I’ve had some pretty shit birthdays. I was born on the 28th April, which usually coincides with the last match of the football season – rarely a happy day for Leyton Orient fans, and always a deluge of unseasonable weather after a couple of falsely promising pleasant weeks over Easter.
My seventeenth birthday took some beating. Having spent the previous night being dragged to a terrible student night in Portsmouth by my first boyfriend Jeremy (a ginger haired public schoolboy turned goth who wore round spectacles and a knee length New Model Army jumper that his mother knitted from him) I was hoping for a decent present and to be made a fuss off. Instead, he presented me with a bar of Whole Nut and a packet of novelty sponges, the type a three year old might use to make a messy painting out of, and then packaged me off back to London. The next day he ended our eight month relationship, citing the fact that I was irrationally jealous over his close relationship with our friend, Anna. Two weeks later he and Anna were a couple.
Or perhaps my twenty-fourth birthday was worse. I found myself at Whitby Goth Weekend. For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to down a Bacardi Breezer bottle full of tequila. The fact that I thought this was a good idea might indicate that I was already drunk enough, and the effect of the tequila was to render me completely unconscious. I woke up twelve hours later in Whitby hospital with no shoes and made a such a fuss that eventually a haggard looking doctor drove me back to my B+B.
Actually, come to think of it, thirty-seven was pretty bad too. This was after the much lamented Evil Ex had packed his bags and cleared off but before I had cut all ties with him, and he was delighting in being even more of an arsehole to me than when we were actually together. After arranging to come to my birthday celebrations, he then went on to cancel – because he had rejoined his ex girlfriend’s band (the 80s one hit wonder ex with whom he’d shared a highly dubious trip to Paris with which I was most definitely not invited on, a year into our relationship) and they were playing a gig together. On my birthday. In the place that we met. I’m not sure the band would really plan a gig so precisely to cause the most hurt possible, but it certainly felt that way.
And so. Forty-three. The first birthday I have ever had where I have seen no one, done nothing social and where I only received one non-family card and not a single present. (Actually, some lovely friends had sent me some things in good time – but with Royal Mail so badly affected, nothing arrived). I was braced for this and decided the one thing I could do to make it a good day was go for a run. I signed up for the RunThrough Wimbledon Common (“Womblestow”) virtual and planned out a route. And of course, you can guess what happened. The weather, which had been beautiful sun and mild warmth all the way through April, turned to absolute shit. The weather gods decided there was a whole load of water they wanted rid of, and they decided to chuck it on my head.
However, as you know, once I have decided I am going to do something I do it anyway, even if it becomes evident that it is no longer wise or enjoyable. I splashed my way around the marshes in the drizzle with gritted teeth. Then as I went through the underpass towards Down Lane Park, I saw a confusing sight. It looked like a body lying on the ground. But I quite often see things that look like bodies, because I am often delirious from exertion and I have poor eyesight and an overactive imagination. I carried on running towards the body, and as I got closer I realised it was actually a body. Not a homeless person asleep kind of body, either, but a young man in clean clothes sprawled in a really weird position with his legs twisted under him, almost as if he’d fallen from a tall building, except he clearly hadn’t because he was in an underpass with a roof.
Fortunately I was not left alone with this scene as the only other two people stupid enough to be out on Tottenham Marshes in this weather entered from the other side of the underpass. One had already called the emergency services which was a relief because I didn’t want to call 999 and end up having to speak to my colleagues and put on a funny voice so they don’t know it is me. I pretended the man was a Resus Annie and did all the things I have practiced such as checking whether he was breathing (yes) and trying to get a response with a firm poke and a command (unresponsive as an Annie). The other crazy runners and I stood round and speculated as to what had happened. I don’t like to assume anything, but given his age and location and the fact there wasn’t a mark on him and his mobile phone was very apparent in his pocket, we concluded it was quite possibly drug related (a theory borne out by a transaction I witnessed occurring in the bushes the next time I passed that spot). Given my earlier comments wrt my twenty-fourth birthday, of course, I am in no position to judge.
As I waited at the end of the road for the emergency services it really started to bucket down. By the time the police arrived I was soaked and shivering because while a vest is suitable attire for running in all weathers, it is not so good for standing around directing emergency services. I left the police and the comatose man and by the time I had looped the park everyone had gone. (I often find the arrival of the police to be a great cure for unconsciousness). I was struggling, though, my clothes and shoes were wet through and I was conscious of the fact that I’d touched the man’s clothes and could be infested with coronaviruses galore. If only it would rain a bit of soap too. I had only run 9k so far and I just couldn’t bear the thought of another thirteen, so I ran towards home, with the condition that I would pause my watch, change, and then go straight back out again.
Well, I say straight back out but once I got inside I started shivering and I couldn’t stop so I put on a t-shirt (!) and made a warm drink and turned up the heating and made a hot water bottle and had a bit of toast and a birthday cake flavoured Gu gel and posted to Facebook and eventually it stopped raining and the sun came out and then, only then, did I go back out.
The final eight kilometres actually passed without event and were much more enjoyable than the first but I was still glad to get home. The total elapsed time was a stupendous four hours, fifty-five minutes and two seconds although the moving time was only 2:47:28 and based on the principle that the mid race rest was cancelled out by the impromptu bath and involvement of the emergency services I am still going to call that my official half marathon time. It’s not like there’s anyone to disqualify me.
The final injustice of the day was that I could not have a nice birthday meal because a) Yard Sale had sold out of vegan cheese and b) the cockwomble at Ocado had somehow mixed my shopping up with someone else’s and given me three bags full of things I had like raw meat, coriander and blueberries. Thus my birthday dinner was Quorn fishless fingers with sweet potato waffles and frozen peas.
Maybe forty-four will be better.