They met when they were teenagers.

On fire watch, when incendiary bombs rained flames over the school roof, they spent the nights playing games and eating black market biscuits.

That was in the war. Back then she was graceful and quick witted. Back then he was sharp and handsome.

“She was a looker even then,” he said. “I fancied her but we weren’t courtin’.”

National service and nursing training meant separate ways for a while. A few years later they met again. At a dance, down Roker, he saw her. He was with his mates, and a girl called Robson on his arm.
“I saw her. She was dancing with this lad, he was a hunch back mind but he could dance. I got me mates all lined round the room and every time he went to ask her they buzzed him off.”
“Buzzed him off?”
“Aye, you know, cut in,” He explained. “So in the end she had to dance with me. She was a good dancer too.”
They danced ‘til the band finished playing. He walked her home, across the river, five mile out the wrong way. That was the start of it. They courted and eventually married. He never said what happened to Robson.

He taught me to dance as a child; foxtrot, waltz, quickstep. I don’t remember her dancing at all. I barely remember her walking or moving from her sitting room chair. I wish I’d known them both before age, illness and the inevitable grind of life shrunk them down. An impossible wish.

Old memories are patchy, misleadingly highlighted with photographs and over-told exaggerated tales. An unreliable slide show of family mythology. Mostly I am left to wonder.

I imagine her as a young woman; smart, athletic, stylish. Her hair perfectly arranged in her trademark coiffure. Her waist was, as she said frequently, a mere 21 inches then. Wearing a beautifully tailored dress which spun out as he twirled her around the dance floor. She would have laughed at his charming and ever-so-silly stories. One marriage, four children, seven grandchildren and a great grandchild later, he still tells those stories. I’ll never know if they are true or not.

They had a long run, a whole lifetime of stories, and some are now lost forever. Theirs is story of a boy and a girl in the blackout, and of dancing and family and love.

A team of two for seventy four years.
Married for most of it.
Argued for some of it.
Loved for all of it.

It’s unimaginable to have one without the other.

Grey (The Big Birthday)

It was there.

I saw it glinting in the mirror. Forcing a double-take and a sharp intake of breath.

Thin, smooth silver root to tip, trying unsuccessfully to hide between the blondes and brunettes.

I let it be, for its colour surprises but does not terrify. Neither do the slight creases forming at the edges of my eyes. Without contact lenses I can’t even see them (or anything else for that matter). I know this because on the day of the Big Birthday I spent a good 20 minutes in front of the full length mirror. Do I look fatter? Older? Rougher round the edges? More like my mother? Even a little bit?

Little scars of life which have marked the passing of years are all present. Souvenirs, from white chicken pox rounds on my stomach to the half inch line under the right eyebrow, reminder of a drunken altercation with a pint glass. There are some, lumpen whitened slices, that I am even less proud of. They are remnants of a former self, not the wholesome, new and improved recipe me (with added vitamin C).

I am waiting, still, for the myth of the promised saggy edges. I have been told my metabolism won’t cope with KFC in my thirties. To be fair the women in my family end up crippled and sportless with arthritis by the before they are 45. I refuse to submit to their disease. Refuse to admit that I may, one day, be unable to run.

Anyone who has watched a skincare advert will know how to fight the body aging. Cleanse, tone, moisturise, sleep, eat well, exercise. Nivea and Nigella have got it covered with some help from early morning ‘bootcamp-for-busty-birds’.

Personally I don’t mind the physical manifestations of time but I see others getting older and slower. In mind as well as body. They sit, ensconced in reclining armchairs in front of a box of moving pictures, slowly losing their curiosity. And then their lust. Finally they lose their motivation to change.

As I watch, a particular kind of fear is dawning in my conscious thought. The fear of getting older without anything to show. Wrinkles, grey hair, cellulite, scars; these are inevitable.

I’m talking about a lack of achievement. My parents in their twenties settled down, got careers, a mortgage, a family, happily married and then divorced. They found their conformist place in the world. That was their achievement. I happily wasted my twenties on indecision, fruitless relationships, weekend alcoholism and office temping.

I succumbed, like so many others, to the easy life of 9-5, decent pay, ok pension, debts in check. In routine we forget to think for ourselves. Stop pushing our boundaries. We accept life as it is handed to us. A reasonable enough existence but not enough to force a change.

How do we resist the irresistible draw of complacency?

Look back at the ambitions held as children, teenagers and 20 something’s. What happened to those kids? Have we changed so much as adults that we forgot we wanted to change the world or do something amazing?

Maybe you won’t be an astronaut (there aren’t many vacancies) or maybe you won’t go trekking Asia for a year or run a marathon or build your own grand design house. It seems unachievable, and sometimes it is, so we put it in a box, find excuses and forget about it or continue waiting for the opportunity to arrive. Meanwhile wages must be earned and bills must be paid.

I wanted to be a writer from about the age of 8. There were occasional dalliances with other professions (Tank Driver, Entrepreneur, Professional Athlete, Jazz Singer) but writing was what I came home to after every extramarital fling. Twenty odd years on I was still waiting for the time, the opportunity, the right moment and the relentless wage-slaving to let up.

On the day of the big birthday I looked in the mirror and did a thorough assessment of the grey and the wrinkles. Then a light bulb moment occurred.

I have been procrastinating.

I need to stop waiting for life to come to me, or to at least stop avoiding it altogether.  In a bull-by-the-horns moment, I decided to get off the bench, get back in the game, and start doing.

I made a decision to refuse to stagnate.

Want to join me?