26 April 1910, 1986, 2005

It’s my 57th birthday today.

Why, thank you!

On the one hand, I don’t feel especially old, just slightly unfit and middle-aged as usual. On the other, it’s extraordinary to think that someone who had their 57th birthday on the day I was born would themselves have been born in 1910.

Such a person is the fantastically glamorous Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu, 阮玲玉, also known as Lily Chen, a major star of the Shanghai silent movie scene around 1930. Here she is in her 1931 hit Love and Duty, long believed lost until the early 1990s.

Sadly she was not able to celebrate her 57th birthday in 1967, because she died aged 24 in 1935.

Also born on 26 April 1910 and also very big in his own country’s movie industry, Tomoyuki Tanaka, 田中友幸, is generally recognised as the creator of the Godzilla franchise. His 1967 film King Kong Escapes features an evil robot double of King Kong invented – I am not making this up – by the sinister Dr Who.

The day I was born was also the 57th birthday of Swedish composer Erland von Koch. In 1967 he was appointed to the Order of Vasa, and also published the first version of his string orchestra piece Arioso:

The Bosnian writer Meša Selimović was also born on 26 April 1910. His most famous novel, Death and the Dervish, was published in 1966; he followed it up in 1967 with a potted history of Serbian orthography and language standardisation, Za i protiv Vuka.

The guy in the book cover is Vuk Karadžić, not Meša Selimović

See also Austrian composer Ernst Tittel, Dutch soldier and politician Herman Vos, Danish actor Else Petersen, Swedish actor Solveig Hedengran, and American psychiatrist Otto Will.

57 is of course three times nineteen, and I am reflecting on things that I did on my 19th and 38th birthdays. On my 19th birthday in 1986, I was working on an archaeology site in Germany, getting to grips with a profession that in truth I never really wanted to profess.

More notoriously, 26 April 1986 was the day that the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in Ukraine. I have worried off and on since then about the potential effects of the radiation cloud drifting across Germany as I did my outdoor work, but 38 years on I appear to have lived to tell the tale.

I celebrated my 38th birthday on 26 April 2005 by speaking at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Belgian Senate. Here I am with my new intern J (originally from Pittsburgh but of Ukrainian/Russian heritage) waiting in the wings:

J now lives in Kosovo, and I caught up with her 15 years later in 2019, by which time she was now 38, the same age as me in the photo above.

Incidentally I take the 38 bus from Central Station to my office in Brussels.

I will hope to come back to this post in 2043 on my 76th birthday, and review the careers of people born in 26 April 1891!