As 2013 dawned it found me in Bradford-on-Avon, settling into (another) new town and starting to feel more comfortable in my new job as an iPhone app writer. After my years of transit and transition would this year bring some stability? Only time would tell...
BoA in the snow, January
January brought with it some heavy snowfalls and the already picturesque town became even sweeter under an icing sugar dusting of white. The little streets & passages sparkled with frosty highlights and the pearly stillness gave a timeless air to walking around, it could have been a scene from centuries past if not for the traffic and the colourful winter togs. Ascending the hillside half of the town became somewhat more perilous but with sensible footwear and small, cautious steps it was possible to get gorgeous views across the river valley with the lower half of the town picked out in dazzling white.
Bradford was feeling more & more like home, a place where I could put down roots and start to find some stability. Looking back I realise that I'd not spent more than a year or so anywhere since moving out of Rose Of The Heart in Findhorn in 2008 and although I'd become very adept at quickly adapting to new homes & locations there was a feeling in the back of my mind that they were all just temporary stops on the way to... where? When I'd first started looking for somewhere to move to from Scotland the South-West (of England) had been my first choice and although it had taken a few stepping stones to get here it felt like that initial impulse had been the right one and that I was finally making good on my earlier decision. This sense of instigating change rather than reacting to circumstance was to come back strongly later in the year, but we'll get to that later.
Linda & I had decided that we needed a hot, sunny holiday to break up the bleakness of winter and so early February found us off to Taroudant in Southern Morocco for an Authentic Moroccan Experience at La Maison Anglaise. This was a guest house that offered various locally-led tours & activities to give more of an insight into life in the town & surrounding region, a chance to get a feel for the place rather than just lay on the beach and go shopping (although there was time for these too, at least the shopping).
Taroudant city walls, February
After an hour's drive inland from Agadir, on well paved roads through increasingly dry & dusty villages & fields, the walls of Taroudant rose before us. And these were real city walls - tall, golden-cream and with proper crenellations on the top, stretching right around the town with imposing gateways leading inside. This stately majesty lasted until we passed through one of the gateways, at which point we found ourselves in a bustling warren of tiny streets, filled with cars, vans, motorbikes, donkey-drawn carts, crowds of pedestrians and swarms of bike & moped riders, all managing to somehow coexist in what felt like a tenth of the space that they would normally take up. Within a few turns we were literally amazed but after a few minutes we pulled up in a quieter street and were warmly welcomed into our holiday home.
Taroudant was quite an experience, predominantly fascinating & surprising but also very alien and a little unsettling at times. Although primarily a trading centre its focus was definitely on the local area with few concessions to the wider tourist trade, it wasn't that European visitors were unwelcome but they were peripheral to the day to day activities of the people. A pale face (and my white hair) would prompt a second glance but apart from the stallholders in the souq (a marketplace, although the English name implies something far removed from the shaded hive of narrow alleyways bursting with shops piled high with merchandise) and the calash (quaint horse-drawn carriage) drivers offering tours around the town we were left to wander & observe while life went by around us.
There were things about our holiday in Taroudant that would fill a book but in the interests of getting this written before the year turns I'll list just a few:
Goats climbing trees!
The Atlas mountains
Snack food market stall
Sheep at the market
A relatively empty street
Goats in the town
I've barely scratched the surface of our holiday experiences. Taroudant provided an amazing insight into a very different way of living and of a place going through its own transition into new ways. The place we stayed, La Maison Anglaise, provides all sorts of tailored holidays and I can recommend it if you're looking for something (very) different.
I'll be returning there myself in November - once the owner found out I was the Andy Bettis she invited me to lead a circle dance workshop there!
Dancing at the Easter Gathering, March
At the end of March Linda & I returned to Leicester for the Easter Gathering, the annual teachers' get-together for the UK Circle Dance movement, held over the Easter weekend. As one of the organisers (or Supreme Overlord to give me my official title) this has been a mixed delight in the past as there's a lot of behind the scenes work to keep the event running smoothly and I've often found myself thinking three steps ahead - not a good idea when dancing! This year it was much easier & more enjoyable, partly as numbers were down making it a much cosier group to organise but mostly due to the experience of the team in working together. After years of organising the Gathering with Ruth, Cindy & Anne I knew I could rely on their judgement, judiciousness, generosity and gentle grace to take care of their respective responsibilities with ease & efficiency. And with much laughter. Having all four of us in good health was an added bonus and the weekend passed smoothly, harmoniously and (almost) effortlessly. And I enjoyed the dancing too!
Spring was a good dancing season for me - after the Gathering I was up in Yorkshire teaching at my very good friend Sophia's 60th birthday bash then in May I returned to Malvern to lead a workshop there. Both events were great fun (for the participants too!) and reminded me of my delight in the dances of the Balkans despite not finding (or creating) a regular, local dance group. During the year I also taught at occasional days in South Wales, sharing with other teachers and dancing to live music from a group of local (and not so local) musicians. These have been really nice, bringing a feeling of community where everyone does a bit and there's no sharp division between dancer, teacher & musician.
My dancing year was set to continue in June with a workshop in Paris but things didn't quite go to plan. At all. I'd been asked to teach there over a year ago when I was living in Kent and could nip over to Paris very easily on the Eurostar, however there had been very little communication with the organisers since then and with the date fast approaching I still didn't know where, when or what format the workshop would take. With two months to go I managed to confirm the dates and booked our tickets (Linda was coming too & we had planned a short Parisian holiday after the workshop) but with less than a month remaining I still hadn't had answers on what they wanted me to teach, what the group size would be, how the sound system would work and how much I would be paid. But I was reasonably relaxed about it, I was confident I could ad-lib my way through the teaching and if the workshop paid for the holiday that would be fine.
A week and a half before we were due to fly out I got an email saying that numbers were low and would I consider coming for €300? I was composing a reply suggesting that I do a single day workshop for this amount when I received a second message - the workshop had been cancelled. After some brisk email exchanges I established that cancelling at such short notice was not without consequences but I suggested that I would cover the travelling costs if the organisers would pay for the hotel room that had been booked for me. Which was eventually agreed to. It was a shame that I wouldn't be teaching but a subsidised holiday was quite nice in itself.
The available flight times from Bristol meant we arrived in the late afternoon and it was getting dark by the time we found our way to the hotel. My dream of a nice long shower before heading out for a delicious meal at some little local restaurant was rudely shattered when the hotelier announced that he had no reservation in my name, the organiser's name or the dance association's name. Eek! There was no reply from the organiser's home or mobile number and the receptionist said there were no vacant rooms in any of the nearby hotels, he suggested heading back to the Gare De Nord area where there were lots of hotels & we'd be more likely to find a room.
Street wedding shoot, Paris, June
I'm a reasonably good traveller but not having a place to stay really unsettles me and I was in a terrible mood as we set off in search of a vacant room. This wasn't helped when the receptionist in the first place we tried told us there was a major sporting event going on (the French Open tennis tournament) and that we'd be very lucky to find a room. However he'd heard that there was one spare room at the dubiously named Hotel Hor round the corner, so off we sped, more in hope than expectation.
The hotel was bland and anonymous but it did have a vacant room (hooray!) although only for one night (sigh!). Still, it was a comfortable (if expensive) room with free wi-fi so I got out my iPad mini and within minutes was combing the internet for a Parisian room for the remainder of our stay. Amazingly I found & booked what looked like a really nice room just off the Jardin de Tuileries for less than half of what this night would cost us. Maybe the holiday could be salvaged?
The organiser finally got in touch with me at this point but the mystery of the first hotel continued - she'd been there a few days previously to confirm the booking and all was well. In the end I offered to take the returned fee from that hotel and call it quits, my free holiday had turned out quite a bit more expensive but then again I was in Paris in June so it seemed a good idea to make the best of it.
The new hotel turned out to be just right, not as plush as our previous one but clean, comfortable & friendly. And being situated right in the centre of the city beside the Tuileries meant we could get to most of our sightseeing targets quickly & easily, walking to several of them through the gardens. The weather was (mostly) warm & sunny so although we did a host of touristy things (Grande et Petit Palais, Pompidou Centre, Seine cruise, etc.) we spent a lot of the time on foot, wandering through the streets. And what better way is there to enjoy Paris?
Linda in a secret garden, BoA, June
Walking through Bradford in late June we saw a sign for Secret Gardens which led us to one of Bradford-on-Avon's local events, two or three days in the year when some of the residents open up their gardens for people to view. We paid for our tickets (the money goes to local charities), studied the supplied map and were led on an unexpected tour through some of the hidden delights of the town. The gardens were hugely varied, from tiny plots to broad swathes and from tightly formal beds to inspired randomness. There were sheltered walled gardens; long, terraced beds climbing up the steep hillside; gardens exploring the strange shapes of the hilltop (including caves in the limestone); even a rooftop garden with vegetable beds in troughs. I'm not much of a gardener myself but it was a delight to see how people had created such beauty in such different settings. And it was fascinating to see what lay behind so many of Bradford's high walls.
The summer brought me closer into contact with the medical profession than I've been for many years. I'd noticed that my eyes were watering more that usual and I was having a bit of trouble focussing on my computer screen, needing to blink once or twice to bring my vision into sharpness. It wasn't enough to worry me but when one of my workmates asked what was up with my eye I found a mirror and discovered that my left eyelid was half closed and wouldn't open fully. This was worrying so I made an appointment to see a doctor, my first visit to the local health centre since I'd moved to Bradford. The doctor had a good look & poke around but decided it was someone that would sort itself out and suggested I get some eye drops to help things along. As it was so long since I'd been to any doctor he did a blood pressure test (all OK) and said I should have a fasting blood test, which I duly scheduled. But it was all routine, nothing to worry about.
When he rang me a couple of hours later it seemed like I might have something to worry about. He'd discussed my case (I now had a 'case'!) with a colleague and had referred my details to the hospital in Bath who 'might' be in touch. After some initial panic I decided that this was probably some sort of case study that needed a selection of patients to test out some new theory as things were so relaxed. When an appointment letter came I approached it as an interesting day out rather than a definite health issue.
My blood test came & went but when I got the results (while getting my ear syringed, another spin-off from my initial visit) I was told I needed to see the doctor again. What was going on? When I saw him he explained that I had a high blood glucose level which could indicate incipient diabetes and that they needed to repeat the test to check the result.
My appointment at the hospital came around and I duly arrived at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, a huge complex sprawling away into the distance. From Reception I was sent to the Eye Outpatients Reception and from there to the Opto-something Reception, from where I was collected for my tests. These were like the postgraduate form of a regular eye test - more elaborate frameworks where I put my chin in a cup and followed lights & pointers with my eyes. There were a couple of the usual charts of decreasingly sized letters and tiny paragraphs to read but most of the testing was looking at how my eyes moved and responded. Strangely fascinating.
After an hour or so I got to see a Consultant to discuss the results. It turns out that not only did I have a droopy eyelid but my left eye wasn't always pointing in the same direction as the right. Both of these depended on the same nerve cluster behind the eye and could have a variety of causes so to find out what was going on I was going to have an MRI scan of my brain & eye 'orbits'. Eek! Suddenly all of this was getting very serious.
Having said that I still wasn't really worrying about it. The various medical people I was seeing kept saying that this was all routine & precautionary and there was no sense of urgency about it. On top of which I've never had any sort of major health problem and so have nothing to base any serious worries on. Maybe I was developing some of that Emotional Maturity that I'd heard about? Or was I just in denial? I suspect some of both, but for whatever reason I was still treating this whole episode as interesting rather than potentially life-changing.
[Spoiler alert - there's a (mostly) happy ending to all this so don't worry!]
A couple of weeks later I was back for my scan. It was scheduled for 6:55 in the evening which was a bit odd, apparently the MRI scanner is so expensive & useful that it's run for as long as possible through the day. I found my way to Radiology Reception (I may end up writing a guide to the reception areas of the RUH) where I found about a dozen people sitting with bottles of cloudy liquid, plastic cups and timing sheets, most of whom were methodically making their way though their allocated drink and trying not to go for a pee. As I was having my brain rather than body done I was excused the drinking and as there'd been a cancellation I was almost immediately whisked through to the machine.
We entered through a think, heavy door (no DANGER or RADIATION HAZARD signs but it gave a slightly ominous impression) to an almost totally white room, interrupted only by an incongruous mural of a coastal scene. The scanner itself looked like a giant white doughnut with a platform extending from the hole - no prizes for guessing where I was going. After laying down on it I was fitted with some large headphones, handed a rubber 'panic switch' and a plastic shell was paced around my head. Suddenly the mural was explained - an angled mirror in the shell directed my vision down my body and towards the placid sene, much less claustrophobic than a plastic wall a couple of inches in front of my face. With a whirr I found myself being inserted into the scanner.
The first big surprise was the noise. When I'd walked into the room there was a throbbing background noise, as if there was a rave going on in the next building, but once the actual scanning started it rose to a 'roadworks just outside the window' level. The headphones, which I'd assumed were just for the medical staff to talk to me, kept it bearable but it wasn't the high-tech gentle hum that I'd been expecting. The other surprise was that the scans would take quite a time. I'd been told the process would take about twenty minutes but I thought this would be from when I was called to when I walked out at the end. No, I was going to be on the slab for the whole time, under (fairly) strict instructions to not move if I could avoid it.
Jetpack man, Greenwich, August
So I settled in. As my eyes (or the tissues around them) were the main focus I wanted to keep them as still as possible so I let them close and, in the internal darkness, immersed myself in the sounds. As time passed these proved to be fairly engrossing, in a strange, avant-garde way, reminiscent of early German synthesizer bands, post-industrial trance music and even musique concrete (if I worked at it). There would be blocks of repeating bursts of noise which would then pause and start again with a different frequency, speed or level. Other, deeper noises would come and go and throughout it all the throbbing that I'd heard when I came in continued in the background. As a captive audience it was a pretty good performance, better than some concerts I'd paid to see.
After what seemed like a concept album's worth it dropped back to the throb and a voice came through the headphones - I was doing very well but the next scan would be a long one. What? Apparently I'd only been in the machine for about five minutes and there were still had two more scans to do. Amazing how time stretches when you only have one thing to do. I (mentally) sighed and got ready for the second & third movements of the Concerto for MRI Scanner and Captive Audience.
While the machine was in action I tried to see if I could feel anything going on inside. I was in a powerful oscillating magnetic field and the hydrogen nuclei in my head were being induced to emit radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, surely I'd be able to feel this going on? Sadly no, despite my most avid internal searching I couldn't discern any unusual sensations or feelings. When I finally got off the table I was a bit wobbly on my legs but I think this was more to do with staying still for 25 minutes while being bombarded with futurist soundscapes than any side-effects of electromagnetic immersion.
Two days later I was back in Eye Outpatients Reception, waiting my turn. On my previous visits I'd been seen really promptly but in a cruel twist of fate I was given about an hour to sit and stew on what might be revealed. I was still pretty confident that all would be well but as the time ticked on the "What if..." part of my mind had a field day, nothing too specific but enough to gradually raise my morbid apprehension. Eventually my name was called and I meekly followed the doctor into his lair.
The news was good. The scan has revealed that not only was my brain in good working order but it wasn't showing any 'age-related' effects (whatever they might be). It looked like one of my blood vessels had stopped working for some reason and had starved the nerve cluster controlling my left eye & eyelid but the vessel was now OK and the nerves were recovering, which would take about three months. I was scheduled for a follow-up at around the time that this recovery would be complete but the expectation was that this would happen on it's own and that all would be well. Yay!
But what had caused the blood vessel to break? One of the possible causes was high blood glucose and my repeated blood test (remember that?) had come back confirming that my levels were in the 'warning' range - not enough to count as diabetes but very close to it. If I carried on with no changes to my lifestyle I had a 50% change of developing diabetes within the next ten years but (and this was the good news) if I lost weight, watched my diet and did more exercise I could dramatically reduce the odds of this happening. So, a warning sign with time to do something about it.
In some ways this is something I probably should have been doing anyway. Since leaving Scotland I've led a much more sedentary lifestyle and the temptations of easy food & yummy desserts have proved hard to resist, as has often been the case with me. Sigh! Back in university days I'd done a psychology test on Addictive Behaviour which had shown that I have virtually no resistance to temptation when it's right in front of me but I could say no if it was in a more abstract form - if there are choccy bikkies in the house and I'm feeling peckish then I will almost certainly demolish them but while I'm shopping I have the self-control to not buy any. This has become my stratagem for anti-snacking, don't let them into them house! Linda & I have agreed a 'no desserts' mutual support pact and I'm loading my freezer with home-cooked meals (in sensible portions) for when I don't feel like cooking. Next stop the daily weighing & chart in the bathroom.
View from Snowdon, September
In September Linda & I took a long weekend break to North Wales, an area I hadn't visited since family holidays in my childhood. One of our intentions was to get to the peak of Mount Snowdon and despite warnings that the summit is invariably shrouded in mist on all but the sunniest days we headed off under grey skies. But luck was on our side, the sun was making great efforts to break through and as we rode up on the little mountain train (I'll walk up next time!) the vistas opened up - the Irish Sea to the North and the peaks of Snowdonia all around. The summit itself was crowded with people and whipped with fierce winds but it was worth it for the stunning views and sense of timeless space.
Before heading up the mountain we visited the National Slate Museum, not the most tantalising name but a really good museum. There was lots of information and it was presented in context, relating to the working conditions, social situations, etc. etc. making it easier to grasp & much more relevant. Linda & I often visit the National History Museum just outside Cardiff which contains whole buildings moved there from across the country, also presented in a more holistic way. It's really nice to see places that give an insight into other lives & ways rather than just present you with racks of labelled stuff and those in Wales seem to be excellent at it.
Another stop on our Welsh holiday was Portmeirion, the 'designed village'. I'd seen it when watching The Prisoner in the 60's but didn't realise that it was a real place until much later (in my defence I was only eleven at the time). We'd originally intended to stay in one of the buildings there but it turned out that there was an extensive waiting list so we settled for a day visit.
The village was a true delight, far beyond what I was anticipating. A bizarre collection of somewhat eccentric buildings scattered around a small valley that somehow formed a wonderful and strangely harmonious whole. It was the opposite of regulated uniformity, a glorious celebration of diversity & unexpected juxtaposition in which the contrasts manage to enhance the overarching cohesiveness. (Sorry, got a bit over the top there.) And the colours! I'd seen it in black & white so was unprepared for the blaze of different hues through the site, oddly brought together by the recurring turquoise gates & railings. Wow! Suffice to say that I loved the place. The village was designed & built by one man, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, over a period of 50 years and I could see it as a model of how we (or at least I) go through life - collecting diverse beautiful things (or thoughts, or images, or memories) that are linked by our individual tastes & choices. In some ways Portmeirion looked the way I'd hoped Findhorn would be with a more flamboyant celebration of individual beauty within a shared inspiration, strange that sometimes you need a single visionary to achieve such a result.
I'd not been playing much music since leaving Findhorn (at least not with anyone else) but I finally managed to link up with a local blues band who were looking for a replacement bassist. After a couple of nervous rehearsal sessions where (to my ears) my rusty bass skills were grudgingly coaxed back into action I started to feel a bit more confident and have since found myself approaching songs with some creativity rather than just worrying about hitting the correct note. Mostly. As usual I find myself thinking that I'm by far the worst musician in the group and I've somehow faked my way into playing with such talented & expressive people but I'm not letting it get me down - until I'm replaced I'm going to carry on & enjoy it!
By October we decided that we needed another hot & sunny holiday so we booked ourselves a stay on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. We'd both been to the Canaries in the past but not together and not to this island, so there was both novelty & familiarity in the trip.
Lanzarote is in some ways the distilled essence of a tourist destination, 90% of the island's economy derives from tourism and it felt like most of the local population were there purely to service the hordes of visitors. This wasn't as bad as it sounds, it was as if the stream of holidaymakers were viewed as a resource to be sustainably exploited rather than simply plundered for whatever could be wrung from them - to be farmed rather than hunted. So goods & services were pricy but not outrageous, convenient and easy to use. It was a great place to relax & get some sun but not somewhere overflowing with local culture.
Herding tourists, Fuerteventura, October
As we were looking for a relaxing break we decided to sign up for a couple of the organised tours rather than hire a car and do it ourselves. These were on the whole pretty good but did give the impression that we were being processed & packaged (is that why they call a package holiday?) in the most efficient way possible. For example, on a trip to Fuerteventura we were driven through an area of stunningly beautiful white sand dunes but were only allowed out at the same spot used by all the tourist buses and given just enough time to walk up the nearest dune, take the obligatory picture, then file back onto the coach. The most extreme case came at the Timanfaya National Park, a stunning & dramatic volcanic landscape, which could only be toured by sitting in a coach which drove around the single small road while a piped commentary played accompanied by 'atmospheric' music. It was more like watching a DVD than actually being there.
Despite all this we managed to have a really nice break. It was warm without being oppressively hot, sunny pretty much all the time, the food was good and there were some interesting things to see. The highlight was a visit to the César Manrique Foundation, a gallery showing works by the eponymous artist (and others) set in what was his home. And what a home! At first it seemed like just a nice, slightly modernist house but a descending stairway led to a series of rooms constructed inside volcanic 'bubbles' underneath, white floors spreading the light from the single opening overhead, the walls dark volcanic rock. It seemed the sort of place that an artiste should live, exotic & strange and with its own unique beauty.
The first half of the year had gone really well at my job but as Summer turned to Autumn I found myself feeling less happy there. The iOS team (apps for iPhones & iPads, where I worked) were overwhelmed with work which was not being managed very well, meaning we were being bounced between jobs that all seemed to have the same (high) level of urgency. The corporate environment was becoming more obsessed with box ticking than in what was actually being achieved, the Windows-centric IT infrastructure meant that it was dismayingly difficult to get even basic stuff done on our Macs and, to top it off, I was working with an ancient (in IT development terms) laptop that I'd been told would not be replaced for at least another year, meaning I spent a lot of time watching a beachball whirling round rather than actually working. The job search websites were full of interesting looking stuff at salaries way above what I was getting so I polished up my CV, put it out there and started going to interviews.
I'd not made a secret of my unhappiness at work but there had been no managerial response until one of our clients mentioned that they'd heard that someone was leaving the iOS team. At the next project meeting my (3 levels up) boss told us about this and jokingly asked if there was 'something he should know', after some deliberation I decided that I'd rather have things out in the open so I emailed him and admitted that I was actively looking for another job. This did provoke a response - he scheduled an hour-long meeting with me to go through my grievances but although he took copious notes and sympathised with my complaints there didn't seem to be any effort being made to persuade me to stay. I resigned myself to leaving and carried on looking.
The Trapeze iOS team, December
Things changed when one of my colleagues handed in his notice. He'd been unhappy at the job for months but once again it seemed like nobody outside the team had noticed, despite him saying so at the regular reviews & appraisals. I was summoned to a meeting with my (2 levels up) boss where I once again listed my reasons for wanting to leave, this time to a more responsive listener who assured me that things could be changed to make me happier. However the promised new 'offer' didn't appear so I decided to take matters into my own hand and wrote to the two managers and the head of HR with a checklist of things that, if they were delivered, would keep me happy at Trapeze. Some of these were straightforward requests - a higher salary, a new laptop - while others asked for changes to the way the team worked, giving us clearer workloads and more autonomy over how we worked and how we managed ourselves. To my amazement these were accepted more or less as they were written! I declined my outstanding job offers and settled back into working at Trapeze.
Since then things have hugely improved. My new pay packet will be nicely fuller and my whizzy new laptop is a joy to work on but it's the changes to our working practices, the things I thought would be watered down and glossed over, that have had the biggest impact. We have more control over how we work, our requests for new kit or software are responded to quickly, and overall we seem to be treated like professional specialists rather than dumb workers, consulted & respected rather than just kept toiling away. The IT department seem delighted to have handed over control of our part of the network to us and have started to ask us what we want rather than telling us what we need. And we've been given half a day a week (each) to work on our own projects and keep our skills up to date and the team has been expanded to four so that we now have the leeway to take advantage of this.
I've wondered whether the improvements in my work life have been as much to do with a changed attitude as to actual changes in what goes on and, after discussing it at my (glowing) year-end appraisal, I think the two go hand in hand. Being given the freedom to make changes has empowered me to improve my working processes, this makes me more contented in my work and more confident of making more changes in a virtuous cycle. I feel more engaged with my work and, ironically, in being given more autonomy I find I'm collaborating much more effectively with other people in the company. It's all good. Mostly.
Vi's birthday at the Savoy, November
In November my sisters & I took Vi, our mum, out for her annual Birthday Bash. This is the one time every year when we get together as a family and we try to pick a new, interesting venue every time it rolls around - this year it was my turn to find somewhere so I went for classy & posh and booked us into the Savoy Grill for a late lunch. The setting was wonderfully opulent (although I found having a flunky in the bathroom folding the one-use-only hand towels a bit unsettling to my lingering class consciousness), the food was excellent (with the waiter knowledgeably & creatively attendant to our dietary restrictions) and the afternoon was rounded off nicely when we were discretely ushered into the black & gold setting of the Beaufort Bar for drinks. Sister Terri & I indulged in elaborate cocktails while the rest of the party settled for sensible tea.
As the year was coming to a close I had another little health scare, a reminder that the years were piling up while the body was starting to run down. A few years ago at a regular eye test the optician warned me that there was a risk of my retina detaching as I got older and that I should periodically check for this by gazing at a blank wall and seeing if there were any spots or blemishes in my vision. I'd done so every now and again since then but hadn't noticed anything. Just before Christmas I started to notice a blurry spot that seemed to be in the same place in my visual field and moved with my eye movements so I repeated the 'wall test' and sure enough it looked like the thing I'd been told to watch out for. Eek! The holiday season meant I had a wait before I could get to my opticians but on the 30th I made an appointment and found myself in the chair with hugely dilated pupils while bright lights were shone into my eyes.
The diagnosis was good news (the spot was a 'floater', a naturally occurring imperfection in the jelly inside the eye that causes a shadow on the retina, hence the dark spot), bad news (there was nothing that could be done about it) and more good news (over time the brain learns to ignore them). After the big scare earlier in the year it was nice to have it turn out to be harmless but it felt like another reminder that I should be taking more care over myself as I get older.
And so 2014 beckons. It's been a full year (it certainly feels like it from the amount of typing I've done) but I think the biggest personal change has been illustrated by my interaction with work. From the point at which I chose to be upfront & honest about looking for another job and by presenting a list of what I wanted rather than waiting to see what would be offered I've been operating in what is a new (or at least unusual) way for me - going for what I want rather than choosing between what comes along, being active rather than reactive. Maybe moving to Bradford was the start of this, finally arriving in the South West after deciding that was where I wanted to be back in Findhorn, or maybe it was my initial impulse to move away from the community there. It's not that I've been totally directionless in the past, more that I'm finally having a long, hard look at what I want to do within a longer timeframe and giving myself permission (and space & time) to find out what I really want from my life. At the moment I have more questions than answers and feel like I've been cast adrift on an ocean of uncertainty but with the wind of determination and the geostrophic ocean current of emergence I plan to steer the dinghy of my life into new vistas and harbours. My Angel for the year is Presence (thank you Saille!) and my objective is to be more present in the years ahead, both with my inner integrity and my interactions with the world Out There. It's a tough job but hey, someone has to do it.