When I’m 64

Almost 9pm.

All day, the Beatles song “When I’m 64” is in my head.

For good reason…in a little over three hours, I will be 64.

Funny how things turn out. The album…or “LP” as we called it before Pop became Rock…and an actual art form….was released in the summer of 1967. It sorta draws a line between old Beatles and new Beatles.

My best friend H bought the LP and we listened to it, that Saturday night in his sister’s house in Raglan Street. And we proclaimed it brilliant. Being 64 seemed old. And it is.

For the record …in the early 1970s, H joined the Alliance Party and later moved to Belgium. The life in cosmopolitan Europe seemed very different. At Christmas and during the summer, he would come home and tell me all about it, ridiculing our narrow provincialism.

In February 1979, he phoned me from Belgium to invite me to his wedding. It was bad timing. Our family was just about to move to Dungannon. And when we did move…I never sent him my address. I never saw or heard from him again. Until by chance, I bought the Irish News one morning and his death notice was there….early 40s, cancer. He died in Europe.

It is a strange thing. Thats how it was in the 1970s. If you moved to another house in Belfast, changed jobs….as people migrated to Belgium, Birmingham or New Jersey, friendships broke up. For those of us who lived in Belfast, the biggest memory is the Dark Winter Nights….street lights broken….warm fires and television.

The Troubles happened outside. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, playing tennis in St Dominics School and playing football in Falls Park, Botanic Gardens, Woodvale Park and junior Legion of Mary dances in Derryvolgie Avenue are actually more vivid memories than anything in the 1970s.

It was just bad timing. A 17 year old in 1969 was just unlucky. A 17 year old in 1964 was lucky…and a 17 year old in 1978 was just born into it all. For the unluckiest generation it was Life Interrupted. Thats the bit that I cant really forgive…..that in Raglan Street listening to Sgt Pepper or summer nights at Barrys Amusements at Bellevue or doing O levels in 1968 and the Christian Brothers school re-locating from the Lower Falls to Glen Road…all the optimism was ripped from us in August 1969….on the very same weekend that American teenagers were in Woodstock.

Inevitably birthdays become more nostalgic. Oddly I can remember a blue-iced bithday cake with #4. And my mother was there …and I guess my father was at work and I suppose my paternal grandparents were there and uncles and aunts (childless then and when they died in the 1980s and 1990s.

That is realy my only regret. That as a childless uncle and aunt breathed their last, I wasnt there. And really raising my own children is no real excuse.

The older I get, Life is more about Nostalgia. Ask me the names of the Manchester United team that won the FA Cup in 1963 or the European Cup in 1968….I have no problem. I have little or no interest in Football now.

Last week I passed two memorials …Republican memorials near Holy Child School in Andytown and at Beechmount Avenue…and of course some names killed in the 1970s were boys I knew from the 1960s.

My Life was Interupted…only. I am luckier than they were. At what point does “remembering” stop? The parents of those young people are probably dead …memories only retained by siblings, themselves now slightly older or younger than me….and stories told to nephews, nieces, grandchildren. What really can it mean to children of the 21st century?

But even if the 1970s seem like a TV show where someone pressed the “Pause” button for an entire decade…Life did actually start again.

Rather like sixty years ago parents, grandparents and childless uncles and aunts came to see me on my fourth birthday….then people all unborn sixty years ago will visit me tomorrow…a wife, two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.

Compared to those who migrated to Belgium, Birmingham and New Jersey…or the many young men of twenty with names engraved in marble stones at points along the Falls Road…this is a pretty sweet life.


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6 Responses to When I’m 64

  1. Bernie says:

    Can I wish a great birthday to the best blogger in town.I am 10 years younger than you but many of our memories are similar.I grew up in Owenvarragh (born in Gransha) and went to Holy Child, I still remember the Armoured cars circling the school at lunchtime with the inevitable stoning that ensued.Fr Cunningham used to tell us off at school Mass.Anyway just wanted to say seeing a new post from you is a highlight of any day. Have a great 64th and we’ll still love you when you’re 84!

    • Cheers Bernie. Appreciate the comment.
      I know those places well….eight schools in West Belfast on Thursday. Passed the home of my first g/f in Bingnian Drive.
      Often wonder if you folks born a decade after me…was it easier or harder as you had no real feeling of normality.

  2. Political Tourist says:

    Happy Birthday Mr FJH, from Scotland.

  3. Vince says:

    I agree with Bernie (same primary school too) – many happy returns and may you still be doing this when you’re 84.

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