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Thirty-One

Hits 2821 | Created 2003-08-11 | Modified 2007-09-28

Written on my 31st birthday, I just found this article and thought I'd publish it again. It charts my life, year by year...



This is completely self indulgent. I mean, really. Ego. This blog is all about me. It's my birthday and I wanted to celebrate it with all of you, but you're all in the wrong country, so I thought I'd do this instead, and this is how it came out.

Sorry if you find it dull.... Or long....
And it IS long.

It’s my birthday, and I live in North America.

The television here, of the basic cable type with no fancy extras, gives me a bewildering sixty or so channels to stare at, most of them being channels from the USA that are added to make up the numbers. At any given moment, about fifty of them are showing adverts. It was on one of these channels, the other day, whilst avoiding adverts, that I found myself watching the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, which was full of excited, shrieking Americans. I watched the show for only a couple of minutes, but I think that what I saw was telling:

Now, the aim of the game, for those of you who don’t know it, is to reveal a well known person, place, phrase etc, by guessing letters that might be in it – a giant game of hangman basically. So, this American woman has the following on the board, and it’s her turn (the ‘_’s stand for the remaining, un-guessed letters):

THE _ARTHEN_N
IN ATHENS

And just in case it proves a little tricky, she’s also provided with a clue – it’s a ‘Landmark’.

Not too hard I hear you cry. But no, she doesn’t know what it is. And what’s worse are her guesses – after wriggling and squirming and making little excited noises for a while she finally says, ‘Is there an L in it?’

Loud buzzer. No L. Surprise. Perhaps she thought that the L would be between the N and the N?

She takes a while to think now. Next guess – ‘Is there an M in it?’

Sigh.

There is a superstition that crying on your birthday will bring you bad luck throughout the year, so if you’re just turning thirty, bear this in mind. The same superstition says that whatever events occur on your birthday foretell a taste of things to come. As I usually spend my birthdays completely drunk, I generally miss out on any prophetic pronouncements, apart from the actual presence of God of course, who always puts in an appearance when I’m blind drunk, or, so I tell people at the time - because of course, I can’t remember.

I refused, steadfastly, to think about being thirty last year, and have only got around to it this year, now that I’m thirty-one, and past it, so to speak. Turning thirty generally makes people suddenly take stock of their lives, calculate that they are almost half way through (so it seems) and then generally panic as they realise that they haven’t done half of the things that they said they would (becoming a doctor, getting that pilot’s licence, sailing a yacht around the world, etc). A feeling, I’m sure, that will be here again, in a more intense form, once I turn forty.

Decline.

I begin to worry about decline. Decline of the body and of energy. I look at some of the people around me that are in their thirties and they complain about the music of the youth of today, they ridicule the fashion, avoid pubs due to the noise or smoke and want to go to 80’s clubs to listen to the good old days when they were still young and the music made sense (I don’t think a lot of 80’s music will ever make sense, personally). Makes me shiver, I can tell you. People are telling me that they can’t do things because they’re too old.

The people with babies refuse to come to pubs or clubs, insisting that they both have to stay in and be miserable/sensible rather than, shocking idea, taking it in turns to go out. Suffice to say that I never, ever want to become like these people. I never really noticed this sinister change back in London, perhaps because no-one ever really grew up, or they retained their youth somehow; or when travelling, but now I see it all around me. I feel a bit like Donald Sutherland, surrounded by body snatchers. Well, okay, not really.

So, I ache a little more and have a few grey hairs, but none of the bodily kind, yet. On the subject of hair, I discovered the other day that that the ‘French’ find it amusing that we only have one word for hair in English – 'ha!', they laugh, 'so you use the same word for dog hair as the hair on your head and the hair on your arse?' Well, yes, we do, I admit.

Anyway, there is plenty to celebrate, apart from the possible decline of the X generation, my body, mind and western television. One of them is that I have finally realised my dream of being the first listed website on Google if you type in the words ‘drunk ralph tequila’, which is always how I imagined people would search for me if they had lost my address.

It's August 11th 2003, and I'm 31 years old. Here's a brief resume of my life - just in case you need something to say at my funeral in the future - you can refer back to this for some ideas.

31 Years ago - 1972, the year of Bloody Sunday and that unemployment reached one million people.
I was born in an ambulance, delivered by a strange man whilst my father directed non-existent traffic just outside, in a small country lane, in Cumberland (as it was then). My mother always tells me that I was wrapped in tin foil, and I often imagine myself as an infant, screaming due to the discomfort caused by being wrapped in tin foil. Don't they carry blankets in ambulances? The story is that I was in such a hurry to get into the world that I couldn't wait to get to the hospital - born on the way somewhere - explains a lot.

30 Years ago - 1973, the year that VAT was born, a year later than me, and the US left Vietnam.
I don't remember this year especially well. My mother tells me that I didn't sleep for two years, at all, so perhaps I spent most of this year lying awake, screaming. Sorry mum.

29 Years ago - 1974, the year that Red Rum won the Grand Nation and police searched for Lord Lucan.
I don't know what I was up to. Probably a lot of whinging and eating worms.

28 Years ago - 1975, the year that the IRA shot Ross McWhirter dead, and that the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh.
I have a faint memory of picking flattened chewing gum up off pavements and, well, chewing them.

27 Years ago - 1976, the year that the US was 200 years old.
Not much this year. I remember virtually nothing.

26 Years ago - 1977, the year that the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen, and of the Silver Jubilee. Elvis also died.
Ah, the trauma of your first day at school, nothing quite like it. I cried all day as I remember. School at this age was generally fun though. I remember quite clearly discovering that you shouldn't stare at the sun in this year, after an older boy told me to do it. I dressed myself, unaided, on a day in this year and went to school, only to discover that I had forgotten to wear any underpants. It would have been okay, but it was gym day and we all used to get changed in the classroom. A terrible memory.

25 Years ago - 1978, the year that the first test-tube baby was born.
I ran away from home. I still have the little case I took with me. I packed it with polo mints and some other childish stuff and headed off into the wild blue yonder. I made it to the local school playing fields where I felt tired and ate my polos. After that I felt a bit scared and went home. No one had noticed my absence.

24 Years ago - 1979, the year that the Yorkshire Ripper is on the loose and Thatcher takes power (the same time as Saddam Hussein).
In this year one of my older friends vanished, apparently for planning to tie me to a tree and set fire to me. Nice. I was also urinated on by a dog for the first time in this year - I just froze up and let it finish, unsure what to do. Suffice to say that it hasn't happened since. This was also the celebrated year that I went down the stairs in my space ship - I'll explain - I had a large cardboard box which I draw spaceship-like controls on the inside of. I then had my friend push me off the top of the stairs. In my mind, the box would slide smoothly to the bottom, but it didn't, obviously. It did about thirteen triple summersaults instead. Bloody well scared me to death, that incident.

23 Years ago - 1980, the year John Lennon was shot dead.
I discovered of conkers and marbles in this year and was thoroughly frightened by an oversized teacher who would pick us up by our shirt fronts and shout into our faces. He would also smash daydreamers over the head with a large dictionary. You couldn't get away with it these days, I suppose. I remember clearly that once in his class I was drawing a tank, the best tank I had ever drawn (or will ever draw, I suspect), which he took away from me and screwed up, throwing it in the bin (we were supposed to be doing maths).

22 Years ago - 1981, the year that the boxer Leon Spinks was mugged and had his gold teeth stolen, and Bob Marley died.
My sporty phase started this year. I was good at rounders and in the final of the long jump and the 100m on sports day. I remember seeing old boys drying out little white mushrooms on the slide at the top of the playing fields.

21 Years ago - 1982, the year of the Falklands war.
My frightening French teacher, who looked as if she had returned from the dead and then applied rouge, caught me and my evil friend smashing hundreds of glass bottles that were left over from the school disco. This was the first (but not last) time that my blood ran cold and an icy hand clenched my bowels in fear.

20 Years ago - 1983, the year of Return of the Jedi, and the first laptop. Thatcher still in power.
My sporty phase ends. My sadistic sports teacher decided that I was a cross-country runner and forced me to run around muddy fields for hours after school every day for weeks. He then enrolled me in the county championship, in which I came 86th. I never ran again. Miserable sport.

19 Years ago - 1984, the year of Torvil and Dean and Band Aid. Also the year that Ronald Reagan said (not realising he was on air) "I am pleased to announce I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes."
Oh god, the big school begins. I cried endlessly before my first day, petrified of having my head flushed down the toilet. It never happened. I hated the place though and my next five years were miserable.

18 Years ago - 1985, the year that Liverpool fans riot at Heysel, and they found the Titanic wreck.
I mainly blacked out these school years, but I remember that I discovered that you should never spit into the air and then catch it in your mouth (yes, someone suggested that I try it).

17 Years ago - 1986, the year that Mike Tyson is heavyweight champion, and of Chernobyl.
My first valentine card. Not a good memory this. It was sent to me by a girl that had the lucky nickname of 'The Ginger Slug'. I was so horrified, opening it in front of my friends, that I tore it up in her face. She cried. I've felt terrible about it my whole life.

16 Years ago - 1987, the year that gollywogs were replaced by gnomes in Noddy, and thirty people die in the Kings Cross tube fire. Thatcher still in power.
Wehay! The time of drinking strong white cider on the school playing fields (and vomiting violently at the end of the night) begins. White cider will not return to haunt me for another six years or so (drinking cheap, strong, white cider is obligatory when on the dole in Lancaster)

15 Years ago - 1988, the year of the Lockerbie bombing, and the arrival of the stealth bomber.
I started to apply mascara to my ‘bumfluff’ moustache in an attempt to look old enough to buy beer at the pub – I remember one friend went to the bar and asked for four pints of beer please. 'What kind of beer?' Asked the barman. 'Err, Brown?' He said. He was what’s known as a thickhead. Lots of people were sporting bumfluff, mascara enhanced moustaches in those days, god knows why, mind you, those people had permed, streaked mullets too.

14 Years ago - 1989, the year of the Hillsborough crush and that Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah against Salman Rushdie.
Finally left school and discovered the college life, which was much more pleasant. I remember almost nothing of this period.

13 Years ago - 1990, you remember the 90s, I'm sure.
Cars... I got my first car this year - a gold Ford Escort mark II. I thought it was the best thing, ever. I would drive that car around at speeds that only an idiot would attempt, causing other drivers to shake their fists at me as I sped by. I'm surprised I survived. In later years I discovered that my father had loosened the accelerator pedal cable ever so slightly to prevent me from ever reaching top speeds. Clever, devious man.

12 Years ago - 1991
I got to move away from my home town and go to University in this year. I had a scouse accent and a mullet, I kid you not. People told me I reminded them of Paul McCartney, yes, really. I discovered 80p a pint Guinness at the student bar and lots of other terrible / wonderful things during this period. I don't know a single person from my home town anymore, that's how terrible it was. I almost had my first tattoo in this year, when I boarded a train to Warrington with my old friend Col E, intending to have a large, colourful tiger on my back. Luckily we were so drunk that we fell asleep on the train and woke up, too late, in the sidings.

11 Years ago - 1992
This is the year that we were forced to live in the real world as students. We moved into a ex-policeman's house, who still lived next door and had an adjoining cellar which he would appear through at inconvenient times. We found a truncheon under a bed upstairs with teethmarks on it. Our landlord got all his beds cheap from the local hospital, when they had enough of them. We would lie awake at night, wondering how many people had soiled themselves / died in our beds. I started drinking vodka, despite my ulcer's complaints.

10 Years ago - 1993
A big year for me. After the university spat us all out I moved in with two hippy chicks and an unemployed geezer to live on the dole and frustrate my parents. The hippy chicks were vegetarian, and before the year was out, so was I, partially due to wanting to get into the pants of the girls, obviously. Still, whatever the reason, it's ten years since I ate any flesh, fish or fowl. Apart from once being tricked into taking a bite of a meaty spring roll whilst drunk outside that London pub they drink in near the end of the Trainspotting movie. I also ate a mezcal worm once at a party, on purpose. It stuck in my throat, horribly, it’s little bristly legs scraping my windpipe. I also changed my image somewhat in this year. Having chopped off my mullet at the beginning, I was growing proper, hippy long hair by the end of it. I got my nose pierced by some dodgy geezer, who did it with an ear piercing gun in Liverpool. I got my first tattoo, carried out in Stockport of all places. When I returned to have it inked in, a couple of years later the tattoo guy tutted and said things like ‘oh what a disaster!’. Turns out that my original ‘artist’ was a stand-in con artist. It was okay in the end, mind.

9 Years ago - 1994
I grew a beard in this year, so it must now be nine years since I last saw my chin. Photos of me, pre-beard, are fairly rare now, and I hardly recognise myself. For all I know, my chin has changed shape considerably in the last nine years. We’ll never know, will we? I also lived in a house next door to a considerable number of nutters - an incontinent alcoholic dwarf who chased children around on his crutches; an anarchist who always wore tight leggings and talked about his 'iron' (some heavies from Manchester were once sent to kidnap him, but they got the wrong guy); a man with swastikas on his hands who was afraid of women; and some other nasty, prospective jailbird characters... Our psychopathic neighbours, after burning all the wood in their house to have fires outside to cook on, would turn up at our back door with handfuls of bangers - 'mind if we use yer grill lads?'

8 Years ago - 1995
I worked for a time in London during this year, holding down two jobs at once, the most exciting being the Rock Venue in Walthamstow where we would watch the boss consume enormous amounts of cocaine and Jack Daniels on a nightly basis and the sometimes stagger up to the stage to play harmonica. The police arrested him in the end and the bar became a strip joint. A sad story.

7 Years ago - 1996
I went to India in this year, a young hippy, and hated all the other hippies there. I learned how to wipe my arse with my hand. It was a shocker at the time, seeing your hands smeared with your own filth, somehow taking you back to your childhood. But you get over it and even enjoy it in the end. I was mightily disappointed to see toilet rolls on sale everywhere in India upon my return last year. This was also the year that I was finally able to grow a passable moustache to go with my beard.

6 Years ago - 1997
This was the year of decline - my hair began to thin dramatically - the year I was forced into long-term (okay, life-long) short-hairedness. I still remember Col poised with his hunting knife, ready to lop off my pony tail and my anguish at the time. A last minute phone call with some advice from Kirsti – ‘don’t let him make you look like a pretty boy, Ralph.’ Ha! Fat chance. At the time I was happily doing nothing at all with my life, on the dole, in Lancaster again. The only cloud was the angry one-armed boyfriend of our landlord, who we always expected to show up at the house to demand un-paid rent. He never did though.

5 Years ago - 1998
I was in Japan for some of this year, and was brought home by Japanese police, dressed as a pirate. The less said, the better. Far too much tequila was drunk during this year.

4 Years ago - 1999
This year I was rocked by the earthquake in Istanbul. At least I was in bed at the time, unlike one guy who was coming down the stairs from the bar - he simply thought he was drunker than usual. Another man in the dorm slept right through it and then got up and went sightseeing in the morning, making it as far as a river cruise before he found out. In this year I saw the walking stick of Moses, the beard hairs of the prophet Mohammed, Mayan pyramids, and a lot of guns. I also got thoroughly drunk in Mexico and Guatemala, drinking much too much tequila again.

3 Years ago - 2000
I got married. It's the only event that really counts in this year. One note though, if you want to get married in a tequila bar, don’t argue, just do it.

2 Years ago - 2001
It's two years since I last worked for a living. Makes you sick doesn't it?

1 Year ago - 2002
I was thirty.

That's it, I'm surprised you're still here actually.





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