The Silver Jubilee Cracker Cremation

It’s  here!  Without much in the way of fanfare, it’s finally arrived.  Rejoice!  Let the band strike up and brace yourself for the kind of tickertape parade that’ll look like your local Officeworks just exploded.  With year of our Lord 2022 now upon us, embedded and moving like the clappers, we can now celebrate one of the most significant anniversaries within living memory or otherwise.  

I, for one, can barely contain myself.  Granted, containing myself is an odd task; one I usually perform by wrapping  myself in sticky tape, but it’s no use – such is the extent of my excitement that I’m oozing out all over the place. Put simply, I am totally pumped.  So much so that my buttons are in danger of bursting off my shirt, such is the strain.  I’ve been waiting for this moment, it feels, forever and I am giddy at the fact of it finally being here.  I speak, of course, of my father’s cheese crackers.

If that sounds underwhelming; these, it must be said, are no ordinary cheese crackers.  I know how it goes for most people – they buy savoury biscuits and then, at some point, they eat them.  Not my father.  He was more taken with the tin rather than the contents and proudly put it on display, above the kitchen bench on a shelf.  Without fear of exaggeration, it’s quite the bit of packaging; with a Renaissance-era painting of a damsel in flowing robes.  Which is quite the statement for a biscuit.  You don’t get that with an Iced Vo Vo.

I’m sure it’s not just my father who puts these kinds of things on the kitchen bench for all and sundry to admire.  I guess others might have had a similarly visceral response to a biscuit tin if it was to a particular standard.  They too might have put it on display to impress visitors.  However, most people would have done something to account for the contents of the tin.  That is, they would probably have emptied it.  Not my father – he’s made of sterner stuff.  He’s left the tin unopened.

Leaving the contents of a biscuit tin in an unconsumed state is something you can get away with for a time.  But not for decades. That biscuit tin has now been occupying pride of place in my father’s kitchen since the 1990s.  More than a mere receptacle for long-expired biscuits, the tin is now something of a time capsule.  

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the tin is so much more than just a decorative biscuit container – it’s a tomb for some long-expired cheese crackers.  This savoury sarcophagus has remained unopened, now, for more than a quarter of a century.  2022 isn’t just another year.  It is, in fact, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the use-by date.

It’s printed on the seal: 30 June 1997.  That’s the date by which the biscuits were supposed to be consumed.  It has to be said that my father has a history of treating use-by dates, at best, as a loose advisory and, at worst, with breath-taking contempt.  It seems that for some people, pushing the envelope is a matter of gently positioning a piece of stationary. For my father, however, he is pushing that envelope right off the nearest cliff.  

Exceeding the use by date by a quarter of a century is no small feat (although, ironically, my father has quite small feet, but that’s another story).  It’s the silver jubilee.  The only question is how best to celebrate it: commemorative coin or stamp?  I, for one, look forward to receiving a letter through the post that has a picture of a cheese cracker biscuit tin as postage on the front.

The one thing we can’t do with the tin, however, is open it.  Who knows what kind of foul smelling remnants are rotting behind the tin façade?  For all I know, the pressure of the decaying matter has resulted in some kind of vacuum, and breaking the seal will cause some type of large-scale explosion that won’t so much rattle the cutlery as it will be seen from space.

Maybe it’ll be like that scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, where the Nazis prise open the Ark of the Covenant (which, if you think about it, would make quite the biscuit tin), letting slip a host of evil spirits that wreak a merciless vengeance on all who dare gaze upon them.  You never know.

If that sounds like a lot to expect from a biscuit, then I can only say you clearly managed to avoid eating one of the revamped Barbecue Shapes before they quickly returned to the original recipe.  (People are willing to accept the notion of ‘chicken in a biscuit’.  Those things were evil in a biscuit.)  The taste was so bad that, after eating one, I didn’t know whether to rinse my mouth out or call a priest.

In the end, I suspect the big day will come and go without any real fanfare.  The fate of the cheese crackers was, much like the tin they’re in, sealed long ago.  I dare say that they’ll be there in another twenty-five years and, frankly, may outlive us all. Maybe I’ll send it a card. Or a gift.  It’ll be cheese, most likely.  In truth, I’m not sure if my father ever thought of emptying the tin and never got around to it or simply forgot it was there. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Sometimes things just turn out that way.  After all, that’s the way the cookie, or cracker, crumbles.

Testing Times: A Millstone for a Milestone

Milestone birthdays are really something.  People truly go out of their way to wish you the best. It’s delightful.  Having just gone through a pretty major birthday, I was thrilled to hear from people both near and far.  I even got a card from my local Member of Parliament. Sweet.  This week, however, I received a letter from the Nation’s Chief Health Officer. The words ‘happy birthday’ didn’t appear, but the message was clear: Congratulations! You’re now in an age bracket in which you’ll be pushed, prodded and generally put under the microscope.  Good grief.

The letter was to forewarn me. It told me, in simple and emotionally detached terms, I could expect to receive a bowel cancer screening kit through the mail.  It says something that they don’t just send you the kit; that they feel the need to tell you it’s coming rather than have it lob up on your doorstep unannounced along with the ‘Goonies’ t-shirt you ordered on ‘RedBubble’.  What it’s really saying is this: brace yourself.  I am now officially on notice.

The first thing I’ll do is express my disappointment that the Chief Health Officer communicated to me by letter, rather than by birthday card.  Personally, I’d love to receive a card that said, ‘Happy birthday!  Consider this testing kit a small gift from me to you!’   Or if, on balance, it was felt that a birthday card was too trivial a vessel for a message of such profound importance, then maybe something a little more personal.  Like a Gorilla Gram. 

There are some people who think that a Gorilla Gram could work to trivialize what is an extremely important and potentially life-saving message.  Those people, however, fail to appreciate the work that goes into delivering a really good Gorilla Gram.  It’s not just about strapping on a gorilla suit and spouting any old rubbish.  These people are masters of their craft and can be trusted to deliver sensitive information, albeit in gorilla form.  If the letter was intended to soften the blow, surely the distraction of a counterfeit primate would lighten the shock to the point that the recipient may fail to comprehend it altogether.

I get it.  The message is too serious for a Gorilla Gram, but not serious enough to warrant a home visit.  Rather, it’s somewhere in that awkward in-between space. Were it not for the subject matter, I’d say that the issue falls between two stools.  

This puts me in an invidious position.  One in which I am now awaiting the arrival of said testing kit.  I’m not sure what to expect.  A series of test tubes, a Bunsen burner and a microscope?  Maybe the kind of set up that comes with Walter White’s seal of approval (with a picture of Walt on the box giving a ‘thumbs up’)? I hope so.  Or a test that involves a series of equations and a sixty-minute time limit, complete with a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to the use of calculators?  I was never that great under pressure.  

I’m not afraid to say it – if the test arrives by truck, I may panic.  Not to put it too highly but if I hear the ‘reverse’ beeper and peek out through the blinds to see someone lowering a tray at the rear of a semi trailer, I could well scarper out the back door and over the neighbour’s fence.  Similarly, if the test is delivered by someone wearing a Hazmat suit, it’s possible that I may refuse to open the door altogether.

When it does turn up, I’ll need to get it out of the envelope / box / metal container stamped with the word ‘biohazard’, in which it arrived before use.  It begs the question whether the test itself will be suitably gift-wrapped.  I think that would be appropriate.  It is, after all, a birthday present of a kind.  

This is not the first time I’ve had an age-related birthday shock.  Immediately following an earlier milestone birthday, the professional association I belonged to wrote to both congratulate me advise that I had been removed from the list of ‘young practitioners’.  I was outraged.  Demanding that I restored to the list, I remain there to this day.  On this occasion, however, there’s no putting it off.

The thing I’m most concerned about is the fact that there will be instructions.  I am hopeless at following directions – a fact that has seen me banned for life from IKEA stores worldwide.  Who knows what kind of instructions they’ll be? Super-wordy instructions that try and tell a story?  Or ones that uses pictures and, if we’re being honest, leave a lot to the imagination?  Instructions and I have a somewhat difficult history.  There’s a very real risk that I’ll get it wrong.  Potentially resulting in even more correspondence from the Chief Health Officer.

Let me say this – to live in an age where you get a test through the mail that may well save your life is an amazing, glorious thing.  Will I take my test when it comes?  You bet I will.  I won’t go so far as to say that I’ll make a day of it, but I’m grateful that these programs exist.  Perhaps it’s the sense of anticipation that I’m struggling with.  Or the fact that it’s a tangible reminder of how things change as you get older.  Happy birthday to me.

The Middle Age of Reason

Once more, the dance begins.  It’s the one that occurs annually between my brother and I when our birthdays roll around.  You see there’s just under a year between us which means that, for a short time, we’re the same age.  It’s been that way since we were kids and I see no prospect of it changing any time soon.  So it is that my brother has now, once more, caught up to me.  

The meaning, however, of this temporary state of equilibrium has changed over time.  Suffice to say, it used to be an opportunity for my brother to claim that he was no longer my younger brother.  Now, however, the tables, chairs and possibly the curtains have turned.  This overlap now definitely works to my advantage.

I can still hear him – a broad grin wrapped around his face telling me that I was no longer ‘the boss’ of him.  Upon hearing this, I was always somewhat conflicted. Firstly, I was unaware that I had been ‘the boss’ of my younger brother.  Had I known, it’s fair to say I would have taken full advantage of the awesome power and responsibility it brings.  Secondly, there was the small matter of mathematics.  

Foolishly, I would try to explain that I was still older by several hundred days and that this would never change.  He was immune to my attempts to reason.  In retrospect, that was part of the fun – he knew that refusing to concede would drive me crazy.  Which it duly did.

But things are different now.  Whereas once, being the same age was seen by my brother as something to celebrate, middle age has seen a recalibration of sorts.  The intersection of our Venn diagram is now seen by my brother as something to fear.  Rather than have him lord it over me, it is now I who lords it over him.  Somewhat callously, I now repeat to him the same thing he used to say to me – ‘we’re the same age’. Somewhat gratuitously, I have then added the word ‘sucker’.

Denial is not only a river in Egypt but a powerful force that lurks in all of us.  My brother has been insisting that he is still ‘mid-forties’ even though he’s much closer to fifty.  It’s obviously a point of some sensitivity.  As an older brother (for all but four days a year), it is my duty to exploit this mercilessly.  I do this using a variety of techniques. 

Each year, I make a calendar full of family photos. On my brother’s birthday, there’s a picture of him, under which I posted the caption ‘late forties’.  It sat on the wall at my father’s house all year.  Only last week, I sent him a picture of it.  As soon as lockdown was lifted, he was straight over there with a big, black texta, crossing out ‘late’ and scrawling ‘mid’ over the top.  It was an act that reeked of desperation and texta (so aromatic!).

Earlier this week, I sent him a gift.  I included an inscription that simply said ‘happy fiftieth birthday’.  It is, so I will claim, a matter of rounding up.  He later sent a photo of himself holding the card, pointing towards the message with a look of consternation on his face.  The message accompanying it declared with the force of multiple exclamation points, ‘mid forties!!!!’

But if it’s my brother’s birthday, it means that very soon I have a birthday of my own to contend with.  Sadly, for me, there’s no way I can use the term ‘mid-forties’ and keep a straight, albeit slightly creased, face.  It’s a big one, and there’s no getting around it. ‘Fifty’ sounds so gargantuan, but it is what it is.  To prepare, I did some research.  When I was younger, ‘research’ was something you did at a library. Now it’s something you ‘Google’. The results were both perplexing and concerning.

I typed in ‘fifty is the new…’ hoping to get a much younger virtual age for myself.  The first thing that came up was a question: ‘is fifty the new thirty?’ Excitedly, I clicked on the link expecting to be showered with life affirming declarations of positivity only to find a single word – ‘no’.  The search also coughed up other helpful titles such as ‘how to survive turning fifty’ which makes it sound too much like a near-run thing.  There were variations on the theme including ‘fifty is the new forty’ and, perhaps with my brother in mind, ‘fifty is the new mid-forties’.

I’ve never much been a fan of my birthday.  I have, however, been lucky to have a brother whose birthday was right next to mine, meaning that I never really had to go through all the fuss on my own.  Fifty, it seems, is the new fifty.  It means that all those people I went to school with are reaching the same point.  It’s impossible not to think of all those mullets and perms and to wonder what became of their owners.  It seems like both forever ago and only yesterday.

Tonight, I’ll see my brother.  He’ll use the term ‘mid-forties’ more often than can be considered reasonable in the circumstances.  It will be a joyous occasion all the same.  Not least for the fact that we can see each other in person. And even if my brother is currently growing a beard that screams ‘Santa-in-training’, when he uses the term ‘mid-forties’ I won’t say a thing.  Other than, of course, ‘happy birthday Cameron.’