Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Life begins at 40? 50? .... 

Oh, I nearly forgot. Yesterday marked my seventeen thousand eight hundred and ninety-seventh day as a unique individual on this planet (if I’ve counted leap-years correctly). Or to put it another way, my 49th birthday.

As Denny also said a while back, birthdays aren’t especially significant events for me. But chatting with a friend recently I was surprised to realise how many of the activities and interests which I now think of as in part defining – or at least representing – who I am, were begun only since I turned 40.

Although I did a bit of rock climbing as a teenager, I only took it up seriously about seven years ago. But since then I’ve got equipped with the necessary hardware (climbers are renowned for their love of shiny things) and can lead the simpler climbs (up to VS – Very Severe – for anyone interested). I love the freedom and anarchy and escape and self-reliance and adrenalin and trust and focus and simplicity and being-out-there that climbing brings; the views are pretty good too.

For many years I allowed the constraints of having a young family to keep myself apart from hills and mountains that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But one day it dawned on me that I didn’t need to stay apart any longer; my two lads were easily old enough to come out in the hills with me, so we joined the Youth Hostels Association and that Easter spent three days hiking in the mountains of the English Lake District. Those Easter trips into the hills have become something of a tradition now; usually camping, as that accentuates the independence, the simplicity, the separation from the complications of everyday life and the closeness to nature.

Possibility is a fascinating country. The more you explore it, the more you find. One step leads to another and another and before you know it you’re face to face with what before had seemed impossible. The mountains in winter are even more beautiful than in summer; I was at the same time powerfully drawn to them yet felt impossibly remote from them; winter mountaineering just seemed totally beyond the realms of possibility for me. But with a small windfall, the impossible suddenly became achievable, as I booked myself on a winter skills course in Scotland a couple of years ago, returning last year with one of my lads to put those skills into practice.

Music has always been a very significant part of my life. And I’ve now found music-making with others to be the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspect of that. Yet my ability at the instruments I used to play was never really up to any kind of performing – it was purely for my own amusement and enjoyment. But about six years ago, events led me to take up the bass guitar – and I found an instrument ideally suited to my temperament, working quietly (well, relatively so!) in the background, supporting the other musicians – and simple enough not to need hours of practice every day!

In recent years I’ve come to value development of the whole person – mental, physical, social, spiritual. But the physical side was lacking. I used to run, but was wary of pushing that too hard as I have had knee problems. So four and half years ago I began cycling in to work – a 30 mile round trip into London and back. The first day nearly killed me… but it’s got just a little easier since then, nearly 17,000 miles later.

And now, of course, there’s this blog.

Is that all a bit self-congratulatory? Well, I reckon just every once in a while it’s okay to blow your own trumpet, and if not on a birthday, when else? Anyway, I can attempt to excuse it as an encouragement for anyone entering their fourth decade who fears that they’re “over the hill”. Don’t you believe it – the fun’s just starting!

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