Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My worst birthday ever

I don't remember exactly when this was. Five or six years ago, I guess. It might even have been my 40th birthday. I've done my best to forget.

My birthday started in a horrible, uncomfortable Central London hotel after a lousy night's sleep. The tiny, overpriced room was stupidly hot, the bed was lumpy, and the walls were so thin I could hear my neighbours' televisions as if they were in my own room. The guy next to me on one side was watching cable porn at 5am, and on the other side, they'd decided they needed to watch a war movie before breakfast. And for this luxury, I was paying well over £100. Not a great start to the day, but never mind. I was determined to have a good time.

The plan was that I would be speaking at a conference in the morning, then heading 150 miles home by train to have a birthday dinner with my family after being away for two weeks, and then we'd all go to the local carnival. Carnival's always a fun night out.  Didn't quite work out that way.

I got to the conference in good time for my technical rehearsal at 8am, only to discover that they'd moved my slot to mid-afternoon, and there was no need for me to have stayed in the damn hotel anyway. Still, I figured I could do my bit, get a later train, and just about make it in time for dinner. Well, if they'd been on time, it might have worked. The entire conference was chaos, and they were running late right from the get-go. I don't even remember my panel, though I think it went well. When I got to Paddington station, I literally ran from the Tube for my train, and missed it by about 30 seconds. There was no way I was going to make it home for dinner now.

At least I'd make it to the carnival, though. Stay positive, Matt.

Since I had an hour to kill, I figured I might as well get something to eat. That's when I discovered there was a "problem" with my credit card, and they wouldn't accept it. Turned out the bank's automated systems had decided that the hotel bill was an "unexpected expense" and had blocked my card for my own protection. And since it was after 5pm, there were no humans available, and they couldn't deal with it until the next day. Thanks, Lloyds.  So, no money. No food.  The day gets better.

Finally, I got on a crowded train at 6.30. I should have been home three hours earlier. Twenty minutes into the journey, the heating broke down. This was November in England, remember, and nights are cold. That was okay when the train was full, but once it started to empty out, it began to get really chilly.

Never mind, I could endure it. Just a short while longer, and I could enjoy my long-awaited evening with my family.

And then, ten miles from home, the train broke down. No power. We sat in the cold, dark carriage, with no idea what was going on, until a repair train came and towed us back to the previous station. We got onto a replacement train, and I finally reached my station at about 10pm.

Even though this is starting to sound like a rejected script for a John Candy movie, the day wasn't finished with me yet. You see, when the carnival's in town, our tiny little town would get thousands of visitors. Everywhere you can possibly squeeze a vehicle is taken. Half the roads into and around town are blocked off, and the rest are full of traffic. My usual ten-minute drive home turned into well over half an hour, and I ended up having to park nearly a mile from my house. Of course, I wasn't dressed for a cold English night, and I recall the walk as an endless, freezing trek, losing the feeling in my fingers and face.

I eventually arrived back, tired, cold, hungry and dispirited, to a cold, dark, empty house, and a note that said, "Sorry, didn't get you any cards or presents, and there's no food in the house because we didn't get round to shopping. You'll have to go out and get yourself something."

And that, as they say, was that. My worst birthday ever.

* * *

This year, I spent most of my birthday lying on the sofa, suffering from a stomach bug. It wasn't a great day, but it's far from the worst birthday I've ever had. I had loads of Facebook & Skype wishes, I talked to friends and relatives from round the world, and I was surrounded by a family who love me. That's what matters.