How it feels to spend your birthday in lockdown

As Boris Johnson announces tough new measures, one writer reveals what it's like to have your birthday during a lockdown

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The Telegraph's Aisling O'Leary on her birthday

Birthdays don’t just stop during an apocalypse. If anything, they present an even greater challenge: how does one celebrate when everyone you know (yourself included) is essentially chained to their houses? There is something rather Charlie and the Chocolate Factory about it, with just you, the nuclear family (or flatmates in my case), the same four walls and limited resources. Such was my optimism that I had booked the day off work two months in advance, only ultimately, it seems, to spend it in isolation. Friends, family and colleagues were equally flummoxed by the impending celebration: what the hell was I going to do? 

To some, having my birthday during the coronavirus represented a kind of travesty. Yet as the day loomed large, I was weirdly grateful for the timing. When discussing the dos and don’ts of flat-sharing with my flatmates, it was high on the list of things to discuss as ‘fun things to do’. it provided a positive fun distraction for us all, especially for my flatmates (think a homemade triple layered pistachio, almond and blackberry birthday cake). 

But it was obvious, dear reader, that I would have to spend the day on my lonesome. I'm terrible with decision making anyway so at least the limited options reduced stress on that front. I pondered. I don’t live in a building that centres around a courtyard so I couldn't call on people to serenade me like in Italy. Doing a quick Google, I found Jaycee in Texas was delighted with just a can of Lysol and a Barbie but granted, she’s five years old. Putting the question out on Twitter, my options included ordering myself various goodies online (with the caveat that they would very likely arrive the month after my birthday, if I was lucky) or drinks’n’Skype. 

I then thought of a solo walk around Hampstead Heath. It’s not too far from home and always cheers me up. A nice way to be outdoors while being socially distant. Crucial to stay mentally healthy during these strange, strange times. But then my flatmate offered me the use of her bicycle and if Charlie taught us anything, it’s that you’re grateful for the smallest things, be it a bar of chocolate, or in my case, a bike ride.

To put my birthday in context, it happened last Friday. At that point, we had been advised to stop non-essential contact with others and to put a halt to all unnecessary travel. Pubs, clubs, cinemas and theatres closed, with some cafes and restaurants open for takeaway only. We could see people, it seemed, just as long as there was at least a metre between yourself and the other person (although opinion on this varies). This has now accelerated to a complete and utter lockdown.

So you are just going to have to adapt with the times. And on that note, let’s take a step back and reflect on the elements that make up a birthday party. 

A party is a gathering of people who have been invited by a host for the purposes of socializing, conversation, recreation, or as part of a festival or other commemoration of a special occasion

Parties in person? So two weeks ago. We’re embracing all things virtual and to that end, I downloaded the app House Party. It’s similar to other group video services like Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts, but I downloaded this app purely for the name alone. We all need as much party in our lives as we can get. I dialled in my parents  to sing me happy birthday from a safe distance. But before any of that could take place, a shower is a must. It would do your parents a world of good to not see the creature you have become since WFH became de rigeur. 

A party will typically feature food and beverages, and often music and dancing or other forms of entertainment 

Sometimes, especially now, food seems like my only friend. And, as we all know, it was Charlie’s saviour. It’s always there for me, granted if I stock up well in advance. As in, back in January. So, obviously food would take pride of place. Did I fail to mention a triple layered pistachio, blackberry and almond cake? 

Have flatmates sing you Happy Birthday. You on one side of the table, them standing a metre from the other side

Blow out a plate of tealights instead of candles on a cake because you can’t have your spittle landing on the icing. What if you have a trace of Covid-19? There’s only so far a birthday girl can push it.

Go to the cinema, theatre, or check out the latest art exhibitions 

Just, you know, virtually.

In many Western countries, parties for teens and adults are associated with drinking alcohol such as beer, wine, or distilled spirits

I don’t think we need to dig too deep here. The biggest question on everyone’s lips now, post-lockdown briefing, is whether wine shops are essential shops. It’s still rather unclear.

Get dressed up!

The theme? Blitz spirit

While you won’t have the birthday you envisioned back in January, I can guarantee you a birthday to remember. Just be sure to spend 20 minutes disinfecting after that bike ride when you get home.