Tim Saunders, author, journalist and publisher
Three score years in ten.
That's the amount of time we can each hope to spend on this earth, according to the Bible. But it's so often not the case and so many lives are tragically cut short.
As a youngster 70 years seems a generous length of time when some days really can drag, especially when you're doing something you’d rather not be or you’re impatiently awaiting the arrival of Christmas or a birthday. But as we progress through the years and time shortens, if life is good to us, we want it extended.
“It’s a grand life, if you don’t weaken,” my late grandfather used to say. Many are guilty of taking their health for granted, though. When someone we know is taken away from us, especially at an unfairly young age, we might begin to appreciate our lives much more. Or at least we should do.
Award winning journalist and editor of Bournemouth Echo, Neal Butterworth was diagnosed with cancer and died aged 55. He had received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Bournemouth University in recognition of his contribution to journalism and raising almost £6m for good causes, too.
When Alison Fleuret (41) died she left behind her three year old daughter and husband. She was a friend to everyone. At her funeral there were so many well wishers that the crematorium was full to bursting. Others do not even make it this far. My sister's best friend, Amelia, born on her birthday also died on that day, aged just 13 while family friend Max was only 18 when cancer cut his life short. Yet despite their brief time here these people have had a strong impact, touching many lives, including mine.
Others have the luxury of reaching and exceeding the allotted time. Centenarian Captain Sir Tom Moore has raised more than £32m for the NHS.
Roald Dahl, the esteemed writer, died aged 74. Over 250m copies of his books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches, have sold worldwide.
The older I am I count my blessings and am grateful for every minute of each day. Time is indeed precious and we must all make the best use of it because you never know when that clock will stop.
Every summer butterflies fill this particular bedroom. No matter whether there are flowers in the vase or not. Whether there are sprigs of lavender lying around or just sprayed on the pillows.
I remember when I first saw this fascinating, mesmerising sight. I was only seven and we had moved into the great Georgian mansion deep in the depths of Somerset just a few months previously. It was when everything was still new and exciting. Before life had taken its toll. Before my darling mama had passed away and my brother and sister had flown the nest.
That summer was spectacular for nothing else than the carefree existence that we all enjoyed. Apart from papa of course, who was in the city for much of it, earning another bonus to keep us in the lifestyle that we were now accustomed.
Don’t they look like leaves falling to the ground? And when you think of the journey that they have been on, transforming from caterpillars into such delicate and beautiful creatures, it makes me think of how I have grown. After all, we are all on a journey.
It was going to be a glorious day. As he sat he realised that before too long he would have to take his jacket off because that sun was starting to warm up. Here he was. His dream for the last 15 years. The peace, tranquillity; an utter contrast to his life up to this point. But it was already boring him.
Ex-con Terence Maynard was 75 years old. He’d been on the wrong side of the law since he was a nipper. All that was past now. As he sat contemplating his dotage he could not forget about what put him inside this last time. He was determined that he was too old for anything like that to happen again. He hadn’t meant to shoot the bank manager when he wouldn’t hand over the cash. But Terence had been desperate; if he hadn’t been he wouldn’t even have gone on the job in the first place. There were a couple of others involved but he, quite rightly, carried the can for the murder. His good behaviour had reduced his 25-year sentence by a decade. He still regretted that cold blooded shooting of an innocent man who represented everything that was right in the world. He hated himself for making the man’s wife a widow and their children fatherless. No matter how beautiful this view the taking of that life would always haunt him. It was the worst crime he had ever committed.
He had known institutionalised ex-cons who couldn’t cope outside and had committed suicide after a couple of days. Others had committed any crime to get back inside. Some went straight.
Out of the corner of his eye he couldn’t help spotting a magnificent yacht making its way to the nearby harbour.
He had never been one to idly sit on his backside and watch the world pass him by. When an opportunity presented itself it had to be taken…
The neon sign made me contemplate what I would get eventually. Hopefully not covid-19. Twelve months ago I would never have thought that we would be required to wear facemasks when shopping or that it would be necessary to socially distance. That my children would be schooled at home for six months. That more than 45,000 people in the UK alone and more than 585,000 worldwide would die from this horrendous virus. That over 13.5m people worldwide would have it. It is shocking. A good job we cannot look into the future. However, this is nothing compared to the 500m cases of Spanish flu between 1918 and 1920 and the subsequent 50m deaths.
No, the sign referred to the meaning of life.
As a family man this is the case for me each and every day. I try to make the most of this wonderful opportunity because, like life in general, it will not last forever. Before I met Caroline I did have some friends outside of my family but there is just no time for such extravagances anymore. My wife Caroline is my best friend. My other best friends are my children: Harriett (9), Heidi (7) and Henry (4). They bring variety to the table of life and every day is an enriching experience of learning and discovery. I am a lucky man.
Some are perhaps made of more stories than others, though. When thinking of friends and acquaintances who have long since passed, some stand out above others for their stories. For instance, I had the good fortune of working for an energetic and genial man called Paul Cave, who lived to be 90 years of age. In 1960 he founded Hampshire the county magazine and continued running it until he died. A force of nature, he was manager of the legendary crooner Frankie Vaughan and he employed the racing driver Stirling Moss as his first motoring correspondent. A journalist through and through he worked for the Daily Mirror and was heavily involved with the Labour Party. I had the privilege of being his advertisement manager for five-and-a-half years. “I wish I’d met you years ago,” he smiled at me as we discussed the pleasing revenues I was generating.
No, I’m going to keep wearing this hat. It hides my receding hairline nicely. I seem to have more hair on my face than on my head these days. It’s hot in here. I’m starting to sweat. Might have to take my jacket off. What shall I have to drink? I wonder whether that girl behind me might like a drink.
I am listening to my favourite musician, Alberto Giurioli play Tutto e Bellissimo. He is such an accomplished pianist, I can only dream of playing like him. The world can rush by and I am happily lost in the moment. What a welcome break, if only for a few minutes. There’s only seconds left until the end of this piece. I might just listen again before re-joining the hectic rush dash of the commute.