On the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.
John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of us will ever see. He was quite likely to be seen dangling hundreds of feet above ground on an unsafe looking contraption, talking animatedly about the creatures he was watching in the rainforest. Or perhaps sitting nonchalantly in a jungle among a family of gorillas and being climbed over by the baby of the family! Until that happened it had been thought gorillas were ferocious creatures, but he showed that they were family folk very like us. You will have guessed that he is Sir David Attenborough. I’m looking forward to watching recordings of the latest wild-life programmes with Sir David commenting.
The second was Michael Bond who, when shopping late on Christmas Eve 1956, saw a lone little bear on a shelf and felt sorry for it. He bought it as a present for his wife Brenda and, as they lived near Paddington Station, Paddington Bear came into being. Mr Bond, more for fun than publication, wrote some stories about the bear and how he arrived from Peru and found a home. Eventually he had a written so many that he sent it to his agent, who found a publisher, who set an illustrator to work, and the rest is history! Paddington has given numberless children and grown-ups a great deal of pleasure over the years. He is getting on for 60 years old, still going strong and looking not a day older! His arrival was a work of genius by Michael Bond, CBE. The illustrator, Peggy Fortnum, deserves great acclaim too. Paddington also made us aware of a far-away country called Peru of which I’ve seen mention in holiday adverts in the newspaper recently. No doubt he will out-live us all! Mr Bond is still writing and long may he continue.
The Methodist Church had a celebration ‘Street Party’ on the Queen’s Birthday Saturday in June which was very enjoyable and was also hard work for the organisers who did a great job. Nancy, Nessie and I got a mention from the local newspaper who sent a photographer (who came from Peru I was told!) and allotted almost a page which was good publicity for our Church. After the morning service next day there was a luncheon for the Birthday Girls. None had actually reached their birthday but we kept our fingers crossed! It was another lovely occasion which we appreciated very much. I was the last to reach the milestone.
My daughters, Anabel and Elspeth, arranged a great weekend to celebrate. Elspeth came from Harrow on Thursday 20th then on Friday 21st, the day itself, Anabel and John came over and we opened my presents. I’m happy to say that all were useful, practical and pleasurable. Chocolates were involved, of course, but they are a treat to mete out and enjoy over a period and flowers also were much appreciated.
After lunch, John drove the four of us to New Galloway where we stayed overnight at the Ken Bridge Hotel, close to the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park. It was a very pleasant place: the beds were comfortable, the food was good and the staff were friendly. We dined early and once it was really dark we set off for the Forest. It was amazing once we walked into the darkness, assisted by John’s powerful torch. Without it, Anabel and I would have been in the ditch a few times! We were arm and arm but I couldn’t see any of the pitfalls. We saw some people in a clearing having a barbecue, and could hear voices passing, but unless you looked upwards it was black. There was patchy cloud which meant we didn’t see the Milky Way as hoped, but it was quite breath-taking to see the brilliance of the stars and planet Mars compared with when you look up from a street-light area. As the clouds moved, we saw more stars and it was hard to tear ourselves away. We began to feel very cold and our necks were stiff! So we regretfully retraced our steps to the car and back to the warmth of the Hotel Bar for a warming drink. It was a really special day with another to follow.
Next morning John drove us to Kirkcudbright where we had a walk around looking at all the nice wee shops and houses and having coffee.
At mid-day we presented ourselves at Broughton House, a Scottish National Trust property. It was formerly the home of Edward A. Hornel (1864-1933). He was one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ group of painters. The house contains a number of his paintings and is beautifully furnished. I enjoyed all of it but the Studio was the most memorable. He died so young and left many unfinished paintings which are on view. They give quite an insight into his style which basically seemed to be to have an outline then put blobs of paint all over the place in what appeared to be a very haphazard manner. However the finished paintings showed that his method worked extremely well! The gardens are also beautiful.
We went from there to the Tollbooth Art Centre where we were able to see some videos about Hornel and others. The coffee shop had a very amiable lady in charge. We had coffee and cake and the amiable lady came along with the coffee pot and poured out second cups for us all. That doesn’t happen very often! By then my legs were beginning to feel they needed a rest and it was time for John to start driving again. The girls did the planning and John made it all possible by driving us in his comfortable car. And it wasn’t finished yet because there was another day of celebration to look forward to.
On Sunday, Anabel and John came for Elspeth and me and we met up with Annabel and her family for a 2.15pm lunch in Glasgow’s famous Ubiquitous Chip. The meal was lovely and after it we all went back to Anabel and John’s home which is not far from where we dined. They had a lovely chocolate birthday cake on the coffee table. I got down on my knees and blew all the candles out with one puff! Cue for Happy Birthday to You from all. After a few words of thanks to all, I cut the cake and we enjoyed it greatly. There were more presents to open and photos taken. It was a happy few hours before the Greenock folk went off and Elspeth and I were driven back to Paisley. Elspeth stayed till Tuesday. Anabel came that morning and we went to Erskine Garden Centre for lunch. Anabel took Elspeth to the Airport just after 5pm and it was all over! It was a memorable weekend and not least because three of my nearest and dearest cared enough to plan it for me and got it just right.
On reaching 90
Now that I have reached so great an age
And cannot count the years too far ahead,
I must be rooted in the present time
And savour each new day like vintage wine.
With more behind me than is yet to come
It’s now that memory comes into play –
So many hours of sorrow, joy and pleasure,
Days of fruitful work and happy leisure.
I love the life I live and all the people
Who cross my path, or walk alongside me,
Are valued more than status, wealth and power,
For what is life if love is not the key?
My loved ones know I’d never choose to leave them,
But some day the Lord will call me from on high.
I’ll go in faith and hope to ‘see them later’,
When we all meet in Heaven by-and-by.