There’s nothing like shifting up a decade to make you reflect on the past and think ahead to the future. Although getting older has its downsides, in other ways life gets easier: most of us wise up a bit, are less preoccupied with how we come across and whether people like us. We’re not so worried about how many exams we’ve passed and how high up the career ladder we’ve climbed. We know what we stand for, what we value most in life and whom we want to spend time with.
I made a fuss of my recent big birthday and celebrated being alive, well and still on planet earth. But most of all, I celebrated family and friends, from ‘old’ friends in the UK to ‘new’ friends here in Australia. They are all part of who I am and who I have become, and I am so grateful for all the ways in which they have enriched my life.
I received some wonderful birthday gifts, messages and cards with a few key themes emerging: tea, tea drinking and Britishness (Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa); jewellery, beautiful pottery, glass and ceramics; books, travelling and writing (a kindle, an oversize visual feast Lonely Planet book and a plaque of Charlotte Bronte, a great talisman (or should I say taliswoman?) to inspire my writing), and all things dog related (from a cocker spaniel mug to a book on dog behaviour).
A very special friend from the UK, Monica, who I have known since we were both 14 – and I am singling her out because she is dealing with extremely confronting challenges in her family life – found time to send me a parcel containing a few of my favourite things. Bit by bit I unwrapped a packet of Earl Grey Darjeeling containing ’15 biodegradable tea temples’ from a company with a dachshund logo called teapigs, some Earl Grey lip balm (organic and vegan), a long striped scarf in vibrant colours, some Tuscan blood orange body balm (free of nasties and animal testing), a designer linen towel, some wild (English) rose shower cream, a gorgeous enamel necklace, photos from our younger days (yikes, what was I doing with permed hair?) and a card full of special messages and in-jokes featuring a chocolate Lab listening to his iPod. I was so touched and yet so sad she was not with me that I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
And then I had a little soiree courtesy of my brother and his wife who generously opened up their house so I could mark my milestone with a few friends. And what an evening it was! It was not only a celebration of my half century but also the culmination of nearly ten years in Australia. The whole evening was characterised by the warmest and most affectionate of vibes with my mother, sister and niece tuned in via Skype from their kitchen in London. And I needn’t have worried what my brother would say about his little sister; he made a wonderful speech full of childhood memories such as smashing our mother’s best tea set, rolling down bracken-covered hills and driving up icy hills in Derbyshire. He went on to acknowledge my academic and professional successes at the same time lamenting my disasters with men and dating. Thank God for Bertie dog, he concluded.
And then, as a complete surprise, my friend Rosi, whom I met in choir, bravely took centre stage (well, I could hardly hog it ALL evening) and sang to me her specially written version of These Are a Few of My Favourite Things. Cleverly, with all the verses rhyming, she wove in references to my being a striving self-helper and writer with a stiff neck habit, a fan of the Feldenkrais method and Ayurvedic practice, a not-for-profit grant-writer, a Bayside-dwelling, literature and dog-loving Brit with a fatal attraction for the wrong kind of men. It was the most affectionate warts ‘n’ all tribute one would wish for.
Never have I felt so loved and appreciated. For once I was not the singleton at the wedding, the wallflower at the dance, the outsider at the new school or the new kid in town. It was my party and I could float around like a Queen if I felt like it (my friend Tim from Hepburn Springs actually alluded to me and Her Maj in the same sentence, although I doubt Liz would wear fake flowers from Sportsgirl in her hair…). Surrounded by loving friends and family, I realised like never before that it really was OK to be me – imperfections, hang ups, trials, tribulations, triumphs, the whole shebang – and still be loved and lovable. And as for the men, well I’ve still got up to 50 years to change the pattern (we are, of course, living longer and longer). Meanwhile, as American singer and song writer Carrie Underwood is reputed to have said: “The more boys I meet, the more I love my dog.” Thank God, indeed, for beautiful Bertie. Ladies and Gentlemen please raise a toast to my devoted hound.