A Celebration

Today I awoke – or, more precisely, was awoken by a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I am now 63. I’ve never been this old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Three years ago today, I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate my 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 on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks ago 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 as part of my celebration of three years’ retirement – so here it is.

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,img_2695  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:

img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, this pod is part of a much bigger structure. This, in fact. 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 Jubileeimg_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. A nice touch.

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 img_2690onto one of these

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, which covered quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought – 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 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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As you may have noticed, I have for some reason I don’t understand been looking back to three years ago quite a lot this week – my Facebook friends have been treated to reminders of my week of songs for the day which I posted in the lead up to my retirement, so count yourselves lucky to have been spared that! I don’t think this means that I have been wallowing in the past, as some might say, and I feel it important that we don’t lose touch with our past. It is, after all, a part of who we are now. I’m intending to do a post or two on linking the past with the future, when I’ve worked out what that means for me. For now, cake is beckoning, so I bid you adieu until the next time.

 

 

 

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1953

I mentioned in my previous post that this week sees the third anniversary of my retirement, and that I would be looking back to that. My actual retirement date was 16 September, my 60th birthday, and on that date I posted this piece. It wasn’t a narrative in the usual sense, but I wanted to do something to reflect the year in which I was born. 1953 was, in many ways, a momentous year, and the clips I included in this post give you a sense of that. There are also several links to the wonderful Pathe News website, which is a real goldmine of video history. As I said at the time, I didn’t expect you to read this as a regular post, but it was one which I hoped you’d come back to, to sample some of the visual treats. To anyone who manages to read the whole piece and watch every clip in its entirety, I can only offer my admiration! Most of you reading this now will not have seen this post before, and I hope you’ll enjoy at least a few of the reminders of a bygone age, and marvel at the lists of events and the famous births and deaths of 1953. And that doesn’t even include my own birth!

One small editing point: remarkably, three years on all but one of the links and video embeds still worked when I tested this. The only one which had disappeared was the original trailer for the Disney movie, Peter Pan. I couldn’t find another version of this but didn’t want to lose it, so I have included a later trailer for the film’s DVD release. Have fun!

Take It Easy

This is something of a departure from what I normally do. Today is my 60th birthday, and is also officially the day I retire from work. I wanted to mark my important day in a suitable manner, and this is what I came up with. This isn’t a standard narrative article – what I’m doing is giving you a flavour of the year in which I was born. The piece contains some clickable links, some videos you can watch straight from here, some pictures, a couple of lists and some more words. I’ve had loads of fun researching this, and I hope you will enjoy it too. There is a lot here and it is probably far too much to take in at one go, so do feel free to revisit if you are exhausted before the end!

I was talking about this a couple of weeks ago with a…

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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: