Elizabeth Day: I’m an attention-seeking control freak… and proud!
Styling: Emily J Dawes. Make-up: Nicky Weir using Vieve. Hair: Sven Bayerbach at Carol Hayes using T3. Top, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini. Trousers, The Outnet. Jewellery: Tilly Sveaas
It was my birthday recently. It’s unfashionable for me to admit, but I adore my birthday. As a recently minted 43-year-old I am probably old enough to know better, but my feeling is that if there’s an opportunity to celebrate, one should always take it.
I am that person who goes to a restaurant on her birthday and loudly informs the waiter of this fact in the hope of getting a slice of cake with a candle on it. I don’t trust anyone else to do it for me, in the same way that I organise all my own parties for fear that no one will ever take the hint and throw me a surprise bash. What I’m trying to say is: every 10 November, I turn into an attention-seeking, birthday-obsessed control freak.
Amazingly, my nearest and dearest don’t seek to disown me around this time of year. Those who know and love me the best choose to lean into the enforced celebration. This year, my husband gave me a selection of thoughtful gifts, including a pair of noise-cancelling Bluetooth AirPods that nestled discreetly in each ear. When I tried them on for the first time, I was walking to the tube along a main road. Suddenly the noise of the traffic disappeared. It was as though I had dipped my head underwater and was now cocooned in a vast ocean of muffled softness.
When I left my friend a voice note while walking, I was alarmed when a pedestrian seemed to jump out of nowhere to overtake me. He was doubtless even more alarmed when he heard me talking loudly to said friend about why threesomes had never appealed to me (a completely unmanageable mix of jealousy and neediness imho). In truth, the poor pedestrian had been there all along, but I hadn’t heard his footfall.
After a while, I found myself feeling slightly untethered, like a traveller on a long-haul flight who isn’t sure where the sky ends and the ground begins. I knew I should be enjoying this superior sound quality, but at the same time, it was a bit odd. I realised that instead of feeling relieved that there was no background noise, I actually missed walking through life and feeling connected to it. I missed the birdsong and the murmur of other people’s snatched conversations and the occasional police siren. It felt strange to be in the world but experiencing it internally.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in my own head. When I leave my desk, I relish the moments of connection that make me look outward. These AirPods made that more difficult because I was still in my head, at a remove from everything and everyone else.
In truth, the reason I write is to seek that connection. Writing, at its best, is a hand outstretched from the printed page, holding yours across whatever divides us. It’s the reason I like to write in cafés, surrounded by the noise of other people, of frothing coffee machines and the tinkle of teacups against saucers. It’s why I have E M Forster’s famous maxim ‘Only Connect’ tattooed on my left wrist.
It’s to remind me that this is what counts; that the only way to fully experience and understand life is to share its uniqueness with others. A small smile across the street at a dog-walker. A wink at a child on the bus. A nod, as we pass each other in the road, to say, ‘Yes, I’m here too. Isn’t it mad? Isn’t it wonderful? Aren’t we all just doing our best?’ It’s probably why I like my birthday – because celebrating life with others is so much more joyful than doing it on your own.
This week I’m…
SLEEPING in Tabitha Webb’s Safari Print duvet set: perfect for a wild bedtime. From £85, tabithawebb.co.uk
READING Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido. Recommended by a friend, this 1982 novel is wise, funny and sad all at once.
STYLING my winter wardrobe with these Dr Martens boots. The leather gets better with age. £169, drmartens.com/uk