Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ask not for whom the cake is baked; it is baked for thee

In my office, as in thousands of others across London, the birthdays of colleagues are marked by them buying cakes for the rest of us.

The normal format is an email comes out along the lines of "It is my birthday today- boo hoo another year has passed- there are cakes in the kitchen/at "Sharon's" desk- better get there quick before Kevin eats them all- ho ho".

A couple of these emails recently caused me to think about my own expiring years. First a reaction to an email that warned me that not only I'm getting older but also I'm turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge ! An email came out last week from a guy about his birthday and cakes. Before I knew it, the email had disappeared. All I knew was it was from someone in another team I didn't really know but as a reflex reaction I had deleted it. I then realised that even if I wanted to, I couldn't get a cake and I couldn't wish him a happy birthday as I had destroyed the record of whose birthday it was (very efficiently by emptying my "trash bin" too). Both were unlikely to have happened on a busy day in the office but what was alarming was I had internalised a kind of SPAM filter in my brain. I didn't know this guy, it was just another birthday so without pausing for conscious thought his email was binned. Well, call me Ebeneezer !

The second event was a simpler message but more stark- I am getting old. Not all at once but slowly and irreversibly. An email came out from this secretary who works near me. I thought she was quite young but was briefly shocked when I read she had just celebrated her 18th birthday. 18th ? When it was my 18th, she was 5. No one had heard of Al quaida. John Major was Prime Minister of the UK and Tony Blair hadn't yet become Labour leader. Princess Diana was still alive and even officially married to Prince Charles. Now I realise that wasn't a lifetime ago but a lot has changed in 12 or 13 years and those that were once 5 year olds now handle the phone calls and admin in my office. I am still quite young, relative to the general population of the UK but already there's a whole generation younger than me who have their own identity. Scary- time is going fast.

Lastly at the other end of the spectrum the 90th anniversary of the Somme battle in July was marked by a ceremony attended by WW1 veteran Henry Allingham, aged 110. He appeared on TV at the ceremony in summer heat of the French countryside. Now, there's somebody who has had to handle the emergence of quite a few new generations underneath him. Now he's the only one of his generation left. What would it be like to live so long that every one of your friends died from either old age or other causes ? To be the final survivor of a generation ?

That train you took this morning contained several hundred people. At one point no one who was on that train was born and at another point no one will be left alive. Henry Allingham is the last passenger on his train. He was a soldier at a time when Britian still had an empire and Russia still had a Czar. He lived from that time all the way to the present day.

Henry Allingham has seen generations come and go and still himself remain, for now at least. Yet the cakes keep coming faster; so fast already that I delete their announcements without thinking. But I suppose I should be thankful that there are cakes. Even the cakes will stop one day. In the meantime we all live with the fact we are getting older- ask not for whom the cake is baked; it is baked for thee !

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very philosophical passage! I hope you are not completely dedushka yet:-))

Sometimes I do not see the huge difference in maturity between 18 and 30 something, just may be the factual knowledge. Sometimes yes it is quite substantial.