The conditions for my 50th birthday were perfect. It fell on a May bank holiday, the weather was blazing hot, my children were bodily present – which is what passes for present in our household – and my husband at least made noises about rustling up a feast.
Great wines that would be uncorked were mentioned over breakfast. “We’ll start with a Conseillante 1985 and Chevalier Montrachet 90 from Domaine Leflaive. We’ll have to cheat because 1960 [my birth year] is one of the worst vintages in living memory. Although I’ve got some d’Yquem that would pass muster.”
It all sounded so promising. There was, however, one major, major problem with the day: I had to go to work. For reasons I won’t go into, I have to work every Monday, whether it is Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, and I have to work every bank holiday. But hey. In that one-day-at-a-time-Sweet-Jesus way – my default mode since hitting middle age – I had to acknowledge I was lucky to be still employed. And at the age of 50.
But there is something depressing about going to a hot office when everyone else in the streets is disporting themselves. It was even more tragic when I discovered the lift was broken. (Bank holiday maintenance, of course.) Seven flights of stairs later, gasping for air and reminded that the next 50 years would not be getting any better, I staggered into the office and a crisis.
Norwich had server problems. Tayside’s head of ops was sick (oh yeah?). Overseas Sales was stuck in an airport in Sicily, and couldn’t send stats until the wi-fi in the transit lounge was fixed. And Home Sales…? Where was Home Sales?
It was merely a harbinger of worse. Some days, my boss – regarded by the outside world as a benign, charming person – was given to irrational meltdowns about stationery costs. And this was one of those days.
By 4 o’clock, I’d had no lunch, but I had done my allotted workload. With this triumph under my belt, I finally cast off any embarrassment about my landmark age: “Rod, I’m 50 today. Do you think I could knock off early?” He glowered at me over his screen. “Yes, I suppose so. Once you’ve done next month’s projections.”
Your dinner’s in the…
There wasn’t any better news from home. Dinner was off: “We haven’t really got anything together and now the shops are closed.” The boys and my husband had spent the day together lying on the sofa in a darkened room watching cricket.
But they did have a plan: to go to see The Portrait of Dorian Grey at the National Film Theatre. Could I buy the tickets?
It was the 1945 version with George Sanders and Hurd Hatfield, and I knew there would be trouble as soon as we sat down. “Are you seriously telling me this film is in black and white?” hissed the elder boy as the doom-laden music struck up. “This is miserably old.”
The boys were hot and restless in a way that only teenagers can be. The entire row of seats shook every time one of them repositioned their legs. Then they started coughing. Given the recherché nature of the rest of the audience at the NFT, we were lucky to escape being torn limb from limb.
In fact, the film was an inspired choice. What’s not to like about a film in which eternal youth condemns one to misery? As we stood on Waterloo Bridge for a group photo, taken by a random passer-by, I reflected that although low expectations had been the order of the day, it was an achievement to be standing surrounded by my family – all of whom were speaking to me – and to have reached 50. It was a cause for celebration.
Miss Fitz is a one-time screenwriter who found telecommunications more remunerative and now runs her own IT business in Stroud.
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