Thursday, 31 December 2009

Reflections on 2009

It is the last day of the year. We are in a very wet Madrid getting ready to welcome in 2010. And my mind starts to reflect on the year gone by.

It has not been a great year. I went to three funerals, and would have attended a couple more had I been around. One of those took place early this week. And all were of friends hardly older than myself. Some other friends and relatives have taken ill during the year and will struggle to survive though next year.

All of that is very sad, but does of course put my problems in perspective. I have not greatly enjoyed work in 2009, I have frittered away a lot of my leisure time and I have procractinated when things needed to be done. All of which has been frustrating, but all of which can be improved in 2010.

So without the time to do a long, deep reflection on the year, I would simply class 2009 as a wasted year in many respects. But I am where I am. I cannot return to times and places now passed. So I should be thankful for my life, my friends, my family and especially my loving partner, Andrew. And I move on to a better and hopefully more interesting year in 2010.

We are going out this evening to a restaurant in the Chueca district of Madrid to see in 2010 Spanish style. Then tomorrow we take the train to Malaga.

I hope all friends enjoy New Year and achieve in 2010 whatever they wish for themselves. It is the first year of the rest of my life, and I will make the most of it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Particular Problem

I realise that this is a topic seldom mentioned. Yet it can define whether a day is going to be pleasant or not. It can dominate ones thoughts throughout the day if it becomes a problem. Yet is never thought of when all if going okay.

I refer to regular bowel movements.

I guess over Christmas in Scotland and now here in Spain, I have drunk less liquid than I should have. And most of what I have drunk has been alcoholic. The result is that I have become severely constipated. And this is not pleasant. I continue to put in more food at one end than is being expelled at the other end. So I am severely bloated, digestion is not good and sleeping is fitful at best. The more I try the more frustrating it is. I am now overdosing on Activia yoghurt and drinking loads of water. I am emptying my bladder very regularly. But still nothing is coming out at the other side. I make a lot of noise to little effect. Aargh.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Goodbye Scotland, Hello Spain

Once again we were lucky with the journey south. The road to Aviemore was tricky but drivable with care. The A9 was difficult in places, especially since the windreen washer had frozen. Temperature was minus 9C in middle of day. Then things improved, though traffic increased the further south we went.

Anyway we made in to Hitchin and after a night's rest we headed off to Madrid.

Which is where we are today. A very wet Madrid. Which has restricted sightseeing. But we are well settled in the Hotel Room Mate Oscar and looking forward to seeing in the New Year in Madrid.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas


Well, we got here. The journey could have been worse. Our timing was lucky - we seemed to pass some areas before the snow arrived and not reach other areas until the snow has stopped.


So today, me, my father, my sister and my boyfriend had Christmas lunch at the Ugie House Hotel in Keith. It was all very pleasant - and the snow gave the scene a magical quality.


So Happy Christmas to all.


Tomorrow we start the return journey.




Monday, 21 December 2009

Traveling to Scotland

I had hoped that there might be a thaw. But there won't. So our drive to Scotland is becoming increasingly risky. All Easyjet flights to Aberdeen before Christmas are full and there are no seats left in the train. So we have no alternative.

Unfortunately Andrew has a meeting on Tuesday lunchtime that apparently he cannot miss. So what we have decided to do is this. We will leave Hitchin around 6pm on Tuesday and drive for about 3 hours before staying in a Travelodge, probably around the Leeds area. Then we head off before dawn on Wednesday in order to give ourselves the best possible change of getting to Aberdeen early afternoon and thus getting to Keith before dark.

Normally we would drive M6 then up to Perth, leaving the A9 at Aviemore to drive to Keith via Grantown. But I think in view of the weather we'd be better going up the A1 to Edinburgh then up the east coast of Scotland to Aberdeen and along the A96 to Keith. I be checking the weather forecasts over the next 24 hours or so.

And then of course, at the weekend, we have to do the whole journey down south ready to catch the flight to Madrid on the Monday (a week today).

And just to make things even more tricky, Madrid has had some heavy snow and the airport is currently closed.

I think we've decided to do too much. But we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Scotland in Winter

Last week I had to go to Stirling for a regional meeting of AGI Scotland. Getting to Stirling from London for an 11am meetings meant a bit of an early start, but I made it.

I then took the opportunity to head up to Keith for a couple of days to see my Dad. The weather in Keith was glorious. Cold, yes. Frosty, yes. But crisp and clear with not a cloud in the sky. Breathing in fresh, crisp air was invigorating.

One day we went to Spey Bay. It was lovely to stand at the mouth of the Spey watching in the birds and the seals sunbathing in the low winter sun.

And at night, in the local park in Keith, there were myriads of stars twinkling in the black, cloud-free sky. Something I never see in London.

I am now back in London. But we are planning to drive all the way up to Keith on Wednesday. Which might be tricky given the current weather throughout the UK. I note from today's Press and Journal that the North-East of Scotland had quite a bit of snow overnight and that there were a number of accidents on the roads. Police suggest driving only when strictly necessary. So fingers crossed that the weather might relent before Wednesday.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Madeira

The day after we visited Tenerife, we docked at Madeira and again took a tour of the island. I enjoyed Madeira. Perhaps I wouldn't want to spend a fortnight there, but would be happy to go back for a few days.

Anyway here is the video I took -


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Tenerife

I have just returned from a couple of days in the North of Scotland (of which more later). I had some spare time so I edited some of the flip video footage I took on our recent cruise and uploaded it onto You Tube. Here is the day we spent in Tenerife, my first visit to the island -


Saturday, 28 November 2009

And the winner is .....

I don't often win anything. Though I often come close.

I guess it started at school. In my final year at primary school I got the 'Proxime Accessit' medal. (not sure if the spelling is correct). This is for the person coming second. The winner was, of course, the 'Dux'.

At age 16 I took up ski-ing and entered the North of Scotland Novices Cup. I came second, 0.3 seconds behind the winner - and 10 seconds ahead of the person who came third.

In 2002 I went to Sydney to represent Britain at golf in the Gay Games. I came 4th on countback and therefore just missed a medal.

I tried again at the 2007 Eurogames in Antwerp where I again I represented Britain at golf. This time I did win a medal, but it was silver. My playing partner won gold after sinking a 20 feet putt on the 18th hole to pip me by one shot.

Then, finally, on Thursday evening I won something. And it was entirely unexpected. It was our annual AGI awards dinner, taking place at the Royal Institute of Physicians. After dinner, the awards took place. Prizes were given for those who had submitted papers on a number of topics in the world of Geography. The final award of the night is the Past Chair's award. Given to someone who has contibuted to GIS and to the AGI in particular. The recipient does not know in advance that they have won. I was relaxing at our table when suddenly my name was announced as the winner. I was gobsmacked. And really chuffed.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

BBC Alba

I am not exactly a techno geek. I have a bog-standard pay-as-you-go mobile phone. No Blackberry. No i-Phone. I don't have sat-nav. I have a notebook PC but rarely use it. My Outlook diary is held in about 3 different places, so I often have to scribble reminders on bits of paper.

And I don't subscribe to Sky or Virgin satellite TV.

However I did recently replace my 20-year-old television with a new set - a 37in LG with freesat. And suddenly I have a plethora of strange free channels. My favourite of these is BBC Alba.

Three reasons -
  • The outside shots of the spectacular scenery in north-west Scotland shows off the picture quality of the new set.
  • I enjoy the music programmes from such places as Stornoway, Ullapool or maybe Eden Court in Inverness.
  • Live Scottish football.

So on Sunday I found myself watching the second half of the Challenge Cup final between Dundee and my beloved Inverness Caley-Thistle live from Perth. Just two small problems. The entire commentary was in Gaelic. And ICT were 2-0 ahead when I started watching and 3-2 down at the end of the match. Frustrating.

Back to Julie Fowlis live from Achiltibuie!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

November

I hate November. I always have. It is wet, windy and dark. The days continue to get shorter. And there is a long winter to look forward to.

Accordingly I feel lethargic in November. I realise all the things I haven't done during the year and the people I haven't seen. But it is not a month which pushes me to suddenly do those things. And so I will once again have the same New Year resolutions as I had last year - and the year before.

Andrew is in Tenerife delivering a talk to the Tourist Board, so I have the weekend to myself. A great chance to get things done. Yet here I am, Saturday afternoon, and all I have managed is a trip to Sainsburys and a couple of hours on the internet. What's wrong with me? Where has the energy gone?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Change in Government

The present Labour government seems to be resignedly heading towards defeat in the General Election which will have to be called before May. There is no sense of purpose any more; not even a pride in their achievements. And there undoubtedly have been some significant achievements.

I am still a member of the Labour party, but since it is unlikely that I will vote for them I guess it is logical that I should cancel my subscription.

If only they had managed to change leader when they had the opportunity six months ago.

Mind you, the Tories are increasingly shambolic. Their new links to right-wing homophobic parties in Eastern Europe frightens me. I have no confidence in George Osborne as Chancellor. And the thought of Liam Fox, Eric Pickles etc. in positions of power is frankly scary.

I am likely to vote Lib Dem just because they have been right more often than the other two parties. And they have a moral purpose that the other lack. But no doubt my vote will be a wasted one. It will not influence the result. The Tories will win. But at least I will be able to say -'Not my fault, Guv.'

It is just a pity that politics has become a decision between the lesser of evils rather than a potive statement about Britain's future.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Malaga on a Sunday

Whilst walking around Malaga on Sunday last week, I took some footage on my flip video starting early in the morning and finishing in the late evening. It is a bit longer than I had meant it to be, but anyway here it is -


Thursday, 22 October 2009

Back in UK

We returned yesterday from our 10 days in Malaga and on a cruise. It was a good relaxing break and the cruise was interesting - though not an experience I want to rush back into. Anyway no doubt I will have photos and videos to post in due course.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Age profile in Malaga

The is a curious dynamic about Malaga, espcially on Sundays and holidays. It is an age-based one. This morning I headed for the beach at about 10am. It is Columbus day - a holiday in Spain. So Malaga was relatively quiet. But the cafes were open for business and they were quite busy.

Then I noticed a curious phenomenon. There was no-one in the cafes, or on the streets, under the age of about 60. It was as though Malaga had suddenly become a gated community for the retired.

Yet last night when I walked around there was hardly anyone over the age of 30 in the bars and cafes. Malaga seems like a different city in the mornings and in the evenings.

As for those between the ages of 30 and 60, what do they do? Sit at home and wait until they are 60 so that they can go out in the mornings?

What is happening I guess is this. The youngsters stay out late with their friends. Concequently they don´t get up until about mid-day. The oldies meanwhile go to bed earlier and get up earlier. So the morning streets are full of oldies and the nighttime streets are full of youngsters.

It happens everywhere I suppose. It just seems to be more obvious in Malaga on a holiday.

Anyway I continued down to the beach and set up beside the oldies. At least it was quiet. And somehow I felt I belonged there. Which proves, I suppose, that I am an oldie.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Voy a Malaga

I've had a bit of a introspective few months. Busy but not always making good use of my time. Not getting the correct balance between work, rest and play.

So I plan to use my time in Malaga to relax and also to get myself more in balance ready for the autumn. I hope to return refreshed and invigorated. Ready to be more pro-active during the rest of the year.

And I intend to enjoy my time in Malaga and especially our 5 days on the cruise to Tenerife and Madeira.

Time to go.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hobbling around

I played tennis on Sunday. I was fine until I bent down to pick up a ball. Ouch! Something went in my lower back. And here I am four days later, still in agony and still hobbling around. Getting out of bed in the morning is excruciating. And putting on underwear is almost impossible. On Saturday I head for Spain - not sure how I will cope with Easyjet when I am feeling like this. But I am looking forward to getting the warm sun on my back.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Back from Gran Canaria

I had a really good few days in Gran Canaria. Some of the time was spent in visiting people or places on behalf of Andrew's travel company, Amro Worldwide. But I managed to relax, catch some sun, meet some interesting people and have some delicious food. I enjoyed staying at the Beach Boys Resort. Great place. Manel made us very welcome, as indeed did Nicky and Marcus. Thanks guys. As ever I took a short video -

Friday, 25 September 2009

Gran Canaria

Back from the AGI Geocommunity09 conference in Stratford-upon-Avon. Exhausted, but proud of what we achieved. I took this short video.





And tomorrow we head for Gran Canaria for a few days only to talk to appartment owners on behalf of Andrew's business, Amro Worldwide. I trust there will also be the opportunity to relax in the sun.

Monday, 21 September 2009

AGI Conference

We have our annual conference this week in Stratford-upon-Avon. Entitled 'Realising the Value of Place' it explores a huge range of topics in the world of Geography and GIS.

As last year, I have to run the quiz on the pre-conference Icebreaker evening. I also have to give the finance report at the AGM. I am, strangely, more nervous this year than I was last year. I'll be glad when the week is over.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Malaga Feria week

And so we are home now from Malaga and back to the routine in London. I enjoyed the break. Yes it was very hot and yes I didn't do as much as I should have done over there. But it is good to be in Malaga during their Feria week. The whole city comes alive and the visitor cannot help but be swept up in the enthusiasm that the locals feel for their city and their culture.

My final video of this series, is hopefully a small encapsulation of the sights and sounds of Feria Week in Malaga.


video

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Malaga Feria Ground

The action at the Malaga Feria ground does not even start until after midnight. Long after my bedtime! But we did stay up one evening and headed out to the Feria ground on a packed bus around midnight. We didn't stay right through the early hours, but were there long enough to wander round. And of course I had the flip video camera with me.


video

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

El Chorro

After Torcal, we headed for the lakes just beyond El Chorro. This remains my favourite place in the whole of the area above Malaga. Swimming in the lakes was great. And of course, I took a short video.


video

El Torcal

Away from the Feria, we drove to the top of El Torcal, a mountain near Antequera. I love the view from the top.


video

Monday, 24 August 2009

Malaga day 1 - Feria opening fireworks

We returned to the UK today after our 10 days in Malaga. It was a good relaxing break, of which you will hear in the following few blogs. I'd like to have done more and been more active, but when the temperature is well over 30C during the day and 25C at night, the energy levels are not what I'd like them to be.

Our first evening in Malaga marked the start of Feria week. This started with fireworks on the beach at midnight and we headed down there. So here is a short film taken at the Malagueta Beach.


video

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Back in Malaga

Today is the last full day of our 10-day stay in Malaga. The first few days were a bit frantic -we covered well over 1500 km. But now we have had a chance to relax and enjoy the Malaga feria week.

I would like to be doing more - but in this heat my energy levels are sapped and I need to just accept that. We have been getting up rather late, keeping out of the sun in the middle of the day, heading for the beach at about 5 pm, and generally eating and drinking rather more than is good for us.

I am gently turning brown and forgetting the worries of life. Let´s keep it that way for another day at least.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Lochnagar photos

I have put some photos of our Lochnagar climb here. And some below.

One of Scotland's top hill runners, Dario Malaragni, collaped and died on Lochnagar this week. A sad reminder that we must not push our bodies too hard. Thankfully we took the climb very slowly with a number of rest breaks. I was chuffed at getting to the top and a little bit emotional because of the place Lochnagar had within my family on my mother's side.















Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Lochnagar

Well, we did it. On Saturday, four of us climbed Lochnagar. It was tough, especially the climb up the boulder-strewn area to the left of the cliffs. On the way down, the steep path towards Loch Muick was not easy and the long final walk back along the shores of Loch Muick with tired legs seemed to take an age.

The weather was fantastic - we couldn't have selected a better day. Unbroken sunshine, light breeze, excellent visibility. I enjoyed the company - Colin and Gordon spurred Andrew and I onwards and upwards.

And so I fulfilled a pledge to myself to climb the mountain that my mother and father had both climbed, as had my grandparents and many members of the previous generation of my family, due to the fact that they lived in the shadow of the mountain. At the summit, I did allow myself some time to reflect on the fact that my mother had stood here as a teenager seeing the same view that I was seeing.

I will post some photos in due course. Meanwhile here is a short film I took during the ascent.

video

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Lochnagar

We are heading off tomorrow, around 6 am for Scotland. We will visit Andrew's Uncle and Aunt in Perthshire, pick up my Dad in Keith and then stay in Ballater. On Saturday we are planning to climb Lochnagar.

My Mother was born at the foot of Lochnagar and climbed it many times as a teenager. When she died last year, and I realised that I had never done the climb. I was determined to do that before I got too old or decrepit.

The weather forecast is not good, so that my put the kybosh on the attempt. But if we do reach the summit, it will be emotional realising that I am seeing the view that my mother (and indeed my grandparents) saw on many occasions.

I'll report back here in due course.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

London

Yesterday we went for a walk from Moorgate, via Spitalfields Market, Ledinhall Market, Monument, Southwark Cathedral, The Globe, Tate Modern and the South Bank Centre (where I used to work). I took the film shown below.


video

Afterwards we met some friends at the St Alban restaurant in Lower Regent Street which is rapidly becoming my favourite restaurant in London. The meal was excellent.

All in all, a good day.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Sow and Reap

Last summer, Amro Worldwide, our travel company, ran a series of adverts on the London underground. They were an attempt to reclain the phrase 'so gay' as a positive phrase whilst at the same time bringing our company to the attention of the gay community in London. We ran these ads in conjunction with 6 American states - 'California is So Gay' South Carolina is So Gay' etc.

And there the campaign would have ended. Except that Mark Sandford, the Governor of South Carolina, found out about the campaign, took exception to it, and demanded that the ads be removed. He sacked the employee of South Carolina Tourism with whom we had been working and ensured that we were not paid. He did this on grounds of morality.

Now, one year on, his own morality is laid bare for all to see. He has been having an affair in Argentina. He has a wife and four kids. And he may have to resign as Governor.

It serves him right for moralising at others. As ye sow so shall ye reap.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Dirt and Dust

In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinajad had described the protesters as 'Khas o Khashak' which is translated as 'dirt and dust'. This arrogant put-down is now been taken up by the demonstrators and used for their own purposes. One of Tehran's newspapers has now described the situation as the 'Epic of Dirt and Dust.' One of Iran's top singers has asked that his songs are no longer broadcast because 'apparently my music is the music of dirt and dust'.

The phrase has backfired on Ahmandinajad. But I guess in the scheme of things, this will make no difference. I was in Teheran in 1979 when all the demonstrations against the Shah were taking place. I saw them on the television and witnessed some of them at first hand. I remember one day there was a demonstration outside our office in downtown Teheran. As was often the case, the people in the front of the demonstration were unarmed women wearing their black chadors. The Shah's troops arrived and set up a machine gun post on the flyover above the demonstrators. Through loud hailers they told the crowd to disperse. They didn't. The troops opened fire. Some of the women in the front line fall to the ground. The other women simply stood firm. More shots were fired. More women fell to the ground.

It was at that moment that I knew that the Iranian revolution was going to succeed. The people were simply too numerous and too dedicated to the cause to be beaten. I don't have the same feeling today, though. The Shah had very little support and was only being sustained through force. Ahmadinajad may not have majority support from the people, but he has sufficient support from some of the people combined with support from the ruling mullahs and, of course, from the supreme leader. I suspect that the protest is doomed to fail.

But Iran cannot go back to the way it was. The authority of Khameini has been damaged. The strength of the opposition is there for all to see. The young people of Iran will continue to demand freedom. And slowly, bit by bit, they will get that freedom.

The world is a global village, now more than ever. And ultimately it is that aspect of the world which will, in my view, topple dictatorships all over the world. Iran, North Korea, China. They cannot last forever. But blood will be spilt; brave men and women will die for the cause of freedom. And we should be grateful to them for their ultimate sacrifice. It's not just their freedom. It is our freedom too.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Genie in the Bottle

In 1978 I was living and working in Iran. The Shah was in power and any resistance to his regime was brutally suppressed by SAVAK, the secret police. Then he was forced by the West to relax some of the excesses of his regime. This allowed some protests to start, fuelled by the Ayatollah Khomeini from his base in Iraq and then in Paris.

When the Shah tried to stop the protests, he could not do this. The genie was out of the bottle. So the protests mounted and eventually in February 1979 the Iranian Revolution happened, the Shah was forced to flee and the Ayatollah returned. I was in Teheran during all of this time.

Now the same is happening again. The people were given limited freedom during the election campaign. When the result was announced and it turned out to be fraudulent, the regime assumed that they could carry on as before. But once again the freedom genie was out of the bottle and could not be put back in. So the protests have mounted and the regime does not know what to do.

Now of course I do not know how it will all end up. The power lies with the state and if they use this in a violent manner, no doubt they can defeat and terrorise the people into meek acceptance. But for how long? Once a people have tasted freedom, they remember that taste. And one day that freedom will come. Often many lives are lost in the gaining of the freedom. But remember, there is not enough darkness in the whole world to extinguish the flame of a candle.

My thoughts are with the brave demonstrators on the streets of Teheran and other Iranian cities. I hope they retain the courage of their convictions but also the sanity to remain true to their non-violent aspirations. They have my admiration. I am fearful but fascinated by what is happening. Keeping my fingers crossed for the democratic process in Iran is a feeble gesture.

But, at present, it is all I can do.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Alas, poor Gordon

On Thursday I went into the polling booth without a clear idea for whom I would vote. That has never happened to me before. I am a paid-up member of the Labour party and I have voted Labour in every recent election. So the dilemma should not have arisen.

But in the end I could not vote for the Labour candidate this time. I am so disappointed, not necessarily in the policies, but in the inability of the party, and the leader in particular, to communicate its ethos and achievements to the British public. Franky the current leadership are pathetic. And Gordon Brown, for all his intellect, simply lacks the rounded skills necessary for a Prime Minister.

So I voted for the Liberal Democrats. They have the right blend of economic and social policies. Their leader is persuasive, their Treasury Spokesman is calm and rational and their support of minority causes is admirable.

My vote made no difference of course. The Liberal Democrats did not make any advance. They remain as far away from government as ever. But by voting, and by giving serious consideration to who is deserving of my vote, I feel that I have earned the right to criticise those who I feel are worthy of criticism.

Now I expect more of all mainstream political parties. Partly this is to halt the growth of the far right. And partly this is to improve the level of political debate generally. So go to it.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Backyard Culture

It is strange, but very true, that it takes the visit of some faraway friends to prompt us to see what is in our local area.

Yesterday two very dear friends from South Beach in California came to visit us in Hitchin. Having joined English Heritage just a week ago, we decided to show them out three nearest properties, none of which we have ever visited. These were Houghton House near Ampthill, De Grey Mausoleum in Flitton and Wrest Park near Silsoe.

It was a really enjoyable day. The stark ruin of Houghton House, the inspiration for John Bunyan's 'House Beautiful', dominated the surrounding landscape, the Mausoleum of the De Grey family is a huge sepulchral chapel and the gardens at Wrest Park are vast and impressive.

We also had a great lunch in Ampthill and an excellent dinner in Hitchin to round off a varied and interesting day.

As ever, I took the flip video, and here is the result -



video

Thursday, 4 June 2009

AGI GEOCOMMUNITY09

I have just come back from a very successful couple of days in Stratford upon Avon where we have been putting together the programme for the annual AGI Conference which will take place there in September.

It's been a bit like baking a cake. We had 120 ingredients in the form of submitted papers. We selected the best of these ingredients, decided on the order in which these should be used in the cake and on the layers of that cake. Then we looked at the overall look of the final product, akin to the icing on the cake. It looks good and will taste excellent. In other words we have a fantastic conference to look forward to.

I took some video shots but in the editing process I managed to inadvertently delete all the shots I took this morning of the River Avon and the swans. I am pissed off about that. In future I will save all clips before I try to edit them. So I am left with just a shell of the video of some of the moments during the process of discussing the content of the conference - and the food.

Here is a short extract.



video

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Malaga Cathedral

The cathedral dominates the centre of Malaga, Here is a short film I took on Sunday in and around the cathedral.


video

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Malaga

I have now returned to the UK from Malaga. Spent 30 minutes freezing cold at Finsbury Park station realising why I like Malaga so much.

I took a few videos on my flip. I am only just realising that it is best not to use the zoom and to keep the camera still. But anyway here is a view of the local beach in Malaga.



video

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Malaga

We are spending a few days at our flat in the centre of Malaga. It is a chance to relax away from the stress of working life.

I had a great birthday on Wednesday spending a few hours on the Malagueta beach before heading for dinner at our favourite restaurant in Malaga, the Vino Mio. Helene was great, giving us free Cava before the meal and a free bottle of wine to take home. And the meal, as always, was fantastic.

I have managed a few hours on the beach every day, although there was quite a strong wind yesterday and today. And the rest of the time has been spent wandering round Malaga chilling out. I am feeling very calm.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Pushing for freedom

In the past I have always had admiration for Peter Tatchell while at the same time not always being in agreement with his methods. But during the last 30 years, the winning of equality for the LGBT has come from a combination of the quiet diplomacy of Stonewall and the more direct action of Outrage.

After what happened to Peter two years ago in Moscow, it was courageous of him to return to show solidarity for those who simply wanted to march peacefully in Moscow on Saturday asking for equal human rights.

It was inevitable that the Moscow authorities would ruthlessly suppress the demonstration and so they did. I was disappointed that no entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest showed any sign of solidarity with those who are arrested.

I have been on a number of demonstrations in the past, most notably against Section 28. But I would not have the courage to do what Peter did, not the courage of Nickolai Alekseev who has put his head above the parapet. So I can only express my admiration for them.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tolerance

I was born in the North of Scotland. I was christened in the Church of Scotland (Hilton Church, Inverness), went to Sunday School in the Church of Scotland (Crown Church, Inverness) and even today, when my belief is somewhat shaky, I occasionally, when back in Scotland, go with my father to the local Church of Scotland (North Church, Keith).

My fundamental beliefs have changed, but I always at least had the comfort that the Church of Scotland was more modern and more tolerant than, for example, the Church of England or the Catholic Church.

Now that assumption is being challenged. An assistant minister at Brechin Cathedral, Scott Rennie, has applied to become minister at the Queens Cross Church in Aberdeen. He came up to that church, preached a sermon, met the congregation and told them all about himself. They then voted, as is the custom within the Church of Scotland, and over 80% of the congregation supported him as their new minister.

And there it should have finished. An unremarkable story and part of the ongoing progression of ministers within the Church.

But a dozen people at the Queens Cross Church objected to his appointment. And instead of bowing to the democratic process, they determined to overturn the decision. Was he a poor preacher? No. Was he in an unstable relationship? No. So what was so objectionable about him? His partner was of the same sex.

He had been completely open about this when he subjected himself to the congregational vote. But that didn't matter. And now these 12 people have got 7000 names on a petition, most of them outside Scotland. They have the support of fundamentalist American churches. And apparently they now have the support of over 20% of all Church of Scotland ministers. So the full committee of the Church of Scotland have to decide whether to ratify the decision of the congregation of Queens Cross Church. Or overturn it.

My view is straightforward (no pun intended). If a Christian church does not preach love, tolerance and understanding, then it loses all credibility. If it panders to the dogma of those advocating hatred, however many of them there are, it loses its fundamental goodness. And if it moves back hundreds of years instead of moving forward through the 21st century, it loses its relevance.

The decision is not difficult. It should support Scott Rennie, support his congregation and ratify the appointment. In this way it can once again be a vibrant church at the heart of the community in Scotland.

Will it make the decision in that way? Watch this space.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Dear Diary

I was tidying the garage this morning and came across some old diaries. They make interesting reading for me and help me remember how I saw things at the time. In particular I was looking at diaries from 1979 and 1989 - 30 and 20 years ago respectively.

On 12 Feb 1979, I started my entry as follows. 'I am writing the first part of today's report in the morning in case I don't survive the whole day'

Yes I know - melodramatic as ever! And then I continued. 'The shooting has been incessant and very close to us. At one point this morning, Richard and I were in the back yard listening to the gunfire when a bullet whizzed past us and embedded itself in the wall about three feet above us. Never have I felt so close to death. Never have I been so scared.'

Yet here am I 30 years later, fit and well. Reasonably fit and reasonably well, at least. Certainly still alive.

In 1979 I was living and working in Teheran. We found ourselves in the middle of the Iranian revolution. In February, we were house-sitting for a Swedish client who had taken his family back to Sweden because the situation was too dangerous for them. But not apparently too dangerous to ask us to look after his house. Which just happened to be situated close to Niavaran Palace where the bulk of the fighting was taking place that day.

Later that day I wrote - 'The airport is closed so our journey away from all this, though increasingly necessary, appears less likely. I moved my bed away from the window for safety and was woken up many times during the night by barrages of machine gun fire'.

The surreal aspect of it was was highlighted in my entry the next day. ' This evening we had an enjoyable Chinese meal but were stopped twice on the way home by gunmen'.

Anyway a couple of days later, the RAF flew an evacuation flight into Teheran airport and we scrambled aboard. And off we went to RAF Akrotiri. The Iran adventure was over.

30 years later, I have never returned to Iran. But I want to. The people were friendly, the countryside was amazing and the whole adventure was a fascinating part of my life. I have watched over the past 30 years as the Americans have adopted the wrong policy over Iran and have strengthened the hardliners. I just hope Barak Obama might assist the bulk of the Iranian people who just want to live their lives in peace and security following their own religion and their own lifestyle without interference. And one day I still hope to return, albeit just for a holiday.

Then I had a look at my diary for 1989. Exactly 20 years ago today, I went to the Place Theatre to see a performace by Wim Vanderkeybus. And yes I still remember that performance.

The weather in May 1989 was hot. On my birthday on the 20th, I had been playing tennis with Jon, Sue and Denise and they gave me a cake. Again I remember that day. Sadly, I have no idea where Denise is, and I have been very lax at keeping in touch with Jon and Sue.

And work was a bit fraught in May 1989. I was working at the Royal Festival Hall and the finances were not good. I was doing the management accounts and delivering bad news, which did not go down very well. But we got through that period and I worked there for another 16 years.

My personal life was rather complicated in 1989. I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. I had met David in Southampton and was having an emotional roller-coaster with Howard. I had started to go to Turning Point and had discovered gay theatre. But I was still going out with Liz.

At the end of the year, the end of the decade, I wrote the following in my diary. ' Above all the eighties have been a decade of wasted opportunities, of playing safe.' I think I learned over the next 20 years that that was not good enough. And I am in a better place now because of that. Once again I quote the Buddha - 'As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you may miss most of your life'. I think I do now fill my life with being where I am rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future. And that's good.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Bank Holiday golf

I have been down in Weston-super-Mare for three days playing golf with the Irons Golf Society. It has been a really enjoyable three days, although my golf scores - 36pts, 30pts and 28 pts - moved in the wrong direction! Mainly, though, it has been great to catch up with those guys I know but haven't seen for some time, and to meet some new guys as well. I am grateful to the whole group for their friendliness and for being fun to be with. Grateful, also, to the guys who organised the weekend so well.

The weather was good, if a bit windy. And I enjoyed all three courses, the three 'W's - Worlebury, Woodlands and Wedmore.

Here is the short (and slightly out of focus) video I took.


video

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Queen of the Desert

Last night we went to see Priscilla at the Palace Theatre. It was fabulous. The cast were excellent, especially Oliver Thornton as Felicia. The production was amazing. The costumes were outrageous. And the bus was the star of the show.


I defy anyone to go to see this show and not feel great afterwards, however bad a day they may have been having. It is just a great show and a great night out. Highly recommended.


Monday, 27 April 2009

It's a tough life

I try to get on with my life, overcoming setbacks, dealing with emotional problems, working hard and getting some time to play. It's not always easy.

Then we have an economic crash. Not my fault, but suddenly my financial future is uncertain.

Then we have global warming. Not my fault, but suddenly the future of the planet is uncertain.

Now we have a possible flu pandemic. Not my fault, but suddenly the future health of the nation is uncertain.

And certainty becomes the most uncertain concept. I have to expect the unexpected.

But what can I hang on to? What is left to believe in? Not a lot.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Could it be stress?

Today I went back to the doctor.

Firstly I had not heard the results of my blood test. Thankfully, it was all normal.

And secondly I am still suffering from this allergy. The doctor reassured me that it was likely to be a genuine allergy rather than anything more permanent or more serious. He said that I might have had an allergy for years without knowing it, but a bout of stress could have triggered if to react more obviously. And I guess for a number of reasons I have been under some stress recently. But how I reduce that I don't exactly know.

So for the moment I continue with the anti-histamine tablets. And I try not to scratch too much.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

A weekend in Scotland

Both my sister and I went up to Scotland for Easter to be with my father. It was an exhausting and sometimes emotional weekend. We did a lot. And the weather was fantastic.

On Friday I played 18 holes of golf in Keith and my Dad walked some of the way round with me and hit a few balls as well. The highlight was my 3 wood of 200 yards on the 15th which ended up 12 inches from the hole. I sank the putt for a birdie.

On Saturday we went in to Aberdeen to see my aunt and cousin and also to go to Pittodrie to see Aberdeen play Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Bit of a scrappy match to be honest, but a fun day.

Sunday saw us heading to Inverness for lunch at the Rocpool Reserve restaurant. Fantastic meal. After going to Eden Court we then headed for Dores on the shores of Loch Ness where a number of people were sunbathing and some were even swimming in the loch.

And on monday we went over to Deeside to lay a wreath on the family grave to mark exactly a year since my mother passed away. Then we headed for Braemar and back via Huntly. Another hot and sunny day in one of my favourite parts of the world. Here is a short video I took.



video

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Protests outside the office

The AGI office is in Bishopsgate in the heart of the city and close to the Climate Exchange. So today, when the various protests took place to coincide with the G20 summit, one of them, the global warming protest, was in the street right outside our office.

I was at a meeting elsewhere in the morning, but returned to the office in the early afternoon to find the road closed and a tent city in the middle of the street. Other protests were more tense, but this one was calm and peaceful.

I was able to get into work and to get out again, although security was tight.

I took this short film on my flip video in the late afternoon.


video

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Is it me?

I flew up to Aberdeen from Luton on Friday. Almost.

We were about to land when the aircraft accelerated and then the pilot announced that due to poor visibility we were diverting to Edinburgh. So we had to travel the last bit of the journey by bus. Arrived Aberdeen airport after midnight. No onward transport of course. I finally arrived in Keith 12 hours late.

Then the warm weather, which they had had all week disappeared. Yesterday we drove through a snowstorm to get to Aberdeen.

Why do I always seem to have this effect on transport and weather?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A day in London

I live in London. But I rarely go into London except for work or to meet friends. And Andrew works too hard without a break, even at weekends. So I suggested that today we spend a day in London. Which I organised and we did.

The best efforts of First Capital Connect to thwart this plan were overcome.

So firstly we had lunch at the West End Kitchen in Panton Street. Cheap and cheerful.

Then we went to see 'Milk' at the Apollo Cinema. A really excellent film. Great acting, sharp cinematography and of course a moving and uplifting story despite the fact that we all knew of the tragic death of Harvey Milk at the hands of one of his fellow members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Quick tube journey to the Natural History Museum to see the Charles Darwin exhibition. A fascinating exhibition marred, as nearly all successful exhibitions are, by there being simply too many people trying to go round and blocking the exhibits.

Back to Regents Street for dinner at the St Alban restaurant. Not one I had been to before. The meal was fantastic. The best Paella I have ever had in this country.

And finally coffee at Balans in Old Compton Street.

A lovely day.

We must do this sort of thing more often. Otherwise what is the point of living in London?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lochnagar


I have just booked to stay in Ballater at the Glen Lui Hotel from 3rd to 6th July. Purpose of the trip is to climb Lochnagar. My mother did this many times as did my grandmother. And I never have. It will be too late to be able to tell them that I have done it, but I want to see the mountain in the way they saw it.


I will invite some friends and family to join us and hopefully make this a combined reunion and group climb. I just hope the weather will be on our side.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

New Car?


I don't do a great deal of driving. I commute to work on the train and apart from trips to the golf or tennis club or visits to my boyfriend, my car spends most of its time in my garage.


Currently I own a 9 year-old Renault Clio which has done only 37,000 miles. But when I put it in for a service last year, it cost £1,000 to get it through the MOT. Maybe now is the time to look for a new car.


So today, we went to Cambridge to look at the new Hyundai i20. I was very impressed. It was larger and more solid than I was expecting, the driving position was great, it has all the new connections for an ipod, mp3 etc., sufficient room for in the boot for the golf clubs and generally looked really good. And cost under £9,000. So now I am pondering whether to make this significant purchase.




Thursday, 5 March 2009

I.C.T.

It has been a very disappointing season for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. And of course for the fans of whom I am one.

The disappointment culminated in the 8 league defeats in a row which took us to the bottom of the Scottish Premier League and let to the dismissal of Craig Brewster, the manager. Terry Butcher , the new manager, seems to have instilled a new backbone, new determination and new confidence. Nonetheless, we were still bottom of the league yesterday when the team travelled to Ibrox to play Glasgow Rangers who were top of the league.

No chance there then. But football is a strange game. The result was Rangers 0 Inverness CT 1.

When I heard the result late last night, I probably woke up all of the neighbours as I screamed YESSSSSS. Great result. We are off the bottom. And my hope has been restored.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Blood Test

Today I went to see my GP. For nearly three months I have been suffering from an allergic reaction. But I do not know to what I have developed an allergy. Every day I have skin rashes and itching in varying places. I have eaten no new food, used no new shower gel, used no new moisturising creams. I have been taking anti-histamine tablets which have helped, but today I decided to see the doctor.

She said that it might just be a straightforward allergy, but wanted me to go to Barnet General Hospital for some blood tests. Apparently this could be a sign of something more serious - diabetes for example. Which is a bit scary. So on Monday I head to the hospital for a blood test.

I don't know whether to have a drink in order to calm down or not have a drink in order not to exacerbate the condition.

Spring Cleaning

I have taken 3 days off work partly to do some cleaning and tidying around the flat. But when I take a day off, I wonder where the time goes. Perhaps some goes on looking at the internet. Perhaps I am writing this blog when I should be cleaning the bathroom. Perhaps I am just inherently lazy. Whatever the reason, I never get as much done as I would like.

Anyway time to stop blogging and start cleaning.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A Last Long Lingering Look

I was in Keith over the weekend helping my Dad finally move the remnants of his stuff out of the family home. By Sunday we were done. I locked the front door and walked out of the family home for the last time.

But not before I took this short film.


video

Missing Dad is found!

My Dad went missing on Monday. Or to be more precise, he had been into Foresterhill hospital in Aberdeen for an eye injection. I had word that he had boarded the 3.20 p.m. train in Aberdeen for the one-hour journey to Keith, but that there was blood in his eye and he could not see very well. The was a taxi waiting to meet this train and take him the 5 minutes to his new sheltered housing cottage.

I rang his mobile at 5.30 p.m. - no response. I rang his home - no response. I did the same at 6.00 p.m. - no response. Again at 6.30 p.m. - no response. There was, as far as I was concerned, no explanation other than that he had collapsed or fallen over on getting out of the train. I was ready to phone round the hospitals.

But I called him again at 7.00 p.m. He was at home having a glass of whisky! 'Oh, were you worried?' he said. It turns out that he had not boarded the train. Because of his eyesight, he had gone to the wrong train on the wrong platform. By the time he realised his mistake, the correct train had left Aberdeen station. So he had to wait two hours for the next train. But didn't think to switch on his mobile phone.

It is a pity that the NHS asks a 92 year-old to make the 60 mile journey from Keith to Aberdeen without ascertaining how he is going to be able to do this. Neither my sister nor I can always travel up to Northern Scotland from Southern England to help him with this journey.

But I guess all's well that ends well.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Selling the Family Home



Last month I went up to Keith in Northern Scotland to help my dad move from the family home into sheltered accommodation. Since neither I nor my sister are never going to move up there, the logical next step was to sell the family home. My mum and dad had lived there for 41 years and I lived there when I went to school in Keith, plus on numerous visits subsequently, so parting with it is going to be an emotional experience. If only I could have lifted it and placed it down here in London.




We put in on the market on the Tuesday and expected that the sale would take months. By the Friday we had accepted an offer!




So this weekend I head back to Keith to remove items from the house. The actual sale happens at the end of the month. I'll stay in the house which will be weird for two reasons. It will be the first time I have ever stayed in the house on my own. And of course it will be the last time I will be able to stay there.




Logically it is the correct thing to do, and getting such a quick sale, and at the asking price, was great. But excuse me if I shed a small tear before I return back to London on Sunday.








Monday, 16 February 2009

Snowdrops


On my way to work this morning, I saw a large number of snowdrops in a churchyard. Snowdrops are my favourite flower. Two reasons I guess. Firstly it is a very pure flower; no frippery, just clean lines and pure white. Secondly it is a very symbolic flower, marking a hope that winter is ending. But it bravely pokes its head above the ground before being sure that this is the case. So it is a triumph of hope over expectation.


Friday, 13 February 2009

More from Malaga

Another video I took last week, this time in the evening in central Malaga after a very wet day. I have also been able, I think, to download it to You Tube, from where I am picking it up. I am rather chuffed that I have been able to so this. What I now need to do is take some rather better-quality videos.


Twitter

I have been persuaded to join Twitter. Partly this is in order to be part of a Twitter group at work. I have yet to be convinved of the benefits, but we'll see. I have added the latest updates to the right hand side of this site.

Monday, 9 February 2009

My first video

Recently I bought a flip vide camera. The quality is not great, but it is fun. This is a video I took last week in Malaga. My first video.




video

Friday, 6 February 2009

Back in the UK

My flight from Malaga was due to land just after mid-day on Monday at Luton Airport. I actually landed just after midnight on Saturday morning at Gatwick. Four and a half days late. Nearly 100 miles away from where I expected. All because of the snow in England which led to two flights being cancelled.

And somehow I expected London to be covered in over a foot of snow. In fact there was only a few inches. Why was Luton airport closed on both Monday and Friday. I really don't know. Don't they have gritters at the airport?

Easyjet were very good and very professional. They found us the best alternative flight, they put cancelled passengers up in local hotels at Easyjet's expense and generally they did their best.

I am just glad to be back home.

Marooned in Malaga - still

This morning I headed again for Malaga airport to catch my reartranged flight - 4 days after the original flight. When I got to the airport, and looked at the departures board, I saw the dreaded two words - ´´flight cancelled´.

So back I trundled into Malaga. Four journeys to the airport so far - there and back on Monday; there are back today.

I have been put on tonights flight to Gatwick. I just keep my fingers crossed that that flight will happen. It will still be a long journey home.

But I do want to get home. I want to see England´s white and pleasant land.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Marooned in Malaga

We spend last weekend in Malaga on a short break. I went to the airport on Monday for my EasyJet flight back to Luton. The flight was showing a 2 hour delay. So I went off to a corner to read a newspaper. Which meant I missed the change in status to ´flight cancelled´. Indeed all EasyJet flights to England had been cancelled, due to the snow. When I did find this out, I went straight to the EasyJet desk. The queue was enormous. It took me 3 hours to get to the front of the queue. By which time all alternative flights were full until tomorrow, Friday.

So I have had to spend 4 unexpected days in Malaga. Which would have been okay, I guess, except that it has not stopped raining here. And now apparently the forecast for Luton tomorrow is not good. I am not sure that I can cope with another flight cancellation. Maybe I should just stay in Malaga until summer kicks in. ´Don´t book a flight til May is out.´

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Can it be Different?

At 5pm this evening I was about to board the bus for Aberdeen and then onwards to London. Across in Washington DC it was 12 noon. At last, after 8 long and painful years, we were about to see the end of George Bush’s time as USA president. Barak Obama was about to be sworn into office.

And suddenly the world seemed a better, more hopeful place. Am I wrong to have such high expectations? Well few, if any, politicians in my lifetime have fulfilled my initial hopes. But this time I do think it might be different. We have a person in the highest office of the world’s most powerful country who certainly has intelligence and also appears to have integrity and pragmatism.


And so I hope for a better, less divisive world. The audacity of hope.

Monday, 19 January 2009

All Change

For years I had somehow assumed that .life would continue as before indefinitely. I would go to work, have the occasional holiday and enjoy myself as best I could. Day would follow night. Summers would turn into winters and back again. Nothing much would alter.

Then three years ago I was made redundant which rather shattered the work certainties. And last April my mother died which changed the family certainties.

And this weekend another certainty changed. I was up in Keith to help my Dad move into sheltered housing and out of the house in which he had lived for 40 years - the house in which I had lived for my last two years of schooling and had visited regularly ever since.

The move went very well, and Dad is happy in the smaller, warmer place. He no longer has to think about the garden, or repairs to the house. He no longer faces the memories of the past as he walks through empty rooms. He no longer has to climb stairs. And he now has a warden on call. For someone of 92, this is a comforting change.

But neither my sister nor I want the family home. So it has to be sold. But it was really disconcerting to see it with a ‘for sale’ sign outside. And suddenly strangers are going round to view it with the possibility of buying it. Yes of course on a practical level, I would like to see it s ell. But on an emotional level, it’s all quite difficult.

Time moves on and things do change. I must not be afraid of that. I simply need to accept the changes and move on.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Alcohol-free January

I am well into my alcohol-free month. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision and not a well planned intention. But I just decided to keep clear of alcohol in January. Yes I guess it was partly to ensure that I could. But it was also to see if at the end of that period I would feel any better or weigh any less.

It has not been easy. Sometimes I long for a glass of wine. And I am not sure if I do feel any better, yet. Perhaps my liver is relishing the respite from having to cope with regular alcohol. And I am beginning to lose some weight.

I still have this allergy, but I cannot blame that on lack of alcohol. Let's see how things are in say a weeks time.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Allergy

I have developed an allergy. Trouble is, I don't know to what I am allergic. It started in mid December. And it is still a problem. From time to time, I start to get very itchy somewhere on my body. If I scratch, then that part of my body gets very hot, turns very red and gets even more itchy. Five minutes later it is fine again. This particularly happens on the back on my neck, on my back and underneath my arms. I have started taking anti-histamine tablets which are having a beneficial effect.

I guess I will not solve this until I discover to that I am allergic and stop taking whatever it is. I don't want to have to take tablets indefinitely. I am not particularly aware of suddenly eating or drinking anything different to normal. After much thought, I have decided that the only change in December was that I bought a bottle of 'Thursday Plantation' Tea Tree hand and body lotion from the organic shop in Hitchin. So I will ensure that I do not use that and hopefully I might see some improvement in my condition. It hasn't happened yet, though. It is not particularly painful, it is just very irritating. Literally.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

New Year in Scotland



My Dad and I were kindly invited next door to see in the New Year. During the day on Jan 1st I mainly stayed at home. This picture was taken in the back garden.


Then on the 2nd Andrew kindly drove from Murthley to Keith to pick me up and take me back to stay in Murthley with his uncle and aunt for a couple of days.


It was a freezing cold day and I was worried about the state of the roads, but Andrew arrived safely, we went for lunch in Fochabers and headed off for Murthley, with me driving, before dark. I had to concentrate on the driving, but was occasionally able to look at the scenery, which was spectacular. The trees and bushes were still white with frost. The sun started to set and the sky turned red. And there was a layer of freezing fog, but only for a few feet above the ground. So I remember just past Grantown looking over to the Cairngorms, the setting sun lighting up the silvery treetops and reflecting off the layer of fog which had blanketed the ground. It was beautiful.

On Saturday Andrew and I drove via Crieff to just outside Callendar where we met my second cousin and his wife, whom I had not seen for years. Again it was a crisp and cold day and we had a wonderful walk along the disused railway line, before having lunch at the Lade Inn. Then we journeyed back via Stirling. In the evening we had dinner at the Tayside Inn near Murthley. It had been a good day.

I wasn't looking forward to the drive home on Sunday, but actually it was not a bad journey and I was home in North London by 4pm.

I always enjoy my visits to Scotland. Of course this one was tinged with the sadness which came with remembering that it was my first New Year without my mother. Nonetheless it was an enjoyable visit. Now I must get ready for work on Monday and for the year ahead.