Sunday, May 13, 2007


Well, my friends.. I made it!!..

Today, I turned 50..

Half a century on the surface of this Earth... Whether this is as significant a landmark as some might want to make it, is matter of contention for me..

For one, I do not feel any different today from what I was yesterday.. nor what I was a year ago.. Nevertheless, I guess it is an opportunity to pause and take stock..

It all started one spring day, fifty years ago, in Damascus.. My parents have been married for just under 9 months (Yes.. I was a Wedding-day baby!..).. My Mum was desperately worried that my arrival will coincide with her final-year exams, and completely ruin her chances of graduating from University that year.. However, being a considerate soul, at a great risk to my personal safety, I decided to come to this World a couple of weeks too soon, much the delight of my mother.. This way, Mum would have the time to get over the trauma of my greatly anticipated arrival, and still have time to get back in shape to pass her finals!.. And so it was..

My childhood was happy and fulfilled.. My parents, both working, have instilled in me the importance of education, and the value of honest, hard work and perseverance.. They taught me, more by example than by instruction, that if anything is worth having, then it is worth working for..

My brother, four years younger than me, and my sister, eleven years my junior, both made my formative years that much richer and that much more enjoyable.. Both continue to be a constant source of inspiration, support and friendship..

I battled my way through schools and University, got married shortly after I qualified, and the long, hard struggle we call 'Life' goes on.. My eldest daughter was born 16 months later, while I was working in Beirut.. Later on, the raging Civil War, and the Israeli invasion of 1982, force us to leave Lebanon.. and life takes us back to Damascus for while, then to Britain, after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to find training in the States.. Our twins, now nearly 21, were born after we moved to the UK...

After numerous ups and downs, and after a few more battles, from which I bear many a scar, I got to where I am today..

So, what have I got to show for my 50 years?.. What have I actually achieved??.. and what have I learnt?.. Do I have any regrets?.. Are there things I wish I hadn't done?.. and perhaps, on a more positive note, what should my targets be for the coming years??...

Professionally, I am pleased to say that I am both content and proud of what I have achieved.. I, even if I say so myself, am a respected and well-regarded practitioner in a complex and challenging field, working in a Department that is widely believed to be the best in the Region, and arguably in the Country.. I teach on various Speciality courses, locally, regionally, and nationally, and I examine on the Royal College exams in our Speciality.. Not bad for someone who, after all, is an outsider!..

On a personal level, I am, undoubtedly, the luckiest man alive... I have a beautiful loving wife, three bright, hard-working, and high-achieving children, and I have my health and my sanity (although many would argue about the latter!..).. I ask you, what more could a man ask for?...

But, surely, there must be some regrets?.. Some things I would like to have done differently?.. Some targets that I wanted to achieve, but failed?.. You're damn right there are!..

I, for example, would have loved to be solvent by the age of fifty!.. I would have loved to have paid up my mortgage!.. but, alas, that was not to be.. With three children in University, I guess I will have to work till I am seventy to keep up with the payments!..

Which brings me to the other unfulfilled target.. I would have loved to have my retirement plans completely in order by the time I reached fifty.. Mind you, I have always known that I am not exactly the most organised man on the Planet.. Leaving things to the last minute has always been my style!..

Regrets?.. Well.. Ever since I was in Third Form, I have regretted calling that bully, Hassan Kalthoum, 'an idiot' to his face!.. I can still feel the painful fat lip, and I can still taste the blood in my mouth!.. Mind you, that experience does not seem to have taught me much!.. I still stand up to bullies, and I still, on occasions, get a bloody nose for my efforts!..

I regret wasting so much time of my life trying to get training in the States.. I was chasing a mirage, and I should have known it at the time.. even if it wasn't that obvious then.. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it?!..

I regret buying that second-hand Ford Sierra Estate in 1987, from that Fredo Corleone lookalike.. If there ever was a car that can be described as a 'lemon', then it was that one!..

I very much regret not learning German or French, and regret not persevering with my early attempts to learn playing a musical instrument... I still hope that, one day, I will learn to play the saxophone, and I have not quite given up on French or German...

Anyway.. here I am.. Fifty, but not over the hill.. at least, not that I would admit it... I am, in fact, fitter than I was two or three years ago.. I have overcome my lumbar disc prolapse, and my back pain.. I now work out regularly, running up to six miles twice a week.. I have managed to regain my fitness, and return to my ideal weight.. well, almost... My efforts to reach that particular target were comprehensively thwarted by the most amazing feast that my wife had prepared yesterday, when she invited a few of our friends over...

And I tell you something, it was worth going through 50 years of 'life', just to be rewarded with that delightful food!...


saint said...

Too much information on that table. I wished I can click on the table and get it enlarged to have a glimpse of my mother in-law’s table before I left to the State 20 years ago. I admire your courage to post your feeling; you are a different breed, a good one.
I could smell the moisture of old town Damascus between your lines, which is refreshing. All I can say to someone I start to know have a happy birthday.

Fares said...

Happy Birthday my friend, Joyeux Anniversaire! and A3bal Il Miyye. Very nice pictures and I think you are very lucky to have a wonderful family, a great career and an excellent style of writing. You are also full of love for your country and you stand up to unjustice whereever it happens.

I wish you the best and keep up writing...

Omar said...

happy birthday my friend... you, compared to lots of other 50'ish old men, have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to show for.. and I am really glad to see someone who's made it that far in a strange land, and still maintained who he is and used it as a jump start to reach for the top..

a big salute my friend.. I am raising my Martini glass in the air for you now.. I hope no one sees me from the building across the street, they will think I have imaginary friends ;)

KJ said...

Although I don't know you, I have to say, I am really happy for you.

Because you fulfilled a lot of what you wanted to achieve :)

As for your regrets, well, I mean, who buys a second hand Ford :P you oaf. LoL.

Congrats w inshalla el 3emer killo

Yazan said...

It takes amazing amount of courage to stand up to life like that, hell it takes amazing amount of courage to stand up to bullies... [I had a jaw broken in 3 places, and was feeding on milk for 2 months... and I never done it again]

Happy birthday SB, u deserve all the best, 3a2bal al 150.

Lujayn said...

Happy Birthday Syrian Brit, you are one special man, with beautiful insides (no idea what you look like on the outside :))

Bless you.

Naji said...

Happy Birthday my friend, and best wishes for many happy returns...!

Syrian in London said...

ًWell, happy 50 dear SB, that was a wonderful recount of what you managed to do and I think that I would be extremely happy if I can stand when I’m 50 and be able to say that I have a similar thing...
As for your mortgage, well I know that I will be paying mine till I’m 56! And I know that my retirement plans heavily depends on having self-sufficient children and house that can be rented out to pay for a nice retirement!
Again, happy birthday dear, the table looks amazing and wish your coming 50 years would be happy and enjoyable ones...

Rime said...

Happy birthday dear cyber-friend, and may the next 50 years be even better, and even more delicious than this wonderful meal which we could virtually taste (suffra daymeh inshallah). What a great balance sheet so far, long may it last!

If I may wish something more for you, assuming I've been reading your feelings correctly, I hope that your visits to Syria will become easier, more frequent and more enjoyable every time.

H said...

I remember that Fiesta! And I remember us being taken back home to Shrewsbury in the AA man's van... And I remember you trying to fix it before he arrived then getting black oily fingerprints on my new white sweatshirt with a slice of watermelon drawn on it, while I was sat on your lap on the way home.. Funny what sticks in your mind... :)

Happy birthday daddy! I hope the next 50 are filled with just as much good food, but fewer fiestas! xxx

Anonymous said...

happy bday..Inshalla the coming days will be full of joy and happiness.

PS. looking at that picture made me very hungry :)
sa7a w hana

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Mar7ba Syrian Brit:
32bal kel sene inshallah, may God bless you, your family and your banquets for more and more years to come!

Philip I said...

Happy 50th birthday and all good wishes for the next half century. You might have to cut down on the Kibbeh though, or would life not be worth living without it?

The Syrian Brit said...

Thank you all for the kind words..

I am delighted that this post has evoked such nice memories for you!..

Thank you for the lovely compliments..

I am grateful for your kind words and lovely comment.. and in reply to your raised Martini, I raise my cup of cocoa (considering my advanced years!..).. Here's to you and your imaginary friends!..

Thank you for the kind sentiments.. and you are so right about Ford cars!..

Ouch.. a broken jaw in three places!.. except, I don't believe you when you say you've never done it again ;).. you seem to be doing it all the time!..

You are so kind..
But what do I look on the outside??.. Well, when I am at work, most people mistake me for this guy: (Yeah, right!.. and if you believe that..)

Man, where the devil are you?!!!... Thanks for the kind wishes..

Syrian in London,
My dear, you just say the word, and a feast worthy of your presence would await you!.. Thanks for the kind words..

Thanks for the lovely words..
I reiterate to you what I have just said to S-i-L.. and I reiterate what I said on your blog recently: You read me like an open book!.. Thank you very much for the last wish!.. (In fact, I am working on fulfilling that one soon!..)

and I remember that sweatshirt with the watermelon slice.. you looked so cute in it!.. (In fact, you looked, and still look, so acute in anything, darling..). Thanks for the lovely wishes.. It was so lovely to see you all over the weekend.. Thank you for making my day just perfect...

Welcome to my little patch.. and thank you for the kind wishes...

Ahlein w'sahlein ya abadai.. Thank you for the nice wishes...

Philip I,
I know I should cut back on the kebbeh.. but then again.. what the heck!.. you only live once!.. Thanks for the kind wishes..

I love Munich said...


May the second 50 years be even better, full of happiness and contentment and may ALL your wishes come true!
The YUMMY food on the table makes me drool ... it looks soooooooo delicious!!

Abu Kareem said...

A belated Happy Birthday SB. I am not far behind you my friend.

abufares said...

Syrian Brit
You must know by now that I've been away on business for the last 7 days. I hate that I've missed wishing you a happy birthday on time. The table prepared by Mrs. Syrian Brit looks beautiful. Since I couldn't make the photo any larger, I demand that you make a total count of what was present on the that table.
You have all the right in the world to be very proud of what you have done so far and you would still do in the coming years.
Best wishes, now and always.

The Syrian Brit said...

Thank you for the kind wishes..‎

Abu Kareem,‎
You are most welcome any time, my firend.. and thank you for the kind wishes..‎

Abu Fares,‎
Your wishes are my commands, so how can I refuse a 'demand'?!...‎
Well, starting at the front row (closest to the camera), from the left: a nice salad made with beans ‎‎(fasoulieh 7abb). Next, a delightfully tender roasted leg of lamb, with vegetables.. Next, kishkeh, ‎garnished with chopped tomatoes and chopped peppers.‎
Next row: Kebbeh, then stuffed peppers, then burak bil jebneh and bil lahmeh.‎
Next row: Savoury rice, ma2loubeh with aubergines, topped with lamb chops, and roasted almonds, cashew nuts and pistachios, then lamb curry (from scratch, of course).. (there is a small plate of rolled cabbage leaves, stuffed with walnuts and chopped red peppers, douced in olive oil next to the lamb curry)..
Next row: Chicken curry (yes, you guessed it.. from scratch..), then some 'vegetables and meat' dish with some wonderfully delicate spices... then, potatoes stuffed with mince meat and pine seeds, in tomatoe sauce, then a bowl of green salad..
Sitting to the left of the table behind the chicken curry, there is a bowl of yoghourt and cucumber salad.
Next row, another dish almost invented by my wife, which is a modified version of the French dish 'Cordon Bleu', then stuffed vine leaves (yabra2), topped with lamb chops and pieces of artichokes for decoration, then a plate of mtabbal kousa.
Then, in the last row, friekeh with chicken, and a plate of baba ghannouj.. There are also one or two plates of pickles, hot green chillie peppers, and the like...
This feast was later replaced by another dazzling array of desserts, sweets, cakes and puddings, along with the Birthday Cake pictured, lovingly made and decorated by my beautiful wife...
Needless to say, plenty of food was left over, but nothing goes to waste.. Much of what was left over was taken by the children the next day, and most of that will be enjoyed by them and their housemates, who would be excused for thinking Christmas has come early this year!..

Lujayn said...

Thanks for the explanation, Syrian Brit (and Abu Fares, for asking, since I was too embarrassed to ask myself). The only dishes I guessed right were the stuffed peppers and the kibbeh. :))

Syrian in London said...

Dear Syrian Brit, with that menu I will definite bound you to your invitation! My regards to Mrs Syrian Brit for her efforts, I’d raise my hate (if I wore one) in salute for the work and skills involved.
Again, many happy returns my friend!

GottfriedStutz said...

Hi Syrian Brit.
Sorry I haven't checked your blog for ages. I missed your birthday. Will you accept a belated "Happy Birthday" wish?

The Syrian Brit said...

Gottfried, my friend..
You are most welcome any time.. and thank you very much for your kind wishes, and for dropping by..

Anonymous said...

Gottfried, that was really not nice of you to be that late in wishing our friend a happy birthday!

Syrian Brit, I am happy to read your encouraging account of the smooth transition from 49 aaaaaaaall the way towards, and over 50.

I also passed the 40 mark last year and did not notice it despite everyone's "how does it feel like to be 40 now?"

I will wish you many more happy years to come, and I especially hope you learn to play the sax ... or why not start with something easier and more fun? ... the Piano.

The food on the table looks amazing!... I can count about 17 different types! ....I wonder if the table was bigger, was your wife going to add even more choices?

Happy Birthday and Joyeux Anniversaire!


The Syrian Brit said...

My dear Alex,
Thank yo for the kind (if late!..) wishes..
I am sure my wife would have added more dishes had she had the opportunity!..

MomTo5 said...

masch allah! its looks like the table i have sometimes the only thing is that my husband makes the food !!!!! LOL
yes alhamdullilah he helps me a lot.