- February 9, 2016
The Early Train
Landmarks in your life can be epic in proportion – and pathetically mundane. A first watch at age seven, then not much at 14, then a huge to-do at 21, even though the age of consent had been changed to 18. Yes 18, I’m not that old, well not that old quite yet thank you very much.
For me getting into college was a massive milestone at the tender age of 17 years old, but not as monumental as the moment I was given a grant to actually take that place.
Graduating four years later was equally massive, but at Chelsea School of Art there was no graduation ceremony, no caps and gowns and the certificate looked more like a gas bill than a BA Honours document. I didn’t much care but I think mum and dad would have like a bit of gold embossing and a picture of me looking like a right prat. Hats of any kind on hair like mine look far too ‘Coco the clown’.
The next landmark I guess was the first job. It came fast, a day after finishing my education, but not in the most glamorous of ways. I had taken a job washing up in a posh Knightsbridge cafe and chocolate emporium – to make ends meet. Fortunately through a kind tutor they managed to track me down. Now remember, this was pre-mobile phones and email so it was not that easy and had they not found me that day my life might have been very different.
The next day I was sat at a desk in Clapham High Street and stayed there for nearly six years. It remains one the happiest periods of my life. It wasn’t the money, well £3,792 per annum was hardly earth shattering, but it did finally give me some independence.
A year on and I bought my first car. It was a maroon Fiat 850, old but fun, and it served me well for several years. That first car is a real milestone I guess but I was not a petrol head, it was a means of getting about more than a status symbol. That came later when the MD of the firm made it possible for me to upgrade to a director’s cast off company car. Well an Alpha Romeo was quite special and I did love it even if in the end I could not afford to maintain the poor old thing and had to let it go.
Earning a decentish salary also led to another milestone. For years and years I was a launderette kind of guy. Initially sitting there and reading as the wash and tumble process chugged away. I then discovered the service wash, a far more sophisticated process by far and one that I wholly embraced.
But one day I decided it was time to buy a washing machine. It was a major decision and a major expense, a washer back then cost about as much as it does now. It came from John Lewis and arrived on time. The poor guys had to carry it up four flights of winding stairs to my tiny South London garret and install it in my tiny kitchen. For quite some time I sat and stared at it, not summoning up the courage to plug it in and turn the thing on.
Eventually I did it, I gathered up some laundry and after consulting the manual put on a mixed coloured wash, well I was too nervous to go for a hot white wash.
So what did I do next? I should have gone and relaxed, made a pot of tea or poured a G&T, but no not I. I drew up a chair and I watched, I watched as my washing swirled around before my eyes – and I cried. Tears streamed down my face.
I cried, I wept because this big white machine marked a major turning point in my life, white goods and the ownership of them marked the move into adulthood – and in such a drab way. As landmarks go I could not think of anything more drearily depressing. My youth was over – but my washing was clean.
At the time I was 25, so I had prolonged youth for perhaps more time than most people would, but I felt flat for weeks, really low.
Of course I got over it, I realised that 25 was no age at all and that a washing machine was a useful thing that was going to save me so much time. I ploughed on to thirty, a good year, followed by a less good one and then fast forward to 39 which was terrible, forty which was better and fifty when things took a serious dive.
The last ten years have had their ups and downs, good times, really good times, and some really lousy times too. I won’t dwell on them, I don’t regret them either but they are gone and I have moved on.
So now, as I am only a few days from 60 I was looking for the major landmark.
It happened on a dull Sunday afternoon. I had made lunch, washed up my dishes and settled down to a few games of online Scrabble. Suddenly my email went ping and it was a message from a friend, a contemporary, to say that she had booked a train ticket to visit me using her new Senior Rail Card.
I had just renewed my Network Rail Card so I was a little cross with myself for wasting that money, but undaunted I went online and set about registering for the card. It was a big form and I had to prove that I was about to turn 60, but half an hour later I was done and the card was ready to be dispatched. I went for the three year option, I felt that it was not too optimistic an investment, surely I will make 63? Surely?
So there we have it, the landmark for hitting sixty will be a card that defines me as a senior person. I don’t know what else would mark the occasion in a less cheery way but I have a few days left to find something a little less downbeat. I will no doubt be out and about, having drinks with friends, eating of course in my all time favourite place, Bardsley’s in Baker Street, and there is a chance that I may even get a little tipsy.
If you see me in any of these places or states then please say hello, but please do not say hello old timer. There’s life in the old dog yet!