Birthday Celebrations

I ran my most recent piece last Wednesday, to mark my birthday. In it,  I referenced a previous post which described the grand day out my two lovely daughters gave me to celebrate my 60th birthday. I thought it might be good to share again an edited version of that piece, as it was a lovely day and I doubt many of you will have seen it before. I’ve also updated it to this year.

I first posted the piece on my birthday in 2016. On that day I awoke – or more precisely, was awoken by,  a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I was then 63. I’d never been that old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Just as well, really, as I’ve now added another four to the score! Seven years ago I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate that milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape from on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks prior to the original I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had, but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something about it, and as it is one of my favourite posts I thought I’d give it another airing.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday, which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:

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img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, that pod is part of a much bigger structure (see left). I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings:

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And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubilee:img_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. I thought that was a nice touch. After the flight we also took in the exhibition attached to the Eye, which by total coincidence led us into the gift shop…

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing onto one of these:

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Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, with a knowledgeable guide covering quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought, for an air  of mystery – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames:

We've fallen in the water!
We’ve fallen in the water!

We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here:

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)
We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂

Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated after our meal to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women:

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Seven years on from that milestone we are, as you may have noticed, in strange times. Celebrations like this, or some of the others the girls have arranged for me, were definitely out this year, even if my health would have allowed it. Their work commitments – and busy lives in general – also militate against it, but we still found time for a partial get together. Yesterday my elder daughter came for a socially distanced visit, along with a little person who wasn’t around when I retired. Presents were given, and we had a lovely time. This is my favourite present:

And this was my favourite birthday card:

 

Both presented by our family’s little star:

You can see from that how we managed it: guests in the garden area outside my flat, while I took a chair out onto the balcony. Strange times indeed, but at least we still have ways to keep in touch – until the next lockdown, that is. Thinking back to seven years ago and to yesterday, I realise what is important in our lives. Without the love of our family, what do we have? I know I’m much luckier than some, and I’m grateful for it every day, even when we’re apart. Every time I drink from that mug I will treasure my thoughts of my granddaughter and my daughters – that’s a nice warm feeling to have, isn’t it?

Not So Wild(ish) Nowadays

When I re-shared Summer Of ‘69 I reminded myself that, although I didn’t plan it that way, it became the first of three posts in 2016 that saw me reminiscing about the 1969-70 period, during which I became 16, took on the ‘man of the house’ role after Dad left, and generally started to grow up a bit. But it was also a time for a lot of fun, too, so I thought that newer readers – and there have been a lot of you in the past three years – might also like to take my trip down memory lane. The second of those three posts was entitled ‘Born To Be Wild(ish)’ and I’m sharing it again now – the final part of my ‘trilogy’ will follow in a few days. I’ll drop by again at the end of the post to have another word on this.

Born To Be Wild(ish)

Do you ever find yourself looking back at earlier versions of yourself, and wondering about how different life was? As we get older, we have a lot more to look back on and while some might contend that we should always look ahead, and never look back, I think we can learn from our past. As I said in my post Summer of ’69 that was a momentous year for me. It was also the year that the movie Easy Rider first graced the screen – in June in the US, a little later in the UK – and it opened up the eyes of impressionable teenagers around the world to a way of life that was very different from our normal, humdrum existences.

If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well! But for most of us at the time, that wasn’t the point. What we saw in the film was a lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life. Sure, it was fuelled by an illegal drug deal at the very beginning, but did we care? I know I didn’t! The concept of road movies hadn’t really been explored much until then, and the idea of watching 95 minutes of two guys riding motorbikes around was very strange to my parents: “what’s it about?” “that sounds boring” and “you aren’t old enough to see it” being just some of what they said. It was rated ‘X’ in the UK, which meant that you had to be 18 to be allowed into the cinema, but I somehow managed to raise my short, just-turned-16 frame enough to get past the prison cinema guards. Or maybe they were just glad to take anyone’s cash that they could!

I have the movie on DVD and occasionally dust it off for a viewing. Mostly, it now looks incredibly dated, a real period piece. But there is still much to enjoy in it, especially the scene accompanied by the Byrds’ song I Wasn’t Born To Follow, which is such a joyous expression of youthful freedom.

At 16, we all have dreams of what we want our lives to become, and a release from a late 1960s Britain, with economic troubles putting a real dampener on all the Swinging 60s stuff that had gone before, was incredibly appealing. We all wanted to do it! If you have read my Summer of ’69 you’ll know that I spent that school holiday working to earn the cash to buy my first motorised transport. This was where one of life’s major lessons first hit home: I was never going to be able to earn enough to buy a bike like Peter Fonda’s! So, with reality dawning rapidly, I adjusted my ambitions – another early life lesson – and bought myself a secondhand scooter, a Lambretta Ld to be precise. It wasn’t even the most recent model made by Lambretta, but it was mine! In case you’ve never heard of it – and you can be forgiven for that – this is what it looked like:

The same colour as mine!
The same colour as mine!

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for me. I could go anywhere I wanted, without the need to consult copious bus timetables, and I really took advantage of this new freedom. I joined the local scooter club, called the ‘Saints’ for reasons no one actually knew, and as well as club nights we went on group outings. We often went to a place called Camber Sands, which was pretty desolate, although it did afford a lovely view of the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Dungeness. But that didn’t matter to us – we enjoyed the camaraderie of the ride, the wind (and rain, lots of rain) in our hair, and as long as someone had remembered to bring a ball we had a game of football on the sands when we got there. I have been thinking about this post for some time, and it feels very poignant to be looking back at my own youth, and happy times, when the sea has just claimed the lives of five young men who had gone to the very same place to have a good day out. As I said, we can learn from our past: that could have been us. There was never any sign of a lifeguard there, and apparently there still isn’t, 47 years on. It always takes a tragedy for something necessary to be enacted, sadly. In our innocent youth, we don’t really think about potential dangers, do we? Life is for living, we’re young and it is all stretching out in front of us. Why worry?

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!
The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

Going back to buying the scooter and becoming part of the local ‘scene’, where the cool kids hung out – as if, in my dreams, etc. – it amuses me that despite the fact that what we thought we were looking for was a freedom from normality, we rapidly adopted a style that became our new normal. If you had a scooter but didn’t wear one of these (look left), you were nobody!

I didn’t quite manage to copy Peter Fonda’s crash helmet either. Although it wasn’t at that time illegal to ride a bike without wearing one, we prided ourselves on being a responsible scooter club, so I bought myself another fashion accessory, just like this one:

Stylish, or what!
Stylish, or what!

But we were happy, that was the most important thing to us. We may not have been like Wyatt and Billy in the movie, but we had a sense of freedom, and I felt that every single time I got on the scooter, even if I was only using it to go shopping or to go to school. In those moments, the world was all mine, and I felt a kind of invincibility. Admittedly, I didn’t feel quite the same way the day I came off it and embedded a stone in my arm, but that was just another life lesson: don’t be a prat! Looking back, through what are probably very rose-tinted spectacles, I do feel a sense of loss, the loss of the innocence of youth. I hope my 16 year old self would have approved of the way my life has developed: I may not be riding the breeze on the open road, but I’ve learnt to recognise how to find the best in life, and to enjoy it.

And finally, for anyone feeling short changed by the edited version of the song in the opening video, I leave you with a full version of what is still the best driving song I know:

And this is me again, now. It is a sobering, even slightly frightening, thought that the events I’m describing here took place exactly fifty years ago. It really does seem like another lifetime, although I still recognise it as a part of my life experience. But how times have changed! Social, political and technological developments have transformed the world in ways we couldn’t have envisaged back then. Much of this has been for the general good, but I’m not convinced that we are living in a completely better place than in 1969. Then again, utopia is probably an impossible dream! For me, personally, much about my life is better than in my teenage years, but I look back fondly on those days of innocence. I’m facing some big changes in my life this year, which are causing me some apprehension – maybe I’ll be writing about those at some point but, for now, I’m happy to keep on the rose tinted glasses through which I’m viewing 1969. It is my way of dealing with what feel like major threats to my mental well-being. Reality does have a way of intruding on us, doesn’t it, and life feels anything but wild just now.

Summer of ’69

I wasn’t planning on posting again just yet, as I have another on mental health in the production stage, but the ever reliable Timehop reminded me of this one, from three years ago today. Reading it again I’ve realised that I was describing a seminal week in my life, though at that young age I had no idea how life-changing it would be. I suppose the ‘wisdom’ that comes with age and experience helps us put things into context. I received a telephone call this week which is going to bring about a big change in my life nowadays, and I’m thinking about further interrupting my planned series of mental health posts to share that story too. But, for now, here’s a look back at how I was in my teenage years and how, as I’ve often said, music – and the feelings and memories it evokes – is a very important part of my life.

Take It Easy

Many of you will instantly recognise the title for this piece as being a song by Bryan Adams, from his album Reckless (1984). Adams has been a little vague about the meaning of the song, having at different times suggested that it was about sexual exploration (but the use of the apostrophe would seem to disprove that!) or, more probably, that it is a song about nostalgia in general, and not the actual year 1969. I, however, am taking it literally, as that summer was a momentous time for me and I can never hear the song without thinking back.

I was 15 through that summer, and had my 16th birthday in September 1969. I was at the age of teenage awakenings – realising that there was more to life than school, my mates and football, cricket, tennis etc: I was madly in love with a beautiful girl who lived…

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