Sunday Spiritual: View From A Tower

December 1999. A month filled with portent and pre-millenial tension. We were in New York, after a week in Boston in which I’d seen a red moon rise while we watched the sun set on the observation deck of the John Hancock Tower. TLC had suffered through a brutal bout of food poisoning, and I had an eye infection that had fused my eyelids shut. The red numbers of the signage at the old Marvel building on Broadway merged in my head with the posters for the new Schwartzenegger movie. 666. End Of Days. It had been, by any definition of the word, a strange holiday.

But it was our first time in the States, and New York was everything we’d imagined and hoped. We did all the tourist things, giggling like loons at the sheer sensory overload of Times Square, braced in the brutal cold at Battery Park. The towncar from Newark into town had been like the Sopranos titles in reverse, complete with a motormouth driver called Vinnie, who asked us if we’d heard of this chick called Madonna. We were two blocks from Grand Central. It was, just as everyone says, like starring in your own Woody Allen movie.

And here we were, on the brightest day I’d ever seen, standing on the roof of a 107-floor tower, gazing at the whole city spread out before us like a strange, magical carpet. Behind us, a school party chattered, peering unconcerned over the barriers, looking for their school. Even in winter, Central Park was green, and the sky around us (it felt as if we were so high that it could no longer be above our heads) an achingly flawless blue. Our breath froze, and I swore it sparkled in the clean air. TLC took my hand, and we lost, momentarily, the capability for speech. There was no need for it, in this still point of beauty and joy.

This is a memory I cherish, and it can never be tarnished, never be changed, never be corrupted. I choose not to reflect on the events that came after, or note the arbitrary anniversary of a lunatic deed. There are plenty of other places that will. Today, I choose to remember happier times. I choose to celebrate the gifts that we have been granted, and a city awash in light.


Sunday Spiritual: Age

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.

Six Thousand Days

To be accurate, six thousand, two hundred and six. There’s probably some flexibility in there to allow for leap years and other temporal shenanigans. Let’s stick to my back-of-an-envelope calculations for simplicity’s sake, then do a little division to come up with a rounder figure.

Seventeen years and a day ago, I stood up in front of a friendly looking registrar and a bunch of friends and family, and made a promise. I’ve broken many pledges since that day, whether by accident, spite or sheer laziness, but this one has been kept.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have someone beside me to help do that, and I would no more let her down than I would choose to stick my right arm into a wood chipper.

It all seems so mind-bogglingly simple to me that I find it hard to write it down without relying on mush and platitudes. I made a pledge. I kept and continue to keep it. in that simple act, I have found contentment.

I won’t dispute that I have been lucky, that I married my best friend, muse and lover. I do not consider the alternatives, all the choices and decisions that had to fall the right way to lead us to a bright room in the West Midlands six thousand and some days ago. I simply remain grateful that they happened in the way they did.

Seventeen years can seem like a long time. A lot of things have happened. A lot of things have changed. But the promise, and everything we have built using it as a foundation, remains unbroken. I intend to keep that promise, in the same way I always have. Day by day.