What Mid-life Crisis?

When I met my husband, one of the things I loved about him was his adventurous and confident spirit.

Having left home and moved abroad while he was a teenager, he lived and worked in the likes of Ibiza, Spain and Austria at the same age I was trying to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up!

It’s fair to say we are very different people.

While he thinks nothing of walking into a room of complete strangers and holding court, I crumple into a hot, sweaty mess at the very thought of speaking in front of a crowd of people.

While he loves the adrenaline high of bungee jumping and is now working his way to becoming a fully qualified skydiver, I’m more of a feet firmly on the ground kinda gal.

Despite this, I’ve always supported him in his thrill-seeking endeavours – his first parachute jump was actually my 40th birthday present to him.

However, throughout our relationship I have consistently insisted that this love for motorbikes remains firmly consigned to the past.

Until now, that is.

It all started a little over a month ago.

I was sitting in work one afternoon when my phone vibrated with a text from Mr S.

I opened it up and there was a picture of a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail and a message telling me he’d put down a deposit to hire the bike in July, just days after my 40thbirthday.

Given my normal stance on motorbikes (I’ll give you a hint – over my dead body) I would have thought my initial reaction would be one of abject horror, but instead I had butterflies at the prospect of going out for a ride on a Harley-Davidson.

Over the next few weeks, we discussed where we would take the bike, what we would do, and the very minor point of who would look after the kids while we were away being us again and not just mummy and daddy.

I’ll admit, I was getting more and more excited at the thought of it.

The day finally came around and it was nerve-wracking setting off for the first time – after all you can’t just switch off 40 years of an aversion in a matter of minutes.

But quite quickly I settled into the groove and began to relax into the whole experience.

I wanted to stay away from the motorway for my first ride out, so we took the back roads down to east Belfast and pulled up on the Upper Newtownards Road.

Driving through the city is normally very mundane, but it’s quite a different experience stopping at red light after red lift while sitting on the back of a stunning Harley-Davidson.

Anyway, with all the restaurants on offer in Ballyhackamore, we decided to try out Graze.

I’d heard good things about it but I was still amazed at how busy it was on a normal Wednesday night and it looked as though we might not even get a table, however they managed to squeeze us in.

All I can say is, I’ve found my new favourite restaurant!

With the ever-tolerant Libby (the kind of wonderful friend that only comes along once in a lifetime) babysitting at home, including putting Ethan down herself for the first time, we were mindful that we didn’t want to be away too long.

For that reason, we skipped starters, which included sizzling garlic and chilli Portavogie prawns, crispy Peking duck and noodle salad, and curry spiced monkfish, and went straight to mains.

Mr S went for the Irish Hereford mini burgers, brioche bun, chips, salad, and barbecue sauce, while I ordered the Mourne rump of lamb, gratin potato, pea puree and jus.

It really came down to the wire as I jumped between three or four options on the menu before finally going for the lamb as the waiter arrived at our table.

And I was bowled over by my choice, the presentation was fabulous – indeed it was way beyond my expectations for a restaurant in east Belfast and demonstrated just how far the area has come since I moved away a decade ago.

As hard as it is to imagine, the dish tasted even better than it looked – the lamb was cooked to perfection, medium rare, exactly as I’d requested.

Mr S was equally as impressed with his burgers – sometimes they can be tasteless and dull, but these were full of flavour with just the right amount of seasoning.

Special mention has to go to the barbecue sauce, which good enough that my husband even insisted I try it (anyone who knows him knows how significant this is as he doesn’t share food!!).

We really meant to leave after the main course, but the food had been so delicious up to that point and the dessert menu looked so good that we were instantly sold on the idea of hanging around and tasting some more from the Graze kitchen.

I ordered the chocolate fondant, salted caramel and vanilla ice cream, Mr S ordered the crème brulee, blood orange and honeycomb.

Our waiter warned us we would have to wait slightly longer as the chocolate fondant is made to order – and it was certainly worth hanging around.

The crème brulee was creamy, sweet and crisp all at once, while the cold ice cream, warm fondant and salted caramel sauce all complemented one another perfectly – I’d go so far as to say heaven on a spoon.

My only criticism of the whole experience would have to be, with the clock ticking loudly in my mind, I ate a lot quicker than I would have liked.

Leaving the restaurant, we actually struck up a conversation with a couple from New Zealand simply because we were carrying motorbike helmets – it turns out riding a Harley-Davidson is a bit of a conversation starter everywhere you go.

Coming home was a little hairier than our outward journey as we ventured onto the motorway for the first time – but I survived, even if I was a bit bow-legged as I walked into the house.

The following morning, we left the kids off to the childminder before we set off on our big adventure.

All along we’d intended to head off towards the Mournes, but a last-minute change of heart saw us going north instead.

As we turned left onto the Causeway Coast road and made our way through Glenarm, Carnlough and over Glendun Bridge, I knew we’d made the right decision.

Memories of childhood visits to this stunning location came flooding back and once again I found myself wondering why we don’t make this journey more often.

The last time we did this drive was less than a year after Mr S suffered a stroke and I was desperately trying to keep the spark alive between us.

I’d packed up a picnic and we parked up next to the sea to have our lunch.

I could never have imagined then, as we were coming to terms with the effects of the stroke, that we would one day be making the same drive with such an iconic motorbike.

In fact, I would have laughed you into the Irish Sea at such a suggestion.

Yet, we’ve done it, it’s another experience ticked off the list.

We made it all the way up to Portrush and naturally, we stopped in at the Ramore for lunch – and being on a bike we were able to just park up on the pavement outside rather than drive around searching for space to park the car (another positive in my book).

Far too soon, the time came to head towards home – we eked out the time we had with the bike as much as possible, dropping it back to Belfast Harley-Davidson with just minutes to spare.

The whole experience, from start to finish, was absolutely incredible.

I found myself doing something I swore I would never do, and not only that, but I loved every minute of it.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think Mr S may have been right all these years.

Don’t tell him I said so though!

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