On approaching the big number

Those who know me know that my memory is pretty awful. In fact it is why, as a teacher, I have increasingly pushed the use of mnemonics in education as they key to examination success. I know it is only because of using memory techniques that I have ever been able to pass any exam at all!

But in my day to day, non-memory technique world, I am pretty awful at remembering anything. I have even, once, forgotten my name. It was, in my defence, many years ago and under pressure of meeting someone who looked quite important back in the days when I worked 70 hours per week and so was continuously tired. Honest.

I jest not about that.

But the point of telling you, is that this month I keep having a particular fact jerked back into my consciousness. It comes as a shock each and every single time and the day is getting ever nearer.

I turn 40 in just over a week.

Now for those of you reading this who passed the landmark age some time ago, you may well be thinking “oh that’s nothing!” But please bear in mind that when I am 50 you will say the same thing and when I’m 60 and so on. This is my first time at 40 – and it produces the inevitable looking back at one’s life.

Living in Bangladesh has added further complications. I am away from family and friends back in the UK, there is little to do here – no opportunity for going out to the pub or for a meal. I remember my sister turning 40 and having a huge bash which was great, and friends who had special times away at hotels and so on. Then again, I also know several who pretty much did nothing for their 40th at all. What do I do? I probably have little choice.

My initial thought is that I would like to spend my 40th pretty much how I’ve spent every birthday. Down the pub. Not getting outrageously drunk or anything. Some of my favourite memories of the pub have been when I was the ‘nominated driver’ and drank cokes all night. But I like the pub because there you can sit with your friends (and family) and just chat, mess around, solve the world’s problems and so on. It is relaxed, it is therapy and it is relationship building.

I couldn’t ask for more.

So, of course, I have a dilemma here. There are no pubs! Going out to the ‘hotel’ here (as they are called) which is really just a café selling badly fried food is just not quite the same thing and the friends with whom I would love to “right the world’s wrongs” are not here. They are thousands of miles away. I do have friends here but most of them are task-orientated introverts and it takes more years than I’ve given so far to build deep enough relationships to really solve the world’s problems. Or even our own.

So, if I am honest, I feel just a little bit isolated at the moment.

This is probably just an overly emotional way of thinking brought on by, as I say, the inevitable looking back at one’s life. Doing so, I see failure after failure, mistake after mistake and shame after shame in so many parts of my life. It is terribly humbling and a little worrying that, with the probability that half my life is over (God willing I live that long) I have failed to achieve most of my goals in life.

But then I look at what I have achieved – I do a job I love (teaching), I married my best friend and we have two wonderful, wonderful kids (though I could cheerfully throttle them half the time!) – I begin to settle back, relax and think “Aye, that’ll do. That’ll do.” I’m not sure exactly how much I really contributed to any of these great things but I figure I must have had at least some impact on them. So that will do me just fine.

I suppose what I am left thinking, as the big four-zero comes my way, is that I do still have the rest of my life to reach my goals (and when I grow up I really do still want to be a train driver) and even if I never reach them, I have been blessed and I am content in that.

Still, if it is alright with the spiritual powers above. I would like my hair back along with the colour that used to be in it and I would like to be able to burn the candle at both ends again like I did at university. These days, just getting out of bed in the morning is an effort. I am sure that is not too much trouble (a simple miracle) and would make waking up on the 20th a much more acceptable situation, thank you very much.


About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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5 Responses to On approaching the big number

  1. Pingback: Minipost 2 – British Culture I will miss « kenthinksaloud

  2. Bindu says:

    Belated Birthday wishes, Ken.
    Being in my late 30s I could very well relate to it.

    I enjoyed these expressions a lot:
    my first time at 40, probability that half my life is over, and when I grow up I really do still want to be a train driver :), like my hair back along with the colour that used to be in it…:)

    (Wrote this sometime back, on ageing.


  3. Karen Browne says:

    Firstly Ken, many happy returns for the 40th on the 20th!

    As you may (or indeed may not!) remember I spent my 30th birthday without old friends or family in Nepal at a time that was a major cross roads in my life. I too spent quite some time weighing up my life so far and the future I had ahead of me. I too felt a mixture of regret and thanks for the little I had managed to achieve but felt mainly negative if I’m honest. When it came to the day I had such a special and unique day in an amazing country with lovely people I hardly knew. It truly was a magical day mainly thanks to the kindness of strangers who I can now call friends. During that rather difficult time in my life I learned my plans are not always God’s plans and that in life the future is always a surprise. Since turning 30 I can quite honestly say I have had an exceptionally wonderful decade (or almost, mine 40th’s not until next year) and can’t wait to be 40 as I trust that God will continue to have fulfilling things planned for me that I can’t even imagine yet. Please!

    Enjoy your very unique 40th birthday and the amazing things to come!


    • Thank you Karen! Yes, I do remember your trip to Nepal, long ago before I even knew where Bangladesh was let alone how close Nepal is to here!

      I think you are right about the amazingness (is that a word?!) of the places we find ourselves in – whether home or abroad – and how we are always blessed with people who will make it special for us. We have some incredible friends here, some foreigners, most Bangaldeshis and we know we are well loved here. I guess, when feeling melancholic, and also with having been here nearly three years, that I am missing something of the ‘Britishness’ that normally accompanies any birthday celebrations. It is not so much a disregard for what I have here (which is so wonderful) as a little yearning for a home culture.

      You are also definitely right about this last decade for us both – it has been amazing and a complete turn around for each of us! 10 years ago I knew nothing of Bangladesh and no real appreciation of my own family history. Now, I find myself being blessed in so many ways I feel guilty, at times, and think I am doing nothing out here to help others! I think your positivism is entirely well placed and I shall hold your words in my head, at least, if not my heart when I hit those self-obsessed moments and notice those increasingly grey little hairs.


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