I’ve finally reached the age where a birthday seems to bring more tears of sadness than joy. Whilst I’m not quite at full blown sobbing (or fibbing while filling in forms), as I desperately try to cling onto my (long gone) youth, there is a kind of rheumy-eyed nostalgia that comes with ticking off each annual milestone in the passing of time.
It’s not so much being old I find difficult (save for that bit of gyp in my right hip and the creaking if I stand up too suddenly), as, in many ways my life has become immeasurable enriched as more candles are added to every cake. It’s more the remembrance of things past I find hard sometimes. So, like Proust and his madeleines, on my most recent birthday I sought out some of the things I remembered fondly from birthdays when growing up. While of course accompanied by the irrepressible Ewing, the person with whom I hope to share many more birthdays with.
Although sometimes I’m not quite sure she feels the same – especially after she had the luck to be the designated driver on a two hour car drive to the Tiny Rebel Brewery in Rogerstone, the first stop on the birthday tour, while listening to my wailing along to my carefully curated playlist of birthday songs. Although, this wasn’t too different to most car rides in our household in all honesty.
Being a co-pilot meant I could have my pick of silly ABV birthday beers and I started with But Did You Die?, a NEIPA at a, not too ridiculous, 6.1% per cent. It made the perfect start to the day, a wonderfully smooth, fruity pint of murk that bought to mind ‘hop yoghurt’ and ‘juicy banger’ and all those wonderfully descriptive, slightly irritating, ‘craft’ epithets on Instagram, and looked like the kind of thing milkman would leave a pint of on your door step in the 80s.
I love chips and gravy and the Ewing loves cheesy chips - although I admit this is a fact only recently discovered, despite being together for over a decade, when she turned up at home after a drunken night out clutching a styrofoam carton full of congealed goo while attempting to ravish me with unwanted drunken attention. Here we were both happy as they came smothered in welsh cheddar and beefy gravy, and they were bloody brilliant.
Less successful were the chicken wings with frambuzi hot sauce. The wings had been cooked perfectly and they had a good wallop of chilli heat, but I prefer a thick, sticky sauce that coats your face and fingers - and very often other random body parts as you eat them, and these were a little dry. It didn't stop the Ewing taking hers down with the precision of a serial killer. I've taken to sleeping with one eye open...
The Ewing is a fantastic baker but, as I remind her annually, she has only ever made me one birthday cake, on my first birthday we spent together. I let her off this year as they had a fabulous white chocolate cake on the bar, which went perfectly with a half a of their imperial chocolate Stay Puft marshmallow stout.
When I was growing up my birthday meal of choice was always rump steak, mushrooms, peas and chips. The height of sophistication for a 12 year old. In many ways I seem to have regressed as time has gone on and this year I was more than happy with the prospect of a burger at Meat and grill in Newport.
Of course there was Tiny Rebel beer - this time a can of Cwtch, their red ale - while the Ewing went into full party mode with a coke float. I'm usually too obsessed by my dinner to notice much else when I'm eating, but the two young girls holding hands on a date on the table next to us made me very happy, and nostalgic at the same time, remembering my furtive first dates as a teenager and how far things have come, even since those days.
Love was in the air, and I was certainly seduced by my burger featuring triple patties, triple cheese and half a dozen rashers of streaky bacon. While it sounds jaw-unhingingly monstrous, it was surprisingly understated and rather good. The Ewing made light work of her Asian special with sweet chilli slaw, sriratcha mayo and hoisin ketchup and rated the chips in the Maccy D's tier. High praise indeed. The slaw, chopped into fine chunks and not strands, was also excellent.
En route home we called into the Newport outpost of Tiny Rebel for a nightcap. And what better than a pint of Stay Puft mixed with a half of Lervig's 3 Bean, a huge 13 per center of a stout made with tonka, vanilla and cocoa beans. The standard advice might be don't mix your drinks, but sometimes you have to live a little, and anything that increases the chance of a birthday lick from the Ewing is alright with me.
Of course, this was a decision I regretted slightly more in the cold light of day. Luckily we made it to Newport's indoor market and picked up some beef sausages - infused with Tiny Rebel's Dirty Stop Out smoked ale - for breakfast. I may have been a year older (and felt it too) but with a sausage sarnie and cup of tea in hand, the only tears I was crying were of joy.