Well thank you Vietnam……

for making my first mid-life crisis, empty-nest adventure so wonderfully brilliant. From Hanoi to Hue to Ho Chi Minh city,  I have fallen hopelessly in love with this wonderful country and it’s people and quite honestly I can’t wait to go back.

Because that’s the beauty of modern technology. If you can use the internet, all the information you need is available to book your own itinerary. We trawled through Trip Advisor, Booking.com and Air B&B, making notes, reading reviews and finally pulling a trip together that we hoped would tick as many of our boxes as possible in three weeks. We booked a mixture of Homestays, overnight trains, budget hotels, treks, cruises, street food tours, cooking courses, taxis, internal flights, mopeds and even a posh hotel, all from the comfort of our kitchen  before we left, our accommodation when we there or even the airport at last minute.

And amazingly, nothing went wrong. Not one single thing. It all turned out to be a brilliant adventure from start to finish, all of which I will tell you about and pass on tips in my next series of blogs.

I know I keep harping on about it but life is short and there’s a big amazing world out there, offering experiences that you can’t ever really describe but which enrich your soul and hopefully make you a better human being. This fifty-something window of opportunity is too good a chance to miss especially if you’re still fit enough and brave enough to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

 So follow my blogs over the next few weeks as I try and show you that life at fifty doesn’t have to mean a Thrifty Fifty Travel card or a Saga Holiday. It’s not too late for an adventure and it’s never, ever too late to chase a sunset!

 

Advertisements

WELCOME TO MIDDLE AGE

Well I finally did it. I finally came out in public and asked for a free cup of coffee with my ScotRail Thrifty Club 50 card. To be honest, I only plucked up the courage as I was with my elderly parents-in law and thought that I may pass it off as one of theirs as I asked for three coffees and flashed the card so quickly, that he wouldn’t be able to see my jauntily angled, glamorous headshot beaming out at him from the blue plastic. Sadly, the coffee wasn’t worth waiting for, as annoyingly it was half the size of the other two, probably because, I surmised through gritted teeth, they think I may need frequent trips to the toilet if I consume a normal cup of coffee. And we wouldn’t want that would we madam, numerous fifty something’s queuing for the toilets and all hyped up on caffeine? We don’t want any trouble. Doubly annoying, was the fact that he handed it straight to me and not my mother-in-law, there wasn’t even a hint of hesitation which was another blow to the ego on top of the trainee in the hairdressers last week, asking if I preferred any particular magazine. Giving her a free rein to make a choice was not a good idea. No Elle, Marie Clare or Cosmo for me, she gave me bloody House Beautiful and Homes and Gardens, obviously to go with my greying hair. So depressing.

Anyway, when my Thrifty Fifty card arrived, it was accompanied by a nice little flyer which advertised the many benefits of admitting to being middle aged. Aside from the travel discounts and the miniature coffee, (but only one per journey Madam), the leaflet enticingly offered discounts on events, concerts and entrance to venues. T in the Park? The Hydro? Groove Inverness? Not a chance. Madam, you are a mature woman now, please show some decorum. It’s the National Trust, The Hampden Experience and classical concerts for you. You can groove if you want to my dear, as long as you stay in your seat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a stately home as much as the next person, but I’d rather be living in one than visiting and I’d obviously naively assumed that National Trust discount was more ‘Senior Railcard’ than ‘Nifty, thrifty, fifty’. I would love to meet the researchers behind the marketing, I wonder whether any of the team are over thirty?

As I write this, I am once again sitting on a train, this time heading to London Paddington from Oxford. You can tell it’s the South East as there are four carriages for First Class. Inverness Edinburgh has 8 seats if you’re lucky. Even the announcer sounds more like an airline pilot. I used to commute on this train every morning from Oxford to Reading, in the days when there were individual compartments with sliding doors, like the Harry Potter train for my younger readers,(if I have any), but without steam, (I’m not that old), or chocolate frogs. It was always warm and cosy with it’s under seat heaters, glorious on a cold winter morning when my feet were frozen to my eighties, synthetic stilettos. Sadly, while quicker, it is not quite as cosy on this train, in fact I am a tad chilly and there is no trolley and a train journey is just not the same without the trolley and it’s dodgy coffee, which is always too strong. Of course it’s not helped by the fact that two milk sachets, (the new cows udder shaped ones are mildly more manageable than playing Russian roulette with the mini long life milk cartons), are simply not sufficient. And no trolley also means that I don’t get the opportunity to grapple with my conscience again as I try to choose between a Kit Kat, Sour Cream Pringles or a packet of Kettle Chips. For the trolley, in my opinion is the highlight of a jaunt out of Inverness, a cosy accompaniment to the joy of gliding through the majestic beauty of the Scottish Highlands,a totally underrated service that brings happiness to many. Lord help the messenger who has to deliver the “No Trolley on this service” announcement to a train full of Highlanders on a day oot.

So, Scotrail Marketing team, you need to up your game. While I admit that the aforementioned rant and my admission that I’m turned on by the trolley service, may in fact indicate that I’m slowly turning into a fifty something grumpy old bag, I’m not quite ready for your depressing pigeon hole. I can still manage to drink a normal sized coffee without having to pee fifteen minutes later, I do not yet have grandchildren that I want to take to the Zoo and I would prefer a Cosmopolitan and a day out at the Spa than 2 for 1 tickets to The Scottish Maritime Museum. Fifty something I may be, ready for walking tours I am not.

Although if the 2 for 1 walking tour involved cocktail bars, I could possibly be persuaded.

scotrail.co.uk/club50

 

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

 

As part of our therapy into adjusting to being fifty something, Mr D and I have recently made a pact to use our remaining time on this increasingly chaotic planet constructively. I realise that we may actually have another fifty years to party but as some of our dear friends have already departed to another world, hopefully one more peaceful than this one, it’s better, I think, to hedge your bets. And it’s not been easy recently, my Scotrail Thrifty Club 50 card arrived and I became a Great Aunt. Now don’t get me wrong, I am delighted at the arrival of the gorgeous wee Gracie but the ‘Great’ bit, they can just forget. I am not yet ready to morph into Maggie Smith.  The same way I am not yet prepared to ask for a free cup of coffee with my Club 50 card. Discount on my ticket? Yes. Asking for a sympathy coffee because I’m the wrong side of fifty? No.

But I digress. As we are now down to only one fledgling in the nest and the washing basket no longer resembles The Magic Porridge Pot, (wash little mummy, wash, confused? Look it up) so it was that Mr D and I, amazingly found ourselves with a free Sunday and as the weather has been so uncharacteristically  beautiful,  we took off for a walk to a place I hadn’t been since the children were small, The Dunearn Burn walk in the Darnaway Forest, off the awful A96 between Nairn and Forres. A truly magical walk that takes you through beautiful deciduous woodland and if you are up for it, down the west side of the gorge  to the mysterious River Findhorn.

And magical it was that day. The sun was low in the sky which only served to intensify the rich  metallic glow of the leaves and the absence of wind allowed the ancient song of the Findhorn river to reach our ears. A word of caution, however, it is not a walk for the feint hearted or those uneasy on their pins, as the path is at times steep and slippery, with unnerving drops down to the Findhorn below. What actually amazed me on revisiting, was how I never managed to lose any of my children as I regularly dragged three small Power Rangers along those paths for a bracing, healthy walk, as they maniacally tried to kill each other, me or themselves with stick swords and pine cone hand grenades.  If I murmured to myself, “what was I thinking?” once as I looked over another vertical precipice, I murmured it several times over as we got closer to the river. For as you finally descend to the river itself, an enticing network of steep steps and ropes, guide you down to the pebbly beach below. How I ever got three small, excitable ninjas and a badly behaved Cairn Terrier down there on my own, I’ll never know but the madness of a tired mother, desperate to get out of the house and  de-energise her children before bedtime, knows no bounds.image

But once again it was worth it, especially as waiting at the bottom of the steps this time, was a battered wicker chair, obviously used for fishing but which soothingly whispered, come, sit, rest a while and take in the view. And so we did. Mr D being the perfect gentleman and to be honest wanting to keep the peace, let his darling wife have the chair and served me a nice cup of tea. The fact that we had brought a flask with us unnerved me slightly, thankfully we hadn’t brought a tartan rug,  but it was very welcome nevertheless and as we sat and took in a beauty which I cannot possibly  describe, Mr D was inspired into poetic creativity, enthusiastically describing the River Findhorn as resembling Prince of DarkNess, a new smooth, deep black imperial stout, brewed by the Loch Ness Brewery  in Drumnadrochit. The power of nature to inspire hey? Robert Burns would have been proud.

image

Back at home I asked the fledgling whether he remembered the walks and how much fun it used to be? “Nope” was the usual teenage monosyballic, I can’t be bothered to think about your question, reply . I didn’t bother arguing. He’s too young to start reminiscing but hopefully when he’s older and finding himself far from home, he’ll remember our crazy walks down to the Findhorn and thank the universe that he actually managed to survive.

CRICKET……. A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

So here I am at Edgbaston, first day of the third Ashes test, hoping not to feel crippling humiliation once again at the hands of the Aussies. Weather looks hopeful, beer and in my case gin and tonic is already flowing, we have a picnic of pork pies and scotch eggs and my teenage crush David Gower is crooning in my ear from the radio. But sadly it’s all a bit blokey as all the girls bar one have cried off. Why, I ask myself when really, watching cricket is the perfect way for any woman to spend a day

I appreciate that the game can be a little confusing and that Test Matches that go on for five days and still end in a draw can seem a tad pointless, indeed watching your team play cricket, especially if you’re an England fan, can be agonising.  Often its a bit slow and a bit boring but occasionally we’re served up a frenzy of excitement, success and unbridled joy. Unfortunately it’s usually followed by a large helping of disappointment. It’s a bit like the roller coaster of life and the realization that I was never going to marry David Gower.But let’s not dwell on the negatives as positives there are a plenty.

Well  it’s a far cry from Ibiza I hear my friends say, but girls, what could be better than sitting watching 22 athletic young men  fully clad in white, strutting around and throwing themselves into danger on a field all day, occasionally  rubbing their nether regions and getting themselves all grubby. Men who not only do lunch but do afternoon tea as well.

And that’s just for starters . Let me tell you girls, you are seriously missing out if you think a day at the cricket is a day wasted. Ok, the sun doesn’t always shine, but if it does, you can top up your tan, drink, eat  AND talk while play is still going on. You can heckle, verbally abuse and intimidate  the opposition, which is especially enjoyable when a lone Aussie fielder, isolated from the pack , is within earshot. An added bonus if it happens to be Mitchel Johnson. You can dress up, dress down or wear fancy dress , nod off, read a book  or not watch the game at all and still have a really good time.  Fabulously the ratio of women to men (according to my pal Sal’s scientific analysis) is probably about 25 to 1 (admittedly 20 of them will be over 40) and it’s the only event where there is no queue for the ladies but satisfyingly  the mens queue  goes on for miles. And it really doesn’t matter if you have no idea what’s going on or understand the cricket chat because terms such as middle stump, fine leg, a good length,  sticky wicket, full toss, ball tampering, in swinger and hand action will always raise  a  pathetically infantile girlie giggle.

So fair maidens, get thee down to the Cricket  and let yourself be bowled over by this wonderful game for as  I finish writing this at the end of a brilliant day, I am tired, happy, full after a fabulous curry and a little bit tipsy from too many Pimms.  Best of all, England played a blinder and their fans will go to their beds tonight, thanking God and praying that they don’t stuff it up when they return to resume battle tomorrow.  Girls, it was a fine day out.