Sunday, 31 December 2017

Pearl - Day 32 (New Year's Day)

Day 32 (Monday 1st January, New Year's Day 2018)
32 years ago, on 1st January 1986, Spain and Portugal joined the European Community.
The UK had joined on 1st January 1973. 
Portugal operates an hour behind Spain
and hence this region is one of the easiest locations where you can celebrate the start of the
New Year twice - commence by partying in 
Badajoz’s Plaza Espana (a pretty gem of a town in Spain),
before grabbing a taxi for the 20 minute drive, 9 mile journey, to the charming town
of Elvas in Portugal (shown in the above picture) to greet the New Year in all over again.
Happy New Year! I wish you a wonderful 2018 full of love, good health, happy times and meaningful moments to treasure. I look forward to sharing bits of it with you.

I can think of no better way of starting the New Year than by reading a post from Neil UsherI first got to know Neil when he was the Workplace Director at Sky - he was one of the truly innovative property and facilities experts who understood the impact that the workplace has on work, the people within it and the wider environment. Neil took the brave step to become a freelance specialist just over six months ago, which has also enabled him to find the time to write a book due to be published in March. If you wish to know more about Neil's thoughts on work and workplace design, you can find him on Twitter (his handle is @workessence) or better still, read his blog: workessence.

To me, the Advent Blog series would be diminished if there was no creative piece from Neil within it - he is an exceptionally talented writer. It has been a long standing tradition in northern hemisphere cultures to tell stories to brighten dark winter days and I see Neil's tales as a perpetuation of this custom. To maintain the flow, there are no punctuating illustrations. 


Pearl was afraid of the dark.
At least that’s what she told her parents.
They gently questioned and wove a scaffold of fine thread into her curiosity to help her through the nights that could seem interminably long. At this time of year, the excitement added another dimension: keeping her awake, when she wanted to slip past the darkness, unaware and relieved.
Her magenta-washed room was dotted with pins of light – those that stayed on, those that sensed when they needed to be on. Until one evening when the entire neighbourhood was softly sunk into pitch, unannounced. Pearl was deeply submerged in sleep at the time the clocks stopped, but something stirred on the seabed and she began the long ascent to the surface.
When she awoke, her eyes flickered, there was no difference. She blinked, rubbed her eyes and opened them like saucers. It was as though she were staring into the back of her eyelids. She could feel her skin warming, her forehead moistening. This was not right. Her pathway was gone. She was lost in a space where she was safest.
But as she strained to make sense of the slowly returning familiar shapes before her, the darkness about her began to collect itself, the air moved in ever-tightening elliptical coils around her, gathering like candyfloss. Pearl was rooted upright, as a human form appeared at the end of her bed, resting its hands on its knees and tilting its head to one side. It had a familiarity, it seemed to be everyone she knew, everyone she had ever known. A soft ochre light appeared around the shape.
Pearl could not speak, nor scream, yet something about her new companion exuded calm. It was not how she expected to feel.
“Hello Pearl. Don’t be afraid. Easy for me to say, I know but I would rather like to explain myself, if you don’t mind’ it said, in a quilted whisper, a warmth in its voice. ‘I’m the darkness all about you.”
Pearl was unsure, but calm.
“Do you always sit at the end of my bed when I’m sleeping?”
“Oh, no. I’m here for everyone. But I look after you every night, I’m all around you, looking out for you, helping you sleep. When you worry about me, I’m sad. But there is nothing I can do. I know you’re looking forward to seeing my friend, Dawn, and would rather I left.”
“She’s real too? Is she really your friend?”
“She’s my only friend, but we pass by one another slowly, wishing we could be together our hands slip through one another’s. We are the only ones who understand each other. But we never can be.”
There was a moment of stillness, as they both considered the impossibility.
“I’m not scared of Dawn” Pearl reassured herself.
“Ah but there are many who love the darkness of the night and fear the Dawn. A new day for them is terrifying. It means facing things or others they would rather avoid. It can mean making decisions they would rather not face. Sometimes it’s simply the heaviness in their own heart.”
“I can’t imagine being scared of the daylight. But I know people who are sad all of the time. That must be what’s happening. They never say so.”
“It’s rare that people do. It’s easy to say you are afraid of the dark, but it’s hard to admit you are afraid of the light.”
“But what if you and Dawn could be together? Then no-one would need to be afraid.”
“We are different, Dawn and I, and there is nothing we can do about it. We cannot change ourselves, like you can. And we’ve had much longer to try. But we are both here for everyone.”
“If you’re here for me, why am I scared of you?”
“Things that worry you feel bigger in the darkness, much bigger than you. You can’t do anything about them, you have to wait. It can seem like there is only you in the world, that you are the only one awake. So, people think of darkness as bad, and light as good. But there cannot be one without the other.”
Pearl looked puzzled.
“So, Dawn wouldn’t be here without you, and you wouldn’t be here without Dawn. Yet you can’t be together?”
“Exactly. We give each other meaning. You have to have us both.”
“So – you make it possible for me to love the Dawn?”
“Yes indeed. You just need to think of us both, looking out for you, but never able to do so together. We would want nothing more, but we can never do so. So, it helps us to deal with that, if we know you care for us both equally.’
“I will - err, I do. “
“Now, I have to go back to the way I appear to everyone, but I can only do that when I know you’re not scared of me. It’s been a white night for many while I’ve been here with you, and I can’t have them being anxious, can I?”
Pearl nodded and settled.
With that the form dissolved, unfurling into an undulating dream.
Pearl awoke to fractal shards splayed through her blinds. It was much later than usual. She hadn’t noticed the breaking of day, as she often did.
It was New Year’s Day. Pearl was happy. Something had changed.

What still remains - Day 31 (New Year's Eve)

Day 31 (Sunday 31st December, New Year's Eve 2017)
31 December is known as Hogmanay in Scotland and is a night of celebrations
that have become famous around the world. Many view Hogmanay as a bigger
party than Christmas. It is thought that the word originates from the French
"hoginane" meaning gala day and was first used in 1561 on the return of Mary
Queen of Scots to Scotland. At that time, in Normandy, presents given at
Hogmanay were "hoguinetes'. An alternative derivation of the word is the
Scandinavian "hoggo-nott" meaning yule. A tradition linked to Hogmanay is
"first footing" - the first guest to cross your threshold after midnight - it should
be a tall, dark stranger (to Scots many years ago the surprise arrival of a blond
often signified a dangerous Viking trying to cause harm). A first footer should
bring gifts of coal (for heat), rich fruit cake known as Black Bun (for food for
the year), salt (a symbol of friendship), and whisky (for good cheer and hospitality).
It's the last day of the year. Happy Hogmanay! I have had a memorable year - full of precious moments shared with loved ones, new colleagues and friends coming to help me do things I need and want to do, some recognition (which is much appreciated) and visits to amazing places and events. I know that I am fortunate. I hope that you have been too.

The start of a New Year is seldom dark and dull and the year ahead does not have to be dark either - as David D'Souza points out in his post below. 

I am fortunate to have had David as a colleague and to have him as a friend. He is a true polymath, with a thirst for learning and a passion for positive innovation (especially technology - his latest fascination is cryptocurrencies). David is globally recognised as a thought-leader who is not afraid to challenge the status quo. You can get a taste of his views if you follow him on Twitter (his handle is @dds180). He is a devoted husband and father and a loyal friend (although, as Head of Engagement for the CIPD, a job that takes him around the globe, he is so busy that he is seldom able to spend the time he and others would like have with him just to catch up and connect). I strongly recommend that you read his blogs, he writes his own under banner on 101 Half Connected Things and also posts pieces often on behalf of the CIPD (the UK-based professional body for HR and Leading and Development professionals).

Because of the personal nature of this post I have not added any pictures - the photograph was provided by David.

"In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains"
The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel, 1969
There are some years that are better than others. There are some years that are definitely worse. The relatively arbitrary unit of the year gives us a chance to reflect and renew. Why January 1st? It doesn't really matter.  Our lives are made up of these little units. They actually seem big units when we are young and then they seem to rush by, barely allowing us time to process their impact.
I remember listening to The Boxer by Simon And Garfunkel being played live on an acoustic guitar in a vineyard in South Africa. My late mother was drunk. She would have said she was tipsy. She was certainly tipsy enough to be drunk... She was conducting a crowd of strangers in making the distinctive noise heard in the latter parts of the song. Everybody was grinning.
Wikipedia describes the creation of that distinctive noise in the original recording thus
"The iconic crashing sound in the refrain was recorded by setting up a drum kit in front of an elevator shaft, which provided the proper reverb"
That seems a very elaborate set up when all you had to do to create that noise was give my mum a bottle and a half of white wine and some sunshine.
I can't listen to that song now without it being bittersweet. Google Photos threw up photos from that day recently as part of its 'do you remember this happened on this day?' type function. A function that can still catch me unawares, but that I don't turn off.
I recall my mother on that day smiling. Grinning.  All Google can offer me is this photo of her with her 'if you take a photo of me you'll be in trouble' face. I was also very familiar with that. 
Anyway, I digress...

The point is that the memory both hurts and cheers. That will be true of so many memories for people of this year. It's been a tough one for many. 
We are shaped by our past and our experiences, but also by those experiences yet to come. The past does not determine the future unless you let it.  And we have control over the here and now and how we react. 
As people get set to write their resolutions for the New Year they will focus on diets and budgets or spending time with others. 

Here is what I hope you resolve. 
Let it be a genuinely New Year. Let it be unencumbered by the weight of past memories. Let it be a new day and a welcome dawn. Take with you into the next year the things you want and need and none of the things that hold you back. Shape the future, rather than being anchored in the past. Have the year you want. And if it doesn't turn out that way, well, there's normally another one in a few months. 

It's a whole new arbitrary unit to make the most of. That's a beautiful creation, one of our best inventions.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Loving Life - Day 30

Day 30 (Saturday 30th December 2017)
30 December 1986 was the day that the UK government finally ruled out the
use of canaries in coal mines to detect the presence of noxious gases. Canaries were
introduced into mines in 1911, due to their sensitivity to poison and in particular their
reaction to carbon monoxide. Mice were also used, but were less swift in their reactions.
There were 200 canaries still being relied upon by 12,000 miners British mines in 1986.
This is an early example of technology taking over a role - canaries were replaced by
hand-held gas detectors with digital readers.
This evening a small family group of us are going to visit Dennis Severs' House in Spitalfields, London. It is a time capsule - each room of the house depicts a period in the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724 to the dawn of the 20th Century. I have been once before, but tonight will be even more magical - we will have a candlelit wander around - with the rooms to ourselves - before choosing a room to sit in with the curator, to ask questions about the museum and its artefacts, whilst sipping mulled wine and enjoying mince pies.

The post today is by a much-loved and regular contributor to the Advent Blogs series, Bina Briggs. It has become a tradition for Bina to fill us in on her year just gone, and this post will not disappoint. I'm sure Bina would love to hear from you- one of the easiest ways of contacting her is on Twitter, her handle is @PlainTalkingHR.  Bina runs her own business with the same name as she uses on Twitter, Plain Talking HR Ltd, which she took sole control of when her former business partner, Bronwen, retired on the 1st June. The business is just as described, and so is Bina's approach to HR. She is unfailingly polite and supportive, never the less, Bina is quite capable of getting her messages across and guiding people when necessary to change their ways. She is an excellent mentor and friend, probably because she is steered by her values. Her business provides advice and support to small to medium size businesses and the testimonials and the fact that she is a regular contributor to her local radio's business panel discussions give a flavour of how she is perceived. Judging by her social media comments, one might think that Bina spent most of the time travelling the globe - certainly she is a devoted supporter of her husband, who is a regular participant in cycling races around the world.


So here I am, once again on a plane to Poland to visit my ‘Polish family’ and to deliver their Christmas presents. This has become a tradition and funny enough usually I travel across at the end of November when the writing of the advent blog takes place too. This year, my trip was delayed and so the post didn’t get written either and it's 1st December and I've just read the first Advent blog of 2017. I feel a bit like a naughty child, should have written my blog by now! 😊😊

Christmas is such a special time for most people, no matter what religion you follow or not as the case may be! The lights, the music, the festivities, being with the people we love and the presents! Each year, the months seem to go faster and we all get caught up in its fervour. Of course, we all say it every year that this year I’m not going to do as much, it’s so commercialised and that I’m not having any of it! Guess, what, come November, most of us get drawn into it once again and off we go! I just love it! But then there are so many of my friends and family who LOVE the festive season and counting the days when they can start getting ready for the BIG DAY without feeling weird about it.

I feel that I live in 2 worlds and I’m sure I’m not alone. There is that one world that is happening out there, it occupies news headlines in the media on an hourly, daily basis round the clock and then there is that world that is my own personal space.

The world out there at times seems to be getting darker and out of control, to the point that it’s surreal. When you think that you have seen everything and heard everything, surely, it cannot be happening, it cannot continue to happen, then, smack, a headline appears which is more bizarre than ever. Enough said about all that...

Last year was one of those years where we were moving on with life and travelling a lot and as I had said in my 2016 advent blog that hubby was looking forward to retiring which meant only one thing, more awesome cycling races.

Although 2017 started with a high, it was also a period of frustration, waiting for others to make up their minds, to action things that had direct impact on us and in general, trying out our patience. Isn't it amazing how some people make others'  lives so miserable by not doing what they are supposed to do, it's their job but they don't give a damn, or are incompetent or totally oblivious of the fall-out they are creating by their inactions!  For the first couple of months, it seemed as if we were in a retrograde motion.

For some of the earlier months, it has also been a dark year for some of our friends and family too, health wise and work wise. Their unhappiness of course affected us. It's natural when our loved ones suffer, we suffer too. In addition, I have lost a couple of my loved ones, nearby and in India. These losses are insurmountable, closing of chapters and just left with memories of wonderful, loving people, never to be in my life, in our lives again. Death is so final.

Hubby retired in February and hey presto, he found new lease of life. More bike races galore, he entered almost one a month in any part of the world he/we could travel to with ease! 

Last year was a pretty full year in travelling, however, I'm sure that once again we have set a new record this year!! There is a standing joke with my FB friends about our travelling. They often wonder if we ever spend any time at all at home. We love checking out new places and of course meeting new people, people who often become very much part of our lives.

The business also has grown wings this year and it's started to fly. People and the universe have been most kind and all in all, the year is ending on a very high for me, my family and friends. All is coming together by the grace of all those looking after us.

We can't wait for 2018 as we look forward to all the great things it's bringing to us.

So, here's wishing you all a very merry, peaceful and loving festive season.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Sleep slips through my fingers - Day 29

Day 29 (Friday 29th December 2017)
25 the High Street, Canterbury is the address of the Eastbridge Hospital.
It was built in 1180 to accommodate the increasing numbers of pilgrims
wishing to visit the tomb of Saint Thomas Becket. Becket was martyred
on 29th December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral (the above picture is
a 15th century alabaster altarpiece from Elham Church, Kent, UK showing
the 4 knights of the royal household who assassinated him). In the
12th century a hospital was a place that provided hospitality (as opposed
to simply a place to treat the sick and injured). For the past 400 years
Eastbridge has provided (and still provides) a home for eight elderly
individuals known as Indwellers.
I'm back from my flying visit to Somerset - hospitals visits done and I have brought my mother and sister up to London for a few days. It will be good for all of us to spend some time together doing family stuff that is different from our conventional day-to-day existence. I am toying with a trip either to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace - it has an exhibition on relating to Charles II and it is small enough not to be exhausting, or else perhaps the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum.

Today's post is by Rachel Burnham, a learning and development consultant based near Manchester. Rachel works with trainers, L&D professionals and HR teams to help them modernise their approaches and become more effective. Rachel is highly creative. The delightful drawing of Rachel and the selkie was done by Rachel herself. Rachel is a talented lady. She writes an excellent L&D focused blog - L & D Matters and is active on social media (you can follow her on Twitter via @BurnhamLandD). When not drawing selkies, Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and is a keen jazz fan, as well as having a passion for gardening (as below illustrates). 


I love the night-time.  I love the darkness of it.  Night time in Manchester is all lights and noise and sparkle at this time of year.  But I like the dark. And looking up at the stars.

When I go to bed, I like to turn the lights down low and for the room to become a quiet and dark place.  A place of imagination.  As I ready myself for sleep, I imagine the night sky and feel it wrapping all around us and our little world, like a cloak.  A cloak, warm and enfolding.  

A cloak with a big, deep hood, a long and swirling cape, made of deep, dark blue velvet. Midnight blue. 

During the day, I never wear blue, but at night, I dream I am wrapped in a cloak of midnight blue velvet as I sleep. 

Or I imagine my bed, with its wooden frame and warm and cosy quilt, slipping free of its moorings and drifting out through the open window, across the roof tops, sailing amongst the clouds, dallying with the stars, adrift across the mountain tops or with the sea far below, perhaps an island or two, floating round a lighthouse,  whales, porpoises lift out of the waves and return with a silent splash, selkie seals with big eyes retrieve their skins from under rocks and swim through the night and birds large and small flock all around. 

The truth is that though I go off to sleep well enough, these days I rarely make it through the night undisturbed.  This past year I wake at 3.30 and 5 and whereas I used to turn and dive back into deep dreams, now I am often awake and unable to sleep.

I try everything.  I cut out tea and coffee after 6pm and for a glorious three week period in April, I sleep the full night through. But in May, I start to wake again.

I try deep breathing.  I read.   I write poetry.  Sometimes I work. I read some more.   Sometimes a snack helps.   Sometimes I slip off as I read.   I plant imaginary gardens – this is the best kind of gardening – no sore knees or back – I picture a walled garden with pinky-red bricked walls, a large lawn and a coloured-themed border fronted with box, which fortunately I trim only in my mind’s eye!   From the door where we enter the path goes straight-ahead and the border on your left gradually moves from white flowers, through lemon-yellow, to deeper butter yellow, then to full sunshine yellow, with a hint of pale-blue, deepening to full blues as the border ends.   Whilst if you turn to the right, starting again with pure white flowers, the blossoms deepen through cream, tan, soft orange, to tangerine, scarlet, wine red, and deep purples.  I plan a spring planting, begin the summer bedding, but rarely make it into autumn!

Yet even this sometimes fails to lull me to sleep, so I read again.   Or remembering a book, often read to my son when small, where an older brother rabbit told his younger sister rabbit to think of happy things before she went to sleep, I fix my mind and think of happy thoughts.  And think of friendship.

I realise now that it is only this year that I have begun to really value friendship.  How wonderful and precious it is.   Of course, I have had friends before.   And some have stayed and some I have lost along the way.  But until this year, I don’t really think that I have fully appreciated friendship.

I am such an introvert that I need and like lots of time on my own.  And I have always spent so much time surrounded by family, that until now, I never seemed to have room or feel the want of more than a few friends.  But these last few years everything has changed so much for me, that now I want and enjoy the company of many, many friends.

Friendship is such a varied and elastic term.  There are friends and there are friends.   There are acquaintances and colleagues and social media connections, people met through work and joyfully some of these turn into and grow into fully fledged friendships.

This year I have been blessed with my friendships.  There are friends who supported my through some bad times – who listened and were there.  There are friendships developed through collaborative learning projects.  There are friends who I have discussed ideas and who’ve challenged my thinking – in person and at a distance.  There are friends who I have giggled with.  There’s a practical friend who willingly gave up her lunch time to help me stick things up on walls.  There are friends with whom together we have made things happen.  There are friendships which have come into being through volunteering & campaigning together.   And there is a particular friendship which has been all of these things and so much more – a many-faceted friendship of work, learning, jazz and cricket. I feel nurtured by this wealth of friendship and give thanks for it.

And as I think on friendship, I feel that warming, welcome heaviness filling my limbs and a gradual drowsiness, so as dawn comes, I at last slip away to sleep again for an hour or so.  A good morning is here!

Rachel Burnham
9 December 2017