Barring anything Truly Awful happening, I will, this summer, reach my 40th year. I have none of the usual trappings – spouse, children, house – rather I have a visa, passport and well-used suitcase. In fairness, this is how I’d always hoped things would turn out.
And quite frankly, given my tenuous grasp on health, I’m quite pleased to have lasted this long. There were ever so many opportunities for me to have perished or otherwise fallen by the wayside of life.
So it seemed to me that I ought to celebrate the occasion properly.
The thing is, though, that I’m not great at organising parties. I put very little effort into it and this is fairly obvious in the results. When I used to live in Toronto, I’d invite my pals round and we’d drink beer and talk shit for a while, and then because Mrs Dufflet’s was only round the corner, I’d have got in a banana cream cake and at some point in the evening I’d be unable to wait any longer and would have to bust it out.
The first time I did this everyone in the house rejoiced, until we all fell into some kind of sugar-coma, flash diabetes, existential malaise due to horrendous sugar come down. My friends learned the lesson and I did not. The following year, when I did the same thing, everyone pleaded with me to hold off on bringing out the cake because the cake spells the end to the evening. But, me being me, I didn’t listen, brought the cake out, and we were all tucked up in bed by midnight. Not very rock and roll, but still later than my usual bed time.
The last time I celebrated a truly momentous birthday I had only just moved to the UK. I was living in a tiny fishing village down in Cornwall, studying at the art school, and my best mates organised a fancy dress (read: costume) party on my behalf. I do believe half if not all of the town was invited. It was quite a small town. And it was great. We stayed up until dawn nearly, I got a piggy back ride home from a group of random strapping young men, my honour was defended, the police were called (or someone threatened to call them) and the next day I got a big tattoo. I mean, if you’re going to do thirty, do it right.
This year however seemed to require something grander. So one evening, when I was out drinking wine in a cocktail bar my co—conspirator and I frequent, in London, and he was on the phone to his gallerist and I was bored, I picked a random book off the table and when he returned his attention to me, I stabbed at the map.
“Benbecula!” I cried. “We’re going. For my 40th.”
This is before he had turned that particular corner (which was quickly approaching) and he gulped at the mere mention of it.
“What is that please?” he asked.
“Way the fuck up north. Hebrides, or at least the Western Isles. Landing strip is the beach at low tide.”
His eyes lit up. “Oh, I like that,” he swooned.
I began broaching the topic with my other London pals and soon enough something in a plan had emerged. It changed a bit along the way because we found out about something truly exceptional: the Landmark Trust. Basically, a charity that helps with the upkeep of castles, manor homes, and other stately properties, which one can rent for a ridiculously low price.
We’ll be eight people, and we’ve hired – not quite a castle, technically – but a Laird’s manor, on Bute, for £23 a person per night. I am not even kidding.
There is a sunken fernery – no idea really beyond the obvious – a turret/loft type place, a wood burning fire and Lord knows what else. So a bunch of us will decamp up to Scotland, take a ferry, and have a riotous weekend. In May. When I will not yet be 40, so there’s a bit of a jinx going on there, but Scotland in July means midges and nobody wants that.
Traditionally, I would go home and The Mom would make me a peach pie and burgers, but this year – This Year – she decided she’d rather go on holiday herself, and will therefore not be in town.
I am trying not to take it personally, however, she will be getting a lot of pictures from me whilst in situ in Scotland. Has she ever stayed in a castle? No, no she has not. Will I rub it in? Yes, yes I will. Which is my right as someone who is very nearly 40 years of age.