(This is a rather long post, so feel free to skip down to the playlist, if you can’t wait.)
It is my birthday today. I am now 43 years old.
I usually go through a pensive stage of navel-gazing ahead of my birthdays, and although there has been a bit of that, I think the flavour this time around is slightly different.
I first met my wife when I crashed a party in East Dulwich. I was almost inclined not to go out that night, but one of my work colleagues at the time invited me to come to a party being thrown by an acquaintance of one of his friends. I was tired that night and almost bailed. But glad I didn’t.
A couple of hours into the party, I met my future wife, we clicked almost immediately and we spent the next 30 hours or so in each other’s company talking to each other (ISTR it was a bank holiday weekend and neither of us had to be anywhere, but I’m not entirely sure.)
When my lease ran out on the flat in Fulham, I rented a studio flat up the street from her in East Dulwich.
It’s been a long strange trip ever since.
The reason I am thinking of this, is that the first time I recognised my pre-birthday navel-gazing was the lead-up to my first birthday around her. I had been a bit withdrawn, and 4000 miles from “home” and generally reviewing the events that led me to London. I was 29 and thinking of all the things I could have been and regretting opportunities that I passed up or I let pass me up.
I was in a terrible mood in the weeks leading up to my birthday. A bit morose, full of self-pity, and not really appreciating what it is I had. My future wife put up with my moodiness, but pointed it out to me, and she couldn’t figure it out. Luckily I snapped out of it.
At the time, David Gray’s “Please Forgive Me” was getting limited airplay on BBC’s London radio station, Greater London Radio (GLR) [one of the best radio stations in its time], before it was released to the wider world. But the tune really summed up what I was thinking about my life, and feeling about her. I rang GLR up and requested the song, they recorded my conversation with the DJ, wherein I confessed to my navel-gazing self-pity and how I was taking it out on her and now I was begging forgiveness for being a bit of a git. I ran down the road to her place, and told her to turn on the radio and have a cassette ready to record it. And they played it, and she forgave me, because as much as she would like to deny it, she is as much of a sap as I am, and is a sucker for a bold romantic gesture.
In the intervening years, life has had its ups and downs, and she has followed me to hell and back. I think we have lived through situations that would have broken other couples up rather quickly. But we seem to be so in tune with each other, that being together hasn’t seemed like a struggle at all. Mind you, the only person who ever does anything to piss off the other is me, as I am still capable of pulling off real bonehead maneuvers.
This year, the lead-up to my birthday seems to be a different animal altogether. I seem to be looking more forward rather than behind. I think it’s partly because we have a bun in the oven. And some of the plans we had have had to have been modified. I have to admit, it seems a little scary. But I also have a sense of mission and of hopeful anticipation. But my birthdays are now reminders of how much I have rather than how much I don’t have.
The Mix Tape / Playlist
Whenever I have made a mix tape (or a playlist now) for her, “Please Forgive Me” is always the first song. Playlists are one manifestation of the romantic in me, and I’m glad she likes them. So, as a bit of a love letter to her (because my birthday always reminds me how much we love each other,) I am going to list some of the choice songs on my evolving iTunes playlist for her, and why they are on it:
“Please Forgive Me”- See above
“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls – The song was out at the time we met, and the chorus really captures how I felt about her when I first met her: “I just want you to know who I am…”
“Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show – The story of a guy trying to get home to his baby. It used to make me nostalgic for the South (that is, USA). But now it is about Home, which is wherever she (and my daughter) is.
“Thinking of You” by Paul Weller – This remake of a Sister Sledge tune was from Paul Weller’s Studio 150 album, which she bought for my birthday one year. A sappy love song.
“Hard Man to Love” by Kevin Fowler – Kevin Fowler is a death-metal-guitarist-turned-country-music-singer. This song captures what I was like when we were first together, as I partied a lot, and seemed to be more trouble than I was worth at the time. Thank God she didn’t think so.
“You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder – Rather cliche and self-explanatory. But appropriately sappy.
“Rudi’s in Love” by Locomotive – A classic ska tune. She digs ska and reggae to, and this rude boy was won over.
“Good Hearted Woman” by Guy Clark – A cover of a Waylon Jennings song, better than the original. See “Hard Man to Love” above. “She’s a good-hearted woman in love with a good-timing man…”
“Special Brew” by Bad Manners – “We’re a pair, I don’t care, when they say we are a special brew…” Some of our closest friends think we act as one unit when we get into heated debates about politics and the like.
“Ice Cream Man” by Tom Waits – The ultimate in lascivious double entendre.
“Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder – Poor form to stick two tunes by the same artist on the same compilation, but this song sums up one of the happiest days of my life: the day our daughter was born.
“English Rose” by The Jam – “No matter where I roam, I will return to my English Rose…”
And I’ll leave it at that. There are loads more on the list, but these always seem to be a basic core.
I am so happy that she saw in me something about myself that I couldn’t at the time.
And after this latest bout of navel-gazing, would I want to do it all over again?
Nah. I like what I’m becoming more than I like what I was, and she has always made me want to be a better man.