Professor Joe Goldblatt
“Where have all the flowers gone?” Upon arriving in Orkney’s lovely seaside town of Stromness, in Hamnavoe (“safe harbour”) I asked a local person about a favourite garden that I had missed seeing in Caithness.
“The council decided to replace the flowers with vegetables to feed the poor people in the town.” I was at once shocked and also gratified that in this town where for many years local folk have suffered from unemployment that the civic mothers and fathers of the Caithness region were still evolving and adapting their public places to meet the needs of the local community.
Whilst I greatly missed the beautiful annual colourful display of tulips, poppies, and peonies I was also happy to know that just as during World War I, a Victory Garden was being planted during difficult times to provide sustenance for those in need. As these public allotments, individually tended by local residents, begin to yield produce fruit and vegetables they will demonstrate the resilience of humankind.
As I approach the celebration of my 70th spin around the sun on 4 June I have been thinking a lot about resilience, growth, and of course gratitude.
For example, during my twenties I was blessed with plenty of boundless energy. My thirties then brought the dirty work of career and many moves to support my growing family.
The forties were filled with a last gasp of being naughty as I embarked upon adventures such as driving a horse and carriage 200 miles to raise money for a three year old child who needed a liver transplant. The fifties were truly nifty when for the first time people began to defer to me and even offer me their seat on the bus. And recently the sixties were sensational as for the first time I experienced multiple new sensations within my hips, knees, back, stomach and other parts of my ageing machine that began to silently cry out for new parts.
And now it is seventy which I believe shall be truly heavenly. Although I have increased mobility challenges such as when I kneel down to scoop our wee dog’s poop and lose my balance, I now have the wisdom to learn how to overcome this awkwarndess and avoid falling in the excrement. As I begin to rise I simply think that I am one again twelve years old and suddenly I defy gravity and rise miraculously to my full height in great triumph! Instead of groaning as I struggle to exit a taxi I now shout “Whoopee!” and I feel a new spring in my step.
This example of resilience in ageing is only one way I have grown in the past few months. Despite my natural tendency to tell stories about my own life I have learned to delight in listening to other people’s life stories and encouraging them to further spin their tales for me by my asking the key journalist’s questions of “why, who, where, when and what?” These stories provide a new wide open window of human feelings and experiences that allows me to connect closely with younger generations and those of different backgrounds, despite the growing differences in our ages and previous life journey.
Finally, I also see this opportunity of turning seventy as a time of daily gratitude for my, as in Caithness, ever growing garden of earthly and spiritual delights. As chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, I have a front row seat to many different and fascinating faith traditions and practices. Recently some of our younger members discussed the Future of Faith and the role modesty has played in their religious and spiritual practices. One young woman described how she felt confused and guilty for enjoying fashion as she thought perhaps this was a sign of immodesty. However, over time she came to realise that fashion is primarily a celebration of the aesthetic, the beauty of life, and this beauty is also a pathway to experience the divine in in life. And so it is for me as well.
Whilst visiting my favourite purveyor of wool products in Kirkwall, Orkney the proprietor of the Orkney Tweed shop sadly told me that my cherished woolen hat was no longer being produced. I have worn this hat in all kinds of weather all over the world for the past seven years and my old beloved friend was finally beginning to show its age, as I suspect I am doing as well.
The proprietor stepped to the back of the shop and produced a rain proof ladies hat with my favourite Orkney Tweed wool now royally wrapped around the crown. I immediately loved it and upon placing it atop my head my wife said “I love it. You look like the Mad Hatter.”
I was relieved and laughed out loud as I delighted in how the wool crowning my new hat perfectly matched my muffler of the same pattern. For this moment, despite the ridiculousness of wearing an over the top hat, all seemed right with the world.
Therefore, seventy is indeed heavenly as I march forward with the 21 percent of my fellow Scottish citizens who are over 60 and now I have a new crown to celebrate my modest achievement.
I also understand that another individual is celebrating a seventieth anniversary and I am happy to share my delight in our shops being closed, a long bank holiday weekend and many street parties in my honour, with her. As we say in the old Scots language upon celebrating each new year, “lang may oor lums reek!” (Long may our chimney’s smoke!)
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland and will celebrate his seventieth birthday on 4 June 2022. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot