107. Years in arrears
An older car has character.
We are generally paid in arrears but pay our rent in advance. When I got my first London job my bank account remained empty until the end of the month, but I’d had to pay a whole month’s rent when I’d moved into my dodgy Pimlico bedsit the weekend before I started work. I was struggling before I’d even got started.
My boss surprised me during my first week of employment by taking me aside and offering me an advance on my first month’s salary. He was
an arrogant a confident kind of chap, but I knew full well he was embarrassed. ‘So that you can buy some clothes, Rebecca’, he told me. ‘We’re not paying you until the end of the month, and in the meantime I don’t really feel you look the part.’
In my humiliation I declined. Instead I dipped into my meagre savings, bought some more appropriate officewear, and longed for my first payday to arrive.
And just like our wages don’t land in the bank until after we’ve earned them, we don’t get to wear our birthday badge with the new number on it until that year is over.
In East Asian age reckoning1 a baby is considered to be one as soon as he or she is born. On the first day of the next new year they become two, and at each new year – rather than on the anniversary of their date of birth itself – another year is added to their age.
Yet in western culture we celebrate our first birthday at the end of our first year of life. Twelve months have to pass before we can blow out a candle on a cake, and that candle signals the start of our second year!
My next year of life will be the last I spend in my forties, because very soon I will be qualified to wear the badge marked ‘49’. I will have lived for forty-nine years, and my forty-ninth birthday signals something scary.
That’s right: the start of my fiftieth year. And this time next year – when I’m celebrating the accomplishment of fifty years alive – will see me at the start of my sixth decade!
Reader, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to early 1974…
This was what had turned up when I’d input my birthday:
And then, in case I hadn’t yet worked it out for myself:
The website went on to tell me that the number one song in the week of my conception had been ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mudd here in the UK, and ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbra Streisand across the pond.
Yet I much prefer the songs that had been number one on the day I was born. Ken Boothe’s reggae recording of David Gates’ deeply thoughtful tribute to his father, ‘Everything I Own’, had been at the top of the UK charts on my birthday (cards on the table: I much prefer the original, by ‘Bread’), while at the same time in the States Bachmann Turner Overdrive were assuring us all that ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’.
And here’s what was at the top of the film charts when I was conceived:
I’m even less keen on the box office cinema hit at the time of my birth. Disaster movie sequel ‘Airport 1975’ has to my surprise been described as:
…a massive commercial success… the seventh highest-grossing film of 1974 and the year’s third highest-grossing disaster film, behind ‘The Towering Inferno’ and ‘Earthquake’.
Wow, ‘…the year’s third highest-grossing disaster film..’? There’s a top ten for disaster movies in a given year? Man, that’s specific!
After my shock discovery of the Valentine’s connection the penny finally dropped as to why I had shared my birthday with a disproportionate number of other children at my very small school.
In my class of eleven, two of us had early November birthdays, and in the class below me two girls had the same birthday as me.
‘What are the chances?’ the four of us had asked each other in the playground one day. ‘That’s such a massive coincidence!’
If we’d been talking about it in a maths lesson this might have led to some work on probabilities, but I’m grateful that we weren’t. Imagine our maths teacher working out the Valentine’s connection for himself…
I was having a conversation about this with a friend of mine whose birthday is in early September.
‘Don’t!’ she said. ‘I don’t want to think about it!’
She knew first-hand what I was talking about. She told me that she had two much older brothers, and that her own appearance on the family scene had been a surprise: she was her parents’ bonus child.
She rolled her eyes. ‘They’d had too many sherries on Christmas Eve’, she said. ‘The boys were out at a party.’
🎄 ➕ 🥂 ➕ ♥️ 👶
On my twenty-first birthday I was given the keys to my pride and joy: a 1963 Morris Minor4 in dove grey with limited-edition duo-tone interior. Posy – for that was her name – was a joy to look at and even more lovely to drive. I’d learned to drive aged eighteen in a bright yellow Mini City, and Posy – although thankfully with more headroom to accommodate my 6ft frame – offered a very similar driving experience.
At the start and end of every university term Posy and I would tank together up and down the A1M between home on the south coast and the city of York over 250 miles away, stopping several times to fill up with petrol and at least once per one-way trip to top up with oil. My muscle memory developed: my left hand knew to reach for the pull handle in the centre of the dashboard to start the engine, and to pull the switch to manually turn the light on at the rear to signal whenever I was about to select reverse5; my left foot knew precisely where to find the headlight dip switch in the footwell next to the clutch.
Kindness from family, friends and strangers helped me out when in five separate events I got a flat tyre, lost half – only half! – a windscreen wiper, had my front numberplate stolen, had my front passenger window smashed, and once, sliding on ice, caved in my radiator on the towbar of the car in front of me.
Despite all that, Posy did me proud. She pulled up for the last time in 2004, when I was 29. Her plugs still sparked and her bodywork sparkled, but the rusty bones of her chassis could no longer support her.
An overwhelming health event had overtaken me in the early 2000s, and it was thanks to the kindness of many that I had made it onto the hard shoulder to be scooped up by the breakdown truck. Reader, my wheels weren’t turning, and for a long time my life was on hold.
I find it fascinating that whenever somebody asks my age my subconscious brain still leaps ahead of my rational mind to answer the question for me.
‘I’m twenty-six’, I hear myself saying; the age I had been when my engine had juddered to a halt. When I see raised eyebrows6 in response I apologise, laugh, and correct myself.
‘Sorry. I mean, I’m forty-eight.’
And now, as I lurch in grey-haired awe into the first week of my fiftieth year, I feel proud to have come through the previous forty-nine years with my own bodywork only slightly dented.
What happens next, I wonder? Well, I don’t know. But as I continue steering my way down the country lanes of life I’m looking forward to whatever’s around the next corner. And I’ll never forget the kindness of those who have put me back onto the road still facing forwards whenever my wheels have come off.
📚 Reading 📚
📚 I’ve shared this post before, but hey, in a post about birthdays I feel I need to share it again!’s post ‘They say it’s your birthday. It’s my birthday too!’ is an absolutely delightful read about what it means to share a birthday with a loved one, and it resonates with me because my husband (not a twin!) shares a birthday with his sister. Amanda writes .
📚 Given that I’ve
given you too much information waxed lyrical about Valentine’s Day in this post I’m sharing my Valentine’s post with you again here. Yup, I love you. There, I’ve said it.
📚 Regular readers of my 'Letters to Terry’ will already know plenty about my partner in correspondence crime,, but did you know that he has an eclectic newsletter of his own? His latest ‘Start the Week’ post includes a wonderful exploration of two superb second-hand book shops, and you won’t want to miss out on his ingenious series ‘Experiments in style’! Keep your eyes peeled for his latest letter – it’s his turn to write to me on Wednesday!
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Traditional East Asian age reckoning covers a group of related methods for reckoning human ages practiced in the East Asian cultural sphere, characterized by counting inclusively from 1 at birth and increasing at each New Year instead of each birthday. Ages calculated this way are always 1 or 2 years greater than those calculated solely by birthdays. Historical records from China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam have usually been based on these methods, whose specific details have varied over time and by place. South Korea officially stopped using the older system on June 28, 2023. Informal use is still widespread in the Republic and People’s Republic of China, North and South Korea, Singapore, and the overseas Chinese and Korean diasporas.
I blame social media for most things. 🙄
Before my allergy to it became unbearable, I used to spend most of my online life on Facebook. I’m not proud.
The Morris Minor is an economy car produced by British marque Morris Motors between 1948 and 1971. It made its debut at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, in October 1948. Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.6 million were manufactured in three series: the Series MM (1948 to 1953), the Series II (1952 to 1956), and the 1000 series (1956 to 1971).
Initially available as a two-door saloon and tourer (convertible), the range was expanded to include a four-door saloon from September 1950. An estate car with a wooden frame (the Traveller) was produced from October 1953 and panel van and pick-up truck variants from May 1953. It was the first British car to sell over a million units, and is considered a classic example of automotive design, as well as typifying "Englishness".
Although Morris launched a new model with a similar name and a similar market positioning, the Morris Mini in 1959, the Minor remained in production for more than a decade after that, and in early 2020, its 23-year production run was counted as the twenty-eighth most long-lived single generation car in history by Autocar magazine, who called it: "... a primary way Britain got back on the road after the Second World War.
And sometimes I even remembered to turn it off again once I was back to moving forwards.
Because I look nothing like twenty-six, obviously. 🤣