December Reflections 9: biggest change in 2019

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What has changed this year? On the surface, nothing much. I haven’t even written a Christmas letter this year, much as I enjoy the process, because there isn’t much to say. We are living in the same flat, doing the same jobs. I did apply for a new job, but didn’t get shortlisted.

But things have changed, none the less. This time last year I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for that promotion. We have finally scraped enough money together for a mortgage deposit, and possibilities open up. This time next year, all sorts of things may have changed.

And my perceptions have changed. What seemed once to be a straightforward trajectory from past into future now looks more to have been the long, almost circular, track around the edge of a labyrinth, bringing me to somewhere that looks very familiar, somewhere that I thought I’d left behind long ago. And already I think I’m turning another corner, heading out towards the edge again. There’s so much going on and I can only travel one step at a time. But I won’t be surprised, next time I end up in the middle, in territory that seems familiar once again…

December Reflections 8: quiet

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A quiet day. Yesterday’s party is over; last week’s guest has gone home. I’m still feeling sufficiently run down after the slow-moving cold of the last fortnight to be reluctant to do much.

But things are happening, even so. Even on a quiet day, there’s a lively wind ruffling the river and shaking the bare twigs of the trees. Things are moving.

December Reflections 7: favourite photo of 2019

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‘This is just ridiculously perfect,’ I said.

We were four days into a narrow boat holiday with my in-laws, six of us, chugging gently up and down the Avon. We’d been up as far as Stratford-upon-Avon, and now we were heading downstream again, towards Evesham and the Severn, towards Bredon Hill.

We moored for the evening at Birlingham Wharf, where there’s space for just one boat, and the closest human habitation is ten minutes walk away. We sat out on the bank, cooked sausages. I wrapped myself up in a blanket. Somewhere there was a cuckoo.

And then there was the balloon, silent, drifting.

It was the loveliest evening.

December Reflections 6: angel

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Nobody gets angels right, particularly around Christmas. No six year old in glittery tulle wings, not this vision in her plastic farthingale, not even Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale, manages to convey the sheer awesomeness of a creature whose first words are very often, ‘Do not be afraid’. Which implies that they are, in fact, something to be afraid of.

Which is something that has been said many times before by many other people. So I won’t labour the point further, or mutter for very long about how the belief that angels are what our deceased loved ones become misses some important points about what it is to be human. (In fact, that’s the thing about all the portrayals of angels I mentioned in the first paragraph: they’re very, very, human.)

Angels in disguise are another matter, of course. If I ever met any, they were carrying umbrellas. (Incidentally, I read somewhere that P. L. Travers thought of Mary Poppins – her Mary Poppins, the mystical, supernatural being of the later books, not Disney’s instrument of 1950s conformity – as one of the archangels. Which makes sense. Benevolent, but still terrifying.)

Angels bring news, instructions. Sometimes you see them in stained glass windows or nativity sets carrying neat little banners saying Gloria in excelsis Deo or Peace on earth, goodwill to all. I’ve been listening out for messages this year. Some of them I haven’t liked at all. Others have not been exactly clear. I have learned over and over again that I am not as good at communicating as I think I am, that I operate on assumptions that turn out to be incorrect. I am trying to keep on listening.

Early in the year, I demanded a neon sign. The next neon sign that I saw read:

Started at the bottom.

Now you’re here.

Which is certainly true as far as it goes. The question is, where exactly is here?

I will keep my ears open. And my eyes.

December Reflections 5: best book of 2019

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As is often the case, my favourite book of the year is one that was actually published several years ago. Eleven, in this case, and the story begins twenty years before that, when the author moves into the Dower Houses at Morville and begins working on the garden. Or hundreds of years before that, when the monastery is built at Morville. Or decades before that, when she’s born. Or hundreds of years before that, when the monastery is built at Morville. Or thousands of years before that, when the Shropshire landscape is formed.

It’s the story of the landscape and the monastery. It’s the story of the author and the garden and her relationship with the garden. It’s about time, measured in days and sunlight and fruit. It’s about people. It raised in me a powerful nostalgia for the place where I grew up, which was not far away, and it observes the changes in society and agriculture with a clear and sometimes regretful eye, but I don’t think it’s nostalgic in itself. It lives too much in the present, and is too conscious of the constancy of change, for that.

December Reflections 4: white

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Today I had to buy a box of tissues, as the cold which has been making me lethargic, despondent and irritable for the last two weeks has finally got to the ‘runny nose’ stage, which for me means nosebleeds too.

Actually, the current bug aside, 2019 hasn’t been too bad for me health wise. A slight iron deficiency got picked up in the summer when I attempted to give blood, and there was another bug which had all the symptoms of a nasty cold except the cough and runny nose, but I think that was about it.

Most excitingly, there was one morning this year when I woke up with the motivation, energy, enthusiasm, everything, squashed by depression, and managed to be kind to myself about it. This is revolutionary.

I think I know how it happened, too. I’ve spent a lot of time this year writing from the perspective of a character who spends much of the action becoming increasingly depressed. I have had to take care to differentiate between her perception of reality and actually reality. It’s hardly surprising if that has helped me get a bit of perspective myself, to remember that what’s really there is bigger than the space in my head. Even if that’s a little bit more difficult when that head is completely bunged up.

December Reflections 3: best day of 2019

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2019 was a year of weddings: four, in fact. Weddings come in waves: the first rush straight after university, then a steady trickle through one’s twenties. It had more or less dried up for us by last year, but this year there were plenty. Some had been a long time coming – no nine years from engagement to wedding, in one case. Each was a very good day.

I identified my cousin Nick’s wedding day as the best day of 2019 when I was flicking back through my diary last night. It sticks in my memory as a long, sunlit, summer day that faded into an evening lit by twinkling lights strung around the garden. I remember sitting around drinking Pimms and lemonade under a shady tree. Trying to dance on a lawn that tilted towards the sea at an angle of about fifteen degrees (and the Gay Gordons is confusing enough on the level). The family, including partners, gathered together for the first time ever. Singing along with the band. A plentiful and eclectic selection of food. Guests from all over the world. My parents agreeing what a nice wedding it was.

(It made the front page of the Isle of Wight County Press (‘an Island man married his boyfriend from India’), which is a) hilarious; and b) something that I would never have imagined when I was a teenager, growing up under the shadow of Section 28.)