Forty Years On

Today, April 16th 2023, is a beautiful day after several weeks of rain, cloudy skies and strong winds.  It is also exactly forty years since Jacqui and I met, in a discotheque in east London.  Yes, I really am that old, and who goes to a disco now?  Or even calls them that? Forty years on from that date we are at a place we never could have imagined.  Still together, for a start as we met on the rebound and decided we both needed some nice times for a change.  We would stay together as long as we were having fun.  Well, I guess we still are.

Time is a funny thing, simultaneously objective and subjective with whole years collapsing in the memory but tiny events glittering like fireflies in the dark.  It seems as if there have been mountains to climb, over our life together and in the last three years.  We both learnt the benefit of focussing on smaller tasks, partly from the Open University and partly from bitter experience.  A six or eight year course of study is impossibly daunting.  One year at a time seems possible. 

Our Saltburn Lantern Light

Our first year in Ireland – the first nine months or so – we were trying to unpack.  We had to adjust to lockdowns in a strange place, making the house comfortable and coping with the losses and damage from the move.  This was very hard as we kept finding broken items or things with pieces missing, not to mention some precious items gone completely.  This included most of the power tools so many small problems became one big problem.   Already in a state of exhaustion and shock, this made everything much, much harder.  The next year we were recovering from Jacqui’s heart attacks and beginning to make small changes in our surroundings.  We have pictures up – lots of pictures.  We have (partially) tamed the lawn in the back garden.  With a lot of help we have made improvements in the wood, gaining a magnificent wood store in the process.

Now we have more energy and are making plans again. In small steps this last week we got the mower out and did a quick service.  Now the grass is less jungle-like and hopefully the little frogs will retire to the wood again.  I drive very slowly round, peering ahead to spot them jumping away.  I’m very proud of the fact I managed to reverse the mower into its shed which is narrow and dark.  I was too nervous to do that last year but as we plan on hiring a mini-digger soon I thought I’d better widen my skill set.  Where the Leylandii trees were Jacqui has fixed tubs on the stumps for flowers. Ireland is very green – lots of yellow and green mainly – and the painter in her craves brighter colours.

The side garden, “Betsy’s Garden”, is coming on nicely too.  The chrysanthemums were glorious last autumn so we are adding more, in different colours.  The soil obviously suits them and they are comfortably low maintenance.  We are looking for native honeysuckle plants to grow against the wall.  They’re not much to look at but the scent is wonderful.  I had a bed-sit in London with a honeysuckle hedge out front and forty years on I still love the scent.  And the trail cameras have captured some colour pictures as the sun rises earlier.  The badger continues to boss the wood but the pine marten shows great cunning.  He’s taken to running along the back fence, a defensible route that leaves little scent.  Clever Mr Pine Marten!

Of course, not everything goes to plan.  The main shower has been playing up, getting decidedly cool, so I tried to get a replacement thermostat bar.  This was only available in a complete set (of course) and had no instructions at all enclosed but, undaunted, I tried the repair.  This involved a lot of running back and forth to turn off the water, then on, then back off again.  It leaked, of course.  I worked back towards the wall to discover the olive was missing on one pipe.  When I removed the final plate it seems the water pipe is glued into place so I can’t get behind it.  Now it’s back to trying to find a real plumber.  I was going to replace the toilet seat but after yesterday I’m not so sure.  I have a sneaking suspicion we might end up with just a hole in the floor.

We used to be quite musical and as we packed our instruments ourselves they made the journey unscathed.  It’s a long time since we’ve played anything much and we have stiff fingers (me) and a wobbly lip (Jacqui).  We’ve joined an on-line quiz group however and part of it is a musical interlude or two.  Wanting to contribute something, we’ve unpacked and polished up the saxophone, glockenspiel and tenor recorder and are doing our best to produce something that doesn’t make the dogs bark.  Forty years on, I can still remember the fingering for a number of tunes.  I just can’t manage the actual playing so well.  Undaunted (if accompanied by Tibetan Spaniels) we will press on.  It’s another return to normal at last.

So here we are, having taken a journey one step at a time, with occasional leaps into the unknown.  We will have a quiet dinner tonight and raise a glass to this most improbable but wonderful life together.  When we met Jacqui wrote out the lyrics to Bob Seger’s “Little Victories” for me.  As a plan for life it seems perfect.  Much of what we do we celebrate as a “little victory” and they add up over the years.

I think the same can be applied to efforts to help others.  No-one can right all wrongs or help everyone.  Instead we choose an individual or a family, and the impact can be lovely.  One of our favourites is a tiny non-profit project in Kenya run by a friend.  Called “Lighthouse – family matters”, this supports a family with several special needs children providing a house, water, medicine and the means to grow food.  You can find them on Facebook, at  Truly a “little victory”.

Here’s to Forty Years On.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all again in a couple of weeks.

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