In which I play my cards right


It was my birthday three weeks ago. I had a lovely one, thank you. As is my custom, I managed to drag it out to cover at least a fortnight, during which any incidental social occasion got tarred with the ‘birthday!’ brush and everyone was forced to give me the best seats and the warmest hugs and the last bites of brownie. 

But now, as Valentine’s Day has also been and gone and the first spring flowers have popped up in the park (honestly, I Instagrammed them for posterity) it is definitely, absolutely not my birthday anymore and I probably ought to take my cards down. I’m just psyching myself up for the task. 

The trouble is, I can’t dispose of birthday cards without a whole lot of emotional wrangling. As I throw each one away, I start worrying that the sender might die soon, and then I have to have a small cry. No matter how young and healthy and robust the person was looking the last time I saw them, there is always a tiny voice that whispers as I put the card in the bin, “these might be their final words to you… gone forever.” It’s like I’m throwing a bit of their soul away. 

So for many years I never threw cards away at all. I just kept them, in dusty piles and bundles, for me to supposedly take out and look through fondly one day. My ‘special box of memories’ was full by about 2004, so I branched out into a second special box. Then a third, then an extension to the third, then a whole carrier bag to catch the overflow of sentiment and theatre tickets and trinkets from people who one day won’t be here. 

Eventually I ran out of space and realised that hanging on to a load of old post-its and cracker hats probably wasn’t going to stop anybody getting cancer or being hit by a truck. So I made myself stop, weaned myself off superstition and learned the merit of getting rid of things. But birthday cards are still the hardest bit. 

“Maybe I’ll make a collage and put them all in a frame!” I think. But if I did this every year, I’d live in a flat decorated with 26 card collages, like some sort of weird Paperchase museum. Then I think I’ll keep the most beautiful ones and cut them up to use in future art projects. But I don’t do art projects. I watch TV.

And so I throw them away. Actually I put them in the recycling – I don’t need more guilt – and have a little poignant moment with each one (I do the same when I lick the crumbs from the plate the birthday cake was on).

If you sent me one this year, watch your cholesterol and take care crossing the road, won’t you