55 minus 44: In 44 days…

Posted: 4 July 2019 in 55 minus, birthday, Deaths
Tags: ,

I’ve never been a fan of astrology.

My friend Mitch Benn has several routines expressing his mostly gentle contempt for it, and I share his contempt, especially the gentle aspect of it; harmless enough on the whole, but granting astrology any serious consideration? No. Just… no. cf homeopathy, numerology and any number of other -ologies.

And despite my ceasing to actively celebrate my birthdays these days, as opposed to acknowledging them, recognising them, well, that – with rare exceptions – went the way of all things several years back.

I’ll admit the ‘rare exceptions’; as long time readers will recall, I celebrated my 50th birthday in 2014 in Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh Festival. A lovely day, full of fun, laughter, and silliness.

Pretty much perfect all around, to be honest.

Oh, I’m not one of the ‘it’s just another day’ crowd. It’s always been amusing to me that the same people who pull out that excuse to explain their ostensible derision for birthdays never seem to object to attending New Year’s Eve parties. And they rarely – if they’ve any sense – publicly say the same – it’s just another day – about their Wedding Anniversary, say.

It’s just that I’m old enough to note the birthday, without being all ‘whoopee!’ about it. Hell, this year, the main, maybe only, effect of it rapidly approaching had been to trigger this countdown.

However, just because I no longer – subject to caveats above – celebrate my birthday, doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of interest in 17th August as a date. And I welcome cards, and well wishes, and even – from very close friends – small gifts.

Just as long as it’s not a bloody facsimile of a newspaper’s front page from the day of my birth.

Now, this was – some years ago – a common gift to people, especially in the days before half a dozen clicks online can show anyone the events that occurred on the day they arrived on this planet…

And that’s the point, of course; that’s what bugs me about the facsimiles every bloody time; the two things in the previous paragraphs are entirely different. As different as they could possibly be.

Because the newspaper on the day of your birth will show the events that happened the day before the day of your birth.

And why would anyone want that? Why would anyone want to know what happened the day before they were born?

A war ended? Lovely, it had already been over for roughly 24 hours by the time you got here. The pop charts that week? You’ve a one in seven chance (all right, it’s not quite as evenly spread as that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are more ‘popular’ days) that they’re inaccurate and they’re the charts for the week before you were born.

Depending upon your birth date, there could be even greater differences. Born on the day of a general election, then the papers could well have the previous Prime Minister or President in office. I genuinely don’t understand why anyone would want that.

Looking back in history though, taking some satisfaction in learning at what’s changed since you were born, that I understand. Looking at the events that occurred on the exact day or your birth, who was born, who died on that day, yeah, that I appreciate is interesting. Even when the events occurred, or they were born, or died, on the same day in a different year.

That I understand.

So let’s do that.

Obviously what follows is a very short version; I’ve included only those that genuinely interest me, for one reason or another.


Being what was once memorably described as a ‘Red Sea Pedestrian’, I wouldn’t be interested in when a Pope began his term other than that next to Pope Urban, which tickles me, Popes named Leo must have been almost irresistible to the local satirists of the day. How the hell they avoided ‘lion’ caricatures is beyond me. Oh, they’d have been killed for the blatant disrespect? Yeah, ok, that would do it.

I have no idea why this hugely amuses me, that it happened on my birthday… but it does, enormously.

I’m mildly curious about the history of Roanocke, about what happened to them. And every time I read a story that even vaguely alludes to it, my interest goes up a notch. I really should research it properly at some point.

I know this first occurred on my birthday, August 17th, but for some reason I’m always sure, absolutely certain, that it happened in the late 1700s. Always a surprise when I [re-]discover that it was as late as 1836.

  • 1896  Bridget Driscoll became the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the United Kingdom

The first of, sadly, so many. Not, however, the first to die as the result of a motor car. That ‘honour’ belongs to Mary Ward, who was thrown from a car in 1869, and fell under the wheels.

Ah, now this one I remember very clearly… watched it live and knew, at that moment, that for the rest of my life, I’d be seeing references to the date whenever a president got involved in a sex scandal, hell, any serious scandal.


Certainly the earliest-in-history person I’ve heard of, and know something about, who was born on 17th August. Plenty of others earlier, but I know bugger all about them. Of course, with Crockett, what I know is almost certainly inaccurate, more legend than fact.

I’ve included Woolley merely because of The Man Who Came To Dinner, one of the very few movies I remember watching with my maternal grandfather… and the pair of us enjoying the experience.

  • 1893 – Mae West, American actress, playwright, and screenwriter (d. 1980)

Ah, how could I not include Ms West… again, a woman whose life was as much myth as truth, and to whom so many quotes are misattributed and misquoted. One of the accurate ones I have always enjoyed though is: She’s the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.

I discovered Watergate when doing my A-Levels (US folks, they’re the exams you take at age 18). I can’t honestly say it was the catalyst for my resulting almost obsessive level of interest in US politics, but I can’t honestly say it’s not. Mark Felt, of course, was Deep Throat, Bob Woodward’s secret informant… his identity was apparently well known long before his death. However, as with all such examples of “everyone knew it”, I’m less than convinced, since so few said it before he died. Some did, but far fewer than the dozens, hundreds, who later claimed they knew… I’m rather pleased for no rational reason that Felt and I shared the same birthday.

  • 1943 – Robert De Niro, American actor, entrepreneur, director, and producer

I’m equally pleased that De Niro and I share 17th August. Again, no reason at all. I just like it a lot. (And not for nothing, I’m very pleased that a new audience have discovered De Nero though his portrayal of Robert Mueller on Saturday Night Live.)

A few years ago, I’d have been equally delight that Humphrys and I also do. Less delighted these days; he should have retired from radio 4’s Today show some years ago. I met Humphrys once, when I did Mastermind. The warm up guy for the show was also named Lee Barnett… Humphrys was very amused.

There are people still wincing at my attempt to once sing Heaven Is A Place On Earth. I’m sorry!

I don’t really know any of them, but they were born on the same day as me, so…


Four people who’ve all had some effect upon my life. My father loved Gershwin’s lyrics; I grew up listening to the songs he wrote with his brother George.

Hess? Well, yeah.

Bill Deedes was the first person in the UK to have been both a cabinet minister and the editor of a major newspaper, but he also supposed to be the addressee of Private Eye’s Dear Bill feature (mock drunken letters from Denis Thatcher).

And Yvonne Craig was Batgirl. No more need be said.

Something very different, tomorrow. See you then.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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