As the weather gods bless Manchester with a cloudless blue sky, and the winter sun streams through my office window, it’s hard to give much credence to seasonal affective disorder. But January and February are not my best months. Not, in fact, that my particular SADness has got anything to do with the weather: it’s more that January means mostly that Christmas is over, and the next one is unimaginably far off; whilst February brings my birthday around once more.
The post-Christmas January mood rebound tells you more about just how much I love Christmas than it does about how bad January makes me feel, and so both you and I can safely discount its true significance for my normal joie-de-vivre. February is different. My birthday really does depress me. Strangely, this has always been the case, long before the march of the years left me no longer able to suppress the realisation that I’d long since passed the half-way point, and that the time left before death is now much shorter than the time I’ve already squandered. I think the earlier disappointment of birthdays was more to do with presents than anything else. My parents really tried hard to make Christmas special for us, and February came round a bit too soon for the coffers to have been replenished. So whilst I still look back on opening Christmas presents as a moment of almost orgasmic excitement, my recollection of birthday presents was always as of an event that underwhelmed. Should that make me sound both mercenary and ungrateful, I might perhaps add that part of the wonder of our family Christmases was their shared nature. I was as excited by the presents my brothers received as I was by my own. Birthdays, however, were a solitary affair. And a solitary disappointment is always the harder to bear; and even as a child I knew that expressing that disappointment was ungrateful, and the cheery pretence that my mum’s hand-knitted jumper was just what I’d been hoping for was necessary, but also wearing.
But none of this has much to do with birthdays now. Perhaps these early memories have simply contaminated my birthday soul, and some kind of regression therapy is called for so that I can re-programme myself to enjoy birthdays in the future. I doubt it. The birthday blues are now grounded not in juvenile ingratitude, but in adult apprehension of mortality. If I could live forever, I would. I’ve no understanding of those who say that eternal life would surely be lonely as friends and family die. I’d make new friends. And in my version of eternal life I can assure you that there is no hint of erectile dysfunction, so if old family died out, I’d be perfectly happy to instigate some new ones. Of course, in my fantasy of living for ever there would not only be a perfectly working penis, but everything else would be tickety-boo as well. No arthritis, no Alzheimer’s, no physical degradation whatever.
Alas, fantasy is what all that is, to be sure. In reality, the years tick by. I realise that my mental acceptance of mortality is not matched by emotional or psychic acceptance. I still plan as if the horizon of death were not there. I allow years to slip by without any proper sense of what proportion of my allotted time left they are likely to represent. I’m still a consummate procrastinator. I’m always happy to do anything, but not now.
And so I realise with an ever greater sense of desperation that if I haven’t achieved by now the things I want to achieve, then there’s really very little chance that I ever will. I know I’m a hopeless under-achiever. In an odd way this blog is perhaps the biggest reminder of that baleful truth. So many people have said, after visiting me here, how well I write. I know I write well. In my unbridled lack of modesty I sometimes allow myself to think I write better than many who make a handsome living out of writing. I’d love to do that too. But I won’t. I know it. Each birthday rams the message home. You’re getting older, it seems to say, and you’ve got bugger-all to show for it. I know. But thank you, birthday blues, for the reminder. Now, please fuck off until next year. I’d be eternally grateful.