2011 has come and (mostly) gone, a year of big changes & transformations for me. Twelve months ago I was living in a friend's house with no clear idea of where I was headed, today finds me 500 miles further south but with uncertainty still clouding my future path. But wait, let's look back and see how the intervening days unravelled...
The turning of the year found me in an ice-wrapped Forres. I'd planned to move away from Findhorn towards the end of 2010 but things had not gone as I'd intended and I'd found myself without home or work but with nowhere to move on to. Luckily my friend Saille was off to South-East Asia for an extended trip and offered me her flat to live in while I contemplated what Plan B might be, giving me a three-month hiatus to examine my options and possible choices. A life-saver!
My incentives to leave Findhorn were many and varied but amongst them was a desire to return to working in IT (computers and their ilk) on a more professional basis. While living in Scotland I'd continued to work with computers but it had been more and more on the support side - providing help, training and (in some cases) disaster recovery for people and companies in my local area. I wasn't doing much programming work and I found I missed it, the mixture of practicality and creativity was very satisfying to work with and the longer I spent away from it the more I feared seeing my skills drift into obsolescence. My increasing age was also a worrying factor in an industry focussed on new systems & techniques and I figured that if I didn't make a move soon I'd lose my chance.
But I didn't want to make a rash jump at the first opportunity that came along. I allowed myself the holiday period to relax and chill out, setting aside my fears & worries along with my hopes & dreams and allowing time for inspiration to emerge from the dark, slightly spooky depths of my subconscious. Staying in Saille's flat was ideal for this, I was distanced from my usual haunts in Findhorn and the Park and felt freed from my usual rhythms, patterns and maybe even thoughts. The fierce winter provided yet another layer of psychic insulation and although I didn't quite become the Hermit of Moray I did find myself spending many hours in isolate contemplation.
December turned to January and before I knew it February was knocking at the door. With no clear idea of where I wanted to live I'd decided to look at the available jobs and see how I felt about their geographical location before getting into the details of the work, to let my heart & emotions have a say before letting my Powerful Brane loose with its more rational approach. The first couple of vacancies provided some clear indications - Bristol/Bath area: good, south-west Scotland: bad - but as the weeks passed without positive (or, in many cases, any) responses from potential employers my selection criteria broadened until I reached anywhere apart from London and, finally, anywhere.
With time running out two possibilities emerged - a fast-paced, high pressure job (their description) in central London or a more relaxed but very lowly paid one in Maidstone, Kent. Coming from a sleepy little village in northern Scotland I thought it would be safer to go for a gradual transition back into the wild world, and even the most meagre Home Counties salary would be like a King's Ransom compared with my puny Findhorn pay packet, so I said yes to the Maidstone job and started the preparations for my move south.
With my worldly goods (& chattels) packed and collected, to be delivered once I'd found somewhere to deliver them to, I began my move. The first step was to Harlow in Essex, to stay at my mother's house while she was away in Australia and to use that as a base from which to find a flat in Maidstone. Sitting in the departure lounge at Inverness airport I had a sudden and almost overpowering sense of freedom, it was as if I'd divested myself of everything but my little carry-on case and could, at a whim, head off to anywhere I chose and create whatever life I could imagine. I guess that in some sense this is always the case but it was strange to feel it so powerfully. Sadly (or luckily?) Inverness is not a global hub of aviation so I stuck with my plan and dutifully boarded the flight to Luton.
A month (more or less) at Vi's in Harlow gave me a base to scout out housing options in Maidstone, a chance to spend some time with my sister Terri who was staying there, and a period of reflection on what this new phase in my life might look like. Since leaving the parental home I'd only been back to Harlow for any appreciable length of time during periods of transition and uncertainty - notably after being kicked out of university and after my father died - so it's become a setting for soul searching and introspection which contrasts ironically with the (relative) certainties of my youth.
A few trips to Maidstone, combined with a multitude of phone calls & emails, led me to my new abode there, a two storey flat (are they still called maisonettes?) at the top of a newly built, four storey block. The rent was high but not jaw-droppingly so and all the other options had been very small and boxy. A discount on the rent was offered if you signed up for a yearly agreement so I ended up committed to Maidstone for twelve months, a reasonable time to give my new lifestyle a go.
Apart from these jaunts to Kent I was spending all of my time in Harlow, popping up to one of the town coffee bars for its free wi-fi, walking down to the local multiplex for films, shopping at the nearby monstrostore and strolling through the delightfully extensive town park but still remaining housebound for a good deal of the time. During a phone conversation with a friend (the wonderful Saille again) she pointed out that although I wasn't yet at my new home I could still take advantage of my temporary location and perhaps visit a friend in the south? And so on the last weekend before moving to Maidstone I jumped on a train and spent a weekend with my dear friend Linda in Cardiff. More on this to follow...
My transition from Scotland to Maidstone is covered in more depth on my blog so I'll leave it there as a separate exercise for the reader.
At the end of April came Easter and the Easter Gathering, the annual conference / meeting / get-together for the U.K. Circle Dance network. As part of the organising team this year's event had been a bit more work than usual - the previous venue had suddenly cancelled our booking leading to a frantic search for a new location, one that that could cope with 50 dancers & musicians, was reasonably central and not too expensive. Eventually we found a boarding school just outside Leicester which turned out to be (more or less) perfect and a splendid time was had by all.
I had my own challenges at the Gathering as I arrived with a powerful cold, not debilitating enough to prevent me from going but strong enough to limit me to a low-key role through the weekend. This was quite hard to cope with at first - I'm used to having a prominent and extrovert presence at these events - but as the days passed I found myself settling into my supporting role, letting others take on some of my tasks, stepping back from teaching & leading, and foregoing the late night, wine-fuelled discussions in favour of retiring to bed early with cough syrup. It was interesting to realise how often I operate on intuition and instinct when teaching and that some Proper Preparation & Planning can take away some of the adrenaline surge, allowing things to proceed in other, more measured directions. Both approaches have their advantages & disadvantages but it was good to see that I could work with either of them.
May brought more dance teaching with workshops in Malvern and Cardiff, on consecutive days over one weekend. The Cardiff day had the potential for disaster when both the organiser and I assumed the other was bringing the sound system but my host saved the day by suggesting that she bring her mini docking system along 'just in case'. While living at Findhorn virtually all of my dance teaching had either been there or at overseas events so it was nice to start to reestablish myself in England, and to discover that I did still have something to offer.
There were two trips back to Findhorn in July. The first was for the annual Dance Festival where I was playing guitar with Gadje Dilo, the Balkan dance music band I've been a member of since 2007. (You can see videos of us playing here.) There was a degree of nervousness about the gigs as we hadn't played together since my 'farewell' concert in November but the rehearsals went smoothly & easily and the performances were some of the best we've ever done, satisfying & enjoyable for the band and received with wild enthusiasm & appreciation by the dancers & listeners. The whole festival went very easily for me, I wasn't doing much teaching there and the Special Guest teacher (Yves Moreau) was engaging, informative & entertaining, one of the best dance teachers around.
I'd gotten to know Yves on his first visit to Findhorn in 2000 and had stayed in intermittent touch since then. It was nice to find ourselves billeted in the same guest lodge and we managed to fit in some chat & stories between our various duties.
During one of the teaching sessions I found myself at the head of the dance line with Yves and Laura Shannon, my ex-wife. At the end of the dance Yves turned to the group and spoke in glowing terms about the contribution Laura & myself had made to the folk & circle dance worlds and how pleased he was to have met and danced with us. Initially it felt very strange and a little awkward to be in this situation, Laura & my paths have hardly crossed at all since we separated and it was weird to be referred to as a couple again, but as I stood there I realised that our current state didn't invalidate what we'd done before, either together or separately, and that it was OK to have this acknowledged publicly. I took my praise on the chin and managed to let some of it in!
Two weeks later I was back in Findhorn helping Saille move into her new barrel house. There was a strange symmetry at work here - I'd stayed in Saille's flat on my way out of the Findhorn community and now here she was moving in the opposite direction. It felt great to have a dear friend going through a similar transition and for us to be able to discuss, empathise with and support each other as our processes unfolded.
As the year progressed things began to suggest that my new place of rest was not blessed with rightness. (Or something like that.) Maidstone was serviceable as a town but I didn't feel I was settling into it in any meaningful way. There was a friendly circle dance group who not only welcomed me into their midst but encouraged me to share in the teaching, and I became an intermittent worshipper at the local Quaker group but apart from these I didn't find myself making any real connections with people in the area. Was this the result of busy, self-focussed lifestyle of the south-east or my own Country Mouse timidity in the face of the Big City? A little of both I suspect, and with neither local friends or an obvious affinity / hobby group to seek out it was hard to find a way of making those initial contacts that might lead to a new social circle. The areas I'd planned to investigate - musicians, evening classes, cycling & walking groups - either didn't respond or always seemed to be on the wrong day or in the wrong place. Kent itself was nicer than I'd expected but didn't seem to have much of the open, accessible countryside that I'd gotten used to in the wilds of Morayshire. All in all I was getting by in my new bailiwick but not really putting down roots.
My job had also paled from it's initial promise. I'd been forewarned that there was some 'old stuff' that I'd need to maintain but I was surprised by just how old it turned out to be - I'd been worried that my programming skills were drifting out of date but I found myself ploughing through (literally) dusty manuals to brush up on things I'd forgotten from many years ago. As I settled into the job I was given more up to date and interesting things to work on and started to feel more like a full member of the team but it still wasn't the engaging and supportive workplace environment I'd been hoping for. Things continue to slowly improve but it feels like neither the job or the town are enough to keep me in Maidstone in the long term.
One of the brighter aspects of the year was my blossoming relationship with Linda. We'd both been a little apprehensive about the distance between us at first - Kent is closer to Cardiff than Findhorn was but it's still quite a way - but as time passed and our connection deepened we found ways to bridge the gap, electronically with phone, text and skype and physically by way of the excellent rail connections available to those lucky folk in the southern counties. As well as shuttling between Cardiff and Maidstone we managed some breaks further afield and ended the year going up to Findhorn together - but more on that anon. With my work opportunities somewhat constrained by the availability of Apple jobs we're not sure where our next stop might be but it does feel that our paths are weaving themselves closer together. Picture me smiling.
I'd been taking advantage of the train to visit family and other friends during the year, having decided to see if I could stay car-free it was nice to find how extensive, regular and (if you booked ahead) cheap public transport could be. It really brought home just how isolated I'd become in the wilds of Northern Scotland, a journey to almost anywhere could become a Major Operation in contrast to the ease of zanting about down south.
For local transport I've been using my bike, a present from my sister Kay. Maidstone has an extensive system of bike routes, mostly directing you through quiet, residential areas rather than custom cycle paths, and apart from a couple of close shaves on the busier roads it's been a very nice way to get around the town. My workmates have got used to my arrival being heralded with much huffing & puffing (in my defence the office is up four flights of stairs) and I'm sure that my waistline and cardiovascular system are benefiting from the regular exercise.
In October I travelled to Worthing to lead a dance workshop, the first time I'd taught there and (hopefully) a precursor to more regular dance work in England. There were worries early on with only three confirmed bookings as the date approached but I assured the organiser that we should carry on with optimism (and that I'd cover any losses) and our faith was rewarded with a full circle of 17 on the day. The workshop went very well with lots of praise & positive feedback and there was talk of invitations to other groups next year, very encouraging for me.
Quite apart from the workshop I found Worthing itself very nice. Part of the attraction came from being by the sea, something I hadn't realised that I'd missed since leaving Findhorn. With the prospect of moving again next year I can feel the call of the sea and, job permitting, can easily see myself in a coastal setting before too long.
For the past few years my UK-based sisters and I have met up with Vi, my mother, to celebrate her birthday with lunch at a special or interesting venue. This tradition started shortly after the death of my father as a way of supporting Vi (and each other) and has become the one occasion in the year when we all make an effort to meet up as a family. This year we went for afternoon tea in the Court Restaurant, situated inside the domed court of the British Museum, which turned out to be an inspired choice - spacious, comfortable and with an odd feeling of being both inside and outside at the same time. We were joined by Kay's partner Roger and cousin Paul from New Zealand and enthusiastically worked our way through Grayson Perry's Teddy Bears' Picnic while catching up with each others' news.
We're not a particularly social family, we keep in touch but don't meet up very regularly, and it's been interesting for me to see how much I value this annual get-together. Like any family we have a fair helping of 'history' between us but as the years move on I find it easier and easier to let this roll over me and appreciate & treasure these people who've been there throughout my life. Well, most of the time. We chatted away until we were (very politely) invited to leave, only to discover that the rest of the museum had closed earlier and we were departing through an eerily deserted building.
As the year turned towards its close Linda and I flew north to take part in the Solstice Spiral ritual at Findhorn. The ceremony centres around a two-way (inwards & out again) spiral path laid out on the floor of the Universal Hall, people walk in with an unlit candle, light it from a burning candle at the centre, walk out again and then choose an Angel Card as a symbolic guardian / companion / focus for the coming year. The degree of 'meaning' is left to the participant, some people find Deep Significance in every aspect of the process, some find it no more serious than singing a few carols around Christmastime. Regardless (or perhaps because) of this it's the event that has the widest appeal in the wider Findhorn community and the spiral is kept available for walking for at least 24 hours around the time of the winter solstice. Walking the Spiral has been a powerful and moving event in my yearly cycle ever since I moved to Findhorn in 1999 and it was good to come back and maintain the tradition.
For many years now there's been an additional element in the Spiral preparations - 'dancing the spiral'. Before the path is laid people gather to dance a long, spiralling line dance to set the scene / prepare the ground / align the energies or whatever (once again the level of meaning is deliberately undefined). I've been leading this part of the rite for several years now and it was a wonderful experience to do so again, with 60+ dancers weaving in and out in the early morning light.
Normally I would walk the spiral in the early hours, around 3 or 4 in the morning. I like to be able to walk at a slow & steady pace as I let my thoughts wander over the year that has passed (as I walk in) and consider my hopes & dreams for the year ahead (as I walk out) and I find that having to 'queue up' behind a slower walker can throw me out of this mindset. This year, with limited time and a relatively early flight home to catch, I went at midnight but found the spiral 'crowded' with walkers, so I decided to return early in the morning before we were off to the airport.
Next morning there were just a handful of people in the Spiral but they were moving incredibly slowly, talking a couple of steps and then standing still in (presumably) deep contemplation before taking another couple of steps. I stood at the entrance waiting for the path to clear but after a while other people started queuing behind me and the guardian asked me to either start walking or let these people past. Thrown by all this verbal interaction (the Spiral is usually held in silence) I found I couldn't get back into the spirit of the rite and so returned my unlit candle and left the hall.
I left feeling quite angry & upset, and also somewhat bemused at what might make someone monopolise this public ritual space for so long (the person ahead of me eventually took 35 minutes to complete the path). It brought up a lot of the reasons behind my deciding to leave Findhorn and seemed to confirm for me that I'd drifted out of sync with the attitudes and behaviours within the community. As we drove out to the airport I wondered whether this would be my final Spiral, a rather sad ending to my association with Findhorn. Luckily dear Saille offered to walk the spiral for me, bringing Vision as my Angel for 2012 and some hope that I will be back in a year's time.
The final days of 2011 find me in Cardiff, spending Christmas with Linda. Next year brings promise of travel with a trip to Australia & New Zealand to teach dance, a return to Findhorn to play at the Dance Festival, and a determination by Linda & myself to take advantage of my proximity to a Eurostar station to explore weekend breaks on the Continent. And maybe to have a non-dancing, non-working, real holiday somewhere together. My home and work seem destined for change, a move out from London is the most likely scenario and perhaps a return to living by the seaside. Linda and my lives seem to be entwining ever more closely and I can easily see us sharing a place together, although where that might be remains unclear. All in all my path in 2012 is less fixed and definite than I'd imagined a year ago but the uncertainty seems to contain more excitement than trepidation, a good prospect to carry into the New Year.
It's all good.
29th December 2011