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?

My Mind’s Eye

Daily Prompt: Opposite Day

I hadn’t planned on posting again so soon after two posts in the past three days, as this is my 50th post and I wanted to mark it in some way. It is a bit of an event for me, as well as a surprise that I’ve kept going at this, so I’d like to thank you all for being part of my blogworld – especially those who have endured this since the early days! As you may have noticed I’ve rather taken to WordPress’ Daily Prompts in the past couple of months and today’s gave me an ideal opportunity. So here I am again! With its theme of doing the opposite of normal, the prompt reads:

If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing fiction or poetry so what I do must therefore be non-fiction. It is all true, certainly: I don’t believe in being creative with the truth (i.e. lying) or in jazzing things up for effect or to draw attention to myself. So that must mean my challenge is to post a photo. I wanted something with some meaning, something which was symbolic for me, and this is what I chose:

The London Eye
The London Eye

iPhone pics 029An odd choice? Not for me. I took this on a grey evening in May from the walkway at the Southbank Centre in London. I was there for one of my bucket list wishes: to see Steve Earle in concert. You may not have heard of him but he’s been one of my favourite artists since he started, which was c.1986 I think. But that’s not why this picture has meaning for me: the reason I am attached to this is that it symbolises my future.

That probably sounds strange if you don’t know the background. For all but two of the past thirty-eight years I’ve commuted into London to work. When I retire in September I plan to make London a place for leisure and enjoyment, rather than work. As I don’t have much of a head for heights, but have always liked aerial photo shots, I want to go up in the Eye to conquer my fear and to take my own aerial pictures. To me this symbolises my future: looking down over the city where I have spent so much time will, I’m sure, give me a feeling of taking control. And what is retirement if not an opportunity to take control of my life and ‘do it my way?’

The Southbank is one of my favourite concert venues. The architecture is hideous – Lasdun’s concrete period – but the two main halls are beautifully appointed with superb acoustics. As this would be the last time I was there before retiring and making my epic voyage on the big wheel, I took a few shots to remember the evening by. That is the one I like best, but I’m also quite fond of the view across the river:

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And of the cute little busker:

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And the view from my seat (I booked late!):

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These photos are a memory of a great evening and of some fabulous music, and a lead in to the rest of my life. I’m looking ahead with a great deal of optimism and marking this new stage in my life with a ‘flight’ or ‘rotation’ on the Eye is, for me, a perfect way to do it. I may even do this on my 60th birthday, to celebrate the occasion. And there are reduced rates for the over 60s 😉