Friday, 19 February 2016

Fifty shades of Age

I know it’s just a number, but the day I reached my half century was pretty special.

Being weird means you might get weird presents on your birthday....
I have a happy, fulfilling and probably somewhat-sheltered life.  I’m quick to acknowledge those I owe my contentment to - fiercely-loving, brave, pioneering parents who came halfway across the world in search of a better existence, an incredible woman sharing my life who is probably the best thing about me, and a few, long-suffering friends who enrich my life in ways they’ll never know.

I turned fifty this week, an occurrence which both astonishes and pleases me at the same time - like reaching a far-off destination in good time and on less fuel and monetary expenditure than you expected.
But last year, I had a pretty wretched birthday - choosing to spend it at work and by sheer bad luck having a ‘lousy day at the office’.  On top of this my Facebook privacy settings somehow decided to conceal the fact that it was my birthday, and anyone who might have cared remained blissfully unaware that the day was significant to me.

I wasn’t about to repeat this mistake for my fiftieth and so took the day itself, and those either side, off (and re-checked my Facebook settings).

Rose began her schedule of ‘secret’ events by inviting nearby friends and neighbours for pre-birthday drinks on Sunday afternoon.  I think I’m a much more relaxed guest than host, but having so many familiar faces give their time to gather for my benefit is something you can’t help but enjoy.  Bringing them all together also gave many an opportunity to catch up, and it was heart-warming to see so many friends in animated conversation with each other, on our deck,  on a perfect summer’s afternoon.

My birth date itself dawned hot, with the traditional opening of cards in bed.  
Rose’s card came with the message : “This is a day full of clues which need to be solved…” and proved to be the case at each stage of an unforgettable birthday.
I steadfastly failed to decipher the clever and rhyming clues which came with a new gift at each destination, but was very happy to be led by the nose through the day.  

Clues and itinerary, one of the best organisers on the planet
made no exception on my birthday
Beginning with breakfast at our favourite Greytown cafe, we headed to Wellington for the next stage of the adventure.  Incredibly, we met with wind and rain on our journey, but this rapidly began to disappear as we reached the capital. Free-forming until the sun was shining fully again, we ducked into Te Papa to see the acclaimed Scale of our War ANZAC exhibition, but queues formed from the passengers of the two enormous cruise ships docked in the harbour sent us to the Dreamworks exhibition instead.  

A swooping, very wide-screen dragon flight through the world of How to train
your Dragon
is an exhilarating highlight of the Dreamworks exhibition
It might have been second choice, but I’m so glad we saw the beautifully designed celebration of this studio’s art and creativity (including the actual greenhouse set from Curse of the Were-Rabbit!).  There’s nothing like a sharp reminder of how an illustrator might not have tried hard enough, and missed his calling, on his 50th birthday…

All too soon it was time to board the East by West Ferry fro our trip to Days Bay, on the far side of the harbour.  The day was hot and sunny by this time, and we sat up on the top deck, taking in views of the harbour we haven’t seen since living in this city.  We crossed the wake of the recently passed Interislander and picked up some of the larger vessel's ocean-going companions as they turned to follow us instead - yes, I even got dolphins on my birthday!

The original plan had been to paddle board at Days Bay, but being behind schedule and a northerly breeze made us quite happy to park this activity for another time - as long as I got into the sea at some point I’d be more than happy.

"We're on a boat!"
We had a wonderful lunch at the Cobar restaurant, looking out across the harbour from a shaded outside table, watching the local school take to the water on their ‘beach day’, the squeals of delight reminding me how I used to, and still feel about getting into water at any opportunity.
We swam out to an anchored raft straight after lunch, the sea surprising Rose with how much warmer it is than the Wairarapa rivers we’re used to.  I carried on to the Day’s Bay wharf, and then we thad time for a coffee at another cafe before catching the ferry back again.

Judging by that smile I’m not the only one who loves being in the sea on a hot afternoon.
At a couple of points during the afternoon it looked as if the sun might finally be disappearing behind hazy high cloud for good, but every time it seemed to blast out with full force again (as evidenced by Rose’s ruddy complexion when we got home ).

Passing Te Papa again on the way back to the car, we decided to try our luck with the Scale of our War exhibition again, and this time we got straight in.  Not only was the detail of the oversized human figures overwhelmingly impressive, from magnified stitching and shoelaces to skin pores and stubble, but the Gallipoli-themed installation was naturally very moving.  

Richard Taylor touches up one of the gigantic recreations of an Anzac combatant
in the Scale of Our War exhibition.
A beautiful home-cooked meal marked the end of a very full and indulgent day.  Relaxing with a movie, whisky in hand and skin pleasantly taut with an abundance of sun and sea spray is my favourite way to end any day.  Unwilling to let it all end, I stayed up late, watching a movie and responding to birthday wishes on Facebook (yes, the settings worked properly this time).
As I self-indulgently reflect on my rather selfish life so far I realise that it isn’t really about me.  What makes me smile now, and always, are the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. 


  1. Awesome. And many more happy returns of the day, you rather splendid fellow!

    1. Thanks so much Mr Simian, you are certainly one of those smile-inducing people I've met along the way...

  2. Yes, very belated birthday wishes! No wonder I feel that you are wiser than me, you've got ten years on me.

    1. Thanks so much, Jamas - but I'm really only older than you!

  3. What a superb way to celebrate the big 50, Al. I'm making a mental note for when this event comes up for me in a couple of years' time. Many happy returns!

    1. Thanks again Paul - and I'm sure none of us will let your big 50 event go past unmarked!