So many of the people I know these days are aged eighty or more, that it seems its no longer a rarity to be that old, and whilst they may confess to finding longevity a mixed blessing, they appear to be enjoying life without too much trouble. Now that I have joined their company I must do the same.

My family decided that the birthday was sufficiently important to mark it with some sort of celebration. So without me being aware of what was happening, some of our English and Spanish friends were invited to a party that took place in Alicante earlier this month. The invitation was bold and direct with suggestions to stay at a nearby hotel where a fixed rate for B. and B. had been arranged. The response (last October) was swift and in almost every case, positive. I was astonished when I was let into the secret at Christmas. Eventually there were 50 of us who spent a memorable weekend together, and all because of me.

I should have felt very humble that people bothered to come and said such nice things, and I did.

I might have felt very embarrassed at so much attention, but I didn’t. It was such an immense pleasure to be in the actual physical company of people for whom I have great regard and affection. We are in fairly regular contact by e- mail or phone. Occasionally we meet, but so many of the people we have known over the years and whom I think of as the framework to much of my life, were suddenly all together in one place. Extraordinary, and the memory of it will remain for ever.

The social significance of reaching eighty does have its message. I am the same person as I was of course before and after the birthday, but now perhaps I have to accept the reality of being old, accept the inconveniences that inevitably follow, but balance it with the reality of the years I have lived, which seem to have significance to people who have known me, more often than to myself.

I have been looking again at the gifts and birthday cards people gave me. The most imaginative was the gift of a goat, through the offices of Oxfam. Sent to such places as the remote district of Dailekh in Nepal, such a gift can provide milk to drink and sell, fertiliser for the crops and eventually kids to take to market. A brilliant idea. Perhaps also a hint for me not to take myself too seriously, which, despite all the birthday fuss, I will do my best not to do.