Another year older

TODAY is my birthday, a life which began just a few days after Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile.

It seems like I have been running hard to keep up with life ever since with little fame and no fortune, just an ordinary existence which has had some rich moments.

So what sticks in my mind as I look back nearly 50 years? (All right, all right! So I’m lying and I’ll never see the half century again. Give a birthday boy a break!).

To coin a famous phrase, I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

Thousands of illegal electricity lines snaking into a slum in Rio, streams like the silver veins of some giant leaf laid out on the ground far below my parachute, 500,000 people packed into a single stretch of street in Istanbul and the glorious ruins of Machu Picchu viewed from a nearby mountain top I’d climbed to.

I’ve drunk fruit schnapps in broad daylight on a glacier at 3am, relaxed with a gin and tonic in the ornate interior of an old Luftwaffe headquarters, sipped a beer from the safety of a tree platform above a crocodile-infested lake in Sri Lanka and enjoyed a glass of champagne 20ft under the streets of Weymouth surrounded by thousands of bottles of wine.

By day I’ve seen people mugged on the streets of New York and at night I once had my pocket picked by an elephant in Bangkok.

I’ve nearly drowned three times, been shot at in a city centre and was once chased for a quarter of a mile through Manchester by a man with a huge knife.

Two planes I’ve been on have been struck by lightning, a hotel I stayed in was badly damaged two weeks later by the terrible Boxing Day tsunami and I walked through Kings Cross and away to safety 30 seconds before the IRA bombed the station.

I’ve interviewed the famous from Prime Ministers to the Archbishop of Canterbury and people wealthy beyond belief in places ranging from mid-flight aircraft to 400ft underground in a cave, from the crisp freezing air of the Arctic Circle to a steam room the size of a sofa in Jordan where the leaking boiler threatened to explode at any moment.

There’s been delight viewed at everything from school sports days to the Olympic Games and enough tragedy to last me a lifetime including seeing 14 bodies. I’ve even trudged round sightseeing a deserted and ransacked holiday resort in Croatia before a shaking guide dragged me away from the area….which was full of unexploded shells, mortar bombs and other ordnance from the war there.

I’ve enjoyed the carnival route in Weymouth and in Rio, walked the Pennine Way in England and the Appenine Way in Rome and marvelled at the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, the Parthenon in Athens, the Ice Cathedral in Tromso and the ruins of Pompeii.

For all those wonderful experiences, there is no place like home and my celebrations today will probably involve a mug of tea while relaxing in the garden….with perhaps a glass of wine or three later. The toast will be – growing old disgracefully!

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