As I approach my 70th birthday, I look back at my life and wonder what is was all about. I am not unhappy. I am simply looking at the balance sheet and thinking aloud.
I have a little piece of land in Spain. It is the garden playground I have always wanted.
I have a single-brick bungalow in a sleepy village, filled with charming, elderly furniture replete with memories.
I have three children and a grandchild whom I never see.
I have friends and neighbours from several different countries and from all stages of my life. Some I have loved since I was three years old. Some I have only known for a few months. They are all fantastic people.
I can write alphabet soup after my name, converse haltingly in eight languages and manage enough of another half-dozen to buy food, say thank you and be directed to the toilet.
I have had five different careers, lived and worked in six countries, had four husbands and fifty lovers of 18 different nationalities, most of whom were still friends until they died.
I have been bereaved, deserted, sacked, made redundant, misjudged and misunderstood, conned, robbed, disappointed and disillusioned, but never defeated.
I have a state pension, a private pension now worth less than £10 a week, and a very tiny savings ISA, now taxable since I no longer live in the UK. I shall probably never be wealthy in material values, but I am incredibly rich in the things that matter to me.
I have had Multiple Sclerosis, (fortunately of the relapsing/remitting variety) since I was 14 years old. Happily it was misdiagnosed for 20 years, so it did not stop me having a family and following an active career path. Every time I went down with a bang I was bullied into getting up again. Now I have the usual problems of old age, including hypertension and arthritis, but they don’t stop me finding plenty of things to enjoy.
The best piece of advice I ever received was from an old Yorkshire doctor who said, “I know what’s wrong with you. It won’t kill you, but it might make you wish you were dead. If you still want a decent life, go away, forget there’s owt wrong with you and say “No” to nowt.” !!! And that’s exactly what I did.
I have been blind, paralysed, broken my skull and my spine, been bitten by a puff adder, died twice, seen ghosts and a UFO and had out-of-the body experiences.
I have sung, danced, cycled, swum, run, sailed, snorkelled, skated and skied.
I have learned to control and make the best of my body, my mind, my emotions, my opportunities and my spiritual awareness. I am self-sufficient in every way – but still happy to give and to take.
So, what were the highlights of my life ?
1. Picnics in a field of poppies with my mother and brother when I was eight years old. Walking to a country pub with my parents on a Sunday evening and having my father dry my hair after a bath.
2. Walking on the Sandy hills or hunting rats in the hen-house with my grandfather and his dog, Judy. Gathering red-currants in the garden with my grandmother.
3. Leading the “gang” on country rambles in “Bury-me-wick”.
4. Winning a double scholarship by which one County paid my High School fees and another paid my uniform, book and travel expenses, without which my working class parents could not have afforded to let me go.
5. Drinking hot cocoa from a flask in the shelter of a snowdrift in the Pennines with a party of schoolfriends.
6. Winning a class award for progress after having been kept back two years in succession.
7. Collecting myxomycetes for the British Museum with the British Naturalists.
8. Cycling in North Wales with my brother.
9. Gaining first place nationally in a UEI exam which won me a college scholarship despite never having passed GCE maths.
10. Punting on the Avon at midnight with a young farmer.
11. Doing a ton on the Stratford by-pass in the pouring rain, riding pillion on an old black Norton with loose piston rings.
12. Crossing the Baltic Sea as a detainee on a Russian icebreaker after losing my luggage and identification papers which were finally recovered from South America.
13. Eating smoked duck in a Finnish windmill with a party of students in summer and being stalked by wolves in the winter.
14. Sitting outside a sauna on a hillside in Turku, drinking in the silver sea and fluorescent green islands of the archipelago.
15. Swimming through a hole in the ice.
16. Driving through a blizzard 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
17. Sharing a Danish hunting breakfast with half a village.
18. The birth of my daughter.
19. The first time my autistic elder son volunteered to sit on my lap and read to me.
20. Running beside my children on a Carnival float at Daisy Nook.
21. Singing soprano solo in Faure’s Requiem at the opening of the Kamuzu Stadium in Malawi.
22. Appearing with my daughter and Cliff Michelmore on a holiday programme which involved taking part in a free barge holiday on the Thames as the archetypal “single professional woman of a certain age”.
23. Going to London with my younger son to receive a Millennium Award.
24. Counselling survivors of the Twin Towers tragedy by Internet from my bed during a particularly nasty MS relapse.
25. Having a semi-autobiographical novel nominated for an erotic writing award.
26. Attending a Kirlian photography workshop where the demonstrator was amazed at the print from my hands which looked like those of an black Orang-utan, compared with the thin traceries of everyone else, and a bio-feedback experiment when I reduced my own vital signs to the point where the demonstrator announced, “At this point we usually pronounce death.”
27. Organising a cross-country scooter rally for disabled fund-raisers.
28. Organising sailing holidays for disabled young employees.
29. Attending an exhibition in Glasgow for the blind, by the blind, in pitch darkness.
30. Lecturing at Universities on neural origins of multiple personality and on alternative sexuality.
31. Looking after my brother’s family when my sister-in-law was in hospital and nursing my premature niece when they came to me for a break.
32. Fund-raising: Sailing with Multiple Challenge on the Round Britain relay and with Global Challenge round the Windward Isles.
33. Dancing to an incredibly loud steel band on a hilltop on an island in the Carribean where the whole crowd moved as one, arms around the person in front, whoever they were, whilst the players hung from the rafters of an open barn.
34. Just for fun, flotilla sailing in Greece.
35. Swimming the river Ebro with a local character and being described by him as “valiente”. Then being towed by him in a boat as he swam with the painter in his teeth to take me to a riverside bar for a cherry brandy.
That just about brings me up to date – but I haven’t finished yet !
So what do they all boil down to ? Feeling useful, taking risks, stretching myself, achieving the impossible, creating something satisfying, doing something well, being accepted, loving and being loved and simply doing something crazy for the hell of it.
Not a bad way to live, all in all.