Andy Richardson: High five! A big birthday’s coming up
We’re starting the countdown. Next week is our fifth birthday.
Can you believe it? Five. Your all-singing, all-dancing Weekend Supplement is just about ready to go to school. So we thought we’d throw a party. And, like all the best parties, we’re keeping our powder dry until the big day. You’ll have to buy a copy your award-winning, A-list attracting, practical-advice-offering, always-witty-and-entertaining Weekend next week to see how we’re going to celebrate. But, without spoiling the fun, it’s safe to say there’s everything you might need for an exceptional shindig – star names, party tricks, great food and more than a little je ne sais quoi.
I’ve always thought of five as being the first of the big birthdays. It’s the moment when toddlers pass the Rubicon and become fully-fledged, school-attending kids. In my case, my fifth birthday was particularly memorable. I had three birthday cakes, got a shout out on Tiswas then rode around the back garden on a Budgie bike wearing a spiderman mask and a pair of green Y-fronts. There’s a photograph of it somewhere. The image is still scorched onto my memory – but perhaps it’s best we leave it to your imagination.
I was a sickly kid. Kidney problems, tubes in the wrong place, constant visits to Dudley Guest Hospital and Lord knows what else. Five hospital stays before the age of five, as I recall it: I think that explains my tungsten-like constitution in adulthood. Being ill as a kid made me determined not to go through it as an adult. So, during the past 20 years, I’ve taken three-and-a-half days off work for illness – and none for the past 16 years. I reckon that’s something like 3,664 consecutive days at work, less holidays and Bank Holidays.
I eat the 1971/73 29-game winning streak of Benfica; I scorn the 555 consecutive victories of Pakistani squash player Jahangir Khan and am contemptuous of the 10-year-and-470-game winning run of Dutch wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer. Those boys were just getting started. Baseball player Cal Ripken Junior, who spent 21 years at Baltimore Orioles, and featured in 2,131 games is worthy of note, but the rest – Navaratilova, Edwin Moses, Roger Federer, Arsenal and Paul the Psychic Octopus – lest we forget his eight-game predicting run at the 2010 World Cup – are charlatans and hucksters when it comes to durability.
When my I-refuse-to-miss-a-day-at-work-through-illness-even-when-I-get-mild-pnemonia streak began, such nations as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were still outside the European Union. And by the time it comes to an end – I reckon I can keep it going for another 20 years – we’ll have spent a similar time out of it before a post-Brexit generation calls for a Second Referendum and votes us back in. We shall see.
When the run began, it was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year and one million people joined a spectacular climax to a remarkable weekend. A bunch of politicians – Stephen Byers, Estelle Morris – were apologising for getting up to no good.
But I digress. And boy, was that a digression. Birthdays. Birthdays. Birthdays.
My fifth birthday was spent on a hospital ward in Dudley. The kids in our street wrote a letter to Chris Tarrant’s Tiswas asking him to give me a shout-out on that Saturday morning’s programme; he did, too. I guess the equivalent nowadays would be to get a Tweet from Ant & Dec. The nurses on the hospital ward made me a birthday cake, so did the kids in the street and so did my mum and dad. Three cakes. One mouth. Happy days. What a birthday.
I presume I was gifted the aforementioned Raleigh Budgie, a bike that was one step down from the fabled Chopper.
And someone also bought me a Spiderman mask. It was a hot summer, so wearing Y-fronts was the appropriate thing to do when pretending to be spiderman on a superhero Budgie.
I guess my own kid might do something similar in his toy electric car when he reaches the same age later this year; though his preference is Caped Crusader Batman.
My fifth birthday isn’t the only one that stands out. At the age of 11, my parents took me for a day out with a trip to Bridgnorth’s Severn Valley Railway, which was bliss. I had my photograph taken in a street opposite, a beautifully pretty and vertiginous road on which there was a collection of chocolate box cottages. I must have enjoyed it – I ended up buying one 20 years later.
But for us, here at Weekend, it’s all about the Power of Five.
So cancel your plans for next weekend. We’re planning a right royal knees up. It’ll be the best party of the year. And you’re all invited. Just don’t all bring a cake.