Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys...
And so Christina Rossetti writes about the day she felt she was born to life, the day she really saw everything beautiful and anew. The birthday of her life has come to her because her love has come to her.
A Londoner who moved in avante-garde artistic circles, but was prone to depression. Well, I can't say that for myself. We may both love Keats, but where she turned to religion and became clinically melancholic, I am feeling as sunny as I ever have. Despite growing old. I celebrated one of the best birthdays last week.
I watched Harold and Maude only a fortnight or so ago, imagining the taste of oat straw tea and ginger pie enjoyed alongside chats and songs with Maude in her cluttered rail car home. Harold bestows an engraved gift to Maude ('Harold loves Maude'), which she accepts then throws into the sea so she will always know where it is. He fills her birthday, and her home, with sunflowers, large and bright and everywhere, like a forest with cake and organic champagne at its heart. It is her 8oth birthday, the age she decides she will die. When Harold happily claims that spending so much time with her is giving him vices, she replies 'Vice? Virtue? It's best not to be too moral'. YES. Of course I've been listening to Cat Stevens on repeat since.
Our end-of-May party at Lawn House was full of white and yellow posies, my birthday full of books. Better than paper sunflowers. I cut the flowers, arranged them in jam jars and placed them on every surface. A full house of friends, tobacco and gin. Birthday week of home-made devil's food cake, my favourite coffee and walnut cake, Waitrose chocolate cake, and pastel-coloured lemon cupcakes (twee-alert) with take-out coffee. Prosecco, red wine, and so much summer gin and tonic. Then rounds and rounds of fries and onion rings that we inhaled to soak up alcohol. All this I raised in place of Christina's birthday daïs.
The books I unwrapped are as vibrant as any peacock, any gold and silver grapes, any purple dyes. A biography of Virginia Woolf from someone who knows me so well, and who knows our noses. The poet Kathleen Jamie's new volume of nature writing, bought for me after I went on and on and on about the Norwegian whale hall full of enormous whale bones hanging from the rafters. A novel about a former university lecturer and modern day Socrates set in a hot London summer that was gifted with the message 'Read a good review and thought of you'. And money to be spent at my favourite second-hand bookshop, where I can browse for hours on a Sunday and stock up with pages and pages. Leaf through 'leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys' as it were.