Birthdays etc

I also owe you various columns. Click HERE for this week’s Standard blast about social media. Obviously I continue to spend 73 per cent of my day on Twitter and Instagram but I salute those who definitely leave. I have always remembered a piece I read some years ago, maybe in Wired, which detailed the brain drain from Vegas to Silicon Valley as big tech pinches the engineers who formerly designed slot machines to make their apps as addictive. Bright colours, constant refreshing and scrolling mechanisms, that sort of thing. We’re all lunatics to fall for it. And will paste this weekend’s Sun Tel column below. My poor mum called me up having read in the paper on Sunday it to check I was OK since she said it was so sad. I’m fine. As I say, I find people who groan and grumble about birthdays tiresome because other people don’t have that privilege. But I tend to become boringly introspective around mine…


I turned 35 this week. It’s not exactly an age I’ve feared; ‘fearing’ birthdays is wimpy and ungrateful considering some less fortunate souls don’t get that far. But it is a figure that’s loomed in my head for a while. I suspect this is because 35 is often portrayed as the bogey age for women in fertility terms, the age when headlines start screaming at us more urgently: ‘WHY THAT SECOND GLASS OF WINE COULD AFFECT YOUR CHANCE OF EVER HAVING CHILDREN’. And even though I’ve researched this and learned that the fertility cliff women supposedly fall off after we turn 35 is based on ‘evidence’ from 18th century French birth records, I can’t help but wonder: should I now start taking up Zumba classes?

I woke on Wednesday morning and lay in bed trying to gauge whether I felt any different. Birthdays are so peculiar, a childish yardstick to measure ageing. Why should any of us wake and feel radically altered to the day before? Perhaps because we believe in this so strongly when we’re small, telling everybody we ever meet that we are five-and-a-half but will be six in February.

I didn’t look remotely different. I still had just the one chin hair, no new forest of them. But because this birthday felt momentous, I had higher expectations than many before.

I turned on my phone, half hoping for trumpeters and choirs of angels to burst from it.

The first missive was from Fitbit. ‘Happy birthday! Whether you give yourself the gift of sleep or stay up late celebrating, we hope you have a wonderful day!’ Automated emails also came from my waxing salon, the Edinburgh Marathon offering me a fiver off entry, and with ‘lots of clever ways to start saving’.

My mother texted me reminiscing both about the cockroaches in Westminster Hospital where I was born and my poor head. Thirty-five years earlier, I’d been lying in a plastic basin and, on his rounds, the doctor barked: ‘Nurse, turn that child over, her forceps marks are appalling!’ ‘I can’t doctor,’ she replied, ‘they’re much worse on the other side.’

My sister and I drove to Henley for a celebratory lunch with Mum and back to London. I managed a 15-minute yoga video in my bedroom between getting home and going out again for supper with my siblings. Is it slightly tragic to do a home yoga session on one’s 35th birthday? Should I not have been doing something more significant? Was I overthinking this? Possibly.

Back out for dinner where a waitress descended from Manuel messed up our order and brought us main courses before our starters. ‘You’re ruining my birthday!’ I wanted to shout in the manner of Roald Dahl’s spoiled Veruca Salt. But then I reminded myself that I’d just turned 35, not six, and had another glass of wine.

It was a lovely day, if slightly exhausting. A bout of introspection is all very well but 24 hours of it? Tiresome as well as narcissistic. This is the trouble with birthdays: one doesn’t want to make a fuss but, equally, one wants other people to make a fuss and the pressure of this turns us into egotistic monsters. I fell into bed remembering it a good thing they only happen once a year. Pity the poor old Queen who has to go through it twice.

If anyone knows any decent Zumba classes in South London, let me know.


We have a loo roll crisis on our hands. Don’t panic, it’s in Hong Kong, not Britain. (Unless you’re reading this in Hong Kong, in which case, rotten luck.) Coronavirus fears have caused Chinese factories to stop producing the stuff and subsequent panic buying. It’s been declared the new ‘hard currency’ in the city and my friend Holly reports via WhatsApp that she’s down to her last two sheets. Last week, three men wielding knives pinched 600 rolls from a Hong Kong supermarket, although police have since recovered it and two men have been arrested. Something to mull over next time you visit the bathroom. We should count our blessings not just for every year we’re given but for a plentiful supply of Andrex, too.


How grand is your wallpaper? A team of experts have just spent a month removing 19th century Chinese wallpaper from a Buckingham Palace wallpaper for restoration. It was originally bought by George IV for the Royal pavilion in Brighton and later transported to London by Queen Victoria. Very ancient and very smart indeed. However, the boardroom of the Coutts on the Strand is covered with paper even older. It’s also Chinese, given to the bank’s founder Thomas Coutts in 1794 by one of the bank’s punters, Earl Macartney, Britain’s first Chinese ambassador. When I was little and my father worked there, it was a half-term treat (a bit like the Banks children in Mary Poppins) to be taken to see this wallpaper. Dad explained that it was ‘priceless’ which boggled my eight-year-old brain. It remains there today. Can anybody beat that in their gaffe?