My birthday began on a hotel terrace high up in the Italian Alps. The day was already hot and the night had been somewhat unbearable; a cramped and stifling room with decor dating from some seventies brown tile explosion. The tiling came down the bathroom walls and segued onto the floor without even a semblance of hesitation. They might have tiled the ceiling as well but I was too overawed to look.

I had arrived the day before on instructions from friends who had booked me the room. My usual hotel in this neck of the woods was charging over 400 euros for a night’s stay in one of their cubicles. The reason for that outrageousness is that the Italian Alps were coming apart at the seams with all of the Italian blow-ins desperate for a holiday now that the usual Egyptian and Spanish resorts were off limits. My first hint of the scale of the invasion was on the roads. It was obvious that many of the drivers were unused to mountain driving. To say that they were making a bad job of it is like saying that maybe Victorians have had a bit of a bum deal in the Covid stakes.

But for a measly 65 smackaroos I had an attic room with a single bed and a double dining banquette, just in case I invited in one of the cleaning staff for a sit down snack.

But the hotel was well run and that is ultimately what counts. I arrived late in the afternoon after having driven twelve hours straight through from Holland. After I crossed the border into Germany it became apparent that all was not well in the world. Alighting from my vehicle to fill it up with more of that wonderful go-juice stuff, I was confronted by a sign that instructed me to enter the premises wearing a mask, or a scarf around my face, or even a paper bag with holes cut out of it. This caused an aura of disappointment and depression to come upon me. You see, the Netherlands has not succumbed to the ridiculous mask wearing charade. So not only was I unprepared for it, I was on holiday. And one does not seek to bow to petty tyrannies while on holiday.

Happily, I was able to complete my journey without ever once having to don a mask. I did this by the twin strategies of paying at the pump and starving myself for the entire journey across most of Western Europe. So when I walked into the hotel I was rather peckish to put it mildly. And Italy is not renowned for serving food outside of the standard dining times. But the hotel staff immediately brought me a couple of wonderful sandwiches and even more wonderful beer, and disaster was averted.

After an evening dinner way up in a mountain hut with great company and even better food, the next day saw my number of calendar years tick over by one. And this one is the very last of the forties. Sitting on the morning terrace my phone began to be deluged with messages of happiness at the fact that I was yet another step closer to the grave, or at least senility. Some people even rang to speak to me in person so as to congratulate me on the fact that I wasn’t dead yet. I had to remind them that I still had to complete an hour long journey on the mountain roads that very day to my next port of call, the valley where I lived for so many years.

Somehow I managed to arrive in one piece and this time I was not lodging in some hotel, but rather in a lovely house high up on the mountain slopes with my long time friend, Milo. A barbeque had been planned and Milo greeted me with the fateful words, “let’s get pissed”, which we did to great effect. Many old friends popped in, and once they saw how much food and drink we had prepared they all settled in for the long haul. The weather was splendid with short clothing perfectly adequate outside into the very late hours, something almost unheard of at these altitudes.

As far as worldly wisdom goes, I really have none to give. What I do know is that Taki also celebrated his birthday around the same time as me, and not too far away as the drone flies. He is well into his eighties and the old leach would most probably cut off one of his valuable appendages to be hitting the number of years that I just have celebrated. So I suppose that is my worldly wisdom, to be content with what you have and know that it’s probably not all that bad. If that’s slightly mundane to you then consider that to be a lesson in of itself. Us old folks have the prerogative of being cryptic.

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