Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Billy Simpson: Every swan has to sing sometime

A recent trip to the breathtaking North Antrim coast reminded our writer of growing up in the ‘best location in the world’

I believe everyone should take time out one day a week to count their blessings. That way you have all the rest of the week to count your grudges.

The Friday before last it occurred to me that I've been a very fortunate man. I was up on the North Antrim coast on one of those days when it was at its most breathtaking. The sea a hard blue, the sky decorated with the least intrusive of cloud formations and the coast of Scotland sitting on the horizon like a pale wave.

This is where I grew up. In a poor but highly entertaining family in the best location in the world and among some of the best people. There was no money but I got a fine inheritance. My father's sense of humour and my mother's love of books.

My generation was fortunate to have missed most of the bad decades of the 20th century and been young during some of the best. Being a teenager in the 1950s was not too shabby an experience.

It was a less exam-obsessed era when you could get hired on the whim of an employer who liked the cut of your jib. No panel of experts measuring you like a Pop Idol jury to see if you tick all the right boxes. Of course my jib was much more shipshape then but it got me jobs on building sites, factories and, once, a firm that made blueprints. On the basis of a misspelled letter of application and a five minute conversation in a Portrush car park, the late David and John Alexander of Spectator Newspapers hired me as a reporter in Newtownards where I got to work with some great newspaper men who became lifelong friends. As they say, the luck was hanging out of me.

Not everyone gets to do what they enjoy for a living and continue doing it long after the number of birthdays puts them far outside any marketing man's idea of useful demographics.

So today's final column is by way of a thank-you note to those of you who have dipped into my musings over the past 36 years. And a thank-you to the friends, family, colleagues and readers who have allowed me to plunder their memories, mild misfortunes, jokes and anecdotes for your amusement.

Some of you will have shared my occasional bewilderment at the complexity of a modern world with new attitudes and morals unimaginable to folk who grew up when the frontiers of sin were a lot stricter and the technology a lot simpler. It may have been some small comfort to know that there was a newspaper columnist even more bewildered than you.

With few exceptions I've been lucky in my immediate bosses who, by and large, tolerated my whims and eccentricities and the occasional hissy fit, with stoic good grace. Lucky too that the folk in that delightful community at Cherryvalley have not sued me for defamation in tapping the phone calls of Mrs Egnes Johnson. And most of all, that my wife Daphne (this column's enduring Everywoman) has not divorced me for shamelessly exploiting her mysterious ways down the years.

As I say, a lucky man. And privileged that I still have a few old friends out there. We've grown old together, you and I. You've been good company. And I'm vain enough to imagine that, from time to time, on a wet Monday evening, this column might have been good company too.

But every swan has to sing sometime and today's its my turn. Take care.

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