At the beginning of the 20th Century life expectancy in the First World had slowly risen to 47 years. Now a new born can expect to see 83 years and if the trend continues at the same rate, by the end of this century it will be 100 years. None of those statistics have given me cause for thought because although these days I seem to go to more funerals than Christenings, most of those who have fallen from the twig have always seemed positively ancient to me.
At the end of August I had an invasion of old friends from British Columbia, over here for about six weeks. They were fitting in visits to friends and relatives all over the UK with “The Festival of Speed” at Goodwood one of the focal points. One of the ‘Canadians’ is a close friend Lyn Williams who I have known forever. He emigrated nearly 20 years ago with his wife and kids. They are now Canadian Citizens but like true friends we have keep in touch and it is as though they had never left, and I have gained the other Canadian friends through them.
If the Festival of Speed can be trumped as the high point of their visit, last Thursday could be just that. It was Lyn’s 70th birthday and with the connivance of his wife and relatives, a surprise party was organised and around 60 of his old friends and relatives invaded a Bedford restaurant. Some of his friends hadn’t seen him in 20 years, some of them I hadn’t seen for 30 years.
Looking round the room at the bar I saw a lot of grey haired strangers, then someone looked familiar but when I introduced myself it wasn’t who I thought it was but his 50 year old son. He took me over to his 83 year old father; we looked at each other and my smart mouth managed to change “Crikey! I thought you were dead” to “My God, I thought we were both dead”.
We had a great time meeting and swapping stories with old friends. Apparently my 53 year old son was also mistaken for me. I can’t understand that because although he has my good looks I am a good three inches taller.
After the meal, Simon Diffey one of the ‘Guys from the Band’ who had been driving a racing car at Goodwood Revival elected to act as best man and gave a speech recalling the birthday boy’s past misdeeds from back in the day when he was an Englishman. The best man’s baton was then passed on to each of his former gang members and miscreants, all totally unprepared to speak but all had tales to tell of his colourful past – nothing really incriminating but I could tell that our guest of honour was rather perturbed by the thought of some indiscretion about to be revealed.
All in all it was a memorable party; no-one had cause to consider our own mortality because we are all going strong. One of the guys did remark that there were more people there, than would be at his funeral. My smart mouth said, definitely more than there would be at mine because I was going to outlive them all. It was going well until the DJ starts playing ‘A Touch of Grey’ by the ‘Grateful dead’ and it was time to go.
As we left with lots of handshakes hugs and kisses and promises to keep in touch, all the Greybeards repaired to the car park and gathered around the vintage racing Jaguar that was our racing driver chum Simon Diffey’s mode of transport – a few rip-roaring bootfuls on the accelerator woke up all those sleeping in the nearby Travel Lodge then a few celebratory donuts and then lit up the car park with some tyre burnouts. Suddenly the Ancient Mariners turned into the young guys I used to know, they were the young guys from Fame The Musical – “I’m gonna live forever”