Gran About Town by Pat Ellingham
AFRIEND asked me the other day, her birthday, how she got to be so old. She was telling me how her six-year-old granddaughter had told her, over a birthday supper, that she liked the blue colour on her gran's eyelids. "There we were all girly," said my friend, "and just a minute ago I was changing her nappy."
It was my birthday too last week, and I was whisked away by the family to our favourite seaside spot in Gower for walks, swims, sandcastles and a birthday barbecue. This happens come rain or shine, with the rule that what I choose to do, they do, without complaint. And this includes a walk – a real walk, not just a scramble to the beach. Last year the grandsons were in luck because it rained too much to go further than the bottom of the garden. But this time we trekked up and over Rhossili Down and back again – and hey presto, the boys have started to warm up to climbing hills, with the reward of a view.
And yes, I have been wondering how I got to be so old too. I do not feel it inside, even if my outside does (especially my knees). But I must admit that it was a bit of a relief once my 60th passed.
For the baby-boomer generation, the big 60 looms through the end of your 50s – probably because those of us born when we were have that stupid label of baby-boomer attached, which conjures up a sort of eternal youth. The day before I was 60 I had been playing Frisbee with the youngest grandson, who said "You are playing really well for an old lady". He said it with such affection that I felt I had happily passed over that threshold of becoming, in the eyes of younger generations, an old lady. And that was a simple fact – like my gran before me, who was a beloved old lady to me, I am now that to him, even if I feel 18 inside.
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I had a great birthday celebration too – because the best thing about birthdays is that they are the one day of the year when you are the star of the show, when you walk around with a special glow. Coming back alone from Paris one year on my birthday I was delighted when the sour-faced gendarme at passport control scanned my document and suddenly beamed a flirty "bonne anniversaire" to me – a recognition of my stardom. When I was at school I thought I was so lucky to have a birthday in the summer holidays – no school, ever, for an August birthday girl.
But nowadays the best thing about birthdays is being with family and friends, the link to the people you are special to in life, and go on being special to. That reminds me of how, on my first day away from home at college, my new roommate and I were getting to know each other. We were both shy, maybe a little homesick, and the conversation came round to birthdays. "Mine is August 17," she said. "So is mine," I replied. And so we became the best of friends from that moment on, and always talk to each other, wherever we are, on our birthday.
Pat Ellingham is adjusting to retirement after 30 years working for the Avon Wildlife Trust. She lives in St Andrew's and has two grandchildren who live in Totterdown.