When I was nine, I was taken to visit some of my dad’s elderly relatives who lived on a farm. I remember settling on the settee, prepared to amuse myself (because no way were any of the old people going to be even vaguely interesting) by seeing just how many biscuits I could manage to eat before anyone noticed it was more than two. Was I in for a surprise! I’m not talking about the surprise I got when the Collie pup sat on my feet and emptied its bladder all over my new white socks (to this day, I get twitchy if a dog shows any sort of interest in my shoe region), I mean the surprise I got from what one of the very old people said. That surprise was a shock, bigger than the puppy kind; it was a shock of deflecting-from-surreptitious-biscuit-eating proportions. How could someone who was obviously at least one hundred and fifty seven-ish years old claim to feel no older than seventeen on the inside? Surely wrinkles and white hair said everything you needed to know about who somebody was? (Remember wrinkles and white hair? Loads of people used to have them.)
The eve of my tenth birthday was a watershed. I stayed awake as long as I could, because surely a fanfare of angelic voices would mark the moment where the universe saw me slip from single to double figures? After all, no one can be a grown up with just one number to their name, no matter how many fractions that single-number-person adds. Nine and three quarter years old just doesn’t have the kudos of ten. And I desperately wanted to be ten. Grown up. I woke up being ten and feeling the same as I did when I was nine and three quarters. Maybe I’d got it wrong? Maybe the moment of magic would fall from the heavens when I turned into a teenager; maybe that’s when I’d suddenly feel like an adult? What do you think happened as my biological clock struck thirteen? Fanfare? No fanfare? So, I continued to read books about ponies and pixies alongside Thomas Hardy and Dickens and waited for the dawning of adulthood.
On the eve of birthdays, I no longer strain my ears for fanfares. Now I let numbers slip past whilst the me that is me stays me. Yes, it’s a me that has seen more, learned more, travelled more, laughed more, cried more. Made more mistakes. Read more books. The same me who knows more than I used to. Like the fact that the universe doesn’t need to sing just because I got a day older. It sings every day. And, even on the days when white hair and wrinkles conspire to turn me into a liar, my number is not who I am and it doesn’t tell me what I can read. What I can write. Or who can read what I write.