OK, so I’m 60. Big deal, so are lots of other people.
On my 50th birthday, ten years ago, I was invited to our friend’s boat moored near Dijon, France, seven hundred miles from where we now live in Lancashire. The barge belonged to Rhonda and Ken and they put a bit of a do on for me and invited a few friends. They also invited a few strangers to pack it out a bit. Make it look like I was popular.
Much has happened in the intervening decade.
Firstly, sadly, Ken died. Lovely guy. He and Rhonda were part of a special time for Jan and I. Thankfully Rhonda’s still battling away. Hi Rhonda, I know you read some of my stuff!
So at 60 I’m reflecting.
I’m writing at my desk, sitting here with sciatica. Proper job, really bloody painful. Jan had planned a few nice treats. Sadly they’ve all been cancelled and I’ve got a trip to the osteopath instead.
Actually it’s not a desk I’m sitting at, it’s a fold-leaf table bought for twenty euros from a kringloopwinkel in Zwartsluis, Overijssel (a second-hand shop in deepest Holland).
There’s a snap-shot right there of the surprising twists and turns our life has taken.
We make tomorrow’s memories today. I think we’ve made a reasonably fist of it for the last 10 years.
The first 5 were on our boat, based in St Jean de Losne, Burgundy.
For the first four of these years, during the kinder months, we travelled round the canals of central France. Amazing times. We still give slide-show talks on our adventures to anybody who’ll listen. It keeps it all very much alive for us and we get paid. A couple of charities benefit.
We also tried to blend into the architecture - get involved with local things.
One memorable evening (that I'd forgotten about) was joining the locals for LOTO (basically bingo with knobs on)
Most people who know us realize we took to the water because Jan got ill and we wanted to do something special in case things went wrong.
There’s an associated maxim I still use today.
People ask me how we could afford to do it. After all we were both under 50 when we embarked.
My reply was that we couldn’t afford NOT to do it.
Facing what Jan did focusses the mind somewhat.
Year five we travelled up to Belgium which proved to be a staging point for our return to land following the birth of grandsons.
The most recent five years we’ve lived on land in a variety of abodes, starting with a 25-year-old camper van. Our dear old Talbot was home for a few months while we found a house we could afford. We lived in two terraced houses before moving into our bungalow on 12th December 2019 (general election day). Photos here
(Photos of the house build, not the election.)
In recent years we’ve had a few lazy days, but not many. Since our return we’ve renovated three houses for our own benefit and helped Carly with another two. Ironic that now they’re all finished I end up crocked.
In between I write things down, basically because I’m too thick to remember anything. In addition to all the notes, articles and snippets I’ve just published my 7th book. The first, A Barge at Large, was written in 2013 and published early the following year. A book a year isn’t bad for a numbskull.
One thing I’ve achieved is living longer than my Dad. He died aged 58 in 1973. Forty seven years ago – cripes! I wrote a piece when I went past his age. I’ve just re-read it.
Here, quite moving actually.
I’ve shared the last ten years (and twenty before that) with Jan. Good choice I made there. She organised a little get-together at our new house last weekend. Lovely that was too. Family and friends. Three generations came to be amazed at my actually getting this far. I vaguely remember family parties from my childhood. Back then I was the rapscallion wrecking the joint being scolded by grandparents.
Suddenly I’m the grandparent.
Where on earth has all the time gone?