Today is my Nan Gwen’s 90th birthday. Her branch of the family tree is famously long-lived. Her mum, my great-nan Jen, lived to the ripe old age of 104. Some might say that’s over-ripe, and Jen certainly spent the last 15 years of her life growling at the world like a mean old moggie with a bad case of the scurf. Nan Gwen is, I’m pleased to note, generally pretty cheerful, especially with a couple of sherries in her.
It’s bad enough when you hit your own landmarks, but when a parent or grandparent hits a big number, it can come as a bit of a shock. You’re confronted with the past, often in quite direct ways. Mum had put up a frame full of old pictures. There was one of me with Nan and my uncle Doug. I look thin as a rake, and a bit dazed, but grinning like a loon. It was taken the day after I got married.
The skinny kid in the baggy Equinox T-shirt smiling out of the frame is me, but not. He’s got a long road ahead of him, a good few bumps that he’s going to hit hard, and some amazing sights and brilliant moments. If I had the chance to go back and give him any advice, I don’t think I would. That would change the man that he would become. The me with the beer in a sunny Chingford kitchen, smiling fondly at a memory.
A long way down the road, maybe I will be standing in front of another photo, taken by my mum as I turned away from the frame. I hope then, as now, that I will be surrounded by people that I love, and that love me in return. That, after all is the one true signifier of a journey not taken in vain. The kind of journey my Nan has taken. It’s good to be reminded of that. Sometimes, you need to glimpse in the driving mirror at the road behind you. Sometimes, you need to look back to see how far you’ve come.