Funny thing, birthdays. They keep turning up, like the man who regularly knocks on the front door and tries to sell me horse manure. ‘Lovely stuff, Mr Le Pard. Nice and friable. Good for the roses.’ Like my birthdays.
This one, today, is my sixty-fifth. Back when a Johnson was a slang term for a penis and not a Prime Minister (though the analogy remains apt), turning 65 meant you would retire from your paid employment, come what may and receive your state pension. Neither are any longer true. I retired from the law a while ago though I dislike to concept of retiring, as indeed I think do most people. In part that is because, when the state pension was first a thing, you weren’t expected to live much beyond receiving your first instalments whereas nowadays, with a following wind (and, let’s face it, at 65 you really do not want to be facing your wind) you have a few years to indulge whatever it is that is your passion.
When Dad retired, he turned to poetry. he’d always written poetry but he began to generate a lot. I couldn’t find one of his about turning 65, but he wrote this of growing old..
Life In An Old Dog
When a man grows old and the fire goes cold
Down in the boiler room,
And he can’t remember how to fan the embers,
He’s inclined to lapse into gloom.
But such melancholy is unnecessary folly,
And may easily be cured,
By bearing in mind the solace he can find
In the warm, and the ripe, and the matured.
For a roll in the hay, in the month of May,
Though exciting, was not always a success,
But a delicate affaire when the trees are bare
Can be rewarding – and a lot less stress!
And there is this one he wrote for his mother-in-law’s 90th.
To Gran – Ninety Years On (October 7 1986)
On October 7 1896 the Wright Brothers hadn’t yet flown
Women were not allowed to vote, Victoria was still on the throne,
Oil was something you put in lamps, the railways ran on coal,
Titanic was just an engineer’s dream, Scott hadn’t raced for the Pole.
The map of the world was still half red, men always stood for the Queen,
And a blacksmith’s forge, not a garage, looked out on the village green:
Horses were used throughout the land by baronet, bishop and brewer,
And though no-one choked on exhaust fumes, city streets were choked with manure.
Two World Wars were horrors undreamed – except by HG Wells
And on Sunday mornings the only noise in the land was the ring of bells.
Space travel and nuclear power were a million miles away
But a letter cost only a red penny stamp and delivery took just one day.
No-one had watched television, or flown, in six hours, the Atlantic,
The countryside lived by the seasons – and the pace was scarcely frantic.
Twopence you needed for ten cigarettes, or a gin, or a pint of beer,
And in the pub you could talk to men who had fought in the cold Crimea.
That’s how it was ninety years ago, in an England long since gone,
So it’s good to know, in this transitory world, that one thing is still going strong
I refer to Grace Lillian Francis who all through the years, bad and good,
Kept her powder dry and her head held high as an Englishwoman should.
But this is no time to be serious, too deep or too profound
This is your special day, Gran, with your family all around.
We wish you a Happy Ninetieth Birthday – and bright tomorrows, too,
Gran, with all Our love and respect, we raise our glasses to you.
Mind you, she never retired…