Why a gun to the head was the best thing that happened to me

When I was in my early twenties I had a gun pointed at my head. Although it felt like the end of the world at the time, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I say this because the first thought that went through my head at the time was “but I’ve done nothing with my life”.

I was working on the counter of a NatWest bank branch in a sleepy Northern English village. You didn’t need all of your fingers and toes to count the number of customers who came in each day, or a crystal ball to predict what they were going to ask for. So the day someone came in with a balaclava and a gun it was a shock to say the least. But it gave me the kick in the butt that I needed to start living my life and made me the person that I am today: you could say that if life was a book then I am determined to read every page. Although, admittedly sometimes I do find myself in situations where I think “what did you get yourself into this time?” but I can honestly say that I won’t die wondering…

My second wake up call, and the reason for starting this blog site was rather tamer. I was sitting in the Qantas lounge reading the magazines when I came across one that declared life begins at 50. I was then bombarded with a series of adverts for chair lifts, hearing aids, false teeth, retirement homes and funeral plots. Great, I thought, I’m only six years away from this promised life. I’ve also noticed that I hear the following phrase more frequently now:if you haven’t done it by now I would cross it off your list at YOUR age”. Whether it is referring to that book I have been writing for the last ten twenty years, running a marathon, or indeed, marrying Daniel Craig, the phrase is becoming more frequent…and annoying.

Therefore I have started this blog for all those people who refuse to grow up, don’t want to die wondering about what they could have done, or indeed the encore career they could have, or not having found their hidden talents and passions, or just simply want to have fun and try the many cool and quirky activities around Sydney and beyond..

I thought I would start by sharing a few people I take inspiration from:

imageYou are never too old to be a ballerina This month, at 71, Doreen Pechey has become the oldest ballerina in Britain ever to pass the grade 6 exam at the Royal Academy of Dance. She could not take up ballet lessons as a child as her parents could not afford it in the 1950s. She took up ballet at 61 and now has a barre installed in her kitchen so she can practice. She has swapped adult-only lessons, to those with teenagers, in order to be able to train for exams. I love her attitude, she says “All little girls want to go en pointe – just because I’m 71 doesn’t mean I’m not a little girl.” She also admits that she is known for “teaching rude words in sign language and making a tiramisu potent enough to knock over a teetotaller from the fumes alone.”

You are never too old to be a Gymnast: You may remember a YouTube clip of a grey haired old lady in a green leotard performing an amazing parallel bars routine. That was Johanna Quaas, who, aged 86 (now 90) was recognised as the oldest gymnast in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records. Johanna practiced gymnastics as a child, entering her first competition in 1934, but gave it up when she had children. She started competing again in her 50s, winning the German Senior Citizenship championships numerous times. Amazing considering anyone who competes into their 20s in gymnastics is usually considered a veteran.

You are never too old to be a Runner: Earlier this year, after ten years as the oldest finisher of Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle 8km race, 90 year old Bob Taylor won his age group. At his request, the race organisers added an over 90 category so Bob didn’t have to compete against people ten years younger than him. He not only took the first (and only spot) in his category, but beat his previous time.

imageYou are never too old to Learn: Imagine in your 80s putting on a school uniform and not only going to primary school for the first time, but sitting between and competing for grades with six year olds, including your own grandchildren. Kenyans Kimani Maruge and Priscilla Sitienei inspiringly did just that. In 2004, one year after the Kenyan government announced free primary education for all, Kimani, at the age of 84, started primary school. This was not without opposition from those who did not want education wasted on an old man. Years later, in her late 80s, Priscilla started kindergarten. Priscilla started school to show her grand and great-grandchildren that education is important. A 2015 article shows that, not only at the time were six of Priscilla’s great-grandchildren her classmates but also children she had delivered in her 65 years as a midwife.

You are never too old to publish a Book:  In 1993, at the ages of 103 and 101 Sadie and Bessie Delany’s Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years hit the New York Times bestseller lists for 105 weeks. It is the story of these two amazing ladies whose father was born a slave, and yet all ten of his children earned a college degree. I read the book at the time and loved their attitude to life.

When Bessie died, Sadie was 106 and on her own for the first time in her life (neither had married).Sadie declared “If I live just a few more years – to the year 2000 – I will have lived in three different centuries! Well, if I’m going to make it to the year 2000 I figure I had better increase my stamina. So I’ve been climbing the stairs at least once a day, even if I don’t need to.” Sadly Sadie died in 1999, having being born in 1889, just short of living in three centuries. But I loved her optimism, as she herself said “I’m still buying green bananas! I guess that makes me an optimist!”

imageSometimes it is too easy to think I’m too old to do that or indeed more often be told that you are. But last year after watching Joan Collins doing the splits in her 80s I set myself the challenge of being able to do the same. And I did. In fact in the last year I have taken up trampolining (admittedly things jiggle that never used to), after years of procrastination set up a blog site, finally entered a photography competition (and didn’t come anywhere – but at least I won’t die wondering whether there is any beginning to my talents), and abseiled a 32 storey building.

I’m still working on Daniel Craig.

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