In less than a fortnight’s time I shall turn 70. Apart from finding that rather hard to believe, I’m also finding it difficult to celebrate it, too.
If we were not in the middle of a pandemic, it would be easy. Fly off to Sydney, spend a weekend in a five star hotel, see a show, dine at some fancy restaurants. It wouldn’t necessarily enthuse me all that much – been there, done that, got the t-shirt, ho hum – but it would feel, perhaps, appropriate. Made it so far, despite the odds. Still in pretty fair health. Comfortably retired by the ocean. Tick, tick, tick.
But just last week, a former husband of mine suffered a massive stroke and died just a month short of his eightieth. I’m glad. I don’t say that because I hated him, very much the reverse. Of all the men in my past he was the kindest, the wisest, the one who was there and quite literally saved me and turned my life around. Without him I wouldn’t have what I have now. In fact, I wouldn’t even be here.
No, I’m glad because he went almost overnight. From the first it was clear there was no hope of recovery, he was taken to a hospice, and he died without regaining consciousness. It’s exactly what he wanted – he had a horror of a long drawn out dying – and until the stroke, he was in good shape.
Well, physically, at any rate.
When he and I broke up, it wasn’t long before he found a new man. A few years ago, they retired to Florida. Then last November, after 33 years together, his husband died, also from a stroke, also quite unexpectedly. My ex never really got over it.
He was already in a state of despair at the situation in his country. More than a year ago this most peaceful of men became so fearful, he went out an bought a gun. Shortly before he died, he took to keeping it loaded.
All in all, I’m glad he’s gone, before he became any more sad and fearful. Before more of the things he feared came to pass. As they probably will.
This does not leave me in the best frame of mind for a celebration. Especially a celebration of survival.
In the years BC – Before Corona – we would probably have spent the time in the bosom of my UK family and friends, exhausting though that might have been. With so many people to see and places to visit, I wouldn’t have had time for introspection.
In fact, when we retired and moved here, a year ago April, we were full of travel plans. A cruise to the US via Hawaii, then up the coast to Canada, then on to Alaska. Trains across the Rockies and down to New York. None of that looks possible before 2023 at the earliest. Maybe never if Trump is re-elected. Maybe never even if he’s not.
When my husband worked for US multinationals, holidays were short, and rushed. Fly in Friday – what day is it today? – oh, that means we’re in Osaka – where are we going tomorrow? In retirement I was looking forward to long, leisurely breaks. Travelling the old fashioned way, by boat, and by train. I detest planes and loathe flying.
Then cruise ships turned into plague ships, and the world went into lockdown. And here we are. Stuck in Far North Queensland
I wasn’t at all sure I’d like being here, a country of rednecks, many descended from Southern slaveowners who came here after slavery was abolished and started new plantations, this time with sugar cane. Who invented new forms of slavery and gave it other names. No country for old lefty men like me.
And it’s hot. And steamy. Sometimes I feel I ought to buy a pith helmet so I can stagger about in the heat in baggy khaki shorts, mopping the sweat from my brow, like John Mills or Dirk Bogarde in some old black and white British movie about ‘hell in the tropics’. No country for a Lancashire boy who grew up scraping the frost off the inside of his bedroom window every winter morning to see what the weather outside looked like. Not that there was much point. It was always one of fifty shades of grey – fog, drizzle or snow.
Corona has given me a new appreciation for this place. Not many people about (especially with no tourists), infinitesimally low numbers of infections, and a long, long way from hotbeds like Victoria and NSW. Short of moving to a flyspeck town in the middle of the outback, we couldn’t have picked a safer place to hide out.
Count your blessings, Doug.
And it has to be said, self-isolation ain’t so bad when you can sit on your balcony looking out to sea and listening to the surf. Hearing the kookaburras cackle in the dawn, and the bats squabbling in the dusk. Watching the wallabies contentedly cropping the grass in the back garden. Waiting for the Wollies grocery delivery.
Even the eerie, unnerving wails and moans of the stone curlews in the night don’t seem quite so bad any more.
You see my difficulty? Overseas trips are out, and Aussie ones are pointless. There’s no reason to go on a tropical beachside break. We already live in one. There’s no point in going to a big city when there are no shows, no cinemas, and few restaurants. And a night or two out in Cairns? If your idea of fun is getting a load on and chundering your way round the gutters, this is the place for you. As a non-drinking, non-smoking old white man – once again, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
What about a weekend on a Barrier Reef island, then? But the really nice places are either still shut or already booked, even the one at $2k a night, to which my accountant husband said, “Honey, I know you’re special. But not that special.” Which leaves the <<shudder>> ‘family friendly’ resorts. No thank you.
I suppose we could hire a chef/waiter/bartender. I mean, I have always thought I was born to have a domestic staff to take care of me, but sadly it hasn’t happened. Yet. But as the other half isn’t keen, it will be a quiet evening at home with hubby. Rather than a major milestone, 70 will be marked by a small discreet plaque.
Still, it could be worse. It could be a tombstone.