A look back at 2014

2014 proved to be a year of enormous change for me in almost all areas of my life. It's not just that my circumstances & situation are radically different from how I ended 2013 but they've transformed in ways that I couldn't have imagined back then. This has been a little bewildering along the way ("How on Earth did I get here?") but at the same time quite encouraging, finding that the universe can still surprise & astonish me even as the years start to pile up.

The Avon bursting its banks, January

The year began with me nicely ensconced in my cosy old house in the little town of Bradford on Avon, perched on the southernmost edge of the Cotswolds. I'd been living here for eighteen months now and was still very happy with it - the town was large enough to provide for most of my wants & needs but small enough to be manageable & friendly (& easily traversed on foot). My job, after a few hiccups in the preceding year, had improved enormously and I was now doing interesting work with a good degree of autonomy and pulling in a very respectable wage. After the frequent relocations of the past few years it felt like I was finding some stability and starting to put down roots, a very welcome change.

As January opened the rains kept coming and the normally gentle river Avon rose and burst its banks, at one point cutting the town in two as the only (road) bridge was closed in the face of the surging waters. Several shops & restaurants were flooded out but no homes were evacuated, presumably the combination of restrictive planning regulations and several hundred years' experience. it was fascinating to see just how easily normal life could be disrupted by the Forces Of Nature but I didn't feel even vaguely threatened by it all.

Since my time of living in Scotland I'd developed a liking for late winter holidays, usually a sunny destination to provide some respite from the dark & dreary days back home. I wasn't sure what I would do this year - I'm not a natural solo vacationeer - but a chance remark when talking to my friend Saille revealed that she too was looking for a break in the sun. Destinations & resorts were compared & contrasted and the start of February found us heading out for a week on Madeira.

Views of Madeira, February

The island turned out to be the ideal spot for our winter break. We rented a self-catering apartment not far (ten minutes walk) from the centre of Funchal with all mod cons, superb views and enough space to spread out & relax without treading on each others' (psychic) toes. Doing our own cooking helped us avoid pigging out while being close to town meant we could stroll to a restaurant when we felt like a treat and work it off on the seriously steep walk home again. Funchal is precipitously spread up the side of the mountains and we quickly learned how to use the splendid public transport system when our legs grew weary.

The town was pretty & interesting (especially the Old Town with its painted doorways) but it was the interior that we'd come to see. Starting off with guided walks and progressing to making our own way out on buses & cable cars we explored a few of Madeira's lavadas - irrigation canals that criss-cross the island. These not only take you to remote & beautiful spots but have the advantage (for the occasional hiker like myself) of being essentially flat, although there were often tricky ascents & descents to get onto the paths in the first place. We ended the week with a good many kilometres of healthy walking under our belts and a growing appreciation of fortified wine and exotic fruit.

(There's more on our holiday in my Postcards from Madeira).

The Georgian Lodge, March

One of the biggest events in my year started off with the most casual of actions. Since my divorce I'd pretty much given up on the idea of owning a home of my own again - I didn't have much in the way of savings and although I was now earning a respectable salary I didn't have the career history or prospective years of employment ahead of me to get myself a mortgage. Or so I thought. While walking home from work I popped in to a local estate agent and, just out of curiosity, asked what my prospects of house buying might be. Astoundingly I discovered that I had somehow become a viable prospect and could almost certainly arrange a mortgage that, combined with my savings, would get me a small but perfectly adequate place in Bradford itself.

After viewing a handful of places and being generally disappointed - they were either too new & boxy, too old & crumbly, or just too expensive - an estate agent persuaded me to look at the Georgian Lodge, an old (Georgian?) house that was being redeveloped into a small cluster of flats & maisonettes. On first viewing I wasn't convinced, especially after finding that the two street-facing flats in the oldest part of the house, the ones that had caught my fancy, had already been sold, but after a couple of visits there came a dramatic revelation - it would be possible for me to work with the architect to make changes to the plans. I'd already decided that I needed a room to use as an office in whatever house I found (I was working two days a week at home) and although the remaining two bedroom unit didn't really work for me I could see that it could be modified to be a much better fit. And the possibility of designing my own house without having to pay the Earth was just too tempting, after meeting up with the architect I put in an offer (which was only accepted when it matched the asking price) and committed to buying the house.

(I shall return to the house later in this account but the full (currently ongoing) story can be read in my Building a new home blog).

March brought one of those incidents that reminded me that I am, in fact, already living in the future. Late in 2013 I'd bought myself an iPod Touch (a sort of iPhone without the phone) to develop & test my own apps on but over the winter I'd lost track of it and after a serious search I realised I'd lost it. A bit of investigation revealed that I could, using my Apple account, lock the iPod and have it display a message asking whoever had it to phone me - the next day I received a puzzled phone call from a woman who wanted to know why her new device wasn't working anymore. About a month later after talking with the woman, the Cash Converters shop she'd bought it from and the local police I had my iPod back in my hands. It's possible that I dropped it out of a bag while travelling rather then being surreptitiously robbed but the idea that my possessions can be personally tagged to the point where they're not worth stealing is a fascinating one.

The Rhythm Methodists, March

March saw me heading off to Henley to teach a dance workshop organised by the wonderful Debby, a dear friend for many, many years. Since moving down from Findhorn I've not been able to establish a new dance group or to arrange regular teaching sessions so it's been nice to have these occasional workshops turn up to keep me in practice.

After about six months of playing together, getting to know each other musically and establishing a repertoire, my local band settled on a line-up - an eight-piece ensemble with male & female vocalists - and a name - The Rhythm Methodists (my suggestion). In March we played our first gig, a birthday party in a local village hall.

Playing with the band has been a (mostly) wonderful experience - challenging at times as I've had to work hard to bring my rusty musical skills up to speed again and learn a whole new set of R&B and rock & roll songs but immensely rewarding. My confidence has grown to the level that I'm (reasonably) happy with my playing and feel that I can hold my own in the company of such excellent musicians, even to the point of making arrangement suggestions that seem to be taken seriously. And I now find that I can relax while playing and enjoy the wonderful sound we make, even during the adrenaline-fuelled excitement of being on stage. Good times!

The gaping hole where my new home would appear, April

April saw work starting on my new home but alarmingly the first weeks seemed to involve tearing down most of it! Before long the front wall, roof, side wall and floors had all been demolished and carted away, leaving less than a shell remaining. It raised some interesting philosophical points - I'd offered promised money for a promised house, neither of which currently existed - and although the sense of progress was exciting to witness there was some apprehension about buying something that was mostly theoretical.

Not only theoretical but in a state of flux. In an ongoing dialogue with the architect I'd made some big changes to the house plans, opening up the layout of the downstairs section and extensively rearranging the upstairs rooms. I got rid of the en-suite (I can't understand this modern insistence on having two bathrooms in a two bedroom residence, something I saw in all the newer apartments I'd viewed) which created a much larger 'second bedroom' that was going to be my office, converted a high ceilinged 'light well' into storage space off of the main bedroom (storage is another thing that is often in short supply in new builds) and made innumerable other 'tweaks' to the house. Nigel, the architect, was a responsive (if a little blunt) sounding board for my ideas and would often come up with suggestions & alternatives when these fell foul of building regulations or planning constraints. Slowly the new design took shape, at least on paper.

No floor, no roof, May

My job had been chugging along nicely but in May a bombshell hit - our main client for iPhone work (who shall remain nameless, I'll refer to them as XXX from here on) announced that they would be taking over development of their app and no longer using my company to do the work. As they provided about two thirds of our iPhone work this was potentially disastrous but after a series of meetings between the suits of both organisations a transition plan was agreed on - myself and my workmate Al, who between us had written the XXX app, would be placed on secondment to XXX for the remainder of 2014 to share our expertise and advise on the handover. To persuade us to stay on until the end of this process we were offered a substantial bonus, payable at the end of the year provided we were still employed (and hadn't handed in our notice) at that point. I made some discreet enquiries to see if XXX would be interested in taking me on full time but they weren't interested unless I was willing to relocate to London and I was determined not to do that. And so Al & I settled in to reporting to our new XXX bosses and making regular trips up to their offices in London.

I'd been without a car since moving down from Scotland, initially to keep my outgoings under control but latterly by choice as I found it quite easy to get around the South using public transport, taxis and the occasional hire car. But in early summer I found myself driving again, courtesy of my friend Sibylle who was off to Greece for a month and offered me the use of her Prius while she was away. It was nice to be able to whizz around but it didn't persuade me to consider having my own set of wheels.

This brief period of car ownership did, however, give me another 'living in the future' moment. Parking in Bradford is notoriously difficult and although there were a couple of public parking spaces near my house they were often already filled and I found myself driving further and further away to find somewhere to leave the car. While waiting for a haircut in my local barbers I remembered a neighbour saying he'd bought a permit for the station car park so I got out my phone, connected to the free wi-fi, found the parking permit section on the Wiltshire Council website, filled in my details and the car registration number, selected a month at the Bradford on Avon station car park, then paid with my credit card. There was no need to wait for a physical permit to be sent, the system informed the traffic wardens' ticket machines so they would indicate that the car was legally parked. Less than five minutes after starting I had arranged it all. Amazing.

Punch & Judy on Weymouth beach, August

July found the Rhythm Methodists playing another live gig, at another birthday party. Bill, our drummer, had arranged (& paid for) a PA system and sound engineer in his role as event organiser (it was his wife's party) which made it so much easier for us on a technical level, having someone there to take care of the sound & balance left us free to concentrate on playing & enjoying ourselves. While we were setting up the engineer said that if we could provide an external hard disk he could record us and so we ended up with a multi-channel recording of the gig, one that we could remix ourselves to get a good impression of how we actually sounded on the night. Although this did show up every small mistake in cringeworthy detail it also revealed that as a group we sounded rather good despite the imperfections. Which was nice to know.

The wet & warm year had produced a bumper crop of blackberries on the bushes around the town, so much so that I found myself returning to them over a couple of weeks to harvest the ripening fruit. Not only did they remain heavily laden but I never met anyone else taking advantage of this natural bounty - do people not pick wild fruit any more? As a child I remember coming home with purple fingers & cheeks, arms dotted with bramble wounds and baskets filled with berries, it seems that this is becoming something from Olden Days within my lifetime.

Continuing the exploration of my new bailiwick I took advantage of a sunny day in August to visit Weymouth, the end of one of the rail lines that passes through Bradford. While there I discovered that there are Things to do in Weymouth for £1.

My office begins to take shape, August

The house was now taking shape, moving from being a generic building site to showing the shape of the final layout. However things were starting to worry me. The completion date in particular remained suspiciously vague, when I'd had my offer accepted it was given as 'late Spring' which was now patently nonsense and although there had been some talk about 'sometime in July' this had never been put in writing and had, by now, also passed. Then, out of the blue, the developer suddenly announced that contracts would have to be exchanged within the week, accompanied by a 10% deposit. I'd expected a bit more notice than this and although I attempted to hurry along the process of withdrawing the money from my savings and transferring it to the solicitor it was clear that I wouldn't meet the deadline. Then the developer started making comments about putting the house back on the market if he didn't receive the money quickly.

After my initial panic - after all of this work I could lose the house! - this new development actually helped me gain some new perspective. I'd been told that having my offer accepted constituted a legal agreement between the developer and myself but on further investigation it turned out that until we'd exchanged contracts both sides were (essentially) free to just walk away at any point. I'd been approaching the house project as something I was committed to but now it turned out that I could reevaluate it and make a clear decision about whether I wanted to buy it or not. It felt like a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. Rather then plead for more time I wrote to the developer saying there were various things that I wasn't happy about and that if we couldn't work them out then I'd release my claim to the place and leave him free to remarket it.

Most of my unhappiness stemmed from changes being made to the house plans, mostly due to structural features being revealed as the old walls were cleared away, without my being consulted (or even informed) about them. This came to a head when an old chimney stack was uncovered that apparently had to stay (to support a non-functioning chimney that the Planning & Preservation authorities demanded) - this jutted into the office and would make a bed almost impossible to place in there, something that would make calling it a bedroom difficult to justify and might (I thought) make the house hard to resell later. Feeling that it would be sad but not the end of the world to pull out of the purchase I arranged a meeting with the developer and architect.

Dancing at Cindy's birthday party, September

I don't know if it was my changed attitude or the threat of a lost sale but the meeting went smoothly & productively. We went through my list of concerns and came up with solutions to most of them (the chimney on the roof was replaced with a smaller one so that most of the stack could be safely demolished) and workable compromises for the rest. My money transfer had finally gone through so I was able to complete the exchange and we were back on track, with a fixed completion date of the 30th of September.

Back in 2013 I'd made contact with Nic, a friend from my post-university days, but hadn't managed to arrange a meeting with him. He'd been one of my closest friends at the time - I was the best man at his wedding - but our paths had drifted apart and I hadn't seen him for maybe 25 years. A renewed attempt at connecting was more successful and in early September we met up for a drink, which we continued to do through the rest of the year (regularly meeting up, not continually drinking). It's been great (& remarkably easy) to revive our friendship and to see just how much of my core personality was established in my 20's - some youthful idealism & enthusiasm has been replaced with a more pragmatic & experienced outlook (IMHO) but there are a lot of recognisable traits still there. Which is actually quite reassuring.

September took me north (Cheshire) for my friend Cindy's 50th birthday party. Cindy & I are both long-established Circle Dance teachers and she'd asked me to lead a couple of dances on the day. One of these came as part of a selection of her favourite dances, several of which were led by the people she'd originally learnt them from, which resulted in me doing my first ever impression of a French-Canadian dance teacher. Something I carried off with, if I say so myself, a certain élan.

With the completion date set for the end of September I began making final preparations for moving - arranging for removal men, booking time off work and giving notice on my rental tenancy. My new home was only about 100 metres away from my current abode and I'd toyed with the idea of doing the moving myself (possibly with some friends to help with the furniture, although there wasn't much of that) but in the end I decided to use professional movers - with all the stress going on it was nice to know that someone else would be taking care of the packing & shifting. I booked the entire week off work to give me time to wrap the Precious Things myself and to have a good long period to settle in and discover where everything would go in the new house. And I gave a moving out date of the middle of October to my landlady so I'd have some leeway about getting all of my possessions moved.

Two Tunnels bike trail, September

As the month moved on it became clear that things weren't going to be finished on time and the house wouldn't be liveable on the specified completion date. The developer finally (&, it appeared, grudgingly) accepted this but wouldn't give anything more definite than 'mid October' as a revised date, which was a bit alarming. But in a spirit of optimism I decided to work on the assumption that this would tie in with my tenancy ending and rescheduled the removal men and the time off work.

A friend at work had told me about a new bike trail that had opened just outside Bath that followed an old railway line route through two long tunnels. On a sunny September day I set off on my trusty old bike along the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath to find and explore this new cycleway. After a few unintended detours along the way I rode it from end to end (and back again), finding it a wonderful & inspired redevelopment of the old track. The full story can be read in my account of Riding the Two Tunnels.

My hopes of moving in mid-October were dashed as the month opened and still the finishing off work dragged on. The 27th was now offered as an allegedly realistic date and luckily I found that the new tenants for my rented house wouldn't be arriving until the start of November and I could extend my stay up until the end of the month. Once again I reorganised work holiday and removal men around the new date but this time there would be no chance of a further deferral.

The delays to the completion date meant that things I'd arranged for after I moved were starting to turn up beforehand. One of these was a consultation with the company who were doing my curtains, a new experience for me, which now became more of a visualisation exercise as we walked round the still glaringly incomplete rooms. Deciding on what type of curtains to have was fairly simple - there were more Velux windows in the roof than ones in the walls - but once we arrived at the showroom to choose the materials I fell into a morass of indecision as everything seemed to be just not quite right. After what seemed like an age (probably about 45 minutes) and with the tireless enthusiasm of the staff I finally came up with what were quite radical choices for me, an attempt to inject some colour (& maybe even style) to counterbalance my quite neutral choices of paint. The start of discovering my deeper preferences or a desperate overreaction? Time would tell.

The completed front of Curly Flat, October

Another of my plans that had been overtaken by the house delays was a trip north to visit Cindy and her partner Adrian, a chance to spend more time with them than at the party earlier in the year. Despite this now coming on the weekend directly before I was due to move I decided to go anyway rather than get into my usual flurry of anxiety on the verge of a major venture. I've known Cindy & Adrian for many, many years and we would regularly meet up every Easter at the annual circle dance teachers' gathering, which Cindy & I had organised for the past few years. After this year's event had been cancelled I'd really missed this connection and had planned the visit as a relaxing, grounding time after the turbulence of moving. As it happened it would be a gentle preparation for it instead but that still seemed like a good idea. And so it turned out to be, a chance to catch my breath in good company before the great work began.

A significant moment came when the new house was named. Many years ago my dear friend Linda had made a plaque for me with the name 'Curly Flat' laid out in whimsical lettering & decoration, following style of Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist who's work I am a great fan of. This dated from when I was attempting to buy a flat in Findhorn village - 'Curly Flat' is a fictitious village that features in several of Leunig's drawings & writings and the idea of using the name for an actual flat amused me no end. The prospect of using the name for somewhere that wasn't a flat amused me even more so I arranged for one of the builders to attach the plaque beside my front door. A proud moment.

When I visited the site the day before the move it was to discover that things were still not ready for me. Most of the remaining work was painting and small fittings but even so it wouldn't be possible for me to stay in the house, which was a problem as I had to be out of my rental house the day afterwards. I made arrangements with the builders so that my possessions would be piled in the centre of the more finished rooms when they arrived and made my way over the bridge to a pub in town to rent a room for a few days.

My belongings arrive, October

The day of the move finally arrived, at least for my possessions. Two men arrived bright & early and were soon packing my worldly goods into the back of a relatively diminutive Luton van - so efficiently in fact that they were ready to move long before the builders had made a space for them to unload into. After an enforced early lunch they piled my belongings into the middle of the living room, kitchen & entryway and were away, their work complete in very short order. The removal company had been a joy to work with - polite, obliging, flexible and very reasonably priced. If I wasn't planning on staying put for a good long while I'd be sure to use them again.

My goods & chattels were in place (if not yet unpacked) but I was off to the Swan Hotel, just across the river, which would be my base for the next three days while the house was brought up to a liveable state. After so many postponements & delays it was actually something of an anticlimax when I finally arrived, especially as the work continued around me (mostly painting - it seemed like every surface needed at least seven coats before it was ready). But eventually I carried the dismantled components of my bed upstairs, put it back together and fell into it, master of my new domain.

After a few days of (partial) unpacking, sorting and discussing what still needed to be done with painters & builders I was off on another trip into my past. Through Nic I'd made contact with Dave & Tanya, more close friends from my 20's, and at the start of November we headed off in Nic's sturdy Land Rover to visit them in their splendidly eccentric Victorian Gothic home in Cornwall. Where a fine time was had by all.

Meeting up again with these old friends brought up some poignant thoughts for me. Nic had adult children and had taken early retirement, both Dave & Tanya were professors in higher education, but I was still working away as a computer programmer. The iPhones & iPads I was working on now were a far cry from the room-sized mainframes I'd used back then but ironically the pace of change meant that I still only had a few years' experience on them, just as I had before. It was as if the world was moving on while I'd found a little niche that somehow preserved & recreated itself inside the flow of time. And, after some thought, I can live with that.

Starting to feel like home, November

After a few days back home things were starting to take on some order and, as the time passed, it started to feel more like a place of my own and less like an unfinished hotel suite. Things migrated from the floor to cupboards, closets and (as they appeared) coat hooks and, after a hire car excursion to IKEA and Homebase, a lot of the little things (bins, brushes, mats, etc.) were put in place. After David (vocalist with the band) built me a built-in wardrobe I could transfer my, er, wardrobe to it and free up the cases & boxes it had been provisionally stored in. An enormous snagging list of things not yet done, done badly or done wrongly was compiled and very slowly these began to be seen to.

During this time work at XXX had gone dramatically downhill. As their internal development team grew they seemed to fall prey to all the latest management fads and fashionable programming theories with the result that (from our perspective) productivity plummeted and the codebase became huge, unnecessarily complex and much more difficult to work on. We (politely) voiced our concerns but these were generally brushed aside with the implication (or sometimes bald statement) that they knew best. Dutifully we carried on coding, following their guidelines, but it was very dispiriting to work in a way that all your professional instincts & experience (not to mention the collective wisdom of Internet hackers) tells you is leading to a horrible mess.

Vi's birthday bash, November

In November my (UK-based) sisters & I took Vi, our mother, out for her annual Birthday Bash, a family get-together that has become the only point in the year that we all (reliably) meet. We've come to realise that afternoon tea is the ideal setting for this as it's easy to arrange daytime transport (we meet in London and all travel on public transport), there are fewer menu decisions to be made, and we can chat & nibble away without the interruption of courses coming & going. This year we met at Emmeline's Lounge (named after Ms Pankhurst, which was a good sign) in the Conrad London St James hotel, just off St James' Park where Vi & I had a pre-meal stroll as we'd both arrived hopelessly early. We decided to indulge in the 'free flowing champagne' option so throughout the meal our glasses were promptly refilled by eager flunkies, which no doubt was a factor helping the conversation to flow equally freely. It's become increasingly rare for the four of us to meet up and I've come to treasure this annual occasion, a chance to catch up with people who've known me all my life.

Just a few days later I was packing my bags and getting ready for a trip to Morocco. I'd gone out to La Maison Anglaise in Taroudant, South Morocco two years before for a 'Real Morocco' holiday with tours & activities to give an insight into local life. When they discovered that I was the Andy Bettis I was invited to come over to lead a Circle Dance holiday there and the dates had finally come around.

The format of the week was activities during the day and dancing every evening - as a (relatively) small, working town in an Islamic country there was virtually no nightlife. I joined the group for most of the daytime excursions - bathing at he hamman, trekking in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, visiting local botanical gardens and ecological projects, being shown around a Berber village - but still had time to wander around the town itself and explore the souq markets. There were a couple of rainy days but although they were disappointing at first they cleared the air of dust & traffic fumes and made meandering through the streets a much nicer experience.

A gateway through the Taroudant city walls, November

It had been a long time since I'd taught a dance workshop longer than a day and I was a bit apprehensive about it - with all that was going on I hadn't managed to arrange any practice teaching (apart from on my own at home, which is not the same as having real dancers) and I'd be facing an unknown, mixed ability group who were there to have a holiday as well as a dance course. I prepared (& practised) a huge list of dances that would, I hoped, cope with any combination of skills & interests, packed two sets of music players (iPod & laptop) and mentally crossed my fingers.

It all went very well (if I say so myself). I led a series of themed evenings (Rom, Armenia & beyond, uneven rhythms, Greek) with a selection of the favourite dances on the last night, there were easier dances to get started with and trickier ones to provide a challenge, and throughout it all I gave my own thoughts on the context & relevance of traditional dancing in a modern world. The group gave wonderful feedback and the owner of the guest house invited me to return, which I'll be doing in 2016. It felt really good to not only have my teaching skills validated but to find I had more to say than just explaining the steps. I've neglected my dance teaching over the past few years, maybe it's time to get it going again.

For this workshop and the one in March I used my own Teacher's DJ Mini app to organise & play the music. After working on it at home it was great to find that it was easy to use and really useful in a real-world situation. Another boost to my self-esteem.

There's more on my Moroccan holiday in my Postcards from Morocco.

Playing with the Rhythm Methodists, November

Two days after returning home I was once again on stage at another Rhythm Methodists gig. This time we were playing at St Margarets Hall in the centre of Bradford, just a minute's walk away from my front door, and were the support band in a longer event (another birthday party). Matt, one of our guitarists, wasn't able to make it so we performed as a 7-piece with suitably adjusted arrangements, despite this we put on a polished & professional show that had even the headline band members out on the dance floor.

Into December and work continued on the house. The curtains came and after an initial "Oh my God - what have I done?" moment I've come to really like them and the splash of colour they bring. A lesson in trusting my instincts perhaps? New items of furniture (and the dramatic modification of my desk by sawing a strip off the side) have slotted in to places in my irregular walls and are giving the rooms a sense of, if not completion, at least some identity. My bits & pieces are finding their way into drawers & cupboards and I'm starting to feel that I'm living here rather than just staying here.

A sign of my growing confidence and (for me) adventurous decorative choices gave another injection of bright colour into the house. While in Morocco I'd ventured into the souq and, with the support of friend who was a regular visitor there, ended up haggling over and eventually buying two locally made throws in rich reds & oranges. When I got home I had the inspiration to have one of them mounted on one of the tall walls in my entryway, a dramatic change from the acres of magnolia currently on display. I arranged with the company who'd provided the curtains to have it professionally mounted (ironically this cost three times what I'd paid for the throw itself) and although I had another crisis of confidence along the way I stuck with my decision. When it arrived it proved to be an inspired choice, although it's high above eye level it floods the entryway with a warm, reflected glow and really brightens the space. Emboldened by this success I've used the other, more deeply coloured, throw on the sofa, turning its neutral beige into another celebration of warm African colours.

With the year running to a close things at XXX went from the strange to the surreal. Al had been released from the project as part of the 'tapering down' of our involvement so I was now working (and travelling up) there on my own. Slowly the stream of work assigned to me began to dry up and after a while I found myself spending more & more of my work days trying to find things to do. This reached a bizarre peak when, on instruction from one of my managers, I emailed to point out that I had no work to do but was still booking my time to XXX as part of the inter-company agreement. The reply came that this was understood and that 'suitable' work would be sent to me as it became available. Since then there's been a trickle of questions from developers but otherwise nothing, leaving me spending most of my time (theoretically) doing nothing while being rewarded for this with a fat bonus. It's brought a gentle end to the year but I'll be very happy when the project ends in mid-January.

Entryway with Moroccan hanging, December

And so 2014 comes to an end. It's been a year of huge changes but for a lot of the time I've been so engrossed with the details that I've lost sight of the Big Picture. But in this quiet, midwinter time I have an opportunity to look back and appreciate just how many transitions this year has contained:

The house is the obvious one - from resigned renter I have become a propertied householder, of a house that, to a certain extent, I have designed myself. As I settle in I'm finding greater willingness in myself to be bold & (more) adventurous in how I fit out & decorate it - to trust in my choices and give myself permission to follow them. The house has an eccentric & quirky layout already so it's nice to match this with my own unorthodox tastes within. The redevelopment of the Georgian Lodge has created a little cluster of eight houses (& an office unit) and I'm enjoying having this instant community and neighbourhood around me, especially as we're all getting to know each other at the same time.

Challenges remain with the house, not least the glacial progress on the snagging list and the lack of response from the developer & builder. As a tightly packed community we'll need to deal with our shared spaces & facilities and how we impact on & interact with each other but so far it seems like things are going smoothly.

Work has been disappointing, from the start of the year where it felt like we were taking control of our workflow and direction I've ended up as a 'coder for hire' with no involvement in what I do or influence in how it turns out. Early in the new year I'll be returning to my company's usual routines but 2014 has seen other clients besides XXX leave us and I'm not optimistic on there being enough work to justify our team of three. My extended notice period means that I'm not at risk of being laid off in the short term but I have begun polishing up my CV and making enquiries about other jobs in the area.

Although I've only led two dance workshops this year I can feel my enthusiasm returning and I certainly hope to teach more in future, maybe by starting a regular group in Bradford as well as arranging workshops further afield. My week in Taroudant showed me that I have the ability to use my repertoire in creative & responsive ways but I need to keep a bit more in practice!

Playing to an audience (although not yet a paying one) has been a great experience and it's been good to feel my confidence rising to the point where I can relax and enjoy it. With more gigs already planned for 2015 I'm looking forward to refining my instrumental techniques (lots of room for progress there) and coming forward a bit more within the band. Although probably not literally - with eight of us there's not normally much free space on stage. I recently discovered that my most local pub runs a regular open mic night and I'm considering dusting off the acoustic guitar and trying my hand there, another opportunity for artistic expression. And showing off.

And so that was my 2014, a year of change, transformation and achievement. Will 2015 bring another crop of unexpected directions and adventures? We shall see.

December 2014