That was a birthday and a half (century)

Happy 50th birthday!
Happy 50th birthday!

By Ralph Mellon

At FFP Towers, I’m surrounded by colleagues who can take any topical issue or any subject, historic or current, and spin it into a symphony of eloquence and beautifully-argued presentation of opinion.

Being a fairly passive soul, I tend not to get too wound up about things and certainly would toil to come up with anything insightful at the drop of a hat about the really important issues of the day, like Scottish independence, what’s happening in Ukraine, or how exploitative is ‘Britain’s Got Talent’/’The X Factor’.

Something significant did happen to me the other day, however – I turned 50.

For years, I thought it would gently wash over me and I’d be largely indifferent to it. I wasn’t fazed at all by turing 40 – it was funny and, indeed, almost too ridiculous to contemplate, following all the angst and fretting a decade earlier about attaining 30.

On the day, the 50th was fine – being with family and close friends was nice and affirming – as was the generosity and thoughtfulness of the prezzies I received.

But, strangely, in the few days beforehand, it defintiely felt as if dark, malevolent forces were at work. I’m going to be 50 at the end of the week and there’s not a thing I can do about it! Aaargghh!

Perhaps it was because there had already been a long build-up to it. This started during the Easter break with a holiday in Vienna.

My travel around Europe has been pretty insignificant over the years, so I fancied going somewhere which sounded as if it had a bit of character and cultural history behind it.

I’m pleased to say jokes about that Ultravox record and ‘it means nothing to me’ were kept to a minimum – I have preserved a deep and rancorous hatred for that song for 33 years.

There was plenty of impressive architecture, informative art museums, a sedate boat cruise on the Danube, an easy-to-understand subway system, a trip on the Ferris wheel featured in the brilliant 1949 film ‘The Third Man’ and some childish cavorting around Madame Tussauds, where they encourage you to be a little silly while appraising the waxworks.

My top souvenir is a 3D fridge magnet of the Vienna opera house with an impression of Mozart gazing out impassively from the top.

The rule now is that, whenever you approach the fridge, you have to exclaim “Volf-gang!” in tones of reverential awe.

If you think it sounds like fun round our house, you’d be right.

Anyone who has exceeded 50 will know about this as well – your festivities include an invitation to take part in the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme – without question, a very, very important project.

“Your testing kit and instruction leaflet will arrive in the post in about two weeks,” says the letter. Happy birthday and welcome to the club, mate.

One of my three favourite films ever, ‘Withnail & I’, was on Channel 4 in the wee small hours at the precise time I made my entry into the world half a century earlier, so the landmark day was definitely off to a flying start.

When it comes to music and TV, I often revisit things I loved when I was young. Consequently, the music/poetry of Vivian Stanshall and ‘Dr Who’ adventures from the late Jon Pertwee/early Tom Baker eras were amply plundered.

Colleagues, knowing my weekly ritual of illustrating the TV viewing schedules with multi-hued highlighter pens to denote preferred viewing, gave me, among other things, a subscription to the Radio Times, or as I call it, The Bible.

It’s not over yet – my brother has suggested a short break later in the year to somewhere warm – and is even hinting at paying for it. I’ve always said he’s the best younger sibling anyone could hope for.

And other friends have already given me another useful present – a Panama hat.