3 Anniversaries and a Birthday

3 Anniversary Cakes

Tomorrow is my birthday. Which I suppose is the anniversary of my arrival on Earth, so that’s four really. But I’ll keep things simple and call it a birthday plus three anniversaries.


The first event happened on the evening before my eighth birthday. We’d only been in the new-built house for five months, so my mother was furious when I got lost in a book and forgot my bath was running until screams from downstairs pulled me back into this world. The bath had overflowed and hot water was pouring through the floor into the kitchen below.

Furious that night, and she stayed livid for some time afterwards. The 18th of January has never lost its association with our kitchen ceiling coming down.

The second event was when on the morning of my thirtieth birthday and the morning of the next day, I had to sit two four-hour criminal law exams. I passed them well, but I still call that a cruel and unusual punishment.

And the third event was exactly a year later, when I was in the West Country waiting for Janette to go into labour with our third daughter, Bev, in London.

I had a deal with my employer that my arranged two-week leave would start when she went into labour, but I had to rely on my mother-in-law to get the word to me and frankly I didn’t trust her to bother.

Also, we’d sold our car in preparation for us all moving out to Gibraltar together to take up my new two-year position as soon as Bev was four weeks old and safe to fly. That’s why Janette and the girls were in London while I worked out my last few weeks in my old job.

Also, also, there was no direct rail route between us. It wasn’t going to be a quick and simple journey from my office to the maternity hospital.

So I called my mother (in yet another part of the country, still in our family home with the kitchen ceiling five months newer than the rest of the house) and asked her to phone my place of work first thing the next morning and say Janette was in labour.

Which she was, actually, only guess what: she’d trusted her mother to phone me but her mother hadn’t bothered.

So I made it to hold Janette’s hand during all three of our daughters’ births, despite difficult journeys and difficult people, and that’s my happiest association with this date.

Shall I tell you about my life?

Whenever I hear Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac playing Man of the World, it takes me back to an August evening long ago.

I was spending a few weeks in a quiet backwater Royal Navy establishment in Cornwall. Many personnel were away on summer leave, so the place was running on a skeleton staff and its social life was even quieter than normal.

One of the bars stayed open for us. It had a free juke box and a terrace overlooking a beautiful lake, and an entertaining mix of young men and women took to meeting there every evening. About, I don’t know, fifteen of us. Maybe twenty some nights. We weren’t partying hard, but there were impromptu bar games going on and probably two or three raucous late nights.

I loved the lake. When the tide was low it exposed a wide expanse of deep mud, but the terrace was high enough above it for the smell not to reach us. At high tide it stretched for two miles left to right and a mile across to the far bank, and its still water reflected the dark green rounded hills that circled it. It was a stunningly beautiful place.

One evening I sat out on the terrace on my own. Not lonely or sad or anything. Just, you know, thoughtful without really thinking about anything. Having a quiet time.

Not completely quiet. With all the windows and doors thrown wide open to catch whatever breezes that might move the hot August evening air through the bar, I could hear the juke box clearly. And for those few weeks, our little social group of assorted characters had chosen Man of the World as our favourite record on the machine.

I think it was the B side of I Need Your Love So Bad. Not sure about that. They were already old songs back then, and it’s a long time ago now.

The lyrics didn’t reflect my state of mind or anything going on in my life. It was just a great blues song, and I loved it.

So it came on for maybe the twentieth time that evening, and I gazed out across the darkening lake, and one of my new friends brought me out a pint of chilled lager or something.

She stood enjoying the evening with me for a few minutes, and then said, “She’s out there somewhere.”

I looked up. “Hm?”

“You’re waiting to meet her. You will. She’s out there.”

I gave a polite smile and she winked then returned indoors.

Didn’t know what that was about. I wasn’t looking for anyone. I wasn’t lonely. My career was busy, and as well as the assortment of oddballs I’d met in our little summer oasis I had a good social life that included several lovely women.

But d’you know what? She was right.

When the leave period finished and the establishment filled with its normal personnel again, one of the people who came back was my wife-to-be. We met, became friends, and fell in love. A year later we got engaged, and two years after that we got married. And we’re still together.

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re looking for a person or thing or event that’s going to change our life.

The thing to remember is, be open. Because you just never know.

September Mornings

Neil Diamond's September Morn always reminds me of a quiet moment years ago. Click To Tweet

At that time I was based a way along the coast from where we live now. My wife was pregnant with our third daughter. I worked in a small team, and on that day we’d arranged to open up our bar on the base and meet for a lunchtime drink. I can’t remember why it was a quiet day, but there was no one else around. Only us four, with our families.

The kids played out in the garden and we sat on a line of stools at the bar, chatting about non-work stuff while a mixed tape played in the background.

When September Morn came on, we all shut up for some long thoughtful moments. I don’t know why. I don’t remember having any sort of premonition or anything, but you know how sometimes a moment catches you? Like that.

Just a few years later, our close team was broken. One died, two of us got hurt, and the fourth got the hell out.

I’m sure we’re all very different people now, in many ways. But whenever I hear this song I remember us as the fit, strong young men we were that September day, with our wives and little kids around us, sharing a quiet moment of mutual trust and respect.

Neil Diamond – September Morn




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