Christmas Post…

You may have noticed that my writing productivity has reduced year on year (no shit Sherlock) and I have no one to blame but myself. The excuses I have rolled out in the past (see the aptly named “Excuses, Excuses”) are still applicable but I guess the single biggest cause is my own lack of self-discipline.

The only reason I have put virtual pen to paper now is because I have been shamed into it by a newcomer to my blog, a work colleague in the team I joined 2 months ago. So Mickey, this one is for you. I hope you appreciate the pressure and stress you have burdened me with, to produce 1000+ words, a week before Christmas. I return the guilt you have smashed into my court for my failure to write anything new, with a backhand slice in the top corner for bullying me into a new blog. Thanks a lot.

Seriously though, it is great to hear the feedback of a new reader and does inspire me to start waffling again. Waffle being the operative word as I have no clue how I am going to fill the page this time. In the early days when I was writing, oooh let’s say 6 or 7 times a year, I maintained a mental list of topics I thought might be interesting to delve into. But I seem to have lost the habit. I did actually begin a post in October, after a particularly inspiring trip to Rhossili Bay in South Wales. I managed to produce a half page that I was reasonably happy with and resolved to complete the piece before the end of the year. I wrote about how totally stunning and beautiful the landscape was, even in the appalling, squally aftermath of Storm Brian and how I find coastlines and beaches wonderfully calming and good for the soul, irrespective of the weather conditions.  I was feeling quite pleased with it and thought I had made a great start to what could have been a rather lovely and gentle exploration of how the natural world makes me happy.

Rhossili Oct 2017

Rhossili Bay under the tail end of Storm Brian, October 2017

I am sure you have guessed there is a “but” on its way here and indeed there is. The work is gone, lost, disappeared and nowhere to be found. It has ceased to be. It is an ex-post. I have no doubt that this is due to my own technological incompetence and that I have somehow failed to save my work or have misfiled it somewhere. Very frustrating. And now, instead of conjuring images of big, glowering skies, rolling, white-tipped waves and facially exfoliating walks along wide, windswept beaches, you have this poor excuse for a pre-Christmas blog. But a promise is a promise (curse you Mickey) and so as we rapidly approach the climax of eating, drinking and making merry, I will share a seasonal memory or two.

When my son D was five years old we took him on a trip to Lapland to see Father Christmas. It was the most fantastic, magical experience and I enjoyed it almost as much as he did. Lots of snow activities (riding in a reindeer drawn sleigh, racing through a lantern lit forest on a husky drawn sled, sledging and a snow mobile ride), not to mention seeing the Northern Lights, visiting the Elves’ toy workshop, Santa’s Post Office and meeting the Big Man himself.

Lapland 3

Meeting the man himself in Lapland

At one point, our tour guide asked D what he wanted for Christmas. My then Harry Potter obsessed son replied “…a Nimbus 2000”. Blank faces all around. The guide follows up with “what is a Nimbus 2000?” to which he replied, with a distinct note of incredulity in his voice, “it’s the fastest broomstick in the world of course!” Much hilarity from the other parents in the group, and a mental note to myself for the top tip gift idea.

Fast forward ten days to 25th December and D is over the moon with the Harry Potter paraphernalia provided by Father Christmas. He dons the Gryffindor cape, the glasses and waves the wand with glee before mounting the much desired Nimbus 2000 and rushing into the hallway. After 30 seconds of running around excitedly, suddenly there are floods of tears because the “fastest broomstick in the world” doesn’t actually fly…Hubby and I go from smugness to guilt faster in the blink of an eye. We try to explain that it was just a toy and that broomsticks don’t really fly. D sniffles that, as he had been to the North Pole and seen the real Father Christmas, he thought that Santa might have “sprinkled some of the magic dust that makes the reindeer fly” upon it.  Guilt times ten and a real struggle to wriggle out of that one. I think I babbled something about magic dust being in short supply with all rations needed at Christmas to make sure all of the presents were delivered. Combined with other distraction techniques we did manage to stop the tears and enjoy the rest of that particular Christmas but boy was it an example of pride before a fall.

Christmas 2016 was memorable for another reason. For many years my husband has made a half dozen or so Christmas puddings for family and friends, using an old recipe handed down his parents’ line. He enjoys doing it and for him it is the star of the Christmas day feast.

The K Clan Xmas Pud recipe

Love the old lady handwriting…

Last year we travelled to North Tyneside to spend the holidays with his side of the family. It was only as we were preparing to go to bed on Christmas Eve that he realised, oh calamity, that we had forgotten to bring the blessed pud with us from our home 160 miles away. He was devastated and our “don’t worry, we won’t starve” and “there are plenty of other sweet things we can eat” did little to sooth his bitter disappointment. Such is the esteem in which this family recipe is held that he decided, unbeknownst to everyone except me, to save Christmas! He set off home at 4 am on Christmas morning, making good time on the deserted motorways, showered, shaved, dressed properly at home and made the trip back with the pudding, while we were still in our pyjamas. Christmas was back on track and boy did that pudding taste good.

Well Mickey I hope you are happy. You may be new to the world of work in a big corporate environment but you already know how to press someone to meet a deadline, even if the end result is somewhat mediocre compared to what might have been.  Well done, you will go far my friend 😉

No idea when I will next write but if my latest blog follower keeps nagging me it may be sooner that you think. In the interim I wish you all a very merry Christmas and health and happiness for 2018. Enjoy creating the memories.

 

Advertisements

Winter is coming, but first…

2015-10-27-09-13-03

Taken at a reunion of friends at Ullswater, October last year

Spring may be the time of rebirth and renewal but I always find autumn is when I am most likely to hoy myself off my ample backside and crack on and DO stuff. I suspect it is a hangover from 16 years of full time education and the whole “new academic year”, fresh start thing which became ingrained in my psyche. I always feel a restlessness and an urge to plan ahead, tidy and clean everywhere, turn a new leaf etc. Toes tap, fingers twitch and brain works at 19 to the dozen. I am at my most productive, focussed and creative as the leaves turn gold and the days shorten.

A new academic year was always a chance to wipe the slate clean and to try harder, do better. I have to confess that my enthusiasm at school wasn’t always sustained beyond the October half term but as an adult I feel energised in the run right up to Christmas. I have been lucky enough to have this past week off work and it has been a luxury to have the time to tackle some of the a million and one jobs that need doing in the garden at this time of year. I have written before about the pleasures of gardening in autumn and the weather has been great this month so I have loved all of the pruning, clearing and planting of spring bulbs that I have managed to tick off. But I have also managed to clean my venetian blinds, paint the garden fence, catch up with two friends I haven’t seen for ages (years in one case), go for a run twice and finally complete the blog post that I started last December. Ok so I admit it…by going for a run I mean wheezing while I jog for 45-50 minutes on the treadmill (long enough to watch a full episode of “The Sopranos”) but hey – it’s more than I’ve done for six months so I’m feeling smug.autumn-clean

I think perhaps there is something more primitive driving my activity levels at this time of year too. Maybe the fact that autumn is a season of change has a subconscious affect, making me want to change with it. The drop in temperature and light levels give me a sense of urgency. I want to get things done before the onset of winter when it will be so dark and grim that I know all I will want to do then, is hunker down in front of the TV with the fire on and a mug of tea in my hand. Winter is coming and I might not survive ‘til spring so I’d better get a wriggle on and do all of those things I’ve been procrastinating about for months. And if I do survive I need to make sure I’m on the front foot so investing time in tidying the garden now will make it easier to manage come March. Why do I feel the urge to reconnect with friends in the autumn? Is it because my inner Neanderthal thinks I might need my buddies to see me through the hard times to come? It’s a weird thing your sub-conscious…well mine is anyway. Still, my autumn mania has at least it chivvied me into writing again so I am not complaining.

Perhaps there is a biological explanation rather than a psychological one. Like birds knowing it’s time to migrate or leaves to change colour, maybe the reduced hours of daylight  affect my own diurnal hormone levels which in turn affects my behaviour? Although I guess if that’s the case then everyone would feel the same way come October (in the norther hemisphere at least) and I’m not sure they do. I wonder if there is any research on the matter…hang on… (returns ten minutes later)… nope. My Google search reckons people feel more depressed and fatigued in the autumn, mourning the departure of summer and dreading winter. So it’s just me then and a personality quirk rather than a natural biological instinct. Well that’s a shame and I am sorry if autumn is not your thing, it really can be stunningly beautiful, as the photo I took this time last year (at the top of this page) will testify.

autumn-lawn-careRight – less philosophical rambling next time and more substance Trowers. Until then, stay cheery my friends and enjoy the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” however you choose. I recommend catching the last of the year’s sunshine in the garden or on a country walk, with a beer at the end of the day to reward your labours.

Angels and Drunks

picture1

Dear Friends

This is a thank you letter from me to you. If you are not sure if I mean you personally, then ask yourself “have I laughed/cried/been hugged by or pissed with, this woman on several occasions?” If you can answer yes to at least two of those options, then chances are that yes, I do class you as a friend and therefore, yes, this applies to you, so pay attention.

At the risk of making you feel like inserting your fingers down your throat in disgust at my over sentimentality, I would like to tell you all how much I love you.

We may have known each other since childhood or for only a year or so. We may have shared a house at some point, been on holiday together or merely bonded in the 8 hours a day, 5 days a week proximity of the office. I may have spoken with you yesterday or (and sadly this is more commonly the case) not in the past 18 months. But I truly do love all of you, the old and the new, genuinely and sincerely.  You are, each in your own unique way, very dear to me and I feel lucky to have met you.  You have made my life richer and more enjoyable and whenever I despair of how cruel, heartless and unsympathetic so many people in the world can be, I remind myself that there are good, kind and decent folk still and that you, my friends, are testament to that.

Now that I have nauseated you/completely freaked you out (delete as applicable), I should hasten to add that I am not only sober, but also free from any other mind-altering substances and not in any imminent danger of dying, as far as I can tell.  The fact that this is written in (mostly) coherent sentences and then, glory be, actually posted on the dust bowl that is my blog, will add to the sincerity of my declaration, as you all know,

a) how long it takes me to write anything

b) how infrequently I post my musings and

c) how my usual declarations of affection for you are preceded by us sharing copious amounts of alcohol.

This sudden urge to publicly share my affection has been brought about by many months of musing on the nature of friendship and how blessed I am to know so many lovely people. Ok, I admit that some of you drive me nuts on occasion with your weird likes and dislikes, your stubbornness or irrationality etc. but I know that you must feel exactly the same about my own foibles. Perhaps the ability to cope with occasional mutual irritation without any lessening of fondness and respect is what makes an enduring friendship. And being able to take the piss out of each other, good-humouredly and without malice, is for me, one sign of a healthy relationship.

This is not only a thank you letter but an apology to those of you I rarely contact. I do not invest half as much time in our friendship as I would like and or as much as you deserve (which sounds uncannily like something Bilbo Baggins said to his guests at his birthday party!).  Nevertheless I am constantly amazed at how it is possible to go months or even years without seeing or speaking to some of you and then still be able to jabber away as if it were yesterday, when we finally do catch up. How lovely it is to feel so at ease and comfortable with each other,  to be reminded of that shared sense of humour and affection, and to know that if we needed to, we could share our deepest hopes and fears or our guiltiest secrets, without being judged.

This came to mind a year ago when I met up with my old university housemates for one of our bi-annual reunions. Here was a reasonably diverse group of people thrown together in a student flat in 1982. We all had different personalities and varied tastes and interests but somehow we bonded and became close friends who loved and supported each other.

After graduation we scattered across Britain and indeed, the globe. Nonetheless, in those early years we all kept in touch regularly and met up whenever we could. As mortgages, marriages and children came along, it became increasingly difficult to find the time to sustain the level of intimacy we had once all shared. But we never lost touch and still managed to get together every couple of years to catch up, reminisce and share news.

This particular reunion was especially poignant as we had lost one of our group to ovarian cancer earlier in the year.  Our dear, lovely, kind, intelligent and thoughtful Lizzie was probably the matriarch in our little gang. Indeed she was the first person I met on my very first day at university.  I arrived, scared and overwhelmed, and sat for ages in my breeze blocked, cell-like room crying. When I finally plucked up the courage to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, this quietly confident young woman came in, introduced herself in her lovely Yorkshire accent and started chatting. That was the start of our 33 year friendship.

Lizzie had always been the voice of calm and reason and the one who would organise us and gently whip us into shape while the rest of us procrastinated. She was the one to go to in a crisis, the one who shone the light of perspective and good humour. She was an amazing woman and will be sorely missed.

Meeting up with the rest of the gang for the first time since losing Lizzie made me appreciate them all over again. The ease with which we talked and laughed (and cried) was actually profoundly reassuring and filled me with love and gratitude.  I was reminded that although we all have busy and very different lives, we have a bond that will last a lifetime.

lennon-quoteI have close friendships beyond that little clique though. One set of friends (again 30 odd years in the making) are still so very dear to me even though I see them once a year at best these days. I still count them as some of our closest friends and fantasise about retiring next door to them somewhere, or at least holidaying together again as we have done on and off over the years.

But I stress again that I love ALL of you, my friends, in your own way. I have known many of you for my whole adult life and with good reason – you are awesome.

There are newer friendships too, such as those that have developed with the parents of our son’s friends. Our boy is a pretty good judge of character so his close friends, who are the nicest, funniest bunch of young people you could wish to meet, tend to have equally lovely parents, who have become our friends in their own right. These people are no less dear to me.

And of course those of you I met through work have kept me sane over the years. When you spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the same environment with someone you laugh with, discover similar interests and worlds views with, it is almost impossible not to become friends. It is not unusual to spend more waking hours with your colleagues than it is with your family in the average week so workplace friendships are most definitely important to me.  In the enforced intimacy of an office environment, I have met some brilliant, supportive, funny and kind people (and you all know who you are).  I have even managed to sustain friendships with a good number of you when we have both moved on work-wise, assuming you count intermittent emails, messaging and dinner once in a blue moon of course.

So there you have it – my love and gratitude to you all, dear friends. Although Mr Guy Garvey and his colleagues sum it up much more eloquently in one of my favourite Elbow songs (and incidentally one I want playing at my funeral as and when it happens!)

Dear friends
You are angels and drunks
You are magi

Old friends
You stuck a pin in a map I was in
And you are the stars I navigate home by.

Today it will be mostly…scorchio

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

What is that strange yellow orb in the sky?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a cup of tea out onto the sunny 10th floor balcony of the office I work in, for a quick lunch time break away from my desk. It was like stepping out of an aeroplane on the first day of a Mediterranean summer holiday – a wall of heat hit me as soon as I opened the door. I’m talking truly scorchio here, the kind of temperature more commonly felt lying on a sunbed with a good book, a cold beer and the tss-tss-tss of cicadas in the background. Bear in mind that I work in the centre of Manchester, the rainiest city in England and you will understand my shock. Much as I enjoy the heat, I think what I love even more are the expansive clear blue skies. There is something about the quality of light and the glint of sunshine sparkling on every reflective surface, be it the water of a swimming pool in France or the roofs of the cars on the city street ten floors below me,  which lifts my spirits even if I did not realise they were down. The joy of a clear, sunny day is a rare treat in my neck of the woods and one to be treasured irrespective of how many layers of clothing I have to wear to be comfortable outside in it. I have felt my heart sing under a crystal blue sky with ice on the ground in January, as loudly as it does when I hit the tarmac in Turkey or Crete.

I am not sure if there is an evolutionary reason why sunshine is such a pleasure, a release of
endorphins to make sure I soak up enough Vitamin D perhaps?  I should probably research it but I’m feeling lazy (sorry). Or maybe it’s just the shock of the new? A novelty because, having lived most of my adult life here in the north west of England ,truly clear, sunny days are precious gems. Perhaps if I lived in Australia or Africa I would take it for granted and never ever appreciate that little thrill that comes from turning my face tfacing the suno the sun, closing my eyes and taking a moment to enjoy the warmth. If I had to live and work every day in a hot, sunny climate would I crave a cloudy, rainy day instead? Would a grey sky thrill me as much as a cloudless one does now?  Somehow I doubt it. There might be relief from heat and light, but no joy surely.

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs on a beach in Turkey this year

Admiring the sunshine and shadows on my legs in Turkey this year

I also find that I slow down a little on sunny days, irrespective of temperature. Those lovely deep blue skies are such a pleasure that I always relax and enjoy it, knowing how fleeting they may be. My pulse and breathing slow down and the tension in my neck and shoulders dissipates. It makes me want to stay outdoors, and to sit for a while with a chilled beer (if it’s hot) or if it’s in December and cold,  a cup of tea and a McVitie’s digestive biscuit. Bliss. Sometimes I’m just so English…

Excuses, excuses

 

ExcusesI always know it’s time to start writing a new post when I find myself scribbling random notes on whatever piece of paper happens to be at hand, making lists of potential topics, or jotting down thoughts and observations which might spark a blog post. Time to bite the bullet and get busy typing. I have not had a productive year I know. The dust devils have been blowing forlornly across my blog for some time now and the few followers I have, must surely have despaired of reading  any more of my wit and wisdom. But, here I am, older, wiser, rested and ready to dump my brain onto the page once more. I have a list of subject matter ideas as long as a gibbon’s arm but I thought I would return with a light-hearted look at the excuses I have employed for NOT writing. Actually I suspect that these very same excuses have been used by many people for NOT doing many other things but I didn’t say I would be original 😉

  1. Too many quality box sets / TV series. I mean seriously – have you not seen Breaking Bad? Game of Thrones? Sherlock? Line of Duty?? Horizon??? Even Springwatch???? Superb stuff. I get quite cross with intellectually snooty “Oh I don’t watch TV” people in the same way that I don’t trust “non-readers”. Good TV makes me think just as much as reading a good book does and is no more anti-social. I have enjoyed many a stimulating conversation with friends and family comparing opinions on a character’s motives, or guessing what will happen next…
  2. Too much time spent playing Candy Crush. What started out as a “this is a fun way to spend 5 minutes while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil” has led me to level 347 where I have been stuck for some time. It is an addiction that I cannot bring myself to give up. I know I should go cold turkey and just uninstall it but it’s so damned compulsive and oh the pretty colours…
  3. Too much time spent on Facebook. I’m not as fixated as some people I know (I am mFB logoore of a reader than a commentator) but I do like to see what everyone else is up to and to check out the articles from the pages/people I follow. It’s another one of those things that begins as a “I’ll just have a quick look” and then before you know it, a whole hour has disappeared.
  4. Emotional overload. Regular readers will know that I had a pretty grim time last winter when my manager very sadly took his own life. I have written about this before so won’t re-hash it here but the emotional aftermath has taken many months to recover from. Eventually I made the decision to leave not only the project I had been working on with him, but the company itself and I made a clean break two months ago to take up a new job elsewhere. Which in turn led to…
  5. …intellectual overload. I always forget how exhausting it is starting a new job. The effort to concentrate and learn new processes, methodologies, cultural norms, people’s names and who to call when your PC doesn’t work, is physically and mentally tiring. For 8 weeks my brain has been on full alert and it is only just beginning to relax and allow me headspace for other things.
  6. Uncharacteristically long periods of decent weather. I live in the north west of England and most of you will know what that means… it rains – a lot. If you are not British and are unaware that the north west is any wetter than the rest of England then let me tell you that in 1982 when I first came to Manchester as an undergraduate, it rained every single day for 48 days on the trot. I genuinely contemplated building an ark. Happily,  this year our spring and summer have been fair and warm. The rain we have had may have been torrential but it has lasted for only a relatively short time (less than a week goddammit!) and consequently I have been spending a lot of my spare time pottering in the garden or relaxing outside with a cold beer rather than glued to the sofa with my laptop.
  7. Domestic demands. You know the sort of tedious stuff that you have to do to maintain a steady supply of clean knickers, your plate replenished with fresh food, the rats out of the kitchen, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. There is a school of thought that a tidy house is the sign of a wasted life, but I cannot relax for long in a dirty, messy home. I am a martyr to my anally retentive personality and have to spend time cleaning and organising my home environment otherwise I develop a nervous tic and a bad temper. I’m not completely OCD about it and my home is far from pristine but I have an acceptable level of tidiness and order which causes me distress if not sustained.
  8. Family demands. Aside from actually having to talk to the immediate loved ones in the same house, maintaining happy relationships with an extended family means investing time too. There is always someone, somewhere feeling neglected and left out or passed over in favour of someone else. It’s a fine art trying to keep everyone happy, not unlike twizzling flat, round ceramic objects on long poles. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all dearly and don’t begrudge time spent with any of them, but inevitably it means that I have less time to myself.
  9. Social demands and maintaining enduring friendships. See the previous point. If my family think I don’t spend enough time with them they should talk to some of my friends…years can go by without so much as a phone call. Happily, my true friendships survive anyway and it is always a delight to catch up with people I may not have seen for eons and find that we slip immediately into easy banter and chatter as if a mere week had elapsed.
  10. Personal health and fitness. I am not naturally sporty so keeping fit and healthy is a bit of an effort but I do think it is time well spent, even if it means I have less of it to write in.
  11. Not a trait I like to admit to but if I am being brutally honest with myself then there are plenty of times when I just can’t be bothered to think that hard and I just want to put my feet up in front of The Big Bang Theory.
  12. Sometimes it’s not the lack of will but the lack of energy caused by points 4,5,7 8 and 9!
  13. Provide me with two equally tempting (or equally dreadful) choices and I’m liable to dither a very long time. Provide me with more than two and you could be waiting for hell to freeze over. When I said that I had a list of writing ideas as long as gibbon’s arm, the downside of that is that I have to make decisions – not one of my key strengths.
  14. This is slipping further down the list of excuses as I am less sensitive to criticism in my old age but I do still feel anxious writing a new piece. What if I make a complete arse of myself? What if it’s just self-indulgent waffle? I am getting better at saying “what the hell, just go for it anyway it’s worth the risk”, but long gaps between articles doesn’t increase confidence!candy crush

So there you have it. A whole litany of sad excuses for not writing. I am sure I could think of a few more if I thought a bit harder or longer but I want to get this thing out there so I can crack level 347 – oops sorry – crack on with the next post…

 

Ripples and Reflections

reflectionsIn November I wrote a post (For the friend that never was…) in the immediate aftermath of the suicide of my line manager. Friends and followers of this blog, even those who had never met him, contacted me to say how deeply moved they were and to express their condolences and sympathies for Simon’s family, friends and colleagues. Now, nearly five months on, I feel the need to share my reflections with the sense of perspective and equanimity which only comes with the passing of time. Obviously I am writing from the point of view of a colleague and would-have-been friend, not on behalf of his family and loved ones. I cannot speak for them and should any of them ever read this I would ask them to forgive me for any sense of “intrusion”. It is not my intention at all to intrude upon other people’s private grief, particularly those close to him whose bereavement must be magnified many times beyond my own. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no right to compare my own emotional journey with theirs.

One of the many things I have learned in recent months is that grief is a deeply personal thing and everyone reacts and deals with it in their own way. I know this sounds like a cliché but it is, just like the other old cliché about time being a great healer, perfectly true. There are no shortcuts to coming to terms with loss and it has been an intensely painful and stressful period, but many of us, on the periphery of Simon’s life at least, are slowly, slowly “getting back to normal”. He is by no means forgotten and every single day someone in the team will mention him and we will pause and wonder, for the millionth time, how different things might be if he had not done what he did. But our tears are less frequent and our conversations less emotional. We can at least talk about him now without breaking down. Most of the time anyway.

Personally I dream about him less too. The first few weeks my dreams were frequently punctuated by vivid, intense images and emotional feelings of running after him as he escaped out of a ground floor office window, or drove away down the spiral exit to the multi-storey car park at work, whilst I shouted to a colleague below to stop him from leaving. All very meaningful and heart-breaking. Once a team-mate dreamt that he came up to her and said “It’s alright, I’m not really gone you know. Nothing really goes, it just turns into something else”. That one had us both snuffling into our paper hankies again the next day I can tell you.

Talking about Simon and sharing memories and feelings with my colleagues in the team he led, has been enormously helpful. We have drunk an awful lot of tea, shed countless tears and dispensed and received many hugs since November. I think he would be amazed and probably a little embarrassed at the depth of feeling we have all expressed at his loss. In conversation with one of my team-mates and obviously in one of my more contemplative moments, I likened the impact of his death to someone throwing a large stone into a pond. The immediate splash affected those closest to the centre, but the ripples spread out a very long way, from his immediate family and close friends, to extended family and friends, then on to neighbours, colleagues and casual acquaintances and finally even to people he had never met. I know that I was not alone in taking my grief home and offloading onto my own family. They were distressed by the news, saddened and sympathetic for Simon’s loved ones and also concerned about my emotional and physical health. They had never met him but his death touched them too and I’m sure he never could have imagined how complete strangers would be affected.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not an accusation or criticism and I doubt very much that even if he had known how widespread those ripples would go, he would have changed his mind at the crucial moment. But it was an observation which set me thinking about life as well as death. We all touch and affect so many more people in our lives than we ever realise and this is actually a rather beautiful thing. One of my favourite films, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, sort of sums up what I’m trying to say; that no matter how bleak, hopeless or meaningless your life may seem, you will have had a positive effect and changed the lives of many, many people for the better, even if you do not recognise it.

Of course I will no longer be able to watch that film without thinking of Simon and wishing that rippleshe had had his own personal Clarence to show him how meaning-full and positive his life actually was. It was obvious from the attendance at his memorial service (standing room only) how very many people cared about him and wanted to show their respects and celebrate his life. Clearly his kindness, consideration, sense of fun and personality had also rippled a long way from the core of his being. I mentioned in my first blog, how deeply private and introverted he was but he was loved and treasured by many, as a dear friend, father, husband, brother, son, neighbour and colleague. Listening to his close friends and relatives reminiscing about happier times and their affectionate memories of him was heart-rending but beautiful. Personally, I am trying to take some comfort from that – from the knowledge that so many people are the better for having known him and that despite the tragedy of his early death, his time with us will always be treasured and remembered fondly, even by those on the distant shores.

The Pros and Cons of Navel Gazing

I think I am suffering a recurrence of that interesting and absorbing medical condition known as “omphaloskepsis” (Greek) or “umbilicum spectans” (Latin) which results, as ever, in a crick in the neck and a perceived excess of belly button fluff. Alternatively known as “navel gazing”, this is a common problem for many people and can strike at any time although I myself am most often affected by it in the cold, dark days of January.  Everywhere I turn I am being urged to adopt a “New Year, New You!” lifestyle, or to resolve to become a fitter, healthier, happier, kinder, tougher, more adventurous, more successful person and this annual bombardment always makes me a little introspective and self-critical.

January is when I most often look at myself and notice the flaws that I try to gloss over most of the time. I pick over old scabs and rattle the skeletons in the closet. I ponder my weaknesses and lack of self discipline. I sigh over past failed resolutions and wonder whether this will be the year that I finally, finally shed that extra stone, break the sub 60 minute 10k run, pluck up the courage to read “The Road” (I have an aversion to “misery lit”), write a novel, spend noticeably more time with my family, catch up with friends that I have not seen for years, find a job that ICalvin & Hobbes love and that pays me enough to sustain my current lifestyle etc, etc. These are all ambitions that I have held or resolutions that I have made and broken over time. The only New Year’s Resolution that I have ever kept was the one resolving NOT to make any more. I know, in my heart of hearts, that I am too lazy and weak-willed to stick to anything else.

I have read untold articles and features about how to make resolutions that stick and how to achieve your dreams/how to succeed in life. I also have enough self awareness and knowledge of psychology (in fact I have an honours degree in the subject) to know that part of the reason why I refuse to make New Year Resolutions is because of my fear of failure. I expect to fail so why bother trying? Yes I know that sounds pathetic and before you suggest it, yes I have read “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”. Quite an interesting read but as with all self-help books I generally come to the conclusion that self-awareness is all well and good but inspecting your navel for too long can actually be a self-defeating activity. It’s too easy to become depressed at (insert your own personal demon here – mine is “lack of drive and resolve”) if you poke around in your belly button fluff for any length of time.

Usually by the second week in January I become bored of the crick in my neck and of sighing in self-disgust and my natural cheeriness and optimism kicks back in. I stop beating myself up for lack of resolve and reflect upon my past achievements and my potential instead. 2013 was a year of small, personal triumphs which are probably insignificant to most people but of which I’m proud nonetheless; I edited two novels (for my friend, the writer Michael J Holley), proactively sought out and acquired a new day job (as I’d been so bored in my previous one), kept off the extra stone in weight I’d lost the year before, ran sub 30 minute 5k on more than one occasion and… I didn’t give up writing.

Unlike many other activities I’ve started on a whim and then set aside over the years, writing is something I feel compelled to continue. For me,  it is often a response to navel gazing and a head full of noise, bursting with words that I must see zipping across the page to describe some inner contemplation, reflection or emotion. Expressing my thoughts and feelings in black and white helps lift my navel gazingline of sight up from my sagging, middle-aged tummy and clears my head. I am painfully aware that this sometimes leads to random, unstructured streams of consciousness for you, dear reader, but I make no apologies as the therapy is better than any self-help book I’ve ever read and much more creative than examining lint. Ooh perhaps my 2014 resolution should be to waffle less in my writing? Now there’s a thought…