Last month, in March, I had a birthday. It was one of those 'significant' birthdays with a 0 at the end of it. Wow, the tyranny of numbers. An abstract concept used to measure the passing of time which is also, arguably, an abstract concept. We hang a lot of importance on the 0's and the 5's and of course to be contrary and human, we have disregarded 20 and made a mega fuss over 21, only now we've shifted that celebration 3 years earlier and 18 is the liberating number.
I recall in the dim distant past, my own 21st, well no, to be more accurate, I don't recall it at all, It kind of past me by. I had been traveling and had arrived back in London to find a small package from my mother which contained a 21st birthday card with profound apologies for forgetting such an important event but they (her and my dad) had been away for a 'spring break' and had forgotten all about it. Taped to the inside of the card was a little silver St. Christopher pendant on a silver chain and wrapped in tissue paper. The irony of receiving the St Christopher after what was to be the last bit of extensive travel I would be doing for a very long time was not lost on me, then or now!
That was in 1972, and what a grim year it was Edward Heath was Prime Minister, the miners were on strike and there was a State of Emergency declared. We had Bloody Sunday in Derry. Watergate was getting underway in Washington and there was the massacre at the olympics in Munich. In fact, terrorism was taking hold all round, with hijacking and bomb scares, real and imagined, being reported everyday. It was a pretty bad year for earthquakes too... you can see where I'm going can't you?
Yes, 39 years later we're having a pretty grim year again, but what goes around comes around, things will improve eventually, governments change... but that is not the subject in hand today, back to the numbers... Thus far I've been manageing to keep the exact total of my years to myself. Not an easy thing to do with a calendar obsessed autistic daughter, she has been reminding me and anyone else within earshot about it since Christmas. My mother in law saw fit to send me a rather gaudy card with a large 60 emblazoned on it in red and gold, I've often questioned her taste over the years. The other daughter, bless her, chose to send me a bunch of sunflowers and an invite to go up to London and visit soon, just me, so we can hit the galleries and museums. Absolutely no mention of birthdays or numbers.
A couple of years ago I got a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions telling me I would not be able to claim my retirement pension until I am 62. I was expecting that, no big surprise, in fact, it is to be expected that the goal posts get moved just as I'm within shooting distance, it's been that way for the last 25 years! Anyway, I'm a carer, I'm not sure retirement is an option. So here I am trying desperately to ignore the number and what I perceive as the stigma which goes with now being an 'over 60' woman. There is an assumption that all I could possibly be interested in is Bingo and soap operas. Well let me tell you, I barely watch the TV at all and I've never played bingo in my life! I admit to look at me now you wouldn't imagine that more than 40 years ago I had hit and survived the hippie trail to Katmandu, been chased by a police horse in Grosvenor Square and taken a lot more risks than I should have. I'm not sure I believed I would reach the age of 21. But I did, and I started my first business that year. Small but profitable. But I digress, I am really talking about admitting to being 60.
Oh, but that is not so easy, in my head I'm still at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969, that was the year Bob Dylan and the Band played there, the weather was beautiful and I fell in love, not with the right person of course, but that didn't really matter. A year later I was in love with someone else sitting in the pouring rain on a golf course watching Jimi Hendrix play his last gig at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. None of that is relevant, it's just a bunch of memories, but memories are all bound up with experience, and these are what our minds are made of. I suppose what I am trying to say is, just as physically you are what you eat, mentally you are what you remember, what you have experienced.
So how do I come to terms with this horrific number? Well I'm going back to where I started. An abstract concept for measuring time, they are just numbers and if I choose to I can ignore them. We all know you can't turn back time and we are all moving into the unknown, the future is a mystery, we can only guess but we can't really know what is going to happen next. To help us move forward into the unknown we rely on experience and memory, it's why we fall in love with the wrong people and do reckless and dangerous things when we are young, you live and learn. Well that's the theory, and we all know that theory and practice don't always go hand in hand. For example, by now I should be making less mistakes!
Acceptance looks like the only way forward, damn it! So look for the advantages.. need to find the spectacles first... right... still drawing a blank. Here's one, nobody is going to expect me to be keeping up with fashion, so I can wear what I like, within reason. Oh and here is the best one, the over 60s bus pass. Free rides to Asda, and if I feel like getting on the bus at the bottom of the hill just to get to the top of the hill, the driver can't complain that he doesn't have a fare for only going 2 stops! Priceless....