This weekend I had the delight of celebrating my father's 80th birthday. When I stop and think about it, that is a very long time.
About six months ago he moved to the same town that my sister lives in. He lives in a spacious 1-bed bungalow. The garden is a fraction of the size of his previous house. He is now a 10 minute walk into town with all the amenities he could ask for, and that 10 minutes walks past the doctors and dentists and even a cottage hospital. Previously, he has to catch a bus the three miles to the local shops, particularly after the village post office was shut down. He has lost about a stone in weight (needed!) and is looking much fitter and healthier for the move. At the time of the move I was less certain that this was a good thing - all I seemed to experience was stress!
So this weekend we celebrated the move and the passing years. It was wonderful to catch up with Dad's side of the family and various friends that he (and, by default, my sister and I) have known for many years. I think every single one commented on how healthy my father looked. He loved the party, chatting with everyone. Given his deafness, I'm not sure how easy that can have been!
Yes, the party on Saturday was good. But better still was his actual birthday on Sunday.
It poured with rain all day. But his choice of how to spend the day was to have a drive up through Wharfedale, where he spent much of his childhood and where we spent all my childhood holidays. It is probably 25 years since I last went to the top end of the dale, but it brought back many memories for me. How much more so my father! He pointed out houses where people lived ("...probably still do, if they're still alive," he would comment) and told tales of the places we passed. Much of the journey seemed to be a mock pub crawl, with his comments on how good, or bad, each was. I think it is a testament to my upbringing that they were all very familiar to me too!
After an amazing [pub] lunch (I shall probably never need to eat again!) he directed me back along the other side of the valley, wending and winding our way along single track roads.
"This is where I learnt to ride a bike," he said down one gentle slope.
"Oh, that's new!" he said of some newly planted trees. This amused me, given he hadn't been for many years and you would expect much to change in that time!
"Shortly you'll come to a big bend to the right, but you want to go straight on." How did he remember that? I would have sworn I'd never been on that piece of road in my life - possibly no-one else had either!
Still, we travelled on, through ford and flood, to return by a back-road to my sister's house.
Eighty years - yes, but memories don't fade, particularly not from land that has been such a part of your life, from early years during the war, through to holidays with family. The hills have been climbed, the ox-bow lake formed and lost, the local fairs attended, the pubs drained dry. It was a delight to give my father such pleasure from a simple drive into beautiful countryside. I only wish his parents had thought eighty years ago about what the weather would be like this weekend, as the only improvement would have been some sunshine!