don’t notice.

For example, last year there was a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan. Lots of people in Japan noticed, because it got quite damp underfoot, the buildings kept toppling over, and they all glowed red with radioactivity for a while. But over here in the UK you only knew about it if you watched the news. The actual quake was undetectable to us.

But it was so powerful it tilted our entire planet on its axis by 17 cm, and added about half a second to the time it takes us to orbit the Sun.

Think of all those earthquakes down the centuries, millenia and eras. Several per year, many of them much larger than the Japanese quake. Think of all those half seconds added to our orbit. Is a year now the same as a year was when the mammoth roamed the planet? Undoubtedly not!

So why bother celebrating birthdays? What are we even measuring? Yesterday marked the point when I’d been around the sun 42 times. Whoop-de-do. It looks the same from every angle as far as I’m concerned, so what’s the big deal? I’ve been round IKEA more than 42 times, and it seemed to take longer too, so why don’t I get a card for that?

(Not that I got many cards. It’s one of the things that the internet is killing off. I got a few texts and emails, and somebody threw virtual livestock at me on Facebook, but real-life, physical cards seem to be teetering on the brink of extinction, along with handwriting and newspapers.)

The whole “age” thing is meaningless, and that’s not just because I feel narked about only getting one card, dammit. I really feel that it’s utterly pointless to count birthdays after the age of 12. I used to think it was worth counting up until 65, so you knew when to retire. But the retirement age seems to be accelerating away from me faster than I’m aging, and I’m pretty convinced my fate is to work until I keel over dead, and have my pay docked if I stop generating income for the International Entirety Corporation one second before my heart stops splashing in my chest.

To me, the effect of every birthday since I got into double figures has been as undetectable as the Japanese earthquake on Earth. Sure, it changed stuff, but in such a tiny, unnoticeable way that it might as well have happened to somebody else on the other side of the planet.

I’m sure at one point in my life, age mattered. It wasn’t just years we counted, it was months, and in some cases the days. The fact I was a weekend older than Wayne Perry meant it was OK for me to steal his egg sandwiches on the school bus. Whereas these days, a 10, 15 or 20 year difference between me and my friends doesn’t mean a damn thing (although I do miss those egg sandwiches).

When you’re a kid you assume birthdays will be a rite of passage. I remember being wildly excited to reach 13, because it meant I was a now a teenager. But I hated being a teenager, just like every other teenager does, so that was a pointless birthday.

I mistakenly assumed being 16 meant I was a man, but it didn’t: it just meant I could legally buy cigarettes and watch The Transformers: The Movie. But I’ve never smoked, and The Transformers was a terrible movie the first time around. So that was a pointless birthday too, and I wished it had never happened, if it happened at all. I don’t remember anything about it, and I probably spent it like I spent Wednesday the 9th August 1986.

(I have absolutely no idea what I did on Wednesday 9th August 1986. It was just a day, like every other day is, and neither that date nor my 16th birthday mean anything to me.)

I was sure I’d become a man at 18, but I didn’t: I remained a specky geek with skin that made me look like I had the plague, and a magical superpower that made me invisible to women. At least they couldn’t see my festering face, so it wasn’t all bad.

At 25 I started to overhear parents in shops tell their errant brats to “behave or that man will shout”, and it after failing to see which man they were talking about it eventually dawned that it was me; and that consequently I might be drifting into adulthood, and becoming a tool for parents to scold their kids. It gave me a false sense of my own importance, and I experimented with giving people advice, like I knew a damn thing about life. I quickly gave up my career as an oracle because I still felt like a teenager. So what was the point of the previous dozen birthdays, each of which had drifted past without a trace?

I’d been promised 30 would bring big changes, but in all honesty it felt like being 29, but very slightly later. And 29 felt like 28, 28 like 27, and so on, back to the time I slithered out of my mum.

When I was 35 I was asked for ID while buying a bottle of whiskey in Tesco, and it occurred to me that literally the entire previous 20 years may as well have not happened. I grew a beard so at least there would be some evidence of a physical change over a couple of decades.

I forgot my 40th birthday, literally. I got a text message in the evening, and suddenly realised it was 11 June, and I was at a milestone. I wasn’t excited, or scared, or freaked out. I probably did what I’m going to do after I’ve written this: have a cup of tea and make dinner. Not much happened in my 40th year, at least not much that changed me. My dad jossed it during that year, but that wasn’t a thing that happened to me – it happened to him. So that doesn’t count, does it? Oh, and I had cancer. But inside I felt the same as I always did, but with fewer kidneys.

I’m 42 now, and wonder if it’ll ever change. Will I always feel 17, even when I’m looking at a wizened husk in the mirror, and ordering a bath-chair online? I used to assume I’d feel grown-up when I moved out of the ancestral manse, or started a business, or was no longer scared of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. But all of those things happened half a lifetime ago, and I still feel like a superannuated teenager.

I’m starting to think Groucho was right: a man isn’t as old as he feels, he’s as old as the woman he feels.


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