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You only live once

July 29, 2014

We unplugged the computer the other night in the midst of a sheet lightning thunderstorm, to avoid a potential power surge taking out it and other electrical equipment on the boat. It was still on standby, however, so the battery continued to drain, and as the computer is quite old, it got itself in a bit of a flap this evening when I tried to boot it up, making all sorts of panicked noises and a brief diversion into the blue screen of death before finally coming-to, making me promise never to unplug it again, and warning me I may have lost vital bits of information. I’ve yet to work out what those bits of information are, or how vital they may prove to be, but an interesting thing I have noticed is that it has reset itself back five years in time – presumably to when we first bought it. The clock now says it’s midday on 20 August 2009.

And it got me thinking about what I was doing at that date and time. Presumably making the mistake of buying a Dell computer, but what else? What was my life like, almost five years ago, and how much has it changed? What would I change? Would I go back and do it again?

As I am four days away from my 35th birthday, the answer, sensibly and unhesitatingly, is hell yes! 35 seems so friggin old. It’s halfway to 70. It’s the latter half of my 30s. It’s when all sensible, normal people are settling down with kids and mortgages, career advancements and pension plans, whilst I still can’t make up my mind between Pinot and Chardonnay, and have yet to settle on a definable hairstyle.

But it’s more than that. Five years ago we were in the Netherlands, just about to cruise into Belgium and then France, where we would live for three-and-a-half years. I had just spent the driest birthday of my life in a town called Tilburg, where we had failed to realise one couldn’t purchase alcohol on a Sunday, and ended up eating our celebratory meal in a McDonalds with a couple and their daughter who had no clue it was my birthday. An inauspicious start to my fourth decade, but it was to get much better. Over the next few years we would travel around France on our boat, drink our body weights in fizzy plonk in the Champagne region, meet some wonderful friends (most of whom, regrettably, we no longer see), learn a smattering of French, get to experience a whole new culture, spend my next birthday on a hill in Montmartre with our boat tucked cosily (if expensively) in the Arsenal below – and a million other experiences we could never have dreamt of when we first made the decision to move abroad.

In the last few years I have become an auntie four times to two gorgeous girls and two hilarious boys. I’ve seen best friends marry, and others split up, made new friends and lost old ones, and begun a whole new hobby – screenwriting – that five years ago I had never even given a thought.

I’ve snuck into a private screening at the Venice Film Festival, camped in the Mojave Desert, tasted a 500 euro bottle of wine, and nearly drowned in a canoe (ok not really but it felt quite dramatic at the time). And I’ve returned home.

I don’t think we ever really meant to stay away as long as we did. When we first bought Freya, and were offered a free mooring, it just seemed like a cool opportunity, to delay coming home for a bit. See a bit of Holland, grow some tulips, wear some clogs. And then we ended up in France, and enjoyed the wine a bit too much, and ended up living the kind of life we were living back in the UK (cosy marina, quiet community, me working on my computer, Ben fixing up the boat) but just in a small town in northern France, where the river froze solid for three months in winter and you couldn’t buy hummus for love nor money.

So we came home (by way of a hefty loan and an anxious three-day wait for our boat to return on a lorry), and it was almost like we’d never left, and now, two and a bit years later, I’m about to turn 35, and wondering where on earth all the time went.

And that little clock on the right hand side of my screen is beckoning me, like a secret little portal. Come back, come back, regain your youth. Relive all those happy memories (and don’t for God’s sake do all the stupid things you managed in those five years too, like attempt to dye your hair blonde, buy a Windows phone, or go and see ‘Tree of Life’. You won’t get those two-and-a-half-hours back, y’know.)

What would those five years be like if I could take the wisdom I’ve gained, the experiences I’ve had, the regrets and the lessons learnt, and the joys and the sorrows? Well – probably quite boring actually. OK, I’d always order the best thing off the menu, know how to win an argument, maybe even make a few quid with some strategic bets (although my memory is so bad, probably not. I had to think for a minute who’s just won the World Cup, and I won the office sweepstake.). But I’d also now know the endings to all my favourite TV programmes before I watched them (Game of Thrones wouldn’t be half as much fun if you knew who was about to be bumped off – it would be like reading the books). All those meetings to sit through again! All that back-breaking work on the boat (which, incidentally, we are doing again, because apparently Dutch steel is impervious to paint and just keeps on rusting). All those hangovers? Perhaps I’d become teetotal.

No, maybe I should leave that little clock alone. It can wink at me as enticingly as it likes, I’m staying firmly in the present. As some great Twenty-First Century philosopher once said, #YOLO, and that’s probably for good reason. No one likes the smart-ass who always gets everything right, who never makes a mistake. And I think, if I did go back and do my 30s all over again, I really wouldn’t have the energy for the next five years. 40! Good God. If I still have this Dell laptop in a further five years time (I find this highly unlikely), maybe I’ll pray for another electrical storm, and see what happens.

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