Stories From a Thai Birthday

Are you documenting your birthday?

One tequila.

Two tequila.

Three tequila.


That’s how the saying goes, right? But what happens at ten tequilas?

Well, to tell you that story, I’ll take you across land and oceans, through a handful of hot, sticky minibus journeys. A cramped and dodgy boat trip, plus an overnight stay in a ferry terminal. Then a hop skip and a jump to Koh Phi Phi, a small Thai island. The year? 2009. The month? A humid and monsoon-ridden August. Right to the best birthday I never had.

Are you documenting your birthdays?

Last month I turned 32. It made me feel nostalgic for past birthdays. Crazy birthdays. Nights out with friends, meals with family, and just generally any occasion where there were more than five people in a room!

So many of us have had and will have, lockdown birthdays this year and yeah, they do look a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great birthday, but it’s got nothing on that best birthday I never had. It was the year I turned 21.

The best birthday I will ever have was a fake

For some crazy reason, which I’ve long forgotten, I decided I wanted to have my 21st birthday a month early. Most likely because I was in Thailand for the summer. And what better way to celebrate your 21st birthday than with pals and a few Thai buckets? Even then, it felt like one of those once in a lifetime things, you know?

The friends I was travelling with humoured me, they were always keen for a good night out. We’d also met two Scottish girls on the boat ride over. Their laughter and easy way meant they didn’t blink twice at the idea of a night out for a fake birthday. The plans were set in motion. An almighty celebration for my fake 21st.

1 tequila.

I expected a few drinks and a laugh, but what I didn’t expect was the kindness and lightness of travelling friends. People who I’d only just met embraced the fun of a fake birthday and wanted to spend time with a fellow traveller just for fun and friendship. No strings attached. I will forever be blown away by the kindness of strangers.

2 tequila.

My ‘birthday’ started with a wonderful meal out. I was presented with birthday cards and presents. The most treasured of which was a birthday sash. Which I still cherish to this day. Handmade and hand-painted with bright neon paint. It was stitched together from an old t-shirt, or a precious dress sacrificed for the cause, taken from the small supply of travelling clothes. Carefully sewn back together and still as colourful as the day it was made.

Are you documenting your birthday?

3 tequila.

And then the birthday cake! That’s what took my breath away. Can you imagine? On a small Thai island, I was presented with a chocolate-covered hand-iced birthday cake. I closed my eyes, made a wish and blew out the candles as the sound of happy birthday filled the air. They don’t really do cakes in Thailand, it’s not like ‘popping to Morrisons’. This took thought and planning. It wasn’t even my actual birthday! I felt so special, so loved.

Then the party really started.

4 tequila.

My sash was adorned, and we hit the bars. Bar after bar, after bar. It turns out my new Scottish friends could drink. No sooner we walked through a bar door:

“it’s her birthday,” they shouted.

The response: “Free shots for all.”

I don’t even know if this happens any more. But we had more free tequila than you can add lemon and salt too.  

5 tequila.

Then the party really started.

6 tequila.

Safe, happy and so loved by friends who wanted nothing more than to make my fake birthday the best it could possibly be, just because I asked. How lucky am I to have friends like that? My hope is I can be a friend like that too. A ride or die. I hope, not just for birthdays, but on blue letter days, on down weeks and on a difficult Wednesday. I hope I can be the friend that someone would be thankful for. Whilst I don’t always it get right, I’m trying. But the secret? Sometimes you’ve got to ask for what you want. You’ll know by the answer if you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people.

… 7, 8, 9 and…

Are you documenting your birthday?

Here’s to friends that carry you home after drinking too much tequila.

10 tequila.

Have you ever had a birthday that felt so perfect and magical, you just knew you’d never have another one better? I reckon I peaked at 21.

What about a birthday that ended in disaster? Or have you had a birthday where you felt really special? Or have you got a story about making someone else’s birthday great?

Celebrating ‘almost turning 21’ all those years ago was most definitely one of the best birthdays I’ll ever have, and I’m not even sad that I might have had my best birthday already. As birthdays go, it was one where I felt loved and happy (if not slightly hungover).

How Do You Document Your Birthdays?

Birthdays are red-letter days for sure. Are you writing them down? Are you savouring that special highlight that appears in the calendar only once a year? It is after all the one day of the year that the world should stop and celebrate you. Documenting your life by saving the memories for your one special day each year is a great way to start saving stories.

1.     List all the birthdays you can remember. Can you remember any details? Can you expand the list you’ve written and turn of the dates into a story?

2.     Speak with family members, ask them what they did to celebrate your very first birthday? What stories do they remember? Did you once get a present you always wanted? Did you ever have a birthday that ended in disaster?

3.     Why not start a birthday diary? Add a picture and a short story for every birthday from now on.

Turning 32 hasn’t been too bad either, after getting ID’s in Tesco (don’t worry, I wasn’t buying tequila) there is hope yet. In truth, I always know the best is yet to come and whilst these are the good days. I know by surrounding myself with people who want to tell stories with their life, then the future birthdays, real or fake, will also be equally story-worthy.


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