Three weeks ago, on Saturday 22nd of January to be precise, I turned eighty. This blog is about that birthday and how, despite earlier worries coupled with elements of dread, the day turned out to be very special. Amongst other things I had often thought that I might not last long enough to be there to celebrate in person – at my age the future is so uncertain! Even on the Friday evening I had my doubts, but when I woke on the day itself, I had clearly made it and after Rohan gave me a kiss, her presents and her best wishes for a happy birthday, a wonderful day unfurled. It was a day ultimately dominated by happiness bordering on euphoria the likes of which I had rarely experienced and would never have predicted.

One of the overriding feelings was that “I’ve done it”, a phrase that echoed repeatedly in my head. Here I was at 80 still relatively unscathed, yet when I turned sixty I had believed that I was unlikely to survive past 73 – the age my father died after having a heart condition for years. A quick review told me that I was physically and mentally healthy, living comfortably and able to enjoy autonomy in circumstances where I have no troubling limitations. Yes, I am now slower and get tired more easily, but I am still writing my blogs, learning French, driving, playing chess and – most days – going to the gym and doing my 10,000 steps. 

Like most others I am greatly helped by medical advances – in my case cataract removal, prostate surgery, asthma puffers, hearing aids etc, but no matter, health-wise I still work well and feel optimistic. I know that many others of my age can do all this and more, but now I had joined them. All reason enough to be content.

Amusingly, aware of my claims of well-being, Ollie, my youngest son, submitted me to an unusual health test. At our birthday dinner for four – zealous COVID limitations – Ollie was keen to test one of my bodily functions – my sense of taste. With a serious face and no hint of his intentions he presented me with his gift – a carefully wrapped and expensive bar of chocolate which, for purist reasons contained 100% cocoa and for health reasons, no sugar. In the spirit of adventure and as a statement of gratitude I took a bite. When I spat it out Ollie told me how I had passed the test – he knew it to be disgusting and from my reaction my taste system was clearly working wonderfully!

Now to the second of the day’s dominant feelings – I found myself feeling loved, wanted, even valued. This may be a fanciful notion but these sentiments are for me rare and unexpected. And, of course, if these are in the offing who would not be happy?

On the day, after Rohan’s early morning affirmation, I read the many loving and generous birthday messages that arrived from friends and family. First there were early morning emails and texts, some of whom were from people I had not seen for years. And later a score of cards delivered by post or by hand, amongst which were two that were home made specially (see the illustrations). Interestingly, on my birthdays over the years I have always received warm messages but somehow at 80 they now touched me much more.

In the day there was also the oddest of perceptual changes as I became besotted with the figure ‘8’. On almost all of my cards there was, in large type, the number ‘80’, and with each one the number ‘8’ stood out as a generously rounded and beautifully symmetrical icon. Every ten years up until now I had put up with the spiky, not to say mean, asymmetry of the numbers ‘1’ to ‘7’. This sudden attraction for, if not adoption of the voluptuous ‘8’ added a uniqueness to the day’s pleasures. 

It has been difficult to convey how happy and fulfilled I felt on my 80th birthday; feelings that came as a complete surprise and, interestingly such feelings are unusual. I have now spoken to several old friends and, generally, their eightieth experiences were much more reserved, for some filled with foreboding. No matter, I am hoping that my own feelings will buoy me up till my 90th at least and, after three weeks, I am still on course! 

The first illustration shows the birthday card made for me by my sister Sarah. The front is made from one sheet of paper carefully painted, folded and cut to display eighty flags giving the feel of a three dimensional rainbow. The second is from a birthday card in which River has drawn my portrait. He is nearly four.

For helping me write this blog, in addition to countless well-wishers I would like to thank Ruth, River, Ollie, Sarah, Rohan and Vivien.

20 thoughts on “The Delights of Becoming Eighty

  1. Thank you, Joe.
    As you know, I’m 70 later this year and have been approaching this milestone with a sense of dread. Your positive view is most encouraging and helpful.
    Here’s to us still exchanging banter when you’re 90 and I’ve turned 80!
    Cheers,
    John the Cheese

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  2. Dear Dear Joe, on the aspect of feeling valued, I do not know enough of your long life to respond comprehensively, but your successful campaigning for appropriate medicine availability and, separately, professional diversity in the medical workforce, are massive. These campaigns taking on the establishments were selfless on your part and only achieved bravely and at some personal non-financial cost. Many of us, indeed many people, recognise these contributions and thank you for them. ian

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    1. Dear Ian, Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. Your reminders of the past are generous, but at the moment, it seems that for me life relates most to the present and the future. Love, Joe

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  3. Oh dear Joe I am so sorry to have missed the day to wish you a good and happy birthday, good health and happiness. At least I know now that my wishes were not really missed but obviously would have been almost superfluous. But it is not too late to say that I am honored to have known you all these years and also I take the opportunity to thank you for sharing your often moving thoughts in your blog and at last but not least to congratulate you to have kept your lust for life, your love of discovering new things like gas pipes! and your perseverence to learn French with splendid results.
    Joyeux Anniversaire Joe ! Excuse moi pour le retard. Que ce jour de bonheur et de bonne santé se renouvelle encore beaucoup de fois..!
    Bises

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    1. Dear Sauliac, Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts in French and English. It is interesting how, although you are Rohan’s oldest friend, we two have become close also. Love, Joe

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  4. Happy Birthday Joe!
    I was out yesterday, in Tooting, with a medical school friend whom I hadn’t seen in years, and your name came up in our conversation. And this morning this was in my inbox……We are 60 and almost 60, and it seems like yesterday that we were in the lecture theatre with you.
    So pleased to hear you are still going strong!

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    1. Dear Debbie, It was a most wonderful surprise to get your kind wishes and your reminders of 40 years or so ago. A real treat. Love, Joe. PS I remember you well

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  5. Yippee yaaaar yaaay Joe!

    Here’s challenge, to try 80 new foods, tasks or experiences, small or big, serious or playful to continue your curiosity and love of life.

    Enjoy your 80th year wonderful Joe, see you very soon.

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  6. Congratulations Joe! I think River has captured both your essence in its complex entirety and the tone of this post! Congratulations River.

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  7. Happy Birthday Joe. I think you must be the most positive person I know (though I’m afraid if animals are included our cocker spaniel Teddy might just beat you).

    Congratulations!

    Mark

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations Dear Joe! You give us hope and good cheer for the future! We Love your blogs! Lots of love Vivie and David

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  9. Dearest Joe,

    How wonderful you have reached 80 in good health, learning French, playing chess and surrounded by wonderful friends and family! I can truly say you will surely enjoy many more years with beautiful Rohan and great friends in England and Brittany!

    Love always

    Robin

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    1. Dear Robin, Thank you very much for your kind and optimistic comments. I take it from your message (between the lines) that you are well again. Well done. Love, Joe

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