Today was my 69th birthday and I now begin the unsteady march towards my seventh decade. When I was nineteen, twenty-nine even, seventy when it gets here, always seemed as far away and as unlikely as being on the moon. Sometimes on sleepless nights, the thought of it might briefly cross my mind but it wasn't pleasant. It conjured up visions of old people bent over walking sticks, half blind, half deaf, talking to themselves, pissing themselves and smelling and quickly it would be dismissed as too far away to contemplate. Of course I'm almost there now, still upright, still reasonably fit, still not wearing incontinence pads, still able to do most of the things I've always done, so I've convinced myself that it must be ninety when all the things above start to happen.
But when you get to this certain age, you do tend to sit around more, mulling over the last sixty odd years and unless you've had an incredibly boring life, you wonder at all the directions that you've taken and all the emotions that you've felt. After three wives and a couple of lengthy relationships, all of whom remain my good friends, I guess you could say that I've had my fair share of both of them. That aside though, to think back over almost a life-time is to wonder at times how you fitted everything in and travelled from one end of your life to the other.
A lot of my childhood was unhappy and subsequently blanked out and I won't dwell on that too much, but I do recall from around ten onwards, that I could be found alone on the marshes near where I lived, sitting by ditches, taking in the wildlife and later learning about it from books from the library. In my twenties and thirties I not only got involved in sport, as a Sunday League goalkeeper and a useful badminton league player but I enjoyed being out on the marshes in all weathers, eel trapping in summer and rabbit catching in winter. I played guitar and wrote poetry and now write blogs. In 1976 I became involved with the RSPB at their Elmley reserve and then a Volunteer Warden for thirty years for Natural England on their Swale NNR here on Sheppey. I became indoctrinated into the conservation world and spent far too many years being told and believing, that far too many people involved in countryside sports such as shooting and those of my earlier years, were the enemy of conservation.
My working life began as a milk boy on a local milk round in the bitter winter of 1962/3 and then I was employed by the Kent River Authority to scythe and maintain ditches and repair sea walls, a favourite job in the late 1960's, early 1970's. For the next thirty four years until I took early retirement in 2006, I was employed in the local docks, for nineteen years as a stevedore and the rest in management there, retiring as part of the middle management team.
Now, as I tread softly and arthritically towards seventy, I've turned back to my old and original thoughts and enjoyment about and with countryside sports and realised that they have a part to play in conservation. If I was young enough I'd love to still be out eel trapping and rabbiting but I have to make do with chatting to farmers, chatting to wildfowlers and simply enjoying most aspects of what's left of the countryside, without bias.