25th May 2022. A significant day for anniversaries.
Two major ones.
Dad died on 25th May 2009, aged 88. He'd had a sudden cardiac arrest late in the evening, when getting out of his chair. A fast way to go. He'd had just enough time to thump the button that summoned the ambulance, although he was dead long before they could have got there. I was half and hour away, in the Cottage, and was shortly at 1.00am to be visited by two sombre-faced policemen, breaking the news to me that I was now an orphan.
It was entirely unexpected. Dad was a martyr to arthritis, but had otherwise seemed good for another five years. I was able to reconstruct his last moments. I knew his habits well. He'd been in his pyjamas and dressing gown. There was a towel - he'd enjoyed a late evening shower. There was a whisky glass - a medicinal dram only, of course. There was a cowboy book - he liked easy-to-read Westerns, and sea stories too. He'd been relaxed. It was only the effort of getting to his feet to go to bed that had killed him, although he would have had Mum on his mind, and that might have been some of it. It was only 111 days after she had died, and they'd been devoted to each other. Perhaps he had felt a great stab of grief, overwhelming, and fatal. At any rate, a quick exit. No time for lingering pain or distress. That was some consolation, when I pondered his last moments afterwards.
And now, at five-year intervals - the next being in 2024 - I go along to one of the pubs I fondly associate with him, and join him in a lunchtime drink, just as we used to do: gin and tonic for me, a pint of best bitter for him. I don't necessarily confine it to every fifth anniversary, but it's something I will do only on the 25th May. I eat my lunch, imagining Dad there, giving me a wry smile, and I wash my lunch down with my own drink. Dad's of course remains untouched. Sometimes others in the pub will ask where my husband or brother is, and I'm perfectly happy to explain that it's a ritual I observe now and then, in Dad's memory. They always understand.
Dad would have passed away by now of course, no matter what. 19th November 2022 will be - or rather would have been - his 102nd birthday.
The other event commemorated annually on 25th May is my taking delivery of my cherished car Fiona, my expensive-to-run but faithful and comfortable Volvo XC60. This happened on 25th May 2010, exactly one year after Dad died. I picked her up, took her home, then went out to The Anchor Bleu at Bosham on Chichester Harbour to watch the tide come in - and the slowly-setting sun - from the patio at the back of the pub, against which the incoming water might well lap. A gin-and-tonic for me; a pint for Dad. And a ritual was born. I wasn't maudlin. I was elated and excited. Fiona was for me a big leap forward in car-ownership, a new world of high-class motoring that I'd not experienced before. I'd had a wonderful drive from home to Bosham; the return journey was even better. The first of thousands in the next twelve years. I've never stopped enjoying her.
And on this date in 2005 I was busy clearing up the last of my work. It was my last full day in the office. The last day of dealing with tax cases. There were phone calls to make, as I needed to announce my imminent retirement to the accountants if I hadn't already, and pave the way for my successor or successors on these cases. There were emails to be written, and some discussions still to be had. I also wanted to take all my personal things home. I'd still catch the train to the office next day, on 26th May 2005 - which was my very last day - but I expected to do nothing on arrival but buy special savoury things and cakes from Marks & Spencer, and invite everyone down to the pub. (The official retirement lunch had happened a week before) Two others were retiring on the same day, but I organised the 'office catering' myself. In the event, I had to get my pen out and sign a batch of penalty notices on a company investigation.
But then it was all over. It was a sunny day, I remember. A good omen for a happy retirement, and on the whole, a happy retirement has been my lot. Several big fat flies have dive-bombed into my ointment, but my life hasn't been spoilt. Indeed, I am presently the most content I've ever been. I face a future full of aches and pains, but I'm in good company, and it's funny how you accept the gradual onset of late-life tests and tribulations. All the limitations too. You learn to stay positive and cheerful and make the most of what you can still do. And not put off doing or having what you enjoy. That's why I spend so much on my car and caravan, and photographic equipment, because it all enables me to live a full and satisfying life. And it's best that I live such a life now, while I can, instead of leaving it to later, when - who knows - I may not be able to.