When you are young, you never think it will happen to you. I certainly didn’t. Things like this only happen to my parents and their friends. And yet somehow, inexplicably, it is happening: I am turning fifty. Oh the horror.
Of course there was a warning sign. It all started more than a decade ago. If turning fifty is unthinkable, this event is beyond imagination. It’s an event so tragic, so brutally unfair, that it is almost too painful to mention. This time I really mean it when I say I never thought it would happen to me. I started going bald. Yes, me: a rocker at heart with a gorgeous mane of waist-length hair. I mean, seriously, women were jealous. And now it is all gone, along with my dreams of retiring as a hair farmer. How could something like this happen to a nice guy like me?
With the dreadful date fast approaching, I do what any sensible person would do when facing his own mortality: I book a trip to Europe. If I am going to get old, I am going to do it in style. I wake up on my fiftieth in Paris, with a pink sunrise overlooking Gare de Lyon train station. Believe me when I say there are a lot worse ways to wake up. From Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord for a train change and I am whisking my way under the English Channel. One last train change in Ashford (on the English side of the Channel) and I am in the picturesque town of Sandwich. If your lunch today consists of a sandwich (with a lower case s), you have the Earl of Sandwich (with a capital S) to thank for it.
What is there to photograph in Sandwich besides meat between bread? The answer is some of the world’s rarest carnivores at the Rare Species Conservation Centre. By the way I do know the proper way to spell center, but I am in England and those darn Brits put the r and the e in the wrong order. The center (err, centre) is not yet open for the season, but the owner knows I am coming from across the pond. He graciously invites me to stop by with my camera (and he doesn’t even know it’s my birthday). After a tour of the facility, he goes to work on something and lets me wander on my own. Is this happening? I have an entire zoo all to myself? Sure it is small by zoo standards, but still – it’s all mine. Happy birthday to me. The collection includes rare animals I have never seen and most of you have never heard of. I mean things like fanaloka and boky-boky and ring-tailed vontsira. I am a cat guy, so I zero in on clouded leopards, rusty-spotted cats, and fishing cats. The prize winning shot is this fishing cat that looks like he is smiling. Is he having as much fun as I am?
It’s a pleasant mile and a half walk back to my hotel, the historic and charmingly elegant Bell Hotel. My spacious room overlooks a canal with a few small boats. After popping outside for shots of the moon over the canal, I am back inside for a celebratory dinner. I even treat myself to a tasty dessert (something I rarely do). Hmm, I guess turning fifty is not so bad after all. I mean, it could be a lot worse: I could be turning sixty. But that won’t happen to me. Things like that only happen to my parents and their friends.