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Turning 40: The First Hours

I seem to be one of those curious creatures who likes growing older even if I don't actually celebrate the fact. The last birthday I did anything for was my 30th, and that, my first celebration since 21, consisted of nothing more than asking three friends from different points in my life to meet me down a pub for a quick drink, the sort of thing that most people probably consider being a normal part of their week, a purely routine bit of socialising.

I was quite looking forward to turning 30 and consigning the waste of time that much of my twenties had been to memory. It felt good to have a sense of focus: I'm going to grow a beard, get a mortgage and settle down. It all seemed far more positive than the largely aimless vagaries up till that point had been. Oh sure, I'd got my degree, lived abroad, was functionally fluent in two foreign languages, had even got an ultimately valueless MSc but nothing was established, no career in mind, no savings made. 30 was going to be the point when I turned the corner.

In practice, the thought was a lot easier to realise than it might have been; I'd already met Clare at that point and we were coming up to our two-year anniversary. Not much by many people's standards but a record by a long shot for me. And my thirties have gone largely to plan, chiefly down to Clare and her support, and equal parts luck and hard work. I still  have the beard, resisting the urge to shave it off because it's become a trendy thing in the intervening years. If I were still in my twenties, that beard would've gone. But no, I was doing a good job of being in my thirties, and so it's stuck with me and I to it.

I head into my forties feeling positive. I'm not in a hurry to leave a decade behind as I was last time but I like the idea of being older. My thirties introduced many new people into my life; Clare's family have been wonderfully welcoming and treat me as one of their own. My interests have introduced me to many new people, nearly all of whom are very nice, and social media makes it easy to keep in touch with little effort. Most notable, though, are the people who weren't alive back then. I enjoy spending time with them and seeing them grow up and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the same. I can't do that without getting older.

I decided it would be nice to offer something to my nearest and dearest, and so, though I wouldn't normally have done anything for my birthday, this time around I decided to throw a party and invite them to a medieval banquet at Coombe Abbey. It cost a fortune (topping £1000) but two days removed from the event, I'm glad I did it. We had a full turn-out and everybody got on very well. Our parents haven't met each other since the day we moved into our house, and that was very nearly a decade ago, so it was probably time!

The younger members of the family weren't allowed there but I didn't want them to be left out, so I asked their parents to arrange a surprise party that they could throw me and then we'd get them involved that way. That will be part two of this blog but first we have to get from the morning to the point of driving to my sister's house.

I got up earlier than Clare, which is fairly normal. I don't need as much sleep as she does and she works so hard that she often doesn't have a lot of fuel left in the tank, so I was out of bed long before her alarm was set to go off. I started the day with a mug of hot chocolate and a read of my current newspaper, The New European:


That mug of Ludoviko Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was a nice personal present from Clare's sister, Helen, years and years ago. It usually sits in my office as a pen-holder but I decided to give it a one-off outing today.

Once Clare was up, it was time to serve breakfast. Again, nothing out of the ordinary for many people but we particularly enjoy the bacon from a local man, such that we can't buy the cheaper stuff from supermarkets anymore. I love his pork pies too and although I discipline myself from buying them usually, today was an exception and I had a few slices:


We split that equally between us just in case you get the idea I might have somehow wolfed down the lot!

We're not the only people who live in this house: Heidi and Pebbles do too. On their birthdays and at Christmas, they get prawns for breakfast. I decided to treat them today so that they could join in:


Clare's parents and sister had kindly sent me some gifts to open on the day, so that's what I started with. Her parents know me very well and so treated me to a trip for two to a cat café:


Helen is the queen of thoughtful presents and so, on top of contributing to the trip to London to eat among a host of feline friends, provided me with a little stocking filler. It was a pin from a previous World Esperanto Congress. In itself, that's probably not terribly special; you can often find them on eBay easily. But she'd taken the personal approach, which becomes clear when you look at the date:


Much better than an old newspaper...

That was from the year in which I was born, which makes this a very special present!

At this point it had been all of a few minutes since I'd fed the girls and both had empty dishes and were looking at me expectantly:


This is an old phenomenon whenever they have prawns so I served them the rest of the pack, knowing full well to give Pebbles the lion's share because she would force down every last one whereas Heidi would stop when she was full:


Regular as clockwork. Once her own mountain was consumed, she wobbled over and finished off Heidi's too.

After this brief interlude, it was time to open presents from Clare:


With Christmas coming so soon after my birthday, it can be a little unclear what to offer me. I suggested that it would make sense to have some light reading to do in the week before Christmas and to save the bigger presents until then:


Not random either because this range covers several geeky interests of mine that go back decades.

And to cap it off, there was a thoughtful final present:


What's so special about a pen? I became a published author a couple of months ago and a couple of people have asked me to sign their copies of the book when I see them. I'm going to be in an environment in a few months' time where other people might ask the same service of me, so I need to have something a bit more glamorous than a standard ballpoint on my person.

Even better is this feature of it:


So the morning was off to a flying start. Now we had to jump into the car because I had a surprise party coming up with some very special younger people.

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