When birthdays go bad

Someone will always go bigger, says Steve McDonald

Last word, The Knowledge

Given that there are some seven billion people in world, a few of them probably share the same birthday. Some of these might even reside in the same city, which is obviously fine so long as they stay well away from one another on the special day in question.

But ever so occasionally, when the moon is in the ninth quadrant, birthday celebrations collide in a manner that rarely strays from embarrassing. And in Dubai, where people do enjoy a bit of showing off now and again, it can be more uncomfortable that anywhere else.

Take the other weekend. For the anniversary of my dear lady partner’s birth, I’d booked a table in a restaurant for about 20 of her chums. She was to come as well, as it would have been weird without her. Now, given that cake had already been eaten during the day and presents had been given, this was simply an occasion to chat and make merry. It was more of a big catch-up than fully-fledged ‘I’m Having A Birthday Extravaganza’. There was no pressure on my shoulders as party planner. At first.

Trouble began brewing mid-way through the main course, when suddenly, out of the blue, the open-shirted leader of the band on stage launched into a rousing Russian-twanged rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.
(And yes, we’d chosen this restaurant with a hint of comedy in mind.) At the same time, a gigantic multi-tiered candle-covered cake appeared on a trolley from the kitchen and 20 pairs of eyes turned to me with a look that suggested I was the world’s greatest boyfriend.

This glow of approval lasted all of two seconds, as the cake was wheeled off towards a delighted-looking woman on the other side of the room. Smiles cracked, eyebrows plummeted and, for a good few minutes, I felt like the man who had broken wind during a funeral.

A few hours later, with plates emptied and a wide array of crooner classics butchered, we were back in high spirits, and our jolly band soon found itself in a rather fancy bar, the sort of place where getting a drink requires sitting through an acrobatic display of glasses and bottles first. Right on cue, as we arrived, one of the most elaborate displays of drink-based tomfoolery sprung into action, with towering pyramids
of glasses and a whole lot of fire. And as this 15-minute pyrotechnics performance came to a rousing climax, out came an iPad with the message ‘Happy Birthday’ in giant scrolling letters.

No. It wasn’t for her. While several members of our group found this second snub highly amusing, it’s fair to say the look of utter disdain on the faces of my significant other’s female friends will remain with me forever.

Aside from having your parties in the food court at Times Square Mall, it’s difficult to know how get round a potential birthday bash clash. When you book a restaurant, is it acceptable to ask whether there are any such parties going on? In any case, next year we might be easing up on the cake eating during the day. And I might accidentally forget to invite any friends.
Steve McDonald is a Dubai-based freelance writer. He hopes this column will not be read close to his birthday.

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