I remember, years ago, having a conversation with one of my best friends about whether birthdays or Christmas were better. I preferred my birthday – a random day just for you, where you can do what you want – while she preferred Christmas, where there is less attention focussed on you and more general fuzzy happy times.
For the last few years, however, I have become less and less fond of birthdays. Not because I am worried about getting older (though no longer being able to tick the 18-24 bracket is a bit of a shock), but because more than ever I shun the pressure to have fun, making the decisions because it’s your birthday and you have to have the most fun.
Luckily, I have a wonderful boyfriend who knows all of the above, and knows what I want better than I do.
Celebrations started the evening before, when Ben’s mum called to say she had sent him some money to take me out to dinner. Ben suggested checking out Santa Maria in Ealing, which is down the road from the studio and which comes with enthusiastic recommendations from my client. Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry by the time I left work so we decided to wander home and order Village Pizza to the house. It’s so funny; because we normally order on a Friday night, I felt like it was the beginning of the weekend even though it was a Tuesday night! I ordered a Margherita Plus which comes with four toppings of your choice, and I picked mushrooms, artichoke, sundried tomatoes and olives. I love how generous they are with their toppings!
The next day I surprised myself by waking up earlier than I usually would on a day off – I guess someone was a bit excited about her birthday! It was great to feel like I had a whole day ahead of me to enjoy at my leisure. Ben made me tea and brought me the cards I had received as well as the present my parents had entrusted to him on their visit a few weeks ago, then mysteriously scooted out to town to pick something up, while I replied to birthday messages, thanked friends and family, and Instagrammed my birthday cards.
Ben returned with a giant green smoothie from Nature’s Goodness (banana, apple, pear, spinach, and kale) and banished me to our room while he “set things up”, hence the even worse than normal lighting in the photo. I was led out with my eyes shut minutes later, and opened them to find the prettiest vanilla birthday cake on the coffee table, glowing with candles! There were only 18 candles, which is totally fine by me.
I photographed it until Ben pointed out that wax was starting to drip onto the cake, then blew out my candles – I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake with candles! Ben ordered it from Sweet Revenge in Kingston but they could only make their vanilla cake vegan (if you’re not local or don’t want vanilla cake, check out Vegan Cake Direct which is where I got Ben’s birthday cake from – they were able to make it on super short notice and deliver it to the house). It was delicious and kept really well, and I ate my fill of cake for the rest of the week despite giving a chunk of it to my friends when I met them on Saturday (after all, normally you would have cake at a party, and share it with everyone!).
We did, of course, have cake for breakfast and lazed around planning our day before scrubbing up clean and layering up sensibly for the wet but mild autumn day.
After toying with a lot of ideas (lunch? brunch? a museum? a gallery?) I noticed that I didn’t have any casual shoes apart from my Converse and I have wanted something a little more different and unquestionably vegan for a while. Basically, I wanted Macbeths and I quite fancied checking out the range at Third Estate in Kentish Town.
You know when you go to a shoe shop and the staff are all hovering over you while you try your shoes on and do the awkward “shoe shop walk” and sheepishly try to check yourself out from all angles in the mirror and imagine what the shoes would look like in different outfits? This was nothing like that.
For perhaps the first time, I felt comfortable taking my time, trying different things on, wandering around, and chatting to the member of staff. In the end, I bought myself a pair of luxuriously fur-lined high-top Macbeth Londons… which are listed as men’s shoes on Amazon but they fit, and they are comfortable, waterproof, and super warm and cosy.
I desperately wanted one of the Matt & Nat purses on sale, partly because they are beautiful and vegan, and partly because the zip on my wallet broke about a year ago (or maybe more) and there have been numerous incidents involving all of its contents ending up all over the floor of various public places. I fell in love with the Vera in a faded brick red, which ticked all of the boxes of what I was looking for in a wallet, but Ben bought it for me knowing I would never end up buying it for myself after having bought the shoes. I also love the Schlepp bag in Elephant, but I absolutely don’t love the idea of paying nearly £100 for a bag!
Now, places to eat are hardly scarce in Camden. But somewhere pleasant to sit, that isn’t a rip-off, serving hearty and honest food is actually surprisingly hard to find. We inspected Inspiral but didn’t feel overly inspired (pun not actually intended), so we wandered all the way through Camden, checked out the markets and some Mexican place, questioned what it was that we actually wanted, then ended back in Inspiral where, for once, there were actually tables and seats available.
I can’t remember the last time I ordered a burger, but I was totally in the mood for one and the member of staff I spoke to recommended it. Boy am I glad I went with it! The patty was surprisingly dense and moist thanks to the sunflower seeds if I remember correctly, just the right level of salt, with a good slathering of vegan mayo over a fluffy and tasty bun. Every mouthful excited me.
Poor Ben, who was actually the hungrier one out of the two of us, had ordered the Thai cakes which cost the same amount as my burger and were listed as a main dish, but turned out to be two tiny little falafel-sized patties which together were smaller than my burger patty, and sat miserably on a plate with no relish or garnish. It just about broke my heart.
In the background of my photo you can see the bowl of wedges he had also ordered, which looked incredible but were vaguely reminiscent of chunks of slightly moistened cardboard. So once again, a mixed Inspiral experience… I am running out of reasons to ever set foot in Camden again!
Not feeling particularly comfortable hanging out much longer in Inspiral, we wandered off towards Victoria to pick up our theatre tickets. Typically an area poor in interesting eateries, I was surprised to find a Pain Quotidien just opposite the theatre, so it was an obvious choice for a drink and a snack whilst waiting to take our seats. I was totally stuffed from my day’s eating already, but Ben talked me into a vegan blueberry muffin. That arm totally required oh so much twisting.
A pot of jasmine tea (and said muffin) later, we took our seats 5 rows from the stage of Wicked and I hurriedly finished off my phone communications to sit back and relax. After the first segments of the show, which were what I would imagine a Glee takeover of the Harry Potter movies would look like, I relaxed into it and thoroughly enjoyed the show. As always, I left proclaiming that I would go to the theatre more often.
And that was that! We got ourselves home – I must have had another piece of birthday cake and probably some tea – and flaked out in bed surprisingly tired but super super happy. I can’t thank Ben enough for such a wonderful day, and I am so grateful to everyone who remembered and sent me such thoughtful and sweet messages on the day. I am already looking forward to next year’s birthday!