My birthday


Apparently, the day (a Wednesday) was quite warm, at least in Kent – temperatures around 21C (or in old money about 70F). Not bad for a late March day after a quite harsh winter.

But, at least historically, it was a quiet one. No-one famous died. Robert Fox, who later became a well-respected theatre producer, was born the younger brother of the more famous actors James and Edward.

In Pinner, Middlesex, young Reg Dwight celebrated his sixth birthday in a semi-detached council house, possibly by having a little tinkle on the ivories – he had been playing the piano for three years, and was a year away from starting proper piano lessons. In later years, he found fame, fortune and much else as Elton John. And in so doing provided much of the soundtrack to my own life.

Across the pond, in the Detroit suburb of New Bethel, Aretha Franklin turned 11. It was probably a muted affair, as her mother had died a year earlier. By this time she was already singing regularly at the local Baptist church founded by her father, and perhaps considering the musical career that would make her one of the best and most popular soul singers in the world – a career that spanned more than 60 years until her death from cancer in August 2018.

If you look at any of several historical web-sites, March 25 is shown as being the religious festival of Lady Day (amongst several others), and as Freedom Day for Belarus. Not Freedom from the now fragmented USSR, but celebrating the creation in 1918 of the Belarusian People’s Republic by the occupying Germans (the First World War was still raging). These days, under hard-line butcher, friend of Vladimir Putin and unapologetic Communist President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the day is only sparingly celebrated, on safety grounds.

It’s also (it says here on Wikipedia…) International Day of the Unborn Child, Mother’s Day in Slovenia, Struggle for Human Rights Day in Slovakia, and the wonderful sounding Waffle Day in Sweden. And it’s Tolkien Reading Day, launched in 2003 to celebrate and encourage the works of the good Professor, and of course (as anyone who has read his masterwork The Lord of the Rings will know) the day that Frodo’s Quest succeeded, the One Ring ended up in the fires of Mount Doom along with Gollum, and Sauron fell. Hurrah.

Beyond that, in years gone by, Venice had been founded in 421; Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland in 1306; Christian Huygens discovered Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 1655; the Second Hellenic Republic was proclaimed in Athens in 1924; and a mere four years earlier in 1949, Uncle Joe Stalin’s minions started the forced deportation of over 92,000 people from the Baltic States to Siberia and all points East in another of his brutal collectivisation exercises. Fortunately, his own days were numbered.


None of which will have meant a thing to my poor mum, sweating and cursing to squirt me kicking and squalling into the world in the double-bedroom she slept in with my dad, in a three-bedroomed end-of-terrace council house in Church Street (possibly not unlike Reg Dwight’s home in Pinner, come to think of it). She had turned 38 exactly a week before, considered quite an advanced age to be having kids in the early ‘50s, so I was a bit of a belated birthday present for her. It set a kind of precedent – I have never been good at remembering birthdays, so late presents became par for the course from that day on as far as she and I were concerned.

My mum, once she had recovered from the effort (and probably stopped yelling abuse at whoever was in the vicinity) wanted to name me Gary, after her favourite actor. But her friend, May Crittenden, who I remember as being a typical country lady, short and very stout and prone to wearing aprons (as did mum), told her not to be so daft: I was just like Bob Moss (thus mispronouncing the name of my maternal grandad – who I never knew) – so Robert it was. With Ernest as my middle name, honouring dad, whose middle name was also Ernest.

I’m happy with that.

The above forms the opening section of my memoir, provisionally titled “Living: A Memoir” that I have been fiddling around with for the past several years and have yet to leave school. As this coming Saturday, I celebrate my 70th birthday I thought I’d let the piece see the light of day and get a first public airing. I do intend to finish the thing, so there are several hundred pages in a similar vein to spew out of my subconscious. Hopefully it will hit an Amazon website near you just in time for my 75th birthday. Or perhaps earlier: I never know when I’m going to write some more, forward planning not being a strong point of mine.

Anyway – 70. Not an age I ever expected to reach in my indestructible kamikaze youth. It seemed impossibly far away, then, and apart from my grandmothers, both born in the late Victorian age (the 1880s, perhaps?) I don’t remember knowing anybody of that age. So I had no reference point, nothing to show what to expect. I lost my dad when I was 19, he at a terribly young 56 as a result of cancers that developed after a lifetime of smoking and working in dusty environments as well as the war years fighting Germans in the Western Desert and the Japanese in the terrible Burma campaign. He survived with his body more or less intact (two small flesh wounds hardly count, I suppose) and his mind troubled like those of all veterans of that particular theatre but not to the point of illness or suicide, thank God.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, with my second family still aged in singe figures, 70 seemed an age away. For that matter it seemed distant only a couple of years ago when like millions of other people across the world I was stuck at home under Lockdown rules, lying on my bed suffering a second bout of Covid within six months and wondering (praying) that I would get through that terrible time.

Well, I did, though not without lasting effects: I still suffer from sleep problems, lack of concentration, and various aches and pains that may or may not be Long Covid. I’m learning to live with that reality and have adapted the way I live and my diet to cope better. I exercise as I have done for years, with daily multi-kilometre walks around my home city and my immediate surrounding neighbourhoods, and in season bike rides of 20 odd kilometres as well – it all keeps me fitter and healthier than I had expected during the early days of my recovery.

But I can’t disguise the fact that age is catching up with me, regardless of my Covid illnesses. My eyesight is nowhere as good as it was ten years ago (note to self: buy new glasses asap!), various joints, particularly those from the waist down, are stiffer and more painful every day, and I get tired much quicker and earlier. No amount of tablets and dietary supplements that I’ve tried so far, and continue to take as part of my breakfast, make a difference to this.

I’m ok. When I was younger (for which pick any number between say 15 and 65) hitting 70 seemed about as likely an outcome as winning a return ticket to the Moon in a lottery. It seemed to be Old Age. Now I’m reaching that milestone I no longer think that, because I really do not feel old (with either lower or upper case script). I’m also told that I neither look nor act my age, which is fine by me – for years it’s been my aim to grow old (dis)gracefully, and I seem to be manging that. My kids, those two from my second family (now teenagers) keep me young and thankfully still need me. Those from my first family, in their forties now, have blessed me with four grandchildren that because of distance I see not enough of but who mean the world to me. For their sake I have much to live for still.

I have journeys to make, places to visit and re-visit, now that life and travel have more or less returned to normal. I have a backlog of books building up to read, and stories and books to write and publish. Blogs to write, here and on my primary This World, This Life platform ( Music to discover and re-discover, movies to watch and re-watch. Politics to argue about, and global wars and catastrophes to survive.

So I intend to enjoy this birthday on Saturday, with my My Beloved and our kids, the dog and the cat, and celebrate quietly and contentedly reaching this milestone. There will be good food, my daughter will hopefully bake me a cake again (as she does every year: she’s a great little cook), and no doubt there will be a nice chilled white wine to wash it down.

I’m looking forward to it very much.

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  1. Happy birthday…although I am a tad bit late in wishing you 🙂

    1. Thank you – it was a fine weekend! About an hour after I uploaded this piece, there was a knock on the door and one of my kids from back home in England was standing there, with his wife and twin daughters laughing at the shock on my face. Turns out my wife and all my family had planning this for 6 months…… So the weekend was truly fantastic – and the surprise party on the actual day (Saturday) with nearly 20 of my oldest and dearest Polish friends (all in on the conspiracy) was the icing on the cake.

      I am truly blessed!


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