Food & Drink Birthdays are a time for feasting – but at...

Birthdays are a time for feasting – but at 37 I just want a Colin the Caterpillar cake

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Most childhood birthday memories have to do with pizza, Pizza Express in particular. We hardly need national service when so many British children have shared the well-meaning chaos of a make-your-own-pizza party. There is a reason good pizza chefs are hard to come by, and there are few of them in Year 3. There were also those toy trains McDonald’s used to have for children to sit in side by side, phased out as part of Ronald’s campaign to replace his entire workforce with enormous touch screens. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry might have said, love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in eating a Happy Meal facing the same direction.

Birthday meals become ways to signify adult tastes. When you are younger, you demonstrate you can sit still, make polite conversation and be served a cake without destroying the premises. I had my 18th at Pizza Express: we played at being grown-ups, complete with bottles of Peroni Nastro Azzurro, brandished proudly alongside the dough balls. In adulthood, birthdays often prove the difference between work and family life. You can tell your friends and family what you would like and, if they’re fond of you, they’ll usually comply; your colleagues will buy you a Colin the Caterpillar regardless of your wishes.

Along the way, as the date comes round again, I’ve succumbed to fancier plans, booked ambitious tasting menus or had them booked for me. More social signalling. What does it prove? This year we are just having an old-fashioned party. There are no grand culinary plans. As Nicky Haslam says, nothing is better than a sausage on a stick. And at 84, he knows plenty about birthdays. I hope nobody goes to the trouble of whittling a shark; I will be pathetically grateful for a Colin. I think it signifies that I might be approaching middle age.

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