I had a birthday this week – hooray! It fell during the working week, so the day itself, while punctuated with lovely cards and gifts, messages and calls from family and friends, was the usual race against the clock of writing, drafting, planning and phone calls. But Mr Marr was working from home, so I had a cup of tea in bed in the morning (always very welcome) and he baked me a cake. Mr Marr isn’t known for his baking skills, and Mary Berry’s Large Victoria sponge is the only recipe he has ever attempted, but it was divine; filled with raspberry jam and topped with lemon icing.
The real birthday celebration was over the weekend when we escaped for a night in our van. The colours of the Cairngorms were glorious – they always are at this time of year – and we managed to dodge the forecast wet weather. Walks at Carrbridge and cycles round Loch an Eilean and Loch Morlich were the wholesome, fresh-air antidote to the rib-sticking casserole, bread and butter pudding and bottle of red we devoured at night.
I don’t look forward to birthdays as much as I used to – I guess that’s only natural – but I have never dreaded them either. Turning 40 was a milestone which we marked with a party in the house (mine) and a trip to Seville (Mr Marr’s). 50 was an excuse to escape with friends to a lovely country house (me) and go back to our wedding hotel (him). 53 is a bit unremarkable, but it’s still a birthday, and therefore time to take stock. And to be grateful for all that I have; a lovely family, a nice house, good friends, a job that I love and my health.
People our age are so much older than us
I am quite surprised to find that I’m 53. As one birthday card said ‘People our age are so much older than us’ and it’s true. Inside I still feel the same as I did in my 20s and I’m probably fitter (despite the gammy leg) than I was then. I am occasionally surprised when I look in the mirror that I have grey roots and wrinkles, but then I remember that I’ve been married for 25 years and have two grown-up children.
The thing about 53 is that although I think of myself as still young, my time is beginning to run out. I don’t mean that in a maudlin, depressive sort of way, but statistically speaking, most of my useful, adult life is probably behind me. If we take 18 as the starting point of adulthood (on my 18th birthday I was at Edinburgh University studying law, and, honestly, I knew nothing) I have been a sort-of adult now for 35 years. Another 35 years would take me to 88, but average life expectancy for a woman born in the UK in 1966 is 74.8, which leaves just another 21 years. Which also means that I’ve already got enough unread novels by my bedside to see myself out, and probably enough shoes…
There is no time to waste
Looking at it this way, it’s clear that there’s no time to waste. I need to make the most of each day, and not just take my life for granted, wishing the week away and living for the weekends. Because, let’s face it, anything could happen. Too many friends are ill or have died – they didn’t reach retirement or get to do some of the things I still have the chance to do. I owe it to them – and to myself – to make the most of whatever time I have left.
I still have big plans, you know. I want to live right beside the sea, so I can watch the tides. A wee dinghy might be fun so I can nip out for a sail if conditions are right. I’d like to set off in our van and pootle around continental Europe for a year, and cycle bits of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. Closer to home I’d like to summit Ben Nevis when the visibility isn’t so poor that you can’t see your sandwiches. And I’d like much more time with Mr Marr and our daughters and to have time to get to know any future grandchildren.
I have a lovely life, I really do. I have been lucky in love, in my careers, with my health and with my family and friends. And it sounds like a cliché, but I genuinely do feel lucky to be 53, when that has been denied to so many. Of course, I have no idea what’s around the corner; I might not make it to 54. But I’m not going to waste being 53, I promise.