It's the time of year I've grown to dislike intensely. I'm turning another year older. This time, however, is a touch more exciting, as it's one of those landmark, end of a decade birthdays. It gives me the chance to look back on not just the past decade, but the great memories from previous landmark birthdays.
My 18th was spent travelling through France eating oysters in Noirmoutier, trying frog's legs, drinking champagne in Reims, and sampling some other wonderful wines. We then spent the summer playing on the boat in the South of France and, only occasionally, getting into trouble with the harbourmaster for messing around at high speed on the tender in the harbour. It was a perfect trip whilst waiting for my A-Level results.
My 21st was completely different. We had a marquee in the garden with too many guests all dressed in black tie, dancing around to a decent DJ, and celebrating with a few glasses of a very strange punch I concocted. The highlight was watching my best mate, an avid Chelsea fan, hand over my Watford branded birthday cake. His children have taken great pleasure in using the photos as bribery over the years.
There were regular smaller parties in the intervening years at places as diverse as "The Elusive Camel" or the Milton Keynes Bowl amongst others.
My 30th stepped up another level. It also proved to be the last big party I've had. We organised a James Bond theme. We had everything from an ice sculpture of a Walther PPK, complete with vodka luge, to some amazing costumes. I went as Baron Samedi from Live & Let Die. It took hours to wash off the make-up. My father was a little more conservative in his choice of attire wearing black tie and covering his finger with gold paint. I'll let you work it out.
I've settled down a little since those days and am happier enjoying a meal at my favourite restaurant than throwing a big party. My friends now live all over the World, so the environmental impacts of a party wouldn't bear thinking about.
The Past Decade
There have been moments in recent weeks where I've wondered if I've wasted the past decade. After all, I still haven't settled down, got married, or started a family. Maybe in the next decade. When I give it some thought it's obvious why I haven't wasted any of the past 10 years. The only surprise has been that it started in a pub in Crystal Palace.
I couldn't have imagined, whilst celebrating another milestone birthday, where the next 10 years would take me. I've lived in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia and Turkey. I've had weekends on the beach in Bali, day trips to the Greek island of Kos, and taken every opportunity to visit places such as Petra in Jordan or the amazing Country of Oman. I now own more suitcases than is strictly healthy.
I've been the world's only tone deaf international DJ, become a qualified rugby union referee, spent weekends exploring the desert, and hours on boats and jetskis having fun. I've met amazing friends I'd never have bumped into if I'd stayed in my comfort zone. Travel truly was the making of me. Most importantly, I've fulfilled the lifelong ambition of becoming a published author. I've even sold a few copies (you know who you are and I love you dearly).
I've also been reminded how much I love animals. The stray dogs and cats have given me so much. Loving them, cuddling them and feeding them is one of the most rewarding things I could ever hope for.
As such, I would very much appreciate it if, to mark my landmark birthday, you could donate a small amount to your local animal shelter. It's the best investment you can make. If you want the exact date then look no further than Mick Jagger and Roger Taylor who share my birthday (I know it's all a bit crowded!). As for the year? Well, The Godfather was released the year I was born.
The past decade feels as though I've been laying down foundations for what's to come. It's almost as though I hit the reset button 10 years ago and am entering a new decade where all the effort becomes worthwhile.
There will be further books as the dogs and cats share their adventures. I'll get the chance to put another tick in the box by publishing a series of short stories, and there are a few other ideas being converted to the written word.
Which country will I be in for the next 10 years? Your guess is as good as mine. I have a few ideas, but not everything is in my control. You never know I might even settle down and finally come home, although I'd give pretty long odds on that one.
Looking forward I dare say in 10 years time I'll have even less hair (or maybe more if I go the Elton John route). My 12 pack will have probably turned into a full case with less notches needed in my belt. I'm sure many who know me would like to think I'll finally grow up. Not even a bookmaker would bother taking money on that one. Hopefully Saracens will have to extend the trophy room and Watford will punch above its weight by regaining its place in the premier league and, maybe, finally, win a major trophy.
To all my friends out there I say a huge thank you for sticking with me and giving me so many memories and laughs along the way. My life would have been so much poorer without you all.
To my family, thank you for the opportunities you've given me to have so many adventures. We've not done too badly when we look back on it.
I'll leave you with the one piece of advice that's stuck with me. My bank manager handed me my first credit card and, through gritted teeth, said, "It's a limit not a target." Oops.
If you would like to make a donation to my birthday lunch, please buy a copy of "It's A Stray Dog's Life". If you do we can both have fun on my birthday.
See you all soon,
MaxS and The Strays
PS The cover picture for this blog is, in fact, me with my first best friend, Mac. It was taken the day I came home from hospital. A lifetime of loving rough collies also started that day.