Remembering Harry Gration and Richard Whiteley as I look forward to my next adventure - Christa Ackroyd

This week I have been away on a girls’ weekend which is something I haven’t done often since I was in my late teens or early twenties.

Then we would pack a rucksack with a couple of T-shirts, chuck in a pair of shorts, a skimpy bikini and set off to travel the cheapest way possible to some exotic location such as the south of France where we would dance with beautiful people until the early hours, drink copious amounts of wine, survive on snacks and stay in bed until midday. Oh and use coconut oil for suntan lotion.

This week we have been to the Isle of Arran each of us dragging a huge suitcase packed with everything for every scenario just in case the weather changed, which it did. We brought Factor 50, our own tea bags and healthy breakfasts as if there were no shops for miles.

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We were out walking in the rain by 8am, booked our evening meal for 7pm because none of us can eat late and were in bed by 10 or 11 at the latest. We had each brought a book to read!

Harry Gration and Christa AckroydHarry Gration and Christa Ackroyd
Harry Gration and Christa Ackroyd

We wore full swimming costumes and robes to the pool and nearly died pathetically when the masseur turned out to be a young man in his twenties. I am sure he has seen it all before.

We repeated stories we have all heard 100 times because they are our stories and then sang loudly and badly to Glastonbury; well to those acts we actually recognised, each agreeing we would rather stick pins in our eyes that be there in a tent queuing for the toilets, even if Elton John was rather good. But then most of us had seen him first time around in the seventies or eighties.

We have laughed until we cried. We have cried until we laughed. That’s what women do they lift each other up in good times and bad. And yes we have changed. Boring is the new sensible. Predictable is the new organised. Only we are not boring, definitely not sensible and I can promise you never predictable. We are quite simply comfortable in our own skin, even if we realise it is now such that we will never wear a bikini again. And we couldn’t give a damn.

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So why I am telling you this? Why should you even want to hear about a trip to a Scottish island I haven’t visited since childhood when I wore trews and a zip up anorak with a hood and toggles? Why did we even go to Arran? Because we fancied something different. We like nature now more than busy bars, calm more than crazy and because whatever suggestion any of us comes up with the answer is, yes, count me in. Because we can.

This weekend I read a piece in the papers that made my blood boil. I read a few actually. So I read them aloud to our assembled group of women. And we discussed with vim and vigour, usually over a glass of wine.. You see some things never change.

The first was the perfect topic for a group of women of varying ages, some working, some retired, but all still looking for the next challenge.

It was news that the Scottish Government had written to all health boards with an NHS plan to suggest women should be encouraged not to use gas and air in childbirth, not for the good of the woman or her unborn child, but for the good of the planet. Because it was harmful to the environment.

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What’s more expectant mothers could play their part in ‘a collaborative mitigation approach’ whatever that means, instead of using gas and air. Good luck with that one.

You can imagine how that went down in our little group over dinner. First reaction was it must have been written by a man. After much indignation we all agreed the beast that emerges during childbirth would have truly being unleashed if they had taken away the gas and air.

Not only that, we all came to the conclusion that some how we women have to use all the powers we have to stop womanhood being undermined, this being just another example. We all agreed not one of us ‘chestfed’ we breastfed. We were all mothers, not ‘birthing parents’, and my God we needed the gas and air to survive what most men would not.

But it was actually two little paragraphs that got us the most animated, that and the second bottle of wine.

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A little piece in the paper suggested that the happiest most contented time in our lives would be our seventies. That was the time we would be at our most confident, feel less sidelined and accepting that our dreams may never be fulfilled. What utter absolute poppycock.

Why have I spent my entire life been told this or that age is the most fulfilling? When I was at school I was told schooldays were the best days of our lives. Which is pretty depressing when you consider that means your best days are behind you at 18.

In my twenties I married, got divorced, married again, gave birth, ran a radio newsroom, and built friendships some of whom lasted decades, some lost along the way.

In my thirties I ran the whole radio station, wrote a national newspaper column, was asked to co-anchor Calendar with the late great Richard Whiteley and took my first long haul flights to Australia and India.

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In my forties I met and worked alongside the great Harry Gration, lost my father, won awards, built a house from a derelict barn and saw my children on the path towards adulthood.

In my fifties and sixties I built a business, welcomed my first grandchild, left the BBC, lost my mum, found new friends and new passions and reconnected with those I should have had more time for along the way, some of who were with me this weekend. And I started this column .

Which just goes to prove any age has new possibilities and opportunities if you embrace them. Society has a way of telling you as it tries to ram you into that pigeon hole that you are at one time too young, too inexperienced and too naive until you are made to feel you are too old, have too much experience and are too set in your ways to embrace the new, start all over again and dream new dreams.

That you are never quite at the right time or in the right place. The truth is you are. Every day can start with a blank sheet of paper if you allow that to be your mentality. You can kick it at any age if you believe you can. And more importantly you can remember those who were not lucky enough to have made it to whatever age you have reached now.

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This week I have been remembering Richard and Harry, two colleagues but above all great friends who should be here now having fun and sprinkling their unique brand of stardust over everyone they met, but who died 18 and one year ago this month respectively. So live every day well.

As for waiting until I am seventy, blow that for a game of soldiers. This week has been a good week. Next week will be the same if I make sure of it. As my granny used to say when people congratulated her on her great age… well I tell you one thing, it’s a good deal better than the alternative.

Here’s to the next adventure. And to never knowing what is next around the corner.