Being 41 ain't so bad, though. I've got nice short hair, clean, strong, unstained teeth, and most of my body is still working as well as it did in my 20s! When I don't have a cold that is...
As my birthday treat I decided to go to my favourite place in the world, Avebury. It was a small gathering by my birthday's standards. Quite a lot of my mates were out of London this weekend, so I decided to make the day about family, with Abbie joining us as an honorary sister. There were nine of us altogether snaking our way between the standing stones including Nathan's father and step mother, my parents and Brother Edward and Sascha. It was also baking hot. I think I might be a bit sun stroked as well as having a cold. Joy!
Avebury Church was our first port of call. It's a quirky little place, both architecturally (a mish-mash of everything from Norman to Victorian) and, it appears, spiritually. A basket of stones sits in one corner of the church. Visitors are encouraged to choose a stone, hold it, think about their pain and then drop the stone into a bucket of water to symbolically release their stress. It's definitely more touchy-feely Pagan than hard-core Christian, but then again it would be almost impossible not to acknowledge the ancient pre-Christian power which surges through the earth in those parts. The church itself sits right on the edge of the stone henge, thereby presenting an almost ludicrous clash of cultures. Perhaps as a result, the church has a fairly dark, uncomfortable sort of atmosphere which made me want to throw up. That said, it's obviously a church which is greatly loved and right at the centre of its community; that curious tribe of people whose houses are actually within a stone circle! There's a bowl of water in the church's porch for dogs, and a couple of doggie treats in a Tupperware box, which I thought was a wonderfully welcoming gesture.
We picnicked under one of the stones, and unwittingly cooked ourselves in the sun, which caused a few of our number to go running for the shade. Abbie made a delicious orange sponge birthday cake. Like properly delicious.
We went to the clump of trees on the edge of the site where people hang ribbons of remembrance on branches. It's a unique little spot. The roots of the trees are largely exposed, creating the most amazing 3D lattice-work of fibrous cables on the ground. Fortunately Sascha had wrapped my presents in glorious red and orange ribbons, so we cut them into smaller pieces and all wrote messages to tie to the branches. My Dad, who's just spent a few days with school friends, dedicated his ribbon to "old friends," which I found particularly moving.
A Spanish woman asked us what we were up to and seemed so taken with the idea that Nathan insisted she was given ribbon and a pen to create her own message. This she did with great alacrity, asking Nathan if he felt she should dedicate it to a living or a dead person. Nathan told her it was a decision only she could make so she told him she was going to go with her heart.
My dedication was to the Leeds Pals, my Mum remembered her sister Gill and Nathan's was to all the LGBT people who had lost their lives in the struggle towards equality. He told me on the way home and I cried like a baby gay for five minutes!
If you're still reading, I'd like you all to remember someone you once loved. Think about them. Their eyes. The way they smelt. The way they spoke. The last time you saw them smile. Hold those memories tightly.
And read on...
We went back to the pub before visiting a pop-up second-hand book store which had been set up in one of the rooms in the Avebury museum. Nathan and Abbie independently bought the same Agatha Christie novel: different editions with different covers and a book I've not heard of called "Endless Night." It starts with the quote "in my end is my beginning" which I once sung repeatedly whilst touring an insane piece of music by Luciano Berio called A Ronne.
We drove across to West Kennet Longbarrow. Our trips to Avebury always follow the same pattern. Well if it ain't broke, don't fix it!
I'm kinda glad we went there when we did because an extraordinary ritual was taking place inside which involved joss sticks, a man banging a drum like an amateur and a dude playing a tragic wooden flute which sounded like a pan pipe bring ritually abused. An American woman was standing in the middle of a group who were holding hands and had their eyes closed. She appeared to be talking them through some sort of visualisation. She spoke softly... like a lunatic; "remember the dragon we met before? Well he's come to help us again. He's going to help us to push through this wall into the burial chamber behind. Come on. Push..." The flute music kicked off, Sascha walked out of the long-barrow in disgust and I had a fit of hysterics.
The majority of the gang left at that point, but Abbie, Nathan and I stayed in the area to visit the magnificent Neolithic chalk horse at Uffington, across the M4 in Oxfordshire. It's hard to explain how magical that place is. I have never been there in anything other than glorious treacle-coloured sunlight.
As the sun drops in the sky the place literally starts to glow. The yellow grass becomes strands of gold, the sky turns a deep shade of blue, and the chalk of the horse itself becomes almost impossibly white. Daz white!
We sat at the top of the hill staring down into the valley. Raily very recently told me that the little Neolithic man-made platform at the bottom of the hill is supposedly the place where St George slew the dragon. The areas of chalk where grass refuses to grow are where the dragon's blood spilt. Who on earth would need religion when we have legends like this?!
A farmer was harvesting his cornfield. Great spumes of dust were billowing into the air and settling like dry ice on some of the ancient earthworks. The vista was timeless. Nostalgic. Mystical.
If you've never been to this extraordinary part of the world, I urge you to go, if for no other reason than to feel spiritually alive again, or, quite frankly, just to feel incredibly proud to be British. That's how I feel right now.