Bernard Trafford: Life is for living, so let’s raise a glass

Anniversaries ought to be celebrated, such as the 800th anniversary of Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland
Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland

Anniversaries matter. I was unsurprised to see, in last Thursday’s Journal, a lovely photo of Dunstanburgh Castle.

Northumberland’s most spectacular ruin is much-photographed, but I hadn’t twigged that this year sees its 800th anniversary. That ought to be celebrated.

Whenever I go there I tend to celebrate afterwards in the Jolly Fisherman in Craster, but that’s a purely private pleasure.

Centenaries in particular provide opportunities for all kinds of mathematical errors. A few years ago I walked into an attractive old thatched pub down south to be greeted by a sign offering us a mug to celebrate the pub’s “200th centenary”. A 20,000 year-old pub? That really is worth celebrating.

The years fly by. A couple of weeks ago my parents celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary. Said quickly, it doesn’t sound so much. When I told people I was flying down to Somerset to take them out for tea, most people nodded and then did a double-take. “Did you say 69?” they inquired incredulously.

My nonagenarian mum and dad got married just after D-Day. Dad’s chosen best man wasn’t available because they’d dropped him off a landing craft in charge of a tank equipped with a breathing tube.

Crude but effective, the technology worked: he reached the beach and survived the war. If he had a weakness for red wine ever after, he might be forgiven.

It was a curious time, 1944. When the whole family last assembled to celebrate one of the Old Dears’ anniversaries (their 65th), Dad made a speech. He remarked how people often asked what it was like getting married in the war. He said it was probably much like other young people who fall in love, except there was a sense that life was precious and to be lived, so they got on   with it.

But he added that, as young people, they just didn’t have much fun. He was approaching 19 when war broke out, so he probably did miss out. At that age he went off to medical school.

St Thomas’s Hospital in London was promptly bombed, so his medical training was done in curious short bursts all around London and even, occasionally, as far afield as Oxford (which he didn’t like).

Dad has an answer for those who ask how they’ve managed to make a marriage last that long. “Fairly simple,” he says. “Live a long time and don’t fall out!”

Now middle-aged, I find I’m turning into my Dad. Visiting him in June we took him out to Avebury, the pre-historic stone circle near Stonehenge. Sharing this picture with my family I was asked: “Which are the ancient monuments?”

As you read this today, my wife and I will be celebrating our 32nd anniversary. It’s not a huge figure, but on the other hand we haven’t done badly. We succeed in being the statistical one in every two marriages that lasts by being enormously patient. My wife claims she has the patience of a saint, dealing with my typical male weaknesses such as failing to listen, never arriving anywhere on time and always bringing dirt in on my shoes. There are, allegedly, other irritating habits,   but they’re not fit for public   consumption.

As for me, I’m an enormously easy-going and tolerant male, bearing heroically the requirements to be super-organised, follow instructions, pay attention when talked at instead of murmuring “Yes, dear” and carrying on reading the paper.

Hell, sometimes I even get the washing out of the machine. That’s Nobel Prize stuff for a bloke.

Life’s to be lived, certainly. And when we hit landmarks we should celebrate them. So let’s raise a glass to them as they occur. I’m sure we shall tonight.

Dr Bernard Trafford is headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views expressed here are personal.

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