This week, I’ve been celebrating my 50th birthday with family and friends and it’s been brilliant. I wouldn’t say I’ve been dreading turning 50 but it is a landmark birthday and, if it hadn’t earlier, society does deem you as “old” thereafter.
I’m mostly ambivalent about my age but I’d ticked off my 30th and 40th birthdays with a decent celebration so it seemed appropriate to do the same for this one.
As is tradition in our family, on the day we went for dinner in the local Indian restaurant, Annaya’s and that was a fantastic feed. Annoyingly, I failed to get a picture taken on the night and I had really wanted to capture the moment.
After dinner, Ian and myself popped along to The Ashton where a friend shared a couple of drams of special Loch Lomond whisky he’d acquired. It was very generous of him to include me and I insisted on buying a drink for him and his friend after as we sat and shared tall tales.
For the weekend after my birthday I had organised a speedboat pub tour on Loch Lomond for myself and 9 friends who could make it. Adrian and George, two of my closest pals over the last 3 decades, were unable to go so instead we got together on a couple of different afternoons to watch the Tour de France. We always have a blast watching the action unfold on a laptop and each day was time well spent.
They had bought me a really nice bottle of whisky and placed it in wrapping paper covered in images from all of our cycling escapades over the years. It was such a lovely and thoughtful gift – I’ll savour the whisky in time and I can’t bear to part with the wrapping paper!
Cruising Loch Lomond
After a relaxing few days off work, it was time for the speedboat shenanigans. Fiona came to my place beforehand and gifted me a bottle of Tequila Rose, which is a comedy reference to a night out we had a few months ago where we got a bit carried away on the stuff.
Ian then whisked us over to Luss where, miraculously, everyone assembled in good time to have lunch in the Loch Lomond Arms. It was an interesting situation as the ensemble consisted of a couple of friend groups and a few people had somehow never met. Everyone got on super well and the banter was flowing right away.
Dean and Susan arrived a little later and had brought with them a bottle of Deanston whisky as a joint present from them and Stuart. I was really surprised and humbled by the gift – everyone had paid £45 a head to come on the speedboat trip and needn’t have given me anything more than their company. Tobin suggested that “the birthday boy shouldn’t pay” when it came time to settle the bill and everyone covered my share too. I really do have brilliant friends.
With lunch out of the way we wandered down to Luss pier and waited for instruction for which boat we’d board. There was one sitting there with 10 obvious seats and we assumed that to be ours. However, we were allocated a racy looking white boat that had a somewhat cramped looking padded well at the front of it, which me, Fiona, Susan and Dean ended up in.
I was bracing myself because I thought we’d get absolutely soaked as soon as the boat picked up speed. Fortunately, as it accelerated the boat sat up on its plane and we were lifted clear of the spray with only the occasional splash of water reaching us.
The first stop was The Clansman Bar at the Rowardennan Hotel. There was a light sprinkling of rain as we approached the pontoon but it didn’t amount to anything. Getting off the boat was a wee bit of a challenge and Susan almost fell back onto it as the pontoon tilted under the weight of everyone. She was saved by a quick thinking boat handler!
The rain shower and humid conditions made for a bit of a midgie-fest in the beer garden but we were all in good spirits and sipping on our beers. I tried to mix between the friend groups but it was hard not to be swept away by the conversation and I think I probably spent more time talking to the Helensburgh contingent.
It was interesting seeing other boatloads of people arrive doing a similar thing to us. We seemed to arrive in a perfect lull as there was only us and a handful of others initially, until another boatload arrived with a bunch of guys who were obviously on a stag do.
After a good two rounds and 45 minutes at The Clansman, our boat driver, Connor, came and gave us the signal that it was time to get back onboard for the cruise to Inchmurrin Island. We shared some banter with the stag party on the way by and I got my picture taken with the stag, who was sporting a blonde wig and a skirt. I was glad I was just on a birthday party!
I said to Connor when we initially boarded that I’d rather spend more time in the pubs than on the boat and as such we were just doing two stops instead of 3. The trip to Inchmurrin was pretty lengthy though and Connor didn’t want us drinking on the boat. A couple of zones on the loch where we had to go slowly set the bow of the boat down into the water and we were getting cold and a lot of splashes so the pier at Inchmurrin Island was a welcome sight when it came into view.
Climbing onto the pier and heading to the bar we passed groups of similarly transient visitors wearing life jackets as we made our way inside. We got served right away and sat around a low table in the corner of the bar for the last couple of rounds before the return leg to Luss.
Everyone was suitably merry by that point and it was just so uplifting to be surrounded by friends enjoying each other’s company. That’s really all I’d wanted from the day and anything else that happened was a bonus.
After a whisky courtesy of Stuart, the time came again all too soon to head back to the boat, stopping for another group photo on the pier. I’m glad we got that picture and a bunch of others because it’s a day I’ll long want to remember.
Due to the cold, Fiona opted to sit in the back with the boys, so Ian joined me, Dean and Susan up front this time. Connor had been “bribed” to let us drink on the return leg, so cans were passed around from my cool bag. He said he wouldn’t normally allow it but we’d been a good crowd so he had relented. With cans cracked open it felt like a great way to toast the trip back to Luss.
As the boat left the slow zone around Inchmurrin Island, Connor opened the throttle and through the wind noise I became aware of a commotion behind us. I could hear shouting and shrieking but we were so jammed in that I couldn’t turn my head enough to see what was going on.
Connor abruptly cut the power and the boat practically submarined to a stop, splashing the four of us in the front. Ian craned his neck to look back and said “Man overboard!” which I took completely seriously and I was twisting around in a panic to see who had fallen in. Thankfully, nobody had.
It transpired that Connor had accidentally left the fender dangling over the side of the boat and as he accelerated it sent a fountain of water gushing over Stuart, who had been sitting in the left corner at the stern. Stuart took it well and laughed off the sudden soaking, while Connor was very apologetic.
Fender retrieved, we were on our way again and taking in the beautiful views northward on the Loch. It reminded me of the many times I’d been on my Uncle John’s boat heading to Luss for an ice cream. I tried not to dwell on the thought too long and take it as a happy memory, quelling the sense of loss that he is no longer around for my birthdays.
Back at Luss pier we sat in the boat for a final group shot before heading back to The Loch Lomond Arms, the scene of Grant and Sandie’s wedding reception almost a year before. It was nice to be sitting out in the beer garden as the weather had perked up slightly, which was welcome for the slowly drying Stuart.
After a final round there as Ian was keen to get back home, having to be up early in the morning to take the kids to the airport. So we said our goodbyes to the crowd that were staying behind before they too began their journeys homeward.
Dancing the night away
Fiona and I stopped in at my place before walking into town, grabbed some food from a chip shop and ate it by the riverside amid the watchful eyes of several seagulls. After disappointing them by leaving nothing, we headed to The Ashton to enjoy a night of drinks and dancing to the live music that was on. We had an absolutely great time and maybe a couple too many drinks!
As we sat outside at closing time, a friendly man commented that he thought we had been the happiest couple in the bar, the way we were dancing and smiling with each other. Fiona told him that was because we weren’t actually a couple – just great friends. It was a funny remark from her but perfectly true. We’ve known each other 28 years and there’s no baggage between us, so when we’re together we always have a fantastic time. It was a lovely way to end the day and bring my birthday festivities to a close.
Considering I wasn’t wanting to make a big deal out of turning 50, I am really glad I did make the most out of it. I spent lots of quality time with all the people who have made a big difference in my life and after the strife of the last couple of years, it was invaluable.