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Thursday, 11 July 2019

On turning... can it really be 70?

It was a great birthday celebration, and it seemed to last all week. We had five days of visitors – from Sweden, London, West Virginia, Cornwall, Wales… people who have known me twenty, thirty, even sixty years and were still willing to travel huge distances to enjoy my company. And of course there was the party: 50-odd friends and family converging on a little village hall in the far north of Northumberland, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Scottish border. Quaint, isn't it?
 
Cuddystone Hall, just a few miles south-west of Wooler, Northumberland
It was a strange feeling, seeing people connected with the many phases of my past, and realising that they were part of – well, I was going to say a jigsaw, but I feel that ‘mosaic’ would be a more appropriate word, because my career has been fragmented, to say the least. Fifty jobs and thirty addresses at the last count. But my goodness, I have collected some great and loyal friends along the way.

We enjoyed a relaxed afternoon: cakes and tea was followed by a duck race on the stream that flows down the College Valley.
 
College Burn, scene of the duck-race. A challenging course. 
Between us we had five grandsons attending, and I was delighted to see the older three high above us, exploring the sides of the mountains that rose to the north. I was reminded of the days, in the 1950s, when I roamed the bracken-covered hillsides of Surrey and found solace in the woods. Fortunately these particular youngsters didn’t have any matches with them.

In the evening we ate supper and danced. Well, we did our best, to the accompaniment of an excellent band. There’s always an element of confusion in a decent ceilidh, and I certainly did my best to see that nothing went as smoothly as it was supposed to. At times you can feel pretty inept trying to follow all the moves, but I take comfort from the realisation that nobody ever has time to laugh at you. When you’re ‘stripping the willow’ or ‘galloping’ through a row of fellow dancers, desperately trying to remember whether the caller said ‘left’ or ‘right’ – and in any case realising that you’re suddenly incapable of distinguishing one foot from the other – you can bet that most of the other dancers are having the same trouble.

It can be a rather forlorn moment when a party ends, and the guests trickle away into the night. When will we meet again, and all that? (Quite a thought-provoking question when you’re about to turn seventy). This was when I was glad we had arranged overnight accommodation for thirty or so in a bunkhouse tucked away upstream. It meant there was time to talk further over a leisurely breakfast, in a calmer atmosphere, with one or two friends I hadn’t seen since my 60th. (Was that really ten years ago?)

Back home there were more guests to entertain, but by Tuesday the last ones had  departed, and we were left to celebrate my actual birthday in peace. However, there was still time for one more golden moment, when a charming young woman wished me happy birthday and told me she had assumed this was my sixtieth.

My joy is complete. I shall embark on my eighth decade with hope and positivity.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Birthday, Alan, and best wishes for many more! Sounds like a wonderful celebration. We should have tried a ceilidh in Taos, or at least a mariachi band. Maybe next time!

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