Rather than taking leave of my forties at a stroll; turning 50 was a commando roll. In the midst of plans & preparations for our move to Taylors Arm November 29 snuck up on me as the focus suddenly shifted to celebrating my 50th birthday, which until the light dawned -literally- on Sunday morning, seemed notional.
In preceding months the G.O.’s question of what did I want to do for my birthday was met with varying answers all of which I suffixed with “but I don’t know’. Fortunately Dad had thought about it.
Dad’s suggestion to replicate his February family birthday gathering at Lifeboat Seafood at Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River was the solution staring me in the face. He made some calls. I made some calls, and Dad made a booking for 15 for lunch. In the week before 2 opted out and 2 others, my best-friend-may-as-well-be-family Mrs S. and her husband opted in.
My intrepid Melbournite landlord-sister decided to take advantage of discounted fares and try the overnight train from south of the border, arriving in time for breakfast Sunday morning at our-her apartment before getting onto another train to take us to the Hawkesbury River. En route the rest of the Sydney contingent, Mr & Mrs S (actually from the Blue Mountains & Canberra) and my aunt & uncle, found us in the pre-agreed third carriage… the first and last designated quiet carriages being totally unsuitable.
Most of Hunter Valley group travelled en famille in my youngest sister’s new 7 seater 4WD with my new niece whose cuteness
stole my limelight garnered everyone’s attention. Waiting on a couple of stragglers we, in customary family style, reshuffled tables to accommodate 11 of us in an adjacent shady café and settled in with drinks to catch up.
We seated newbie Mr S. next to Dad for traditional gentle hazing and passed the time playing pass the
parcel niece around the circuit of laps until my brother & his partner arrived and we crossed the road to similarly annex the restaurant. The waitstaff struggled to make themselves heard over the conversation but they produced glasses & beers, my uncle produced a bottle of chilled white wine and the party got started amidst musings over the fresh, local seafood menu offerings. My youngest cousin, last & solo, roared in on his motorcycle, settled himself in the midst for a while until musical chairs quashed any thoughts of seating proprietorship.
Quiet other than communication necessary for passing and sharing food reigned briefly once the meals were distributed… it had gotten a bit loud trying to figure out flathead-blackfish-snapper-grilled-battered-prawns-crab-chips-salad and who ordered oysters?
Hours later my voice was hoarse, my sisters had gone off with my niece in the pram hopeful of her falling asleep (not a chance!) in search of ice-creams, and we were almost done I thought when Dad reminded everyone why we were all there and my stepmother produced a container of gooey cream cheese iced carrot cake slice. We parleyed over big-small-half pieces, and then had to move in order to walk it all off, took half an hour to finish conversations and say goodbyes before the Sydney-bound train was due.
We commandeered a generous section of train carriage then chatted around my sister who’d finally succumbed to her interstate travels and fallen asleep, made plans for future meet ups before half got off half-way and the remainder headed back to the inner city for a stroll along King Street towards home in time for my sister to revive before we walked her back to the train station for the overnight return trip to Melbourne.
The G.O. and I arrived home finally, did what we had to, enjoyed a peaceful glass of wine, showered and went to bed. My last words for the day were “I’m so pleased it’s another decade to my next zero birthday”.
The morning following my birthday, Monday the 30th the first day of the rest of my life, I felt merited a kindness to myself of an extra hour in bed. Start as you mean to go on.
Birthday out of the way, we’re on the countdown… off to Taylors Arm this weekend to make enough space to fit in the contents of a one bedroom Sydney apartment. The removalist truck is confirmed for the 15th. New tenants move into the apartment on the 19th.
“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien,
Trying to get the G.O. to celebrate his birthday is like trying to prise a stubborn crab out of its hidey-hole. Unsurprising as he is born under the Cancerian astrological sign. For the first time ever I managed to persuade him to ditch work on a weekday birthday. Coercion that involved me using a precious annual leave day and suggesting he wouldn’t want me to celebrate his birthday on my own. It worked. Just. My backup tactic was to suggest if he didn’t stay home with me, I’d go to work with him.
As work commitments prevented us taking a long weekend away the G.O.’s celebration of choice was a coastal escape within the city environs.
After a sleep-in, leisurely coffees and gift unwrapping in bed we followed the route of my usual morning commute to Circular Quay, even making a dash to the cafe in my building for a soy chai latte & hot chocolate before joining Tuesday tourists and day-trippers on a ferry ride across Sydney Harbour to Watsons Bay, a 17 minute trip as opposed to the other public transport option of bus that takes near an hour to cover the 11 km distance.
“Watsons Bay is located on the southern head of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. To the east is the Tasman Sea and to the west is the Harbour with a glorious view of the city of Sydney in the distance.
Watsons Bay is where Governor Phillip first landed in Australia. It’s also recognised as Australia’s oldest fishing village, having been established in 1788.
The Bay is famous for being the home of the first Doyles Restaurant. The site on which the restaurant now stands is where Doyle originally sold his daily fish catch in 1845. It’s well worth the trip to Watsons Bay to eat at the restaurant or, alternatively, for a more informal meal, buy a take-away lunch from Doyles’ fish and chip outlet, located on the wharf, and eat it in the park and feed the seagulls.
There are two walking paths from the wharf, both require around one hour for the round trip. From the wharf you can walk north past Lady Bay (see their nude beach) and on to South Head…”
And we did just that, walked around to the north looking across to Manly, didn’t see any nudists although the day was a pleasant and sunny 20 degrees Celsius (winter in Sydney at its best!), enjoyed a simple fish and chip lunch accompanied by attentive seagulls, postprandial strolled until the sun enticed us to a garden bench with a harbour view before a speedy afternoon return on the ferry to Circular Quay.
Despite widely being attributed to him, Sherlock Holmes never said those words “Elementary, my dear Watson” but no doubt he would have by way of approbation of the G.O.’s excellent choice of destination of the same name.
Note: Australia’s place names have lost their apostrophes.
The days counting down to our anticipated long weekend away weren’t promising. Quite unwell with a throat infection, by day I tried to convince myself staying home and doing little was self nourishing, and by night I coughed. Neither the G.O. or I got much sleep. On Friday morning I dragged myself to work via a doctor’s appointment and pharmacy for dreaded antibiotics and cough mixture. But there was nothing else for it; despite rest and a repertoire of natural remedies I was getting worse, not better. I spent a bare hour at my desk preparing for 3 more days absence.
On the way home sitting in the train I thought to call the G.O. to tell him I’d escaped, noticed my phone battery was very low and my keys absent from my handbag. And concluded my mind also was absent. Trying to explain the situation to him briefly to conserve battery took quite some doing. We agreed as I had a spare key but no front door or lift swipe that I’d see if I could find the building manager or a neighbour home and get them to let me onto our floor. No luck.
I called the G.O. again and he reported he was on his way home but would return to work. I waited on a sunny bench in the park for an hour which did me no harm at all. When the G.O. arrived sanity had prevailed en route and he announced he was finished for the day. He considered packing the ute and leaving early for our drive north but lack of sleep and imminent peak hour traffic swayed him to get a good nights rest. We were in bed asleep by 7 pm.
But we were up and on the road early, crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge just after 3.30 am and by the dawn of my birthday were well along the highway. We stopped for BYO breakfast & cups of tea at a rustic roadside area, and made it to the M.I.L’s in less than 6 hours. After a brief chat with the M.I.L. and quick grocery shop we arrived home at Taylors Arm around midday to a messy garden that needed rain and a house that could do with a tidy up, but we were happy to be there to do it.
A couple of industrious hours and a well-earned shower later my birthday proper started with a glass of wine & opening of a cat adorned birthday card plus delightful, colourful gifts amassed by the G.O., and culminated in a seafood barbeque dinner.
On Sunday we pleasantly pottered, put up the Christmas tree and were visited by a Blue Tongue lizard and Soossie Cat. On Monday we had business to take care of in town, and the garden got a welcome few hours of enjoyable evening rain. All too swiftly Tuesday morning came around; time to head back to Sydney via a stop at Dad’s.
I had prepared for the drive which we have done super-numerous times, by downloading our first ever audio book onto my phone for the diversion of listening to Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander (#1) which I’ve read and we recently watched the TV series set in Scotland, enjoyed by the G.O.
At Dad’s we handed over his cakes, a bottle of his favourite oysters we’d picked up at Sandy’s Famous Seafood and a bag of Christmas gifts for the family. Dad handed over a card decorated with rubicund poppies (a flower loved by both Mum & me) in which he’d penned “sentimental 49th birthday wishes” accompanied by gifts of 2 old books; Mum’s Commonsense Cookery Book c 1963 and Nanna’s Advanced Commonsense Cookery Book -Mum’s handwriting on the flyleaf, a gift from Dad, Mum and me c 1968.
It was generous of Dad to confer these books to me. Mum’s Commonsense Cookery Book in particular bears the marks of being long used… and worrying evidence of contact with a stove hotplate!
The start of the final year of my fifth decade was simple, sentimental and splendid. My sister marked the occasion by sending me Kimberley Coffee Company teas she’d bought on her recent trip and a National Parks & Gorges calendar to tick off the months until my next birthday at which time all going to plan we will be on the threshold of stepping aside from our city-working-week-world into the next stage… of country living and caravan-on-the-road travels.
As far as I’m concerned too many long weekends are never enough, so opportunistically as the G.O.’s birthday fell on a Monday I suggested he take the day off work. Possibly influenced by his daily 160 km commute the G.O. weakened from his it’s just another day stance and agreed, but when I lobbed the idea of a weekend away into the air he let it bounce out of the court… The weather probably be won’t be any good and we’ve just been away for your sister’s wedding and at Taylors Arm…
I, being a good missus took the G.O.’s birthday off as well to keep him company. So it came to be that we had a self-proclaimed mid-winter long weekend in Sydney. In 9 years we’ve never spent a long weekend in Sydney, and otherwise a rare sequence of days greater than 2 in our apartment only due to illness or injury.
What to do? Well, nothing in a hurry – one of the benefits of having an in-house coffee machine. Eventually Saturday started out as usual with a walk through Sydney Park, on via the local Triumph motorcycle showroom as we were sort of heading in that direction to lunch at Velvet Garage then a detour to browse along King Street, stopping at a second-hand shop to pick up the kookaburras the G.O. had been thinking about, and a spur-of-the-moment frog.
Sunday morning didn’t look like we were going anywhere at all, as our lunch plans had fallen through, until the G.O. remembered he wanted to go to the movies. We couldn’t rouse ourselves further than the local Dendy Newtown, but The Rover (“featuring Guy Pearce – an Australian dystopian crime drama film… a futuristic western that takes place in the Australia outback, ten years after a global economic collapse”) was on at 2 convenient times so we got a wriggle-on and aimed for the earlier. Slightly confronting, we agreed however it had merit if not enjoyable in the usual sense of the word.
Monday even though it wasn’t my birthday was worth celebrating just because the alarm didn’t go off at 5 am. After the G.O.’s morning still-trying-to-give-up-cigarette (and being interrogated by the apartment building’s formidable lady-caretaker putting out the bins while he -apparently a stranger- appeared to be loitering out the front rolling it… “can I help you?”), coffee, porridge with stewed apples-pears & walnuts, gift unwrapping, and birthday phone calls, the G.O. decided to proceed with his only plan for the day, a short drive to Victory Motorcycles so he could inflict another round of exquisite should-I-shouldn’t-I torture on himself.
The G.O.’s lunch suggestions were boring so we went with my brain-wave to go back in time and across the city to our old stomping ground at the West Ryde Hotel aka Mary’s. Shock horror, the same-same exterior hid a surprise; the interior had been revamped… it appeared recent but given neither of us had set foot there for quite some time it could have been done well over a decade ago.
Lunch was excellent, the G.O.’s meaty as is his preference, and we dined in the less-changed grapevine covered beer garden. With time to kill we stopped in off in Balmain-Rozelle for a stroll and something sweet to take home before setting off to our post-4 pm collection point to pick up the Baron Star Bar handlebar for his motorcycle, which the G.O. used his previous birthday IOU to order from the U.S. just a week earlier. (Note to DHL couriers, not happy you couldn’t manage to press our buzzer to deliver it in person – we were at home).
Neither of us felt like much dinner, so it was birthday banana bread*, very appropriate for a Coffs Harbour raised boy.
* I’m not a particularly assured cook, and assumed café offerings such as madeleines, friands and banana bread weren’t the domain of ordinary cooks. I’ve now attempted all successfully, dispelling the mystique, but none more so than this simple banana bread I resorted to a couple of weeks ago because I had bananas in the freezer, and (unusually) milk in the fridge but no eggs.
Combine 3 mashed bananas, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 2 1/2 cups self-raising flour, and 1 cup milk, bake in loaf tin in 180 C (356 F) oven for 40 minutes.
Mum’s mum, Nanna S. kept two letters written to her by my mother in an era when married and moved less than 40 kilometres away to live with your new husband’s family you wrote home. Nanna had her own reasons for saving these letters for me, but what I read in the lines of my mother’s handwriting were words describing as a toddler how much I loved my Dad.
Dad had his 70th birthday last week. I called him late morning to allow him time to indulge in the sleep-in I knew he’d have. “You made it” I greeted him. He responded with “I got up for my usual quarter to four a piddle and wondered what day it was, and realised that… I made it”. He knows better than anyone else no bookie would have given him odds on a 70th birthday celebration.
The day after his birthday, despite unseasonably cold wet weather every family member who could, drove hundreds of kilometres to turn out for the celebration of this milestone in our family history. My grandfather, Pa, born in 1913 died at 61, and my grandmother died a couple of years before him age 50.
Dad, the eldest son, surpassed this and leads the way. His two brothers only a few years behind, the cheeky buggers never let him forget, chipping at him with comments such as “what’s it like being old?” Dad bides his time until posing for a youngest–eldest photo he casually comments to his brother in regard to 4 month old Ethan “your grandson’s got more hair than you”. No matter his age, Dad’s still got more hair than his brothers, very little grey and no mercy in playing his trump card.
My aunt, the only sister and youngest, responds to Dad’s assurances that he’s now obedient and doing what he’s told, with “It’s about bloody time, you’re old enough”. To which I can only remind her, “It’s words, just words. He does what he wants.” Much as the siblings are alike, Dad never took to conforming. This could account for Dad’s birthday being a day I greeted happily but on which I also shed a few private tears… for the there were many times I thought he wouldn’t make 50.
One of my first blog posts was about Dad, Ron: the year that was. I introduced him by explaining “As my parents’ only child I often attempt to explain my relationship with Dad by saying I only have one team to barrack for. Whatever he does good or bad, he’s all I’ve got left in the way of parents. This gets him away with a lot. Dad can be infuriating & amusing, randomly & concurrently. The longer you’ve known him helps, sometimes, understand him but not necessarily. Often you are just perplexed.”
Dad’s 2 main astrological aspects also provide further insight. He is sun sign Aquarian“… Lots of people like rainbows. Children makes wishes on them, artists paint them, dreamers chase them, but the Aquarian is ahead of everybody. He lives on one… you’ll have to be constantly prepared for the unexpected with Uranians. Generally kindly and tranquil by nature, Aquarians nevertheless enjoy defying public opinion, and they secretly delight in shocking more conventional people with occasional erratic conduct…” (Sun Signs – Linda Goodman) and moon sign Sagittarian “… Independent; philosophical mind; gregarious; adventurous; rebellious; humanitarian; intellectual; inspirational; social concerns; urge for expansion; verbose; big-hearted; tactless; confident; good teacher; optimistic; zany humour…” (Sun Sign, Moon Sign – Charles & Suzy Harvey). My sun and moon signs fall the opposite.
Coming up to age 23 when I was born he was a typical father of the Sixties. He worked as a motor mechanic, went to the pub, played sport and Mum & I tagged along. At almost age 40 when my first half-sister was born, he became a typical father also of the Eighties, starting a second family as I approached adult life. Mostly, Dad never fully acclimatised to modern father. I’m not sure if he attended the births of my three half siblings but at least with them [I believe] he attended the hospital rather than waiting at home for news, as he did for me in 1965. As they grew up, he didn’t like grungy hair, grungy clothes or loud grungy music. Dad continued as much as possible with Sixties style parenting but also did what he does best, coaching and running around to kids’ sport, following his own philosophy “the family that plays together stays together”… He grumbled a lot but predominantly ignored anything that didn’t fit with his view of the world. The kids are now wonderful adults some of whom will soon be on the cusp of starting families of their own.
For his birthday the G.O. and I gave Dad tickets to a show & dinner next month for him, my stepmother and us. After we’ll stay the night at their house and spend some time. However, I couldn’t allow Dad’s 70th birthday to pass without making him a little gift from me. I baked & assembled in an ordinary plastic container his favourite Rock Cakes, and dressed them up in a fancy box. Receiving the unexpected gift, he looked at me questioningly “what’s this?” opened it & peeled back the blue tissue paper, laughed, looked around and said “Don’t think I’m sharing. These are going in my shed”.
And, although Dad received a great selection of birthday gifts, my true 70th birthday wish for him, is to “keep going”… so he can also be the Best Pa.
“I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” are lines from one of my favourite poems: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot. Beyond that I hadn’t thought much about attaining the age of 50 even though according to my family on the occasion of my 46th birthday 50 is just around the corner.
Then, this message appeared in my In Box in the form of a joke email.
If you haven’t grown up
by age 50
you don’t have to.
I took heart. The few people I mentioned it to laughed and said “you don’t have to worry about that”. I think they were being kind?
Any thought I’d given to 50 wasn’t with dread, the age part at least, but the family expect a party and have pencilled out a two week exclusion zone in their calendars for the end of November 2015, and my best friend whose birthday is a fortnight after mine has already asked me about joint 50th birthday holiday destinations, for older women (WTF?).
I’ve always taken heart in the quote “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning” (Catherine Aird). Now I have something else to aim for. In the next 3 1/2 years I have to avoid:
- getting married, again.
- having kids, my own or care of anyone elses’.
- “acquiring” any more debt.
- getting another “proper” job – this one is my last, I swear.
- cutting my hair.
- getting a sensible car – what’s wrong with an almost 20 year old BMW? I rarely drive anyway.
- going with Mrs S. on a holiday tour for older women.
Even though I heard somewhere that 50 is the new 40, I don’t want to revisit my 40’s as it’s been a few years of just plain hard work & not as much fun as I’d have liked. It’s always been my plan to make my 50’s and beyond, the gypsy years… but whatever, I don’t have a problem with turning 50. The alternative is worse.