Monday 10 July 2023

My 60th Birthday - a reflection on life

Monday 10 July 2023

Nido's still parked up at the Rosehearty Community Boat Club.  This place - its friendly community and the beautiful sea and scenery have won us over.  The original plan was to stay one night then move on. When we arrived yesterday we decided to stay two nights and were told by Peter (the boat club manager) - with a twinkle in his eye - if we pay for two nights the third night's free. Well, we're taking that third night. He must have seen this happen so often.  This lovely village with it's quiet, typically straight streets of granite single storey houses has stolen our hearts; I could live here. Our plans have therefore been adapted to allow for this; we'll miss out on a night in Tomintoul, but we'll visit there another time on a future trip north.

After a little rain in the night, I woke at about 7.45am. It felt warm in the van and opening the skylight blinds displayed another blue sky day. The forecast had changed from all day thunderstorms to sunshine then rain from about 3pm.  Breakfast - haggis slice and fried egg in a soft bread roll (very Scottish!) - was taken outside with two cups of tea.  The sun was hot but there was a gentle breeze to just take the edge off it. I'd walked Salty before breakfast and had a wander down to the harbour. It's still a working fishing harbour, which is great to see.  I watched the port come alive, with fishing boat owners shouting across to each other as they headed out to sea.  Most of them seem to be long-lining - I guess for pollack or mackerel.  There were three benches around a rectangular granite-topped table. Each bench was dedicated to a deceased fisherman and his boat's name.  I would imagine it's a popular place for the old boys to meet up, to reminisce about the past and pass tutting judgement (but begrudging pride) on the youngsters who've taken their place!

We locked up and headed west along the coastal path.  Not long into the walk we passed Rosehearty Tower.  This used to be a RAF observation tower for bombing runs along the Moray Firth. The bombing range was established in the 1950s and closed in 2000.  The tower and buildings were built in 1994 at a cost of £750,000 and sold in 2017 for £75,000!  It's now a 4 bedroom property, with the most amazing tower with 360' views over the sea and surrounding hills. Our walk continued along the coast and we watched the myriad birdlife on the sea, cliffs and rocks.  After a couple of miles we reached a derelict house close to a small inlet.  It was a significant building and must have been a lovely comfortable home in its day, with a zig-zag track leading down to the rocky beach.  Reversing our route, we just made it back before the thundering clouds that had been building to the south all day opened to heavy rain.  We sat under the awning eating our lunch and soon the sun was shining again.  Later we took a walk along the white sandy beach that reminds us so much of the Caribbean.

Today has been significant for me - I turned 60 years of age!  How can this be?  My body is 60 but in my head I'm still in my early 20s. I stayed up last night past midnight, sat in the van's cab seat watching the light gradually fade, with a glass of Glenlivet in hand, reminiscing about my past life, but mainly aiming to fight off the Grim Reaper until I reached my 60s!  I've survived three wars, including in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, supporting the Mujahideen fighting the Russians (when we Brits weren't supposed to be there), but coming closest to death in the Falklands War of 1982 in HMS BRILLIANT, when I narrowly avoided serious injury from cannon shell from an Argentinian Skyhawk aircraft on 21 May - the day of the San Carlos landings. After those experiences life seems a lot worth living.

When I eventually went to bed at half past midnight this morning, there was still a little light in the sky and, waking at 0430 (I was still alive!!), the light in the east was already rising.  Summers are long in the north of Scotland, but I can imagine the long, dark, cold, stormy winter nights too. 

Age has never really bothered me until now.  Neither of us ever made a fuss over birthdays.  We've known people to take a whole week off just to celebrate their birthday - why? Our view is that a birthday is just another day.  Rather than trying to make it 'the' perfect day (a bit like Christmas), it's much better to treat ourselves throughout the year when the opportunity arises.

My 20th and 30th birthdays passed by without a second thought, as we brought up our young children (or at least Cathy did) and I went off to sea for several months on end.  My 40th was also spent at sea, so was a non-event. My 50th was relatively quiet.  I never really thought about it then, but the thought of turning 60 has really bugged me for many years - I almost feared it.  

It took a while to work out that it's because my parents died relatively young.  My Mum was 58 when she died (a sudden brain haemorrhage) - 2 years younger than I am now - and my Dad was my age when he buried his wife. I recall the day of my Mum's funeral on 4 September 2001 - exactly 22 years to the day that I left home to join the Royal Navy aged 16.  Relating that to my current age makes me feel incredibly sad.  She knew I had been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, but never saw me 'stripe up' less than a month after her death. My Dad - broken by his loss - only survived a few years longer; bowel cancer took him. He died 17 days after being diagnosed. They always talked about what they would do together when they retired - they had such great plans - but they didn't make it.  

So in my mind I didn't expect to get to this age, although I recognised that they were both heavy smokers for most of their lives (as most of their generation were) and they had hard physical jobs that took its toll.  In contrast, I've never smoked, I've kept fit and active and not had any serious illnesses (so far).  Their early deaths were a shocking realistic catalyst for Cathy and I.  We talked long and hard about what we wanted from our own retirement and when that should happen. It's then we decided we'd do all we can to retire early and enjoy life while we were fit enough to do so.  We ran old cars into the ground, had cheap UK holidays, ate at home rather than going out and saved hard, paying off chunks of our mortgage, managing to shave ten years off it.  When we made our final mortgage payment in August 2016, it was a moment to celebrate but also reflect and remember my parents and all their retirement hopes and dreams.  It's because of this that I'm grateful for every day of healthy living and hope to be around for a lot longer. It also explains why I'm sat typing this blog in our camper van, which gives us so much freedom and joy. 

We've never made much of a fuss over birthdays (except for our children when they were young), so today was pretty much the same as any other, although we did crack open a bottle of Crémant to quietly celebrate the day.  We enjoyed our coastal walk and the early evening beach stroll was magical. Witnessing nature and all it gives us is free.

Tomorrow I'll go out for a bike ride if the weather holds, then maybe we'll go to the local pub for lunch. I fancy Cullen Skink as it's a local dish.  Until then, it's time to stare out to sea and watch the light fade on a significant day for me. I'm so grateful to be alive, fit and well. Tonight I remember my loving parents who gave me so much unconditional love and a happy, carefree childhood.  I'm convinced these guardian angels brought us such a lovely day and an amazing sunset  - thank you Mum and Dad - Maureen and Barry. Love You. XXX

Rosehearty harbour

The fishermens' meeting place

Rosehearty Tower

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