A good birthday party needs a few simple ingredients: food, drink, people, music, cameras and ritual humiliation. All of these were present last Saturday evening when about fifty chums of various flavours converged on the barn at The Punter to celebrate with me as I officially peaked and began the long, slow descent into Alzheimer’s International Airport.
Forty. Forty! It barely seems ten minutes since my thirtieth. It was great to see so many veterans of that night still on speaking terms with me.
Traditionally I put off any planning for my birthday until the latest possible moment and choose a restaurant in a hurry. This year I was exceptionally well-prepared. Back in January I booked the venue, sent pre-invitation invitations to gauge interest, and secured, hush-hush, the services of some very special guests. I must thank Andrew for giving me a few ideas, liking mine and not letting me get away with doing nothing.
The Punter – the latest incarnation of what was once The Town and Gown – would take care of the catering. A notoriously veggie-apathetic pub (every time I visit there’s a token veggie option, invariably a random risotto) I took a keen interest in the food, and requested sample menus. Lots of time to chat about the options, I thought; but as is the way of such things nothing was finalised until the week before the event: a finger buffet, 50:50 veggie:meatie.
To keep track of attendees I fired up a Google spreadsheet, which sat in a browser tab at work and at home for the next three months. Naturally – see blogs passim – I saw a list of names as merely a starting point to a whole raft of pointless stats. There was a purpose, however – that’s what I kept telling myself – as the barn at The Punter had a limit of sixty, so I couldn’t invite the universe and see who turned up. By the day of the event I’d received 55 affirmatives. I figured a certain proportion of no-shows would be balanced by one or two extras, so I threw the number sixty at the pub kitchen (“never knowingly underfed”).
I charged Chris with musical duties, a task I knew he would approach with gusto. He tapped Andrew for additional intelligence on my listening habits. The result was, as Chris described it, a five-and-a-half-hour megamix. To play this we’d need some kind of sound system; and not just a CD player, since my very special guests would require microphonic enhancement. Chris found a kit we could hire: CD player, speakers, mic, mixer. Sorted.
So to the special guests. For my fortieth I wanted something more than just an evening of food and drink with mates, as nice as that is. An idea occurred to me in January and it immediately appealed. What would make for an entertaining, memorable event; provide an experience that would be a first for many of the attendees; and undoubtedly involve some form of ritual humiliation for me? I had just the thing.
They’re called The Fleurettes, and they’re a drag act. Winners of the coveted Drag Idol event in 2005, and – handily – regulars at the Bird in Hand, which I also frequent. I know them pretty well and they readily agreed to assist with my celebration, out of the goodness of their own hearts and also my own wallet. Very few people knew they were coming: I wanted it to be a surprise for as many as possible.
Saturday morning, the day of the event, was relaxing. A quick wander in town, then some trivial yet exciting DIY – screwing some hooks into a picture frame and hanging up my present from Chris and Melanie. Then it got busier. Lunch at The Wrestlers, and another amazing present: 24 DVDs of 1969 films in a custom-made box (a group present from the usual suspects). Then picking up my friend Damon from the station, then a quick stop at Andrew’s to pick up another couple of presents (a cake, plus a T-shirt with a three-UTF-8-character message in binary, and no, it’s none of the ones you’re thinking of), then time for a cuppa back home, then off to Cottenham to pick up Chris – who nearly forgot the music – and straight to Milton to collect the sound system, which we dropped off at The Punter, then home to get changed, then back to the pub to figure out how to put the sound system together, then, finally, party time.
It’s true to say I was a bit apprehensive: would everyone turn up, would the food be OK, would the sound system work, would we successfully avoid making the sound system explode, would people like the Fleurettes… I had nothing to worry about. It all went swimmingly and everyone had a great time – at least that’s what they told me.
The Fleurettes were naturally the highlight of the evening. They picked relentlessly on poor AndyC from work, who I think is now scarred for life. His girlfriend Emma enjoyed it though.
Of course they picked on me too. The dragged me up in front of everyone, and then… dragged me up in front of everyone. (Andrew was also not-so-randomly selected from the audience for the same treatment.) I emerged, chrysalis-like, resembling Amy Winehouse drawn by a three-year-old. It’s safe to say that several photos were taken (see the Flickr group).
You’ll see, in those photos, that I’m wearing a T-shirt. I made this myself: it shows the 8-year-old me wearing a T-shirt of a slightly younger me. My plan is, ten years hence, to use one of the photos taken at this party to make another T-shirt. Every ten years I will nest a little deeper. Perhaps I’ll make a paradoxical T-shirt too, where a younger me is wearing a photo of an older me. The possibilities are endless; and indeed tedious.
After the whirlwind that is the Fleurettes departed, Chris decided that a lonely microphone was too good an opportunity to ignore and began an inpromptu karaoke session. Much to my surprise I joined in. We’re not going to win any awards, I must admit, but it was fun.
It was an amazing night all told, and a great way to kick off my forties. I’ve got ten years to think of a way to top it.