Like gathering around a camp fire to tell ghost stories, it has become something of a tradition of mine to tell a tale of a gruesome birthday past on my anniversarial day. I think last year was the tale of the panto drubbing, but this year I will tell you another tale so horrifyingly embarrassing, so soul-quashingly mortifying that you will doubt whether you ever want to celebrate a birthday again. So grab your jacket potatoes and an extra blanket if you need one and gather round ….
This time I will take you to a land of heat and passion, far removed from my cold flat, North East upbringing: my dad had wangled us a trip to the Gambia! Apparently, the mayor of the capital city used to play in goal for Derby County and my enterprising father had thought that a good enough reason for him to produce his press card and request an interview with a flourish, provided we could all travel at reduced rates and stay for a week in a hotel on the beach. Amazingly it worked on this occasion, and so on the 2nd January we boarded the plane and set out, with our sunglasses, flip flops and a week’s supply of Larium.
Ah, Larium, the anti-malarial dug of choice. I’d been taking it for some time to build it up in my system and was happy to ignore the list of possible side effects which sounded remarkably like the characteristics of a post-lobotomee. Ah, Larium, which with the benefit of hindsight I would have gone without, but hey ho, i was 18 coming up 19, what could be the worse that could happen? Ah Larium, you deadly stranger…
Our hotel was made up of a series of bungalows; my sister and her boyfriend were in one, my mum, dad and I were in another (embarrassing, yes). There wasn’t a lot going on around us, a little pool, a bar, the beach and an incessant wall of heat that peeled the skin off your back and forced you into the shade at all times. But that was okay, because on the second day it was my birthday and i was going to show what a sophisticated traveller I was, much like those tanned lithe Swedish families that one always seems to encounter on any break abroad.
To prove that I was 19 and very cool I ordered a Bloody Mary ‘ just for starters ‘. Sitting at the pool bar I felt utterly in control of my life; alcohol already felt like a lonely friend as I listened to my mother’s chaffing and witnessed my father’s attempts to engage strangers in conversation. God I was so old, experioenced and mature. A sage sophisticat. By this point, the Bloody Mary had arrived, equal parts paraffin and tomato puree in a glass. I wasn’t entirely sure what a Bloody Mary was, but I was being old and sophisticated so I drank it even though it tasted of engine parts and chilli and was undoubtedly the worst drink to order in the baking heat from a novice bartender.
But in my stomach, my tomato-petrol really came alive when reunited with sweet sweet Larium. Within half an hour, my hand slipped off the end of he bar where I had been posed, international traveller of the month. I was escorted back to the bungalow by my mum. I threw up in the bushes on the way back. Burning up, she removed all my clothes and put me on the toilet, catatonic. The floor swam up to greet me like a wave and I passed out on the tiled floor. I came round as I was lifted up, floated though to the bedroom, and placed blissfully on the bed. I opened my eyes to catch my dad stepping away, pivoting on his heels with his eyes down and then scramming.
Yes, listener, the unthinkable – the unforeseen consequence of my choice of cocktail led to my dad having to see me with no clothes on. No clothes on at all. Aged 19. The poor poor man. I had managed one drink on my birthday and, and …this. To avoid any ‘dealings’ with my poor embarrassed dad, I pretended to be ill for the rest of the week and lay in bed, listening to the sound of splashing in the pool, and laughter and strange holiday techno sounds from the dancefloor and feeling thoroughly miserable for myself the whole time.
So the moral of this tale, one which I fail to live by is ‘ never pretend to be something that you aren’t ‘ and probably avoid Larium/vodka cocktails when the temperature tips 40.