Decade five, day one

Last week I ruminated on my impending 40th birthday, so I thought I’d reflect on how it feels from the other side of the fence. The view from over the hill, as it were. Probably best to capture it now before senility overtakes me. That sort of thing.

All told, I had a lovely day on Saturday. Heather had organised a surprise party for me in the afternoon, hiring out a local pub, The Sun in the Wood, for a barbecue. It’s a lovely, family-friendly place complete with a huge children’s play area and its own nine-hole crazy golf course, so there was plenty to occupy both little and big kids alike. And having so much space and effectively the run of the place to ourselves, it made for a much less stressful time for parents too. Perfect.

It was lovely to catch up with everyone – although, as is the nature of these things, you never have enough time to have a proper chat with everyone – and a gentle reminder that I need to put more effort into staying in touch with friends, several of whom I have known for more than half my life.

I have to admit the party wasn’t really a surprise, but when you’ve been with someone for as long as Heather and I have been together (19 years this December), it’s not difficult to spot the little tell-tale clues. Especially when you’re that really annoying person who specialises in solving those murder mystery dinner things while considerably the worse for wear, and who takes great delight in identifying the murderer in crime shows by the end of the second act. But it wasn’t the supposedly surprise element that wasn’t important; what mattered was that Heather had put in a huge amount of (much appreciated) work organising it, and that so many people had made the effort to turn up. (Even if they didn’t let me win at crazy golf.)

Best of mates, Arsène and I ...

Obviously, with parties come presents to help cushion the inevitable fact that you are another year – or, in this case, decade – older, and I am more than pleased with the array of alcohol, books and iTunes vouchers I returned from the party with, which will keep me entertained for quite a while.

From my family, I have the new Arsenal shirt and the money to go out and buy a new iPhone. And Heather outdid herself by getting me a gliding session and – best of all – a signed letter from Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

The best thing, though, was just being able to spend time with the boys and watching how much they enjoyed themselves. Toby was as Toby always is: easygoing, chilled, with a smile for everybody and a full-body wiggle of excitement for me. Zac zoomed around the pub with his mates all afternoon with a huge beaming smile on his face, as if it was his own party. (In his own mind, it probably was his party.) But my favourite little slice of the day was half an hour he and I had spent together in the morning, where we were playing around with an art application on my iPad and he was loving every minute of it, showing off to me everything he could do with unabashed pride.

And I guess that’s the crux of it. I had a fantastic day spent with my family and good friends, and being showered with presents, but that was just one day. I have a whole load of present-less and altogether more ordinary days to come, but each of those is as special in its own way for a whole variety of reasons.

At some point in the last three years I became a doting father. That has been the best present of all.

Finally, three quotes about getting older that made me chuckle:

I’m not 40, I’m 18 with 22 years’ experience.

Anonymous

Life begins at 40 – but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times.

Helen Rowland

Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.

Charles Schultz

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have three years to plan Heather’s 40th …