When I was ten years old, I thought my primary teacher Mrs Fraser was an old woman. Turns out she was 21
When I was 35, on the eve of my birthday, I had a sleepless night. That was me halfway through my three score years and ten – half my life done and dusted. And suddenly I’m 60.
How did that happen? I don’t feel 60. Okay, I make a wee noise when I sit down and a slightly louder wee noise when I get up again.
I forget people’s names. I do walk into the bedroom and wonder what I went there for. I got all the way though through security at Glasgow Airport this morning and then realised I’d left my laptop outside on one of those metal preparation tables.
When I’m out fishing with my buddies, we do like to talk about our aches and pains. They’ve got gout. I’ve got sciatica. Yes, I have a beer baby. Not triplets like it was for a while in my early fifties. But not exactly a six-pack either.
The funny thing is that I still feel like a 17-year-old. This is a happy time of my life. Anything could happen and it probably will – which is exactly how I felt at 17.
I had just finished school, I was a council dustbinman when the dustbins were big metal things you humped on to your shoulder and ran with. You also got driven round the city standing on a platform at the back of the bin lorry.
The money was good, around £50 a week. I spent it on LPs, beer, trout flies and going to see Hibs. At the weekend, I went out drinking with my pals, most of whom were girls. Unless it was a boys’ night, in which case we went to The Ormelie in Portobello, Mathers’ at the West End, Porter’s in Portobello or the Diggers in Gorgie.
Back then the barmen wore white aprons and the beer was delicious. I mean it was sensationally good. When we came out the pub we sang in the street.
Old-fashioned songs like I Left My Heart In San Francisco and Whispering Grass.
Sometimes we got into a fight. We never started it but you know how it is, these things happen. I lived at home with my mum and dad, Kate and Maggie my wee sisters and Michael my wee brother. My mum and dad loved each other, we could tell. Sometimes bad stuff happened because my mum was bi-polar but we got through it okay.
Then suddenly I was married with four kids of my own, learning to be a dad losing sleep, coping with being unemployed, taking driving lessons, moving house, fighting with my wife.
Suddenly, after 30 years I wasn’t married any more and my grown-up kids had to get their heads round that bomb going off in their lives. It wasn’t easy for them or me but it was worth it. I’m re-married now and it’s amazing.
On Saturday night we had the best party of my life so far. A sweaty night in the upper room of The Leith Depot with all my loved ones there – friends, family and good food. A live band who played their socks off. I got up to sing. My kids’ girlfriends and boyfriends got up to sing. My son’s fiancée played the saxophone.
It was the best version of Uptown Funk I’d ever heard. I wore a stupid grin on my face all night. When I looked around the room, everybody else had a stupid grin on too.
My brother read out a poem and my oldest son James wrote a happy version of Philip Larkin’s famously miserable poem with the f-bomb in it: “They buck you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to but they do/ They fill you with the gifts they had/And add some extra, just for you.”
Life is sweet at 60. Bring on the bus-pass.
Beirut gig beats the blistering hot tomatoes
I’ve flown a lot of air miles. I’ve been shoe-horned into tiny, cramped seats with my knees pressed up against the back of the seat in front of me.
I’ve eaten some really terrible meals. Dry rolls. Cheese in cellophane packs you have to open with your teeth. Mystery meat. Scalding hot tomatoes that burst, blistering your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
I took my first wife to the Seychelles for her 40th birthday. It was a 17-hour flight. Halfway there we landed and people in masks and protective jumpsuits came on with spray-guns and sprayed us all with insecticide that smelt like a chemical factory in Kirkcaldy and stung our eyes. It was like a special forces assault. Don’t ask me about the toilets. Plane toilets are obnoxious.
But the other day I got lucky. I’d just finished a creative workshop in Manchester, teaching young creatives how to have better ideas. The organisation which ran the course asked me if I’d like to do another two. I said yes of course, where are they? (I was thinking maybe Birmingham and Brighton.) “Dubai and Beirut” they said. “We’ve managed to wangle you into Business Class. You’ll be flying Emirates.”
Well, here I am, a couple of miles up in a seat that turns into a bed. I’ve got a tablet that operates a widescreen TV in front of me with a thousand movies, video games and music options.
I’ve just eaten a starter of peat-smoked salmon and a lamb curry. My table-cloth is white linen, the cutlery’s metal and there’s a steward walking about with a basket of wines, refilling my glass with my choices from the wine-list they showed me earlier.
Every so often the curtain opens and a stewardess walks through from first class. I get a sneaky glimpse of what’s on offer. Everybody there has their own wee room, with an even wider wide-screen telly, a work-desk and an actual bed with a mattress and two pillows!
I hate to think how much extra that must cost. I also wonder what I would have to do to get myself upgraded. Friends have told me it’s happened to them and they’ve never been able to figure out why. It just seems to be random, like winning the lottery.
Maybe I should tell them I’ve just turned 60.
Parents in my heart forever
I lost my mum and dad the year before last. They lived long lives and we always felt loved so their passing left a raw ache.
I thought they were gone forever but something lovely has happened. I’ve started to dream about them.
They turn up, not as they were when I was a child, but as they were when I’d become an adult.
They’re exactly the same. It feels real. We hang out together. Then I wake up and of course, they’ve gone.
But the afterglow lasts all day. It doesn’t distress me at all, it just places them carefully back in my heart, where they belong.