On reaching seventy

At the start of July I reached the Biblical threescore years and ten: Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away (Ps.90.10 NIV). Thankfully most people live beyond eighty but living a long life is a mixed blessing if our last years are marked by physical or mental impairment.

I kicked off my birthday dinner with a short speech reflecting on fifty years of adult life:

  • In my 20s I was a council building inspector and originally expected to be there until I retired. My holiday ambitions went no further than Southend-on-Sea, 40 miles (64 km) east of central London.
  • In my 30s one throwaway comment from a friend’s wife set me on the path of 37 years of self-employment. Another throwaway comment from another friend led to me making my first overseas trip as an adult. Since then I’ve made around 30 UK-USA trips, 15 trips to Australia as a British tourist and a similar number as an Australian visiting the UK, four trips to Africa and some other places too, and, in recent years, multiple cruises.
  • My early years of self-employment did not go well: the low point was reached around my 40th birthday when I was deep in debt and my bank threatened (metaphorically) ‘to send the boys round’. Yet another throwaway comment from yet another friend to me back to uni to study Business Studies and this was a key driver to my business coming good.
  • Five years later I was back in Melbourne enjoying the Christmas sunshine when the notion came to me, ‘you’re so happy here: you should move here’. Finally in 2008 I was able to do so – the best decision I’ve ever made.

Regrets – here’s just a few

If I could re-live my adult life knowing what I know now, what would I change?

Study: I took my first degree with University of Reading, the first year being based at the College of Estate Management in Kensington, then in the new FURS building at Reading Whiteknights. I commuted from home and the experience was an extension of school. Being then very introverted, going to a university that would have required me to live away from home would have been very challenging, but I see now that it would have been good for me.

Home: After leaving university I began to think about having a home of my own. At that time (mid 1970s) the general rule was that you could borrow three times your salary plus, where applicable, one times your fiancée’s/wife’s salary. As I was single this left me able to borrow around £6,000, not enough for the average house. My interest was taken by a house in Warwick Road, Twickenham, a rundown two-up, two-down terraced cottage. This didn’t worry me since I would have enjoyed renovating it but given its condition at that time the only mortgage available was from the council at 17½% interest! My dad’s opinion was ‘you’d be daft to spend £7,000 on a house like that’ and I followed his advice. A year later my salary had all but doubled and interest rates had fallen, so the pain would have been short-lived. Houses in Warwick Road now sell for £600K and more!

Exercise: In the UK once I became self-employed I ran my car as a company car. Under the tax rules then in force failure to do at least 2,500 miles a year resulted in a tax surcharge so I used my car whenever possible. In retrospect it would have been much better to walk to the post office each day but this was in an era long before your smartphone was checking on whether you walked 6,000 steps a day. I also justified using the car on the basis on time saved, but the walk would have been good for my mental as well as physical well-being.

People: I’ve always been guilty of trying to do much in the time available. When it came to church I was always the one walking into meetings a few minutes after they’d started, having tried to do one more thing before leaving home. On Sunday mornings I didn’t count myself late if I slipped into church before the first hymn finished. Now I so wish I’d made time to walk to church and get there ten minutes before the service started, giving myself time to talk to other members, especially the older ones. Those brief conversations might or might not have meant much to me, but many of the older folk might have appreciated a short friendly chat and I would have begun the service in a much more receptive frame of mind.

Cars: I bought my first car as soon as I could. It was old (11 years, which was old then) and an endless money pit. My dad had never held a licence (eyesight problems) and took the view that if he could manage without a car, I could too, so no help was forthcoming. And yet an offer (say) to match my £100 savings would have meant that I could buy a still modest much better car. Later it was me not being prepared to spend more: as a building inspector I drove a fair distance and mileage allowances depended on engine size. I put too much emphasis on choosing cars that would show a profit (a Chrysler Sunbeam 1.3 and Austin Maxi 1750) rather than some cars I might have enjoyed more. At one point I was seriously interested in buying a Saab 96 but let head rule heart.

Relationships: I won’t say too much here. I’m now 70, single, never married. Several times in my life there have been women who I hoped might be more than just friends but it was not to be. Do I regret not having children of my own? In the absence of a strong, stable marriage, no. I have though had the joy of ‘borrowing’ other people’s children as babysitter, twelve years as a Beaver (Joey) Scout leader, and thirteen years (so far) as a church creche helper.

No regrets

The last fifteen years have been the best years of my life and I have never once regretted making the move to Melbourne after 55 years in Twickenham. I’m not rich, but I have no financial concerns, no real health issues compared with many of my contemporaries, a rich varied life (read my other blog entries) and my birthday dinner reminded me of my rich circle of friends. Could anyone want for more?


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