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63

Numerologists will tell you, 63 is a propitious number.

Three is the Trinity representing Completion (or an old man leaning on a stick?) and six is twice three and so clearly twice as propitious, being the actual number of days on which God laboured to create the Earth. Sixty-three is also three times twenty-one, which in turn is three times seven, which is the most propitious number of all. I feel just incredibly fortunate to be 63, at long last.

A week ago, 63 looked very much like the final curtain, a harbinger of loss, loneliness, despair and decay; the end of all ambition. It didn’t help that I had reached the age of 63 on a dismal, dank and rainy October day at the end of a dismal, dank and rainy summer, whose meagre sprinkling of sunny days had served only to remind us of the better life to be found above the clouds. Or, that I had completely run out of money and ideas, and could see no further prospect of getting any.

Nor did it help that nobody had sent me a present, a card or even an e-mail — except for a computer-dating site I once signed up to and then cancelled in embarrassment when I  sobered up the next day and found that more than twenty women of a certain age had already ‘winked’ at me, an image that brought on one of my panic attacks. ‘Paul, do you know what day this is?’, the algorithm asked, coyly. It’s nice to have software that cares.

Yes, I do. It is the first birthday of my life that absolutely no-one near and even a little bit dear to me has acknowledged* (although my mother later complained that I never answer the phone. Well, neither does she!). I am alone in the Universe.

So what did I do on my birthday? Thank you for asking.

I drove my son to the airport, a four-hour slog away when you know how to find it.

Now, in most third-world countries every big city has a grand avenue leading straight to the airport, proudly named after their beloved Leader. Not so Bristol, whose city fathers have settled for anonymity in a warren of unmarked back-lanes. Peter has one of those talking maps on his phone, that tells you every 150 yards to turn left onto the next rutted track. After we had seen enough of North Somerset, I insisted on reverting to the antiquated system of roadside runes that had for several miles been mutely advising us of the benefits of turning right…. By this means I eventually deposited him and his massive laptop full of games at the Express Pick-up and Drop-off point and, with a curt nod and a manly handshake, dispatched him into adult life.

From the Express Pick-up and Drop-off point there is no escaping, other than via an automated toll-gate. The airport extracts a minimum £1 ‘parking’ fee (No Change Given) for using this facility, even though your wheels may not have stopped turning for even a second while you shoved your passenger brusquely out onto the tarmac, their luggage bouncing along after them. I emptied a pound in small change – all I had – into the bin.  With a contemptuous clatter, it spat out all the 5p coins. I tried again. No joy. Next to it, a box displayed fading mugshots of various payment cards you could try instead of money, among them a Visa Debit logo. Ignoring the insistent clamour from my inner pessimist, I thrust my Visa Debit card into the slot. It stuck there, tantalisingly out of reach. The barrier remained shut.

Happily for the travelling public, there is an emergency button connecting the box to a remote control centre, where a tin-man answered promptly. I explained what had happened. ‘That machine doesn’t take 5p coins’, sighed the man, a certain customer-focussed irritation creeping into his tinny voice. ‘Where does it say that?’ I asked. No reply. ‘Or debit cards’, he went on. ‘I’ll send someone to let you out. Stay with the car’.  I looked around at the uninviting vista, the immobile barrier. ‘Okay, I’m not going anywhere’, I said.

Ten minutes later, an elderly moustache pulled up in an airport van. While he set about dismantling the card machine, we discussed how much we both disliked airports. Nevertheless, I felt a tinge of envy: airports had given him a job, a little van and bounteous opportunities to rescue people. I was just another unpaid blogger, 63, stuck at an immobile barrier.

The ancient town of Nailsea is nowadays a suburb of Bristol, and I spent an hour driving round it, looking for a way through to the motorway, which I knew to be nearby; stopping occasionally to let Hunzi out for a wee. Without my son’s talking map I could navigate only by the sun, and there was 10/10ths cloud cover. All roads seemed to lead to the industrial zone. Occasionally, a fingerpost would point unhelpfully back towards Bristol, where I knew I also did not want to go. At last, we arrived back at the airport.

***

Entering the kitchen,  celebratory bottle of late-night-garage Merlot in hand, I switched on the light. The cheap supermarket bulb, rimed with dried-on cooking aerosols, exploded with a sharp pop, and all the house lights went out. Of the 3A fusewire needed, we had run out. I drank the wine, and went to bed in the dark. I was 63.

*To spoil a good story, a week later a book has reached me from the Amazon, which my son seems to have thoughtfully ordered for me as a birthday gift before leaving. ‘The Game’ claims to be a best-selling manual for making oneself irresistible to wealthy and eligible women. I am saying nothing except that, obviously at my age, the type is too small to read with the naked I.
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