Happy Birthday to E., to R. and to L. To the two of you who live here in Edinburgh, I hope to see you both soon. (I know it will be a little after the event, but there is cake and a cup of tea – maybe more – going at mine next month on the 17th. Do come.) And to L. in Australia: g’day, see, I’ve not forgotten! Also, to anyone else who is celebrating his or her birthday at the start of the week on this dark and cold January day (on this side of the hemisphere anyway) – have a good one. I remember E. being born a little over three decades ago. I had an ear infection and the midwife suggested to my parents that my ailment was wholly psychosomatic; that I was unconsciously courting the lost attention that the new baby had stolen. There might have been something in her theory had it just been myself and the new screamer at home, but there were four more of us besides. I had a sore ear, these things happen, it was as simple as that. After all, I’m not the jealous type. Or am I?
Let me wind back time to September 1978 and to B’s birthday. B. threw the best birthdays in town, bar none. Great food, a massive cake, party bags to take home filled with parma violets, spangles and black jacks, races in the back garden, pass the parcel with epic toys (that I never won) wrapped up twenty times, and dancing to ‘Copacabana’ wearing long dresses. These parties would make a baby Buddha jealous. My head was well and truly turned; I had never seen the like of it. In 1978 we were all turning the grand old age of seven and musical statues was the game of the moment. We stuck to the rules rigidly: children dancing furiously as the music played and when it stopped we had to freeze. I can’t remember if it was a tape deck or a record, either way the keeper of the music was hidden from view so the dancers could not anticipate when silence would descend. Stock still, each child turned to stone. Facial movements could render one disqualified. No smiling. This game was serious and the spoils were great. There was a rumour that the winning prize was a ‘magna doodle’. Imagine! D. and A., the adjudicating adults, circulated to chivvy on any dancers whose batteries seemed to be artificially running low – dancing slowly was looked on as a form of cheating. It was down to the last two: me and someone I have long since forgotten, or blotted out. On came Boney M.’s massive hit of the day, ‘Brown Girl In The Ring’; I loved it. What seven year-old wouldn’t be lured by the nonsensical lyrics, “Brown girl in the ring, Tra la la la la, She looks like a sugar in a plum, Plum plum”? I was throwing myself into the ring and cutting some spectacular moves, but the music stopped a lot sooner than usual (what trickery!) and I was caught gracefully grooving, momentarily forgetting the aim of the game and immersed in the music. I lost. Devastated. Wounded for life. I always still enjoyed B’s parties, but, thereafter, the strains of Boney M. left me raw. The sound of their music pressed an emotional button triggering dual distressed feelings of party jealousy and the musical statues upset. It was too much to bear, aged seven, but somehow I lived with it. And so, when I turned 30, D. (the musical statues adjudicator) helpfully applied his own therapy to my deep-rooted trauma and gave me a CD for my birthday: ‘The Best of Boney M.’ D. – you may be a gentleman and scholar but you’re no Carl Jung!
For those of you who can make it, see you at mine in a few weeks for the belated celebrations. I’ll even see if I can dig out the Best of Boney M., I think I can listen to ‘The Rivers of Babylon’ without having to leave the room in tears!