Earlier this month, without warning, I turned thirty years old. How did that happen?! It all seems to have gone by so quickly - one minute I was making cranes out of Lego, then playing Dungeons & Dragons, ardently studying for 'A'-levels and a degree, then forging a career for myself in a brave new world of enterprise software development, rounding it all off with the whole hectic marriage malarkey last summer. I suspect alcohol may also have been involved somewhere along the way - that at least would explain all the gaps...
Joce and I started my birthday celebrations by spending a day doing some touristy stuff in our home town of York. We climbed to the top of the Minster, which affords unparalleled views across the city that aren't done justice by my photography effort - everyone who is capable of making the lengthy trudge up to the top of the main tower should certainly do so. Following this, we headed down into the undercroft, formed by relatively recent excavations that were undertaken in order to reinforce the aging foundations. This gave us some exposure to the Roman, Viking and Medieval remains that are prevalent a few feet below the current street level, and reminded us what a fascinating and historic city York is in which to live.
We had lunch in Bobo Lobo, a pleasant Latino restaurant to which we'll probably return. I was entertained by a sign boasting that spirits would be served in 35mm measures, and only narrowly avoided the temptation to point out this error to the staff (or was it an error? maybe I missed out on a bargain - I wonder what the diameter of glasses they serve?)
Then it was time for a trip to Jorvik Viking Centre, last frequented by myself about 20 years previously. I think a visit to this archaeology-site-cum-theme-ride attraction is a mandatory part of the National Curriculum, and most summer days see queues of kids snaking around the Coppergate centre.
The ride and the ancient remains displayed are impressive enough, but at £7.45 per adult, it's pretty expensive for a visit that lasted about an hour - but then, they are a charitable organisation, so mustn't grumble - after all, it does mean I can claim back some of the entrance fee at the end of the tax year...
A fun day with my extended family followed, thirteen of us trudging to Pizza Express, including my seven nieces and nephews. A couple of weeks before my birthday we reached the symbolic turning point where Hannah, my eldest niece, reached the age that I had been when she was born. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it sure made me feel old.
If York is my favourite city in the UK, then Edinburgh has to be my second favourite, so I was pleasantly surprised when Joce arranged a birthday trip for us both to Auld Reekie for the following weekend.
The last time we were in Edinburgh together was late summer 2004, when we were able to relax in the sun in Princes Street Gardens. No such luck this time, the forecast was for snow, and we spent our time walking around encased from head to toe in several layers of thick clothing!
The weekend was essentially more touristy fun - we saw the People's Museum, Royal Museum, National Museum, and spent a fair amount of time at the castle, which had much more to see and do than I remembered (admittedly the last time I visited I was about 6 years old), and was surprisingly good value. Best tourist castle in the UK? Very possibly.
On the Saturday evening we dined at The Witchery, where we both enjoyed the finest meal of our lives. Now, I never used to be remotely interested in the food I was putting into my body - indeed, during my time at university I practically turned the phrase "I'm not a food fan" into a personal catchphrase, as Brucey will testify.
It wasn't until one summer's day in 2002, when I had the pleasure of enjoying a freebie meal at Marco Pierre White's Quo Vadis that I discovered that food could, actually, be interesting and enjoyable. My tastebuds were awakened and I've never looked back.
Anyway, back to The Witchery. Everything about the place oozed quality. The food was delicious, the service was impressive, the wine list was staggering (134 pages - yes, I made a note), and the environment was delightful (we were in the candlelit "secret garden"). I can't recommend this place enough.
Sunday morning we went to the nearby Scotch Whisky Heritage centre, which was also pretty entertaining, and you have to give bonus points to any tourist attraction that includes a shot of the good stuff in the entrance fee. After the tour we popped to the shop for a bottle of 15-year-old Laphroaig, my choice of which raised a compliment from the lovely Charlotte Fairweather who was manning the tills that afternoon, and who lamented, on hearing of our previous night's dining experience, that her boyfriend hadn't yet taken her for a meal at The Witchery - silly chap.
By late Sunday we were exhausted, so the only sensible option was to find an art house cinema and settle down to watch "L'Enfant". Foreign language films are crazy, yet oddly compulsive, and they always seem to make me feel better about my life.
Thus ended my thirtieth birthday celebrations. Upon reflection, it's been a good decade actually, and now I think about it, I've achieved quite a lot. Took a degree in maths from Nottingham (and they still haven't made me give it back - boom boom), owned three cars, bought a home of my own, achieved financial independence, married my Californian sweetheart, had six jobs (some better than others!), climbed ninety Munros, and generally had a good time. I wonder what the next decade will bring?