Want to have a not-completely-terrible semi-locked-down celebration? Here’s how | Hadley Freeman

Hadley Freeman’s Weekend column

I’ve always liked that my birthday is in May, but this year I was dreading it

Bad news, Arieans and Taureans, or – as they are known by people who don’t believe in fairytales – people with birthdays between March and May. You have just had your second crap birthday in a row. No doubt the planets foretold it all. Now that I have declared myself the Guardian’s first astrologist, I must add that all Pisceans should avoid buying a dishwasher this week and Scorpios must stay away from anyone in a Moncler jacket. (That latter one is not in the stars, it’s just a good general rule for avoiding people with too much money and no taste.)

So it was my birthday the other week. I always liked that my birthday is in May, because it really is the perfect party month: late spring, so warm, but not – crucially – summer, so people generally aren’t on holiday. Also, I share my day with some genuinely interesting people: L Frank Baum! Madeleine Albright! Andy Murray! This might not say anything important about me, but it definitely doesn’t say anything bad, so I’ll take it. Clever me for being born on such a great day! At this point, you should be picturing Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Titanic, clutching his ticket and shouting: “We’re the luckiest sons of bitches in the world!” Except it’s me instead of Leo, my birthday instead of a ticket, and the coronavirus instead of the Titanic.

OK, not being able to have a birthday party for the second year in a row might not be quite as bad as drowning in the freezing North Atlantic because Kate Winslet wouldn’t share her massive wooden board with you. But let’s just acknowledge that having a double lockdown birthday is not great. And before anyone starts, yes, I know it wasn’t proper lockdown two weeks ago, but it may as well have been, given I wasn’t allowed to have dinner inside a restaurant and every outdoor table is booked until August, probably by people who arrange their books by colour.

I was really dreading my birthday this year, to the point that I tried to ignore it, which is extremely un-me. I love my birthday, and not just because I share it with Andy Murray. For a start, it’s a better excuse than, say, Tuesday to throw a party, and I really don’t understand people who don’t like throwing parties, because why wouldn’t you want all your favourite people in one room? Also, I have no problem with the ageing process, because I was such an idiot when I was young that I have to believe I can only get better. My birthday last year was fine, because there was a certain novelty about seeing neither my friends nor my parents on it. But twice in a row was not a prospect that filled me with joy. In the end, it was OK. More than OK: it was genuinely lovely, thanks entirely to my partner who stepped in and seized control of proceedings instead of letting me sit around in a self-pitying funk.

As I write, it is very much up in the air whether all restrictions will be lifted next month (or indeed, ever), so perhaps the rest of the astrology chart will also have a second lockdown birthday. Just in case, here is what I’ve learned about how to have a not-completely-terrible semi-locked-down celebration:

1 No Zoom parties Whatever initial appeal these once held (“It’s like the opening credits of The Brady Bunch are talking to me!”) has long since been overtaken by irritation about how no one actually gets to speak and someone’s wifi always freezes. It’s like trying to have a party under water, and unless you’re related to The Little Mermaid, this is a stupid idea. Tell the people you see in person every day – your neighbours, the newsagent – that it’s your birthday, and savour their good wishes, and if you must Zoom, keep it to one person, max two. You actually get to speak, and you’ll see everyone else later. Someday. Maybe.

2 Plan nothing that’s dependent on anything Picnics, meet-ups that require an outdoor table, gatherings that depend on restrictions being lifted when promised… these rely on, respectively, the weather, luck and Boris Johnson’s integrity, all of which are as reliable as each other. Don’t make your birthday stressful; instead stick with unshakable certainties. Like food. My birthday lunch, at my kitchen table, comprised all my favourite foods and, let me tell you, neither age nor Covid can wither spaghetti with tomato sauce and homemade chocolate cake.

3 Treat yo’ self The best lesson of Parks And Recreation is the importance of a Treat Yo’ Self day – a day when the only rule is to indulge yourself – and a lockdown birthday is that day. Stay in bed and watch Parks And Rec all day! Have the biggest bubble bath in the world! Or just watch a double bill of High Society and Heathers, because it’s your birthday and you can. Maybe the outside world is overrated after all.












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