Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Yesterday was my birthday. The less than sparkling festivities were marked by the fact that our house is at the stage of refurbishment where it seems near demolished – a strong shove or a loud sneeze is all that seems needed at the moment to send it crumbling down and we cannot stay there any longer. The day before my big day the plumber had phoned, urgently requiring information regarding one of the toilets to be installed, preferring to have the actual fixture itself so that he could place pipes in the correct manner in a floor that is being concreted. I immediately realized what I would get for my birthday from my family.

Because I did not have any party to arrange or presents to unpack (a toilet requires too much wrapping and the shape is a dead giveaway making it pointless) I used the time to think about birthdays and wonder when they became a day to celebrate. This train of thought took various twists and turns, one of the more interesting ones involving who in the way-old days kept track of time. I can understand Romans doing it, they each probably had a calendar slave to keep the tab, but what about the less domesticated people living off the land somewhere in the woods? Did they count days or even realize there was a system more complex than the seasons or the recurring swings of nature? Did pregnant women count down the days until birth or did they just look down and use how much of their toes they saw to gauge how close the happy event was? I think they did. I certainly would not have counted days and if I had I would have messed it up. Having attempted to count the number of stairs leading down a hill in Sorrento Italy and reaching the bottom with the figure 376 +/- 12, I know for a fact I cannot count with any assurance figures over about 150, which approximately marks the step where I began to become vague as to the previous number. There is no way I would remember to count once every day for 365 days and keep this figure in check, at least not without the aid of the calendar from my mechanic (the lower section) or a computer. I also believe if I were living off the land in some woods there would be more burning things on my mind other than: “Do you know what day it is?”

My daughter is born in 1996 which is a bit of a worry to me as it is so close to the year 2000. Can you imagine how much this will add to her age when she becomes an old woman? I remember finding anyone born in 1800 completely prehistoric when I was a child, while someone born 1901 was old, but not likely to have had dinner in a pyramid following a day of hearding dinosaurs.

When the year 2000 came along there was a big fuss here in the media at the end of 1999 about whether this was the turn of the millennium or if the following New Years eve 2000/2001 wasn’t the proper big night. At first it seemed ridiculous until one realized that the Gregorian calendar which bases itself on the birth of Jesus allotted the year of his birth Year 1, not Year 0. Maybe the pope or his advisors thought zero to be a lackluster number to mark this occasion but still – there was only under a week to go until it became Year 1. The system I prefer (Jesus born in the year 0) is much more elegant and it would also have been really useful for him as he would not have had to do much calculating when being asked how old he was. “I will be twenty five in December”. Ask anyone born in 2000 if they don’t find it convenient, I am sure they will agree.

Regarding the argument about the exact turn of the millennium I find the obvious celebration was that of New Years 1999/2000. It looks sleeker and requires less explaining to young children for one. My main reason for not finding the 2000/2001 turn very impressive was however more of a record keeping thing. You see, what are the chances that in 1000 years of tracking time that one year wasn’t forgotten or misplaced somehow? What occured of mention in the year 313 for example? Remember also that over this period they kept changing calendars, conducting variable calendar reforms to make up for their not so perfect handling of leap years. This is not to mention the mix up in Europe where all sort of local versions of calendars existed all through the middle ages. So who is to say that the year 2000 wasn’t actually 2001?

My forefathers probably had a lesser clue than others regarding what year it was. Their system was simple – it was winter and if it was not winter it was summer. It did not really matter to them how many winters or summers had passed before.

In Japan they have three systems running, one where start anew with the inauguration of a new Emperor meaning it is now year Heisei 22. I will suggest to my daughter that she move there soon after 2050. There when asked for her year of birth she can say Heisei 8 which will be guaranteed to sound better at that time than 1996.
Remarkably few people seem to have been born on August 24th, at least few famous ones. Reading the names of note-worthies with this birthday on Wikipedia left me with this impression. To give you an idea of how little is required to get on this list there is a gut named Dragutin Lerman (1863-1918) who is said to have been a Croatian explorer. Now I may seem harsh but I cannot imagine there was much left to explore in his heyday, let alone if he is not an explorer from Croatia but an explorer specialized in exploring Croatia. Another guy who made the grade is Hideo Kojima, Japanese video game director (born in Shōwa 37) – I did not even know there was such a profession as video game director. Maybe he directs Grey DeLisle, also born on August 24th, titled voice actress. A number of relatives and the like are dragged into the light as filling material, I share a birthday with the mother of Napoleon and the brother-in-law of Custer. Oh yes and Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian swimmer and surfer born in 1890. I wonder if he considered moving to Japan in the 1950s. The list is so unimpressive that I feel I should be on it. Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Icelandic homeless person.

But none of this really matters any more than the number of winters or summers that have passed. What matters to me now is if I should bake a cake or not for a friend of mine that has announced a visit on Sunday. She had heard that I got a toilet for my birthday from my husband and wants to drop by with a present of her own. She could not keep the contents of the package a secret and has giddily told me what to expect. She is bringing me a toilet brush.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. I"m going to wish you a happy birthday, just as soon as I move to Japan and get a better birthdate. Oh, and by the way, next year I hope you get a non-plumbing related present. :D

  2. Happy happy birthday, Yrsa. Whatever one you like the best! Stan

  3. Yrsa--my sister's birthday is August 24th. I hope your house is all tightened up by the time cold weather starts. Happy Birthday.

  4. I will follow suit and wish you a happy birthday one day late, and thank you for this delighfully funny blog entry.

    If I may add another name to the list of people born on August 24th: Olympic gold medallist and handball genius, Katja Nyberg. That name alone should add a little glitter to the list, wouldn't you agree?

  5. Yrsa, my husband has a system in which he uses whatever means he can think of to keep me confused about how old I actually am.

    For example, at the moment of birth he figures that the baby is in its first year; no nonsense about how many weeks or months most people use to mark the time in an infants life. When kids are under three it doesn't matter but he is working his magic on my niece's daughter. She was three in June and hasn't mastered how she is supposed to hold up three fingers; one and two were easy but three is complicated. He tells her she doesn't have to worry about it because she is in her fourth year. This sends her running to her mother demanding to know why she isn't four. Her mother remembers when he pulled the same nonsense on her.

    He has somehow managed to make me think I am two years older than I actually am.

    My brother an I were both born in October. He is two years younger than I but in terms of dates my birthday is 18 days after his. He always insisted that for those 18 days I was only one year older.

    My husband doesn't believe in presents that aren't practical. He'd think a new toilet, if needed, would be a fine solution to the present problem, especially if I got to choose a color.

    Happy birthday and best wishes for many more.


  6. I hope you had a very happy birthday!
    But what if I forgot to count just one year? Then I would already be fifty? (Well, forty didn´t hurt so it probably won´t make much difference either way).
    I finally got round to your second book this week, and of course I enjoyed every bit of it. My review is coming up tomorrow, but you might think my post of yesterday was fun:

    And then I have one of those questions I am sure an author hates: do they really keep church records IN the church in Iceland? (I am the local vicar´s wife and in Denmark they have kept them locked away in a safe since time immemorial). Not that it matters, but I *am* curious.

  7. Happy (belated) birthday, Yrsa. Perhaps you can celebrate with that Edelkeur? Maybe don't drink it in the bathroom!

    Lots of interest in dates and common birthdays. I'm sure you know the one about how big a party has to be before you have a 50% chance of getting two people with the same birthday. Surprisingly low number.