Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Identity crisis?


Yesterday I blogged about my many alter egos I could find in the virtual world. Tonight's post is more about the identity crises we can all face in our real lives.

It was the fact that today is St Andrew's Day that got me thinking about it - you know, St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Do I consider myself to be Scottish or British - or even European or a global citizen? My nationality is British - it's a British passport I hold, but my national identity is probably Scottish. I was born in Edinburgh but I consider myself a Fifer. But I currently live in Stirling and have a strong sense of pride in this great little city.

Am I my job? Or my marital status? Am I defined by my religion? Or which team I support? I'm a sister and daughter - is that who I am?

Or am I just me? Unique and special in every way, and like no-one else on this planet.

One things for sure, however, I am my cat's feeder - and just now he's hungry so I'd better go pay him some attention!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Infamy


Now, be honest - have you ever googled yourself? And if so, what did you find?

According to Google, I am variously:
I would also appear to be at least 164 years old. I reckon I'm wearing pretty well!!

Ok, so they're not all me - but it's fun finding your alter egos. But what happens when you do search for yourself, your real self, what do you find?

Me? I find that I talk a lot about post offices, about schools, occasionally about hospitals, about carbon reduction, green networks and superfast broadband. Topically for this week, I've also spoken about forced marrianges. And I attend lots and lots and lots of meetings!

You'll also find this blog, my Facebook page and even my former beaded jewellery craft business.

But just this week I reached a new level of fame - or perhaps, infamy. I am now a character in a crime book. Sadly I'm not the villain of the piece, nor am I the heroine. I am instead a bit part player, a WPC CCTV operator who appears for a chapter in the latest novel by local author, Craig Robertson. Am I sure it's me? Yes, absolutely - I bought my appearance by way of a donation at a charity event.

And I confess it's a giggle, well worth the donation if you ask me!! Still, I think I'd rather have been the one-legged lesbian coal miner from Lochgelly that Craig promised I'd be...

Monday, 28 November 2011

This time last year


This time last year, things were very different. For a start it was a damn sight colder, snow had started falling and didn't really stop until pretty much Christmas Eve. For another thing, I caught the 'flu - not the sniffle nose, bad cough and choked up head cold kind of (man) 'flu, but the real she-bang type. Sweats, exhaustion, shivering, aches and pains, nausea, can't drag yourself out of bed, let alone out of the house kind of 'flu.

This time last year I was helped down to my flat by a very kind friend from work when I couldn't speak I was shivering so much. This time last year, my friends all rallied round, despite the snow fall, to check up I was ok, bring me food, clear the snow from my steps and just plain visit me to make sure I was still alive.

This year, the weather is much milder - it's raining like there's no tomorrow, but it's not cold and there's no chance, at least tonight, that it's turning to snow. This year, I'm feeling much healthier. I've had my 'flu jab and more to the point I'm being a bit kinder to myself - I'm taking my vitamins regularly, I'm eating a (fairly) healthy diet and I'm trying to work out how to stress less.

So far it seems to be working - *reaches to touch every nearby piece of wood simultaneously* - I don't actually think I've been ill since then. A migraine here and there, and the usual end of the week tiredness, but on the whole, I've been doing ok.

In part that is due to my healthier lifestyle. But in part it's also due to being happier. I've rediscovered a social life. I have confidence in me again. I am, for the most part, happy. And it's much longer than a year ago since I've been able to say that...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Missing


Regular readers may have wondered what happened to me yesterday. No, it wasn't the inescapable lure of my new Smartphone. And it wasn't an almighty hangover from Friday night out with my awesome partner in crime either - although I confess I was a bit on the delicate side after a yummy meal at Hermann's, Stirling's own Scottish-Austrian gourmet eatery followed by cocktails at our favourite hang-out.


No, the reason for my radio silence has been participation in my first ever Thanksgiving dinner. My main contribution, other than eating way too much, was providing a deal of the crockery, cutlery and moral support to Frances. We badged it as a jointly hosted party, but the reality is that she did most of the cooking and my involvement was pretty much limited to turning up, eating and being sociable.


The more observant will realise it's the first time since almost the beginning of October that I've missed a day's blog post. I set myself the challenge at the start of the year to blog more regularly and for a while I was doing ok, and then I hit a slump and got out of the habit. I got back into it when I headed off to Italy in October and I've managed to keep it up since then.

I confess I really enjoy my daily blogging. It helps me sort my thoughts out. I get to indulge my passion for writing and it also allows me to say some stuff that I might not get round to saying face to face. Hopefully you enjoy reading it too - but if not, what are you still doing checking in?!

Just changing tack a bit, the other thing that's missing today, sadly, is my old friend and Frances' much loved husband, Paul. He would have been 50 today but tragically he died well before his time. It was for Paul that we ran the Loch Ness Marathon and he's been in our thoughts all weekend. 

This one's for you, mate. Happy birthday, Paul x


*All photos courtesy of JustFrances. 

And in case you're wondering, the opening photo - well, apparently it's traditional at Thanksgiving to put olives on your fingers. Never one to miss the opportunity to be silly, I thought it would be rude not to participate. When in Rome, after all...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Making do


For quite some time, I haven't realised it but I have been making do. I've been denying myself. I've been having less than I could.

What on earth am I talking about? My phone, that's what. According to Ms Gadget herself, what I've been lacking in my life is a Smartphone. Or a stalker phone as I prefer to call it. But that's all in the past now. Today I became the owner of a shiny new no expense spared, packed full of extras gadget phone.

An HTC Sensation since you ask and it does....lots of stuff. It's charging at the moment so I don't really know exactly what yet, but apparently I can now download Apps (whatever they are!) and can Facebook fully whilst on the move. Even better it can operate as a WiFi Hotspot, so once I've proved that to myself I can dispense with my mobile broadband contract and I'll be spending more or less what I'm paying out at the moment on phone and broadband, and will have myself a shiny new super dooper toy into the bargain!!

Can't wait. Let's hope it's as painless and straightforward as it claims to be. Watch this space to find out...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Romantic notions


As a great philosopher once said, What's love got to do with it?

This blog post has been in my head for a few days now but there's been so much going on that it kept getting pushed out. But now, I'm back in the flat at a reasonable time for a change and I can finally sit down to write it.

It's a strange word and concept, romance. Mention it and most people will think of the Mills & Boon, roses and chocolates version. Love, coupledom, moonlight and flowers.

But that's not what prompted me to think about it. No, it was other meanings that lead me to this post. I was listening to the radio and they were announcing the fixtures for the next round of the Scottish cup. One of the presenters commented, Ah yes, the romance of the Cup - meaning the time when the smaller clubs get the chance to play and win against the 'big boys'.

And seeing as I've been spending much of my time in Callander this week, I was reminded of another version - the Trossachs being the birthplace of modern tourism, spurred on by Sir Walter Scott and his romanticisation of the Scottish highlands 200 years ago.

Thinking about what do these two different meanings have in common? Well, they're both about fantastical or unrealistic views of the world and life. And is that what we do when we get into all that love stuff? Do we just leave our common sense at the door and allow ourselves to get carried away with non-sensical notions?

Or am I just a bit jaded by my not particularly successful attempts at it so far? Much as it terrifies me (no, really, it does!), and despite my crippling lack of success so far, fool that I am, I'd quite like the opportunity to find out the answer to that question. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, sometime soon I'll find a frog to kiss. Or maybe even a dolphin!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Countdown


I was going to blog today about how we're now firmly in the countdown to Christmas (unless you're Frances, of course, who - rightly - refuses to contemplate Christmas until Thanksgiving is over with). I was going to complain about how busy I am and how I'm panicking about being behind the curve with my Christmas preparations.

But I did enough complaining last night.

Instead, I want to blog about what happened to me today. Or this evening to be more accurate. And not to me, but to one of our local communities - Callander.


I blogged at the weekend that I was spending the next few days working with Callander on a Charrette approach to masterplanning. Well, 120 hours and lots of talking, arguing, debating and refining later, the project has ended and tonight the Masterplan proposals were handed over to the community to take forward. We've counted down to hour zero. A vision has been developed that will see everyone pulling together to make Callander a vibrant and successful town that harnesses the benefits of tourism without being swamped by it, that transforms itself from faded grandeur to outdoor capital, and that pulls its community back together at the same time.

It was a great night tonight and genuinely inspiring. I had, and still have, a huge grin on my face that won't wipe off. A few of us have been working for some time to make this a reality, to help the town and its residents work out what it is they want, how they can make the best of the truly stunning place that they live - and tonight it all came together.

Sometimes, just sometimes, those long hours and head numbing frustrations are worth it. And tonight was one of those. Well done, guys - here's to you. Thanks for letting me share the ride...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Getting the balance right


The work-life balance that is. Or, to be more accurate, the work-sleep balance.

As many friends will know, I've never been particularly good at keeping my workload within sensible limits or my job within a reasonable boundary. I am renowned for putting my work first and the rest of my life second, and not without just cause. I've joked that swine flu wrecked my marriage, but the point at which I let a phone call about Scotland's first swine flu case disrupt the 'make or break' discussion I was having with my now ex-husband probably was a bit of a tipping point.

So, I guess it's been no surprise that after a busy few days, or rather week, or make that fortnight - Heck, busy time since I came back from holiday - I find myself absolutely exhausted, with that scarey sick feeling in my stomach when I think about all the things I need to do this week, and how little time there actually is to do any of them.

I'm frequently heard to say that the seat of my pants is wearing very thin from all the flying they get. One answer may be, as suggested by an online friend, to buy thicker pants. Alternatively, I could try to manage my workload more successfully - but that isn't going to happen any time soon. I've been trying for years and haven't found the solution yet. I could try saying No to a few things, and I manage for a while but then my conscience and sense of responsibility get the better of me and I cave to the next request for 'just a little help'.

I could try changing my job for something less pressured, and believe me I seriously think about it on a regular basis. But I know that realistically I'm just likely to make my next job as full on as the one I have now - it's just in my nature.

So I'm left with me, and how I react to it all. Maybe I just need to try thinking myself calm and happy. Thinking myself not tired, enthused and energised instead. I tried it for a while today, and for a while it worked. I was able to see myself pleased with the challenges that lay ahead, excited about the important things we were doing. But keeping that going as I started the return 30 minute return journey home at 10pm, with my stomach thinking my throat had been cut and not an open fish and chip shop to be seen was more than I could manage.

I am dog tired. I have more work to do tomorrow than could reasonably be expected to be completed in a week. I have back to back meetings all day, including 2 off site and 30 minutes away from base. I will be shattered by the end of it, when I finish at 10 pm again tomorrow. And then I'll get up and do it all again on Thursday.

I need to learn how to pace myself, how to prioritise, how to say No, how to care less, how not to be the mug that always takes it on. Except, at the end of it all, I don't want to be that person. I care too much about what I do. It's important that it's done well and I'm not prepared to walk away with a job half done. So maybe my tactic of coping with it is the only realistic one. I just wish I could work out how...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Warming up


Now, I know the picture looks fairly autumnal and about right for this time of year, but heck, it's nearly the end of November and there are still leaves on the trees. What's more, it's still warm enough for me to be wearing my summer mac and the days when I can see my breath in the morning have been few and far between.

To summarise, it's unseasonably warm for the time of year!! Now, don't get me wrong. Warmer weather is not necessarily a curse. It's nice not to have to bundle up in umpteen layers just to poke your nose outside the front door. It's good that I don't have to put extra duvets on the bed at night just to keep me warm (and that's even with a hot water bottle!). It's great that I haven't had to shovel the snow off my steps yet.

But, at the same time, it is a worry. There are reports that midges are still out and about (and biting) in Scotland. Flowers are flowering out of season. Nature is out of balance. More worryingly, weather patterns across the world are out of whack - droughts, floods, monsoons, storms are happening with greater frequency, and all with devastating effect. And it's not all coincidental that our greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise.

To me that's a far more worrying piece of news than whether or not some journalist hacked a celebrity's mobile phone, but I guess it's not as exciting for the headline makers. I really do wonder when we're all finally going to wake up and smell the coffee, and realise that we seriously need to rethink our way of life. It doesn't necessarily need to be for the worse (as we see it), and who knows we might just find that we like a less consumerist, more equal, less hectic, more balanced lifestyle.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

What next?


Well, it's been a busy weekend - after a busy week - and I'm shattered. I'm also quite excited too, however. You see - as well as cocktails and live music - I've spent this weekend working with one of our local communities to help work out a town masterplan and a community action plan.

We're using a Charrette process to do that and it has been really full on. It means lots of intense discussions, ideas, debates, arguments, opportunities, and lots and lots of hard work. So far we're 2/5 of the way through. The team have another 3 days to pull together all the ideas and issues that have been raised so far. Then on Wednesday, the team leave and it's over to all of us to deliver the plan.

There have been some really great ideas so far, and some really knotty issues to deal with. Some of them we were already aware of, others we weren't. Some of the suggestions are things we've been looking at for a while, others were new. We're all hoping that the design team we're working with will be able to turn it all round and give us a fresh perspective and some innovative solutions, plus some very clear things we can start work on right away.

Meantime, I'm off to enjoy what's left of my weekend - a glass of wine, the couch and last night's Strictly Come Dancing will do me nicely thank you very much...

Live (and decidedly kicking) music


Tonight was spent in Glasgow at the O2 Academy, watching the fabulous Death Cab for Cutie. At the start of the concert, as I suffered the usual fate of short people in crowds and was unable to see the stage, I confess I did ask myself why I bother going to live gigs. It's usually a hassle to get there (or get back if you rely on public transport), the venue is rarely enticing and more often than not, I can't see a thing. Why don't I just save myself the bother (and expense) and listen to the CD at home.

And then the band erupted on the stage and I remembered... The sound of the live music, the feeling of the bass deep in your bones, the beat travelling up from your feet, through your legs to your body and the immersion into the experience.

There's nothing to beat good live music, and tonight's concert was just that. From the opening track, which also just happens to be my favourite of theirs, right through to the end, it was mesmerising, exhilirating, fantastic. I had worried a bit how they would be live - the 2 albums I have of theirs are fairly mellow. But the performance tonight rocked - lyrical and melodic, occasionally soulful, but lacklustre, restrained, down-beat? Never.

I am hooked. I want more. I need to start checking out the listings and getting back into live music. I may not be a spring chicken any more, but I still know how to enjoy good music and rock it with the best of them - or at least I like to think so and that's all that counts, right?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A cunning plan


I've been back from my great Italian train and boat sized adventure for just about a month now, and I confess I'm getting itchy feet again. It doesn't help that an online friend is away in exotic climes at the moment and posting tantalising photographs of unfamiliar sights. If that's not enough to raise the wunderlust, I don't know what is.

I've always enjoyed travelling. For my early years, travelling was restricted to the UK only. Restricted makes it sound like it was something 'less than', which certainly wasn't the case. There are some truly beautiful places in this dear Kingdom of ours and I would strongly recommend some in UK exploring if you haven't already done it. My childhood was spent in various parts of the Highlands, Argyll, Yorkshire, Devon & the Lake District, and I loved it.

I had my first overseas adventure on a school trip to Northern Germany, in the days before the country was reunified and you could still stare across the border line at the East German soldiers. After that my best friend's family took me with them for a 3 week holiday in France (the Loire Valley and Brittany), and I think that's when my love of European travel started.

And then I started venturing further afield. First, a holiday in California and then for my 30th birthday present to myself, I booked a holiday to Goa. Since then I've also visited Tunisia and, possibly most exotically (so far) Madagascar. Since my big sister moved to Canada, Vancouver has been a fairly regular destination for me.

I've travelled solo, as a couple, with friends, as part of a group and even as part of someone else's family. I've flown, sailed, travelled by train, driven - on planned itineraries and in freeform modes. I love travelling. I love discovering new places. I love pushing my boundaries - adventuring, exploring new cultures, learning new languages, trying new foods, testing the local experiences.

So, what next? Well, that's where the cunning plan comes in. For a while now, I've had a silly challenge for myself - to visit every continent of the world, and to fill up as much of a country A-Z as I can. I'm not doing too badly so far with Europe, North America, Asia and Africa all ticked off, and a fair smattering of countries across the alphabet under my belt. But I'm hungry for more.

My solo adventures have definitely reawakened the challenge for me and now, as the darker winter evenings draw in, I find myself dreaming about where to visit next. Will it be Argentina (to tango in Buenos Aires)? Or Japan (to see the cherry blossom)? Or New Zealand (to visit friends)? Or will it be another European adventure - to a country I haven't visited yet? Or one I know well but want to see differently? Or will it be a new type of holiday - walking perhaps, or learning a new skill, or maybe trying a cruise?

So many options, it's hard to choose. But, it's going to be fun deciding...!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Old dog, new tricks


One of the things I found hardest when I started my new single life was breaking old habits and starting new ones. Before my singledom, I used to look forward to every Friday evening. It was when we would celebrate the end of the week and head out to our local pub for a lovely meal and a drink. We had our own table, we were regulars and we had a great time. I loved the feeling of belonging I got from our regular weekly visit, and - unusually for me, someone who hates routine - I found a sense of stability in that regular weekly fixture.

So when I struck out on my own, it was one of the things I really missed. At the end of the week, I no longer had something to look forward to. Nothing to mark the end of the weekly grind and slide gently into the rest and relaxation of the weekend. Instead I used to dread the weekend. The time when I would leave my friends and the company of my workplace for 2 days and 3 nights of my own company.

 I used to dread it in those first few months. I used to be terrified of the feeling when I shut the door when I got home and know that unless I made the effort, chances were I wouldn't speak to anyone until Monday morning. Gradually I got used to it, and found ways to cope, and even sometimes enjoy the peace and solitude. But on the whole it was a trial.

But now, while we don't necessarily stick rigidly to a Friday evening, with my partner in crime, we've created a new habit of weekend cocktaiils. Ideally, but not exclusively on a Friday night. Always at the Junk Rooms. We're starting to become regulars. The staff recognise us. The owner chats to us. Tonight we got soup and chocolates as well as our chocolates.

It's a great, if a little extravagant, way to celebrate the end of the week - but heck, we don't have many other vices, so I think we're ok with this one.

Thanks to Frances, now I look forward to my weekends. It's great to be back at that place again!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Connect the dots


So Bristol? Next Gen? What was all that about then?

As I blogged yesterday, I spent the last couple of days down in Bristol attending the Next Gen 11 conference - a gathering dedicated to bringing about faster deployment of Next Generation or Superfast broadband across the UK, and particularly in remote and rural communities that risk being left behind by the commercial market.

On the whole it was attended by techno-types and their supply chain. Much of the time it was a complete alphabet soup of three letter acronyms, purposely designed by the high priesthood of technology to bamboozle and baffle the uninitiated. I struggled at times to understand what was being discussed, and had to work hard to keep my brain up with the topics. But it was worth it. I did learn a huge amount, if only that many people, even those who appear to understand it, are as confused as me on some of the issues.

I had been asked to participate in a Panel debate on the leadership challenges of deploying Superfast. The obvious one is how much it will cost, with figures into the multi-millions often quoted. But then when you compare that with the hundreds of millions we are happy to spend on roads and other dubious transport projects, it's not really that much after all.

Much of the cost comes from digging the holes to lay the fibre, rather than the fibre or other network infrastructure itself. If we could find a way of doing that more cheaply - using existing ducts perhaps, or finding less costly ways to dig holes - then that would help with the commercial equations.

Part of the challenge too is in understanding what it is, why it's needed and what benefits it will bring. At the moment, on the whole, we benefit from fairly good internet connections. Often times not as fast as we would like, but certainly nowhere near as absent as many parts of the globe. But the trouble is that our lifestyles and our business developments are requiring ever faster speeds, and more and more of us are wanting to use the networks, and these combine to collapse the system. Contention rates on the existing copper network mean that advertised download speeds are rarely achievable, even in our major cities. Increasingly, fibre optic networks will be required to deliver the superfast speeds that tomorrow's internet will require.

Heck, it's not even tomorrow's internet, to get the most out of it, fibre is needed today. For businesses, it can be the difference between getting to customers or not. For public services, it can be the difference between providing expertise to remote and rural areas or not. For workers, it can be what allows home, remote or flexible working. For families, it can be what adds value to their entertainment.

While the last point may seem glib, in our increasingly globalised and technology dependent world, some families may well start making decisions about where to live based on what internet services, and therefore what lifestyle services, they can access. And those areas without good connections risk being left behind. The painful truth of that is that it will probably be the very same communities that are socially excluded now that will be digitally excluded in the future.

So, what can be done? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. What I'll be doing is a heck of a lot more research. I'll also be talking about it a lot with the decision makers that I work with, telling the story and describing the need and the benefits. I'll be encouraging peope to think about different funding models, and pushing for innovation about building the networks. I'll also be getting people to look at the community led projects that are out there - in Cumbria, in Argyll, in East Lothian and in Sweden - for examples of different ways of doing it. I'll be hoping that people see this as a societal investment and not merely a retail proposition - a way of ensuring our continued economic success, of delivering high quality public services to remote and rural services, of driving technological efficiency, of sustaining rural communities and of addressing our carbon footprints.

if we really are to connect the dots across all of society, and not just those that are lucky enough to already live in areas seen as commercially lucrative for the market to want, this is an issue that requires leadership at all levels, not just by those we assume are normally 'in charge'.

So what about you - what will you be doing?

Facing demons


I've just spent an amazing couple of days at the NextGen Broadband conference in Bristol, of which more tomorrow once I've had time to reflect on and digest all that I've heard. But for now, I wanted to share with you how fantastic I'm feeling about having faced down another demon, and achieved another first at the same time.

I've blogged before thatI don't always feel as confident as I can appear, and that putting myself out there in public is not necessarily something I look forward to. I was going to say, not something I find easy but the truth is, that while I don't like it, these days I don't actually find it that hard. Frequent forays into the limelight mean that I seem to have found a way of dealing with it and I've learned the things I need to do to come across well - how to project my voice, how to pad for time whilst thinking about what to say next, now to calm and centre myself before starting. All of which now helps with the swan* impression I have become adept at.

But none of that means I actually enjoy it. Admittedly there are some circumstances that are easier than others - smaller groups, familiar faces, a well kent subject - but for the rest? Well, it's just scary. Last week I did my first national conference plenary presentation. This week I went one step further and was a panelist on an 'expert debate' at the Next Gen conference. And although I was nervous, this week I decided not to let the nerves get the better of me, and with the help of my fellow panelists I actually managed to enjoy myself.

Apparently I was quite good too, earning lots of positive feedback and almost groupie-like attention afterwards. (These were IT boffs remember before you get too excited!) I was told I was a breath of fresh air (for which read, didn't know the detail) and willing to be controversial (for which read, didn't realise the sensitivities). But the comment I liked best was from the young female conference attendee, who thanked me for saying that the debates were too technical and virtually unintelligible to the lay person, and that if they wanted to make progress they would need to find a way to speak in plain English. She told me she had spent the conference wondering if she 'got it', but now she had the confidence to tell them just to explain it better. Result! I confess, that made my day.

And now, as I'm still buzzing with adrenalin at almost midnight, I can strongly recommend facing your own demons. The sense of achievement is immense. Knowing that you have done it will give you so much confidence. And if you're lucky, you might get the added bonus of being an inspiration to others.

What are you waiting for???

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Gorillas and cheese


Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

It was a dream I had last week
And some kind of record seemed vital
I knew it wouldn't be much of a poem
But I love the title.

                                                  Wendy Cope

Now that I start this post, I find I'm really not quite sure what to write about. You see I had a bit of a Wendy Cope moment the other day while I was talking to a friend. The post title came to me and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. But now I'm not really sure what to use it for.

I guess I could write about mis-heard lyrics - although what Gorillias and Cheese could have been mis-heard from I don't know. But then again, I don't think I could ever got 'a ship called Christmas Day' from Deacon Blue's Dignity either!

Or maybe the post could be about made up band names - a game I used to play with an old friend. But now I come to think about that, most of the ones I can remember were only really appropriate for death metal/punk bands and therefore not suitable for family viewing on this little blog.

Incidentally, hats off to the nephew of my partner in crime, the awesome Just Frances. He's had a band called the Blast-ended Skrewts for a number of years now, and he's not even left his teens yet. Way to go, boy - seems like awesomeness runs in the family!

But none of them really work, if I'm honest. So instead I think I'll just follow Wendy Cope's advice and revel in the gloriousness of the title.

Of course, what I really need to know now, however, is which blasted gorillia ate my damned cheese?

Get on your dancing shoes


What an amazingly fantastic evening I've had tonight! A great end to what has admittedly been an incredibly hectic day. 
And what, I hear you ask, is the cause of this fantastic-ness? Only getting back out tango dancing, that's what!

One of the girls from my tango class had decided to arrange a milonga for tonight in my favourite Stirling watering hole, the Junk Rooms and so we all duly turned up and danced the night away. A much better way to end a Manic Monday than I usually manage. 

There was a good crowd there, and to my utter relief, it seems I haven't completely forgotten how to dance. Not completely. Mostly, but not completely! Fortunately most of the guys in our group are very tolerant and were willing to put up with my mis-steps, and guide me round the dance floor. It wasn't as bad as my first ever milonga, but I did feel like I should have a pair of L plates and a big badge saying, "I used to know how to dance". I also suspect I should try harder to cultivate my moody Tango persona - bursting out laughing on the dance floor doesn't really fit with the image. But it is much more fun...

So, suffice to say, I don't think I made anyone feel like Fred Astaire tonight (and by the way, what a wonderful thing that would be to do!) but can I just say, I may have been doing the dance equivalent of fluffing my lines, but as Ginger said, I was doing it all backward and in heels.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Meantime, until I remember how to dance again, I guess I'll just have to go ahead and enjoy myself having fun instead. 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Social conscience


Amazingly, I find myself in possession of a reasonable social life at the moment. Last week I caught up with the lovely Diane and her hubby Jeff in Glasgow, next week I've got a gig in Glasgow with the awesome Just Frances, and tonight we're off to see Billy Bragg.

But that's not quite the point of this post, although it is prompted by an article the aforesaid Billy posted on Facebook last week. It made me think back to my days as a student, when I was much more politically active than I am now. I always thought I was quite thoughtful and someone who didn't just comply, who didn't just accept the status quo. Someone who was a bit 'right-on'.

But when I think back on it now, it feels a bit like we were just playing. What did I actually do to make a difference, to stake my claim, to prove my point? Did I ever go out of my way to protest? Or did I just sit around pontificating about it? We debated a lot, I remember. And we passed motions comdemning or supporting this, that and the next thing. We set up petitions, and we wrote letters. We wrote lots of letters. But was it in the slightest bit meaningful?

Maybe not as much as some of the great protests we've seen in the last year or so - the students, the anti-war/anti-capitalism marches, the Arab Spring, and further back, the Berlin Wall breakthrough. But I think it probably did do something. I may not have stopped the cuts in education by marching through various Scottish cities, but it kept the issue in the spotlight. Writing letters may not have changed the world, but I now understand that it can make a difference, and at the very least, does give hope to the people about whom the letters are written. Even just keeping the debate alive, railing against the inevitable, is worth something.

And now, what do I do now? Is my social conscience still intact? Well, yes it is. I have very deep values and principles. My job doesn't always allow me to express them, but they're still there all the same. In my private life, I can still support (including financially) my own personal campaigns. In my working life, I can make sure that what I do and how I behave is true to my value base. I may not have much spare time but I like to think I do what I can. My marathon in October was a personal challenge, and a personal triumph, but it also allowed me to raise just under £800 for Epilepsy UK. And, of course, I vote whenever I get the opportunity.

Do I do enough? Probably not. Is there more that I could do? Absolutely. Now, there's some food for thought for me...

And for now, I'm off to see Billy getting that Leftfield back in Motion.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sacrifice


At this time of year I confess I find myself doing a fair bit of soul searching. As I blogged last year , I have mixed feelings about Remembrance Day. Being a Quaker, I am philosophically opposed to violence and war. At least that's what the Peace Testimony is about.

But I do wonder sometimes if I'm being hypocritical. While I wouldn't take up arms against another, I have to admit that I do benefit from the fact that others have done it for me. That others have been willing to give up their lives so that I can have mine. So where does that leave me and my beliefs?

I guess it leaves me confused. As the years have gone by, and as I've thought more about it, I understand that Remembrance Day is not about the glorification of war, military and fighting, that it's a public atonement and thanksgiving for the sacrifices that have been made in our name so that we can continue to have the beliefs and freedoms that we do.

I've also grown to understand that war itself, while never a good or desirable thing, is sometimes necessary. Protection of a people against an aggressor is worthy. Fighting to overturn or resist oppression is right. Violence for its own sake, for land grabs or to impose your way of life on others isn't. I've come to understand that it's not the fighting or the war that's wrong, it's the reason behind it that matters.

So, this weekend when I have the great privilege and honour of laying a wreath at our local cenotaph, my heart will be easier than it's been in previous years My mind will be with those around the world who gave, and sadly still give, their all. And with their families too.  We will remember them - all.

When you are standing at your hero’s grave,
Or near some homeless village where he died,
Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,
The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;
And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.
But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find
The mothers of the men who killed your son. 
 
                                                                                Siegfried Sasson 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Minor chord


As more regular readers will know, after my fantastic holiday in Italy the other month, last week I suffered a bit of a slump. It caught me by surprise but it also gave me some time to think, and I realised a couple of things.

Firstly, I realised that the lows I feel now are more about a fear of falling back into the really sad times of the past couple of years, rather than actually feeling the sadness itself. A good friend helped me think that one through and gave me some tactics for keeping it at bay. One of which involved finding a happy memory to replace it with. And what I found worked best for me was to use music. I managed to find a happy song that I can now play in my head whenever I need it. For which, thanks xx

The other thing that got me to thinking about was how music plays (pardon the pun) in my life. In the last couple of years I think I've used music as my defence mechanism. It's been the bubble I can wrap myself in to keep the world out. My iPod has been great for that. With the earbuds in I can literally close myself off and not have to engage with anyone else.

When I thought about it, I realised I hadn't really been listening to my music much recently, apart from when I was running. I realised I hadn't needed to close myself off in the same way. That I was ok with being me and being in the moment, without the need for a shield or protection.

And then I realised how much I missed my music. While it had been protection, it had also been fun. I really enjoyed my A-Z challenge from a couple of summers ago, and I wanted to get back to that place again.

So I've dug out my iPod again, and I'm trawling iTunes and YouTube and I'm refinding my music. Only this time it's for celebration and enjoyment, not protection and escape. And, do you know what? I think it actually sounds better...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Privileges

"What you see when you open your curtains in a morning determines everything..., how you feel about the place where you stay, how you feel about yourself, whether you have the self-confidence and motivation to go to work, whether you let the kids out to play; indeed, whether you even get up in the morning."

I had the great privilege today to talk to an audience, on a national platform, about a subject I feel passionate about - the right of every person to live in an environment that is good and makes them feel good. Too many of our communities, particularly here in Central Scotland where we've raped and pillaged the environment to support our modern lifestyles, have been left with degraded environments, derelicts sites and deprived lives.

It is no coincidence that our least successful communities are located in our worst areas. It is no coincidence that our areas of lowest health are in these areas. If people have access to good quality green space, they are 24% more likely to be physically active. 37% of coronary heart disease is coronary heart disease is linked with low levels of physical activity. 33% of businesses cite environmental quality as a key factor in relocation decisions. 80% of Scotland's vacant and derelict sites lie in Central Scotland. 9% of the population in Central Scotland is unemployed, compared with a Scottish average of 4%. 88% of Scotland's most deprived areas are in Central Scotland. You do the maths!

If that doesn't convince you of the need to do something, I don't know what will. I'm grateful that I have the opportunity to get involved and play my part. I get to talk about the issues and raise awareness. I get to argue and debate and seek to influence change. I may not have the physical time to do things myself, but I have the ability to make it easier for others.

I also have the responsibility. I've had the privileges. It's only fair that I use them to put something back in. I do the work I do because I think it's important to try to make a difference. I sometimes wonder if I'm really achieving anything. Days like today make it all worthwhile!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

I spy...


There were a couple of things I could have written about under tonight's blog post title, but the other one needs a bit more work and will need to wait for another day.
So, tonight. It never ceases to amaze me at how unobservant people can be. Even with things that are plain in front of them, some people just cannot see. 

It's like when you get your hair cut and no-one notices for a week or two, and then someone says 'Have you changed your hair or something?' Only about a month ago! Or when my colleagues at work were amazed that photos of me as a child didn't have red hair - they thought the colour I am now was natural. Now, this might be a great compliment to my hairdresser, but it's not really a good advert for anyone's common sense. What hair do you know changes colour every 3 months?  I mean, really....

And it's not just hair styles or colours. I don't know how many times I've pointed things out to people who've worked in and around Stirling far longer than I have, that they just haven't seen. Mainly because they've never lifted their eyes above head height. I've said before, Stirling is a fantastic place, jam packed with quirky details and magnificent buildings, if you only take the time to stop and stare.

So, tomorrow (or even tonight!), why not try looking twice at some of the things around you and in front of you, and see what you can see and read from them. You might be surprised!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Driven to distraction


Today I got to indulge in something I don't do all that often any more - drive a car. Not my car. No, it's still sitting gathering dust (literally) outside the flat. This was a work car. Nowadays, the most driving I seem to do is for work, and helpfully we have a policy of only using pool cars for work journeys. So my little Honda Civic sits outside my flat from one week's end to the next, gathering dust, leaves and bird shit - and slowly flattening its battery.

I've been meaning all year to get rid of my car. I don't need it any more. I have the luxury of being able to walk to work. There are excellent public transport connections around here for wherever I choose to go on a regular basis, and my green conscience has increased during the 2+ years I've been in my current job. I don't have small children to move around. I can get my groceries delivered. I can even hire a car if I do need one on the odd occasion. So what is it that's stopping me from letting go?


It's a question I've been pondering for a few months now. First of all it was persuading myself that there was an alternative, a viable life without a car. Then it was persuading my family. Then it was whether I would need it for my sister's visit in the summer. Now, I think, it's just lack of organisation.


Well, that and a fear of losing my independence. For as long as I've been driving, I've equated having a car to having my freedom. The ability to jump into a vehicle that I control and just take off if I want/need to. When I lived outside the city, it was a necessity. There's no way I would be contemplating this if I still lived in my previous home, or the one before that. But where I am now...nope, a car isn't an essential.

But I confess I'm still finding it hard to make the break. And that's even with all the problems I've had with batteries going flat, brakes seizing up and the car just generally getting filthy through lack of use. Not to mention how much it costs to tax and insure the damn thing, just for it to sit looking pretty outside the flat.


Today was fun. I do like driving. I like the feeling of accelerating along the open road. I like being able to see places that public transport doesn't go. But I don't need a car of my own to do that. And if the worst comes to the worst, and I need a car again - well, I can just buy one can't I?!

So, is that enough to get me moving? Watch this space and I'll keep you posted.

Perhaps, as inspiration, I should remember that the car mirror photo was taken one evening when I'd had to get the RAC out (again!) to recharge my battery and I had to take a 90 minute drive out to top the battery back up. While it was a beautiful evening for a drive, it was also a complete hassle - and one that, to be honest, I could do without!
 

Monday, 7 November 2011

The race is on!

With my finisher's medal, Edinburgh Half Marathon 2011


I blogged on Friday that I was intending to get back out running again, and on Saturday I did with the awesome Just Frances. She acted as my conscience and I ensured I got out of bed after an unexpected late night, and then dragged me out on my first run since the dreaded 26.2  in October. And, do you know what? It was really good. It felt good to be stretching my legs again and although our time was really slow (48 minutes for a measly 4 miles), it reminded me how much I used to enjoy my running before I put myself through the physical and psychological torture that was my marathon challenge.

And it also made the decision I made to take up Frances' challenge of a race a month for the next year, seem like the right one. I'll not, however, be taking up her offer of doing the Loch Ness marathon again next year. I'm not quite that daft - almost, but not quite. Instead I think I'll stick to 10ks and half marathons. They're much more my distance.

Which is something that even a year ago I never thought I'd hear myself say. Sometimes I find it really quite amazing how far I've come in such a short space of time - and with my running too...

So, now it's time to knuckle down to train for our first post marathon race, which will be the Reindeer Run at Stirling University on 27th November. A nice little 10k run. Not a huge amount of training required. Unless, you're competitive like me (and Frances) that is. After all, I've got to try and beat her this time!!

So I think, given the time of year and weather, I need to get back into a gym routine to complement my running. Now that I don't have to spend time getting my distances up, it should be a bit easier to fit in some cross training, and hopefully it will help to improve my overall stamina and consequently my running times.

Oh my god, I've become a running bore. When did that happen...?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The road


The road goes on forever
And its end is out of sight
Its twists and turns keep hidden
The way that lies ahead

I travel my road gladly
I do not seek to know
I take the path before me
I follow where I go

The beauty of this life I have
This journey that is mine
The joy and light and wonderment
The pleasure of my prize

I hope to find my happiness
I trust that I'll find joy
I leave my doubts beside the road
I face where I will go
                                               Me

Firsts


It's been a weekend of firsts. Not entirely firsts throughout but certainly firsts for a while.

For a start, I got back out running with Frances yesterday morning - the first time since the great marathon adventure, and while our time might have been shockingly slow, it was good and I felt like I could have run further.

And then, I headed into the Burgh Coffee house for the first time since my holiday and reinstated my Saturday morning coffee and papers routine. Ok, it was after lunch by the time I got there, but you get my drift.


After that, Frances persuaded (oh, it took great persuasion) to go shoe shopping and, for the first time in a long time, I bought new, entirely frivolous, shoes. Well, boots. And quite sensible, but they're entirely frivolous in that I didn't need them, I just wanted them. Who said my shoe addiction was dead?

On Saturday evening, it was time to go to my first ever (or ever that I can remember at any rate) organised firework display. Very good it was too. Leading me to my 'first for a while' purchase of bright pink candy floss, which I later donated - much to Frances' amazement - to the owner of our last stop for the evening, the fabulous Junk Rooms, where we had cocktails. I'd like to say that those were our first for a while. I'd like to, but I'd be fibbing. But they were our first this week, so maybe that counts.

Now today, I'm having my first lazy Sunday morning since my holiday in my flat, and later on I'm planning to get back to my tango class for the first in a very long time - I wonder if I can actually remember any of the steps?


So, it's been a weekend of firsts. And, do you know what? I feel amazing for it. Full of happiness and light. Hopefully that will keep my batteries charged for the next few weeks. I like this life I have.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

If the shoe fits...


As regular readers and my close friends, ok most people who know me, know - I like shoes. No, that's not right - I LOVE shoes. I adore shoes. Shoes are my friends and my passion.


Or they were until recently, that is. This past year, my shoe addiction has been somewhat stifled - I've hardly bought any pairs, and those that I did buy have been (gasp!) flat! This is so entirely unlike me that I confess I've been a bit worried. Even more worried when the pair of shoes that I was most excited about buying were my first pair of proper running shoes. Clearly there was a purpose and a reason for investing in them, but they were still functional flat shoes, and effectively trainers.

What had I become?! Where was the shoe diva hiding?


To be honest, I'm still not entirely sure. She's not quite returned yet, but what I am finding is that some of the shoes that I used to wear with ease - well, maybe not ease, but without too much pain - are now virtually unwearable. It's as if my feet have grown and my shoes no longer fit. I'm not sure if this is real or imagined, it seems to happen to barefoot runners, but I can't find anything to say that it's a common complaint/effect for shoed runners.


But whatever the science of it, my shoes just don't seem to fit as well anymore. And a number of them are getting to the end of their natural lives. So, I guess that means I'll have to go shoe shopping again sometime soon - what a hardship!!

Woo hoo! I sense a return to addiction coming any time about .....NOW!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Week-end

Well, it's been a bit of a long week. Definitely back into full-on work mode after my fabulous Italian adventure and I'm pleased it's now the end of the week. Some time for rest and relaxation hopefully. 

One of my plans for the weekend is to get back out running. The awesome Just Frances has challenged me to a race a month for the next year. Looks like our next one will be the Reindeer Run at Stirling University so I suppose I'd better lace up my running shoes and get back out there. 

But for now I think I'll just kick back, enjoy some good music and a glass of wine. Well, ok, it's G&T tonight, but you get the picture...

Have a great weekend, folks, whatever you've got planned. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Comfort zones


It's been a long time since I lived or worked in my comfort zone. I still remember when I started my first job here in Stirling, my boss told me that he wasn't paying me to work within my comfort zone. I nearly laughed in his face. There was no part of the job that was familiar to me, and nothing that even remotely resembled a comfort zone. 

And it's something I've carried on with pretty much ever since.  Just when I seem to be getting to grips with a situation, it changes. Or I change it. Take the current job, for example. When I was appointed, what I really knew about my remit could be written on the back of a very small piece of paper, yet I was expected to lead on it for my organisation. Everything I do now, I have had to learn. And I have learned it, and to my credit I can now talk about it with a modicum of sense. Scarily people actually listen to me too. Idiots!

So, what have I done today? I've talked about broadband, city strategies, solar PV energy generation, Feed in Tariffs, economic theory, raising aspirations, charging policies and the elasticity of price, the value of open space and much much more. The down side is the volume and breadth of things I have to know about. The upside is...the volume and breadth of things I get to know about. 

So, do I have a comfort zone at work? Not really. Do I mind? Sometimes, but not often. Most of the time I just love the challenge. Would I change it? Not for something safer, that's for sure!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Real or imaginary?


It's a question I often ask - is the confidence, happiness, composure I feel real or imagined? Do I really feel that way or have I just got so good at faking it, that I can even fool myself? 
When I was young, I was very shy. As I've got older, I've become more confident - or have I? There are still situations that I feel less than comfortable with. I'm used to speaking in public, and I can do it well, but it doesn't mean I like doing it. I can socialise and network, talk to people I've never met before with apparent ease, but it doesn't mean I haven't got butterflies in my stomach while I'm doing it. It doesn't mean I don't worry about what people think of me, if I'm making sense or talking bollocks, or worse still, boring the pants of them. I feel relaxed and at ease with my friends, but it still takes a lot of emotional effort to make new ones.

Since I've been on my own, I've been trying to relearn being self reliant, enjoying my own company, finding out who I really am, and whether I like me. It's been a hard journey and recently I've been feeling like I've finally got there. But today I'm wondering if it's just another false summit, if I'm just kidding myself. There's nothing particular that's happened, no great disasters or uncomfortable experiences, no crises or calamities. I'm just not feeling as chipper as I have been recently. And it's left me wondering if it's just been another partial 'faking it' success, and now I've run out the energy I need to keep it going.

Or maybe I'm just having a bad day. Maybe this is just a passing shower and it's how 'normal' people feel every once in a while.

Don't worry, I'm sure I'll feel better in the morning. Or if I don't necessarily feel better, I'll be too busy to notice. But thanks for listening.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

November


No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

                                                              Thomas Hood

Which way?


Time was, there was only one way to go at the top of these steps - turn right at the top and head in to work. Now, since the awesome Just Frances  has rolled into town, I have two choices - right as normal for serious endeavours, but now also left for fun and frivolity.

Yes, the flat where my new found friend and partner in crime has taken up residence is right next door to where I work. I'll never have to cook again!

[Although I'm currently cooking my dinner - kedgeree - as I post, both of which are taking far longer than they should as a result. Perhaps if I stopped trying to multi-task I'd be more efficient?]