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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The real meaning of Christmas

As this year comes to an end, one begins to reflect on what has passed during the previous twelve months and analyse, if that is the right word, what it means and what we have learnt from our experiences. When I look back on my year, it has been a year of great challenges but also great joy. The challenges have come as always, predominantly from the ego, and from listening to the gossip of others - certain people whom I work with are definately more negative than others, and I have found myself at times joining in the banter in an effort to bond and feel part of the team. The universe has conpired as always to keep away from those who seek whether they know it or not, to distract me from my path by changing their hours so that I rarely see them, at the same time it has brought me into closer contact with those who challenge in a different way, by reflecting back to me those things that I need to be aware of inside myself so that I can become more conscious of who I am and what I need to work on.

For me this has been a year of both challenges and surprises - and one of tremendous growth. It has seemed at times as if I were plodding laboriously uphill through treacle, so dense has been the energy, and there have been periods of almost complete exhaustion. The feeling around Christmas is though different this year - last year I felt upset and angry that I had just one day off while others in less important (perhaps not the right word to use) jobs than my own, had two weeks off with which to do as they pleased. But, one thing I have learnt and recognised this year is that my path is to serve, and so this year is does not feel like a chore, but an honour and a privilige to spend time with those who in many ways are more my family than my real one, for I spend more time with them than with those to whom I am connected by blood. In the end though, we are all one big family anyway regardless of skin colour, blood, or any of that, as science has now shown.

If there is a message re Christmas that I would like to pass on, it has to be the words of author Neale Donald Walsh. I have my Canadian friend Michele Doucet to thank for passing these words on to me. Michele who is also a writer, reminds me in many ways of myself when I was new to the writing scene and full of hope and aspirations.

What Neale has to say is this:

“The Christmas celebration itself has gotten so big, so almost out of hand, that it seems that a lot of different people have a lot of different ideas about what it's all about. It's about the birth of the savior, for sure, but only if the savior is born again right now. We have been told that there was a savior born in a manger many, many years ago. But here is something that we have not often been told - there has been a savior born every night and every day and every minute somewhere on this planet, from the beginning. What if each of us was intended to be a savior? What if we all were? What if every time someone is born, a savior is born? The only question then would be, whether we know it or not”.

Neale goes further to say that ... “There is something very special we are celebrating during the days and weeks ahead, and it feels to me that it's larger than any one person or any one religion or any one spiritual doctrine. There's a feeling that millions of people experience at this time of year - they experience it in common and they experience it together. I'm sorry if this sounds na├»ve, or even sappy, but I think that feeling can be put into one word - LOVE. If Love really is what we are celebrating here, it will not matter what kind of package it comes in, what kind of dogma it's wrapped in, or what kind of doctrine it's flavored with. It would only matter whether it was real and true, and present here and now - in our lives and in our world. And there is one way to guarantee that it is ... by putting it there. It is, in the end, up to us.

If we want humanity to receive the true gift of Christmas, and if we want to have it last the whole year through, we have to agree to become, each of us in our own way, the savior. Nothing that is going on during this special time will have any meaning until I give it meaning in my own life, and in the lives of others. All of us do, and if we will give ourselves permission to see it that way, and to see ourselves that way - as the person making the choice, as the person modeling the choice, as the person sharing the choice - we can save the day for humanity. The savior can be born again when we allow Love Unconditional to be born again in our hearts.

If you think of someone with love right now, as you are reading this, light a candle in your heart. Whether the person you are thinking of is in the body or has left their earthly body, it will not matter. He or she will feel it. And this is how it begins. Through simple acts such as this. I promise you. The love for another that you ignite in your heart is ignited in the heart of the other. The light may be dim at first, but it will never go out. It cannot, as long as you keep placing it there. That was the message of the man whose birth I celebrate at Christmas. So here's the gift you can give this season. Help me be that. And, for that matter, help everyone whose life you touch. Do it by loving them, simply, plainly, openly, without condition. Return them to themselves. Let's give it to each other, and to all people everywhere. Then, the savior is born .... in us. And then we can bring, we can truly bring, Joy to the World”.

And that sums up more than anything the reason we are all here, to be true to ourselves and in so doing be an example to all those whom we come into contact with by radiating that love that we feel for ourselves out into the world, and letting our own light shine. As Marianne Williamson also said, "It is our light, not our darkness that we are most afraid of". That is why I choose not to make New Year Resolutions, but simply to state that my goals for the year ahead are to continue to grow both spiritually and emotionally and to make a difference to the lives of those whom I serve. Nothing else matters and in the final analysis it is the reason we are all here - to remember who and what we are by serving and interacting with others.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A week of rest

Despite the fact that I have had the past five days off from work, I have not made the time at all to sit down and write. Where you may ask, has the time gone?

Actually when I say that I have not made the time to sit down and write, this is not really true, for most of the time, up until Wednesday at least, was spent sorting out the Christmas edition of the village newsletter thatn I edit. It was a good job I had this week off, as otherwise I seriously doubt that it would have got done. There seemed to be such a lot that I had to do this month - chasing news regarding the proposed Olympic Cycling route that rumour has it will be running through our village (a decision will be made by the end of the year I am told), sourcing Christmas jokes and riddles, typing up recipes, writing obituaries (we had three this month), the list goes on. I finally though got it done and printed it out yesterday morning, and the printer duly picked it up - he is doutbless printing it out ready for distribution as I type.

It has been nice though to have these few days, and not to have to worry about going to work each evening - people don't realise how even those two hours cut into the rest of the day, as you are thinking about it all day long and mentally running through your mind how much time you have before you have to leave. The weather may have been cold and frosty (I am not looking forward to scraping the car tomorrow when I do go back to work), but I have taken advantage of the time to go and do all those things that are normally quite difficult when you have to work. On Monday night we went to see the new Harry Potter film, and this afternoon I was going to s see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest. Tuesday was spent shopping in Guildford, where I spent far too much in Lush and Waterstones, and where I also had a delicious lunch in The Beano vegetarian restaurant at Guildford Institute. It made a nice and very welcome change from the usual Pizza Hut salad.

The rest of the week has been spent not doing much at all - most of yesterday was spent wrapped in various layers reading - shame ! I have started to read The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I have had my eye on for a while now, and very good it is too - it is one of those books that you don't want to put down, so I may have to pck it up again very soon!

I seem to have read a bit less than usual this year, but looking back on the list of books that I have read (mostly crime fiction), there have been some very good ones from different countries - the United States, The United Kingdom (of course), Spain, Sweden, Iceland, India and Rwanda. I do enjoy reading books set overseas, as I find it teaches you such a lot about different places and cultures. I used to be a prolific traveller but nowadays due to budget constraints I am more of an armchair traveller.

Of course there was the trip to Iceland earlier in the year, and I do plan to go back (maybe in the winter next time to see the northern lights), and Cornwall at the end of September, but I miss the trips to Lundy that I used to make. I decided at the end of last month that it was time to go back, and so have booked a week in February, which I am thoroughly looking to. It will be nice to renew acquaintances with the island and the cottage that I love so much and see what changes have taken place in the last 18 months (has it really been that long), but it will also be interesting to see how I feel and whether it feels any different.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Two meetings, two deaths and a resolution

My pain body, that emanation of fear, anger and despair has been rearing its ugly head again this week, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that on Friday I saw my sister for the first time in over a year. Last Monday Coran and I had a meeting with her care worker at the local Police station to discuss my sister and her needs and whether it may be possible for us to forge a relationship with her again. Both of them warned us that she has not been in a good space, but still we were shocked at what we found when we finally saw her on Friday. Her appearance was dishevelled to say the least and her speech incoherent with her mind clearly darting all over the place, the conversation difficult to follow or understand.

We had hoped to be able to talk her properly and lay down some boundaries, setting out why we took the action that we did in blocking her phone numbers after she bombarded us with almost 120 nuisance and very abusive phone calls in little more than 2 months. However, at the end of the meeting when she finally did ask us that question and I began to give her an answer, explaining in the best way that I could, she just upped and left the room. The truth is just too difficult for her to bear, and running away is for her the easiest option. Anything but face up to the truth and admit that she is at least partly responsible.

We had such high hopes though for that meeting and really felt that it could be a turning point, where we could begin to be honest with each other, but sadly it seems that this is not about to happen any time soon. The upshot of it all is that we arranged to telephone her at 4pm the following day, after I was home from work, and work towards her visiting us some time after the Christmas holidays. The first phone call went reasonably well all things considered, but there is still an awfully long way to go. Whether she is ready or not to make that journey is as always open to her.

This was difficult enough by itself, but in the last week we have also had 2 deaths at work. The first one was our oldest resident, a lady aged 103 (she would have been 104 in January). She had been in the home for around 5 1/2 years but rarely left her room, so I didn't get to know her well, unlike the other lady, who was considerably younger at just one week short of 57.

This was a particularly sad case and one that affected each one of us deeply, but in different ways. She was bought into the home in June, suffering from a brain tumour and having been given at that point just three months to live. Perhaps she affected us so much because her illness was so visible, as you could not help but notice her bald head and the scars across her cranium.

She appeared to be dealing with her illness well, but every so often I would hear stories from the staff as to how they had found her crying, and sometimes she would sit in her room shouting "my tumour, my tumour". It was heartbreaking to hear as she was such a beautiful soul. It is often these people though that are taken from the earth first while those whose behaviour is less than exemplary go on forever (not that I am suggesting this with our 103 year old).

I remember how she used to sit in the dining room during those first 2 months chatting away to the other residents and philosophising on all manner of different things. Some of the conversations I was able to join in with, which I like to think she appreciated.

About 2 weeks before she died, I went up to her room just to see how she was and found her lying in bed, her eyes barely open. She was aware of my presence and opened her eyes and took my hand as she began to tell me that it was exactly one year to the day that she had been told the terrible news that there was nothing more the Doctors could do for her and she had at the most one year to live. How she asked, would you deal with such a thing? I looked at her, squeezed her hand and replied that the only thing you could do would be to live each day as it came and to regard each day that you lived as a blessing. That she replied was exactly what she had set out to do, and so she had.

We knew that the end was coming when she stopped eating and drinking. I went home that same day (the night that the clocks changed) and went to bed early as I was tired. I found myself thinking about her deeply as I drifted off to sleep and pictured her in my minds eye, happy and well and smiling, surrounded by light and free from pain. I found myself having a conversation with her in my mind and sensed that there was some resistance to her moving on and taking that next step into the light, and so began to reassure her that it was safe to let go. The following day I went to work and was told that she has passed over at the exact time that I experienced this. You can imagine how I felt, sad, but blessed at the same time - blessed and honoured that like the 99 year old resident who shared her last moments with me last Christmas in a similar way, she had felt able to do the same.

With all of this going on plus the added financial pressure of having several large bills for new glasses and so on to deal with, my pain body at the beginning of this week really did have a field day. When I learned that one of my colleagues was on holiday at the same time that I had requested and found that my own holiday request form had not been noticed or actioned, I decided to put my own holiday back by a week to take advantage of the overtime. All I was offered though was one split shift amounting to an extra 6 hours, while in the meantime one of the full timers was rostered to work 12 days in a row. I was really angry and fed up at this, especially as there was no acknowledgement of the fact that I had changed my plans to help them out, and so arranged to go into work and discuss it with my Manager in what started as a rather heated exchange.

We eventually reached an understanding and she acknowledged that part of the problem has been that the Director has not made it clear as to what the budget is and how many extra hours she has to play with. She was due to meet with him today and will send a memo out to all the staff with her findings. In the meantime, she has been able to offer me an extra long day on Tuesday 16th, which I have agreed to do. With exams coming up during the first 2 weeks of December and more in January/February the pressure will lighten somewhat and I will have to find a way to manage.

All of this though has left me utterly emotionally drained and feeling like I have been through a washing machine (on the high speed spin cycle). I don't know why or how I manage to work myself up into this state, but now after the event, I look back on it and wonder what it was all about. In the end you can analyse to your hearts content, but it doesn't change the situation, what was said and how you felt. What matters is to find a resolution, to talk about your feelings and to move on.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Getting what you want

Last night I felt so fed up when I got to work that I wasn't sure who I was more mad with - myself or the girl who told me about my other colleagues job offer, for it turns out that in doing so she has built my hopes up over something that may not even happen. I have since learned that the job in question is not a proper job at all, but an offer of bank staff, which can and often does mean anything. In theory it can mean no guarantee of work at all, but in practise it may turn out to be full time hours as many of our own bank staff work more or less full time. I cannot in all honesty say what I would do in such a situation, probably take the job and do it for extra money to test the water and see if I liked it first, and from what I understand this is what she plans to do.

So, in one fell swoop all my dreams have once again come crashing down. I don't why I continually do this - listening to gossip and rumours, for that is what it is (the girl who told me based her information on a conversation that she had overheard and had no business in telling me or anyone else for that matter) and base all my hopes and dreams around something that is not even tangible. I seem to do this time and time again and never seem to learn that you cannot believe what you hear unless it comes straight from the horses mouth.

Of course there is no one at work that I can share this with, for I never see the girl concerned (the one who has been offered the job). I can imagine how displeased she must be to know that her colleague whom she thought that she could trust would blab her personal and private information to others.

I don't know why she felt the need to do this anyway - in a strange sort of way maybe it was some kind of bonding, for we haven't always got on that well. In contrast I get on with the other housekeepers very well, and can speak to them about virtually everything. If I had the oppotrtunity I would speak the girl to whom the job was offered right now, as I really do need to speak to someone, but since the housekeepers hours were changed, I no longer get to see her, for she does not work weekends. In the meantime, the Head Housekeeper is on holiday, so I will not get to see her either for at least another ten days, or whenever her next weekend in is.

I really am though thoroughly fed up. It feels like I am trapped in this situation - all I do is sit around at home waiting to go to work with nothing to fill my days except an endless round of farming and daytime television with the occasional cup of tea. At least I had some respite when I used to go to the gym, but we had to cancel our membership two months ago as we could no longer afford to keep it going. I do not want to be sitting around the house for weeks on end with hardly any work and then rushed off my feet the next, constantly at their beck and call every time they need extra hours covered.

It seems to me very unequal but I am not sure what I can do, I did after all make the decision to stay and why was that? It was because of the people and because deep down inside I do love this job and want to stay because it makes such a difference - to me as a person and to those whom I serve, and I see this as a service in more ways than one, for the residents too are serving me in terms of what I get back from them. It is not that I am unhappy with the rate of pay that I do get when I am there, more that there are just enough hours being offered. That is why this seemed like such a good opportunity that was heaven sent - I have been putting out to the universe for months that I wanted a solution to be found that would enable me to stay and be better compensated for the work that I do, and really thought that this was it. It is only natural then to be disappointed when I find that this is not the case.

Oh I know there are others that are far worse off than I am and all of that, and I also know that I have a lot to be grateful for, and I do somehow manage to always keep ticking over, but I want a bit more than that. I do not want to have just enough to live on, I want to have a bit left over that I can save and have money in reserve for those unseen things - items that need to be replaced, luxuries and treats and to save for my own future. I am choosing then the wrong word, for I do not want to do this, I need to do this. The universe obviously has other ideas, but I do not have the slightest idea why or what they might be.

My horoscope for October by Sarah Jane Grace indicates that there may be more to this than meets the eye, but it is difficult right now to see it in this positive light. She says that I would be wise to expect the unexpected, and that is certainly what has happened with this situation, for I didn't see any of this coming. Rather than feeling let down and left in the lurch, as I undoubtedly do, I need to see it as yet another opportunity to stand on my own feet, and prove to myself and others than I am in control and that I have the resources to overcome this, and I know that I do, for as always it is all in the mind. I am always in control of everything I think, do and say even if I like to think otherwise (and most of the time I do).

There are several ways to look at this - maybe she should not have done what she did and told me about this job offer, but it has happened and I need to deal with it. Feeling disillusioned and sorry for myself really solves nothing, for I am the only one who suffers and truly feels the pain. The pain though will pass as it always does and something beautiful may still come from all of this. Maybe she will decide to cut her hours at work and do both jobs part time, maybe she will end up with so much work from the other place that in a few months time she does resign, or maybe nothing will change at all, and I am the one who needs to change. I very much suspect the latter, for what I need to change most of all is my mind, to move out of fear mode and back into the present moment. It will all come out in the wash, and it while it may not be the outcome I would want, it will always be the one that I need.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pimpled, single and seedy - who me ? !

The BBC website, which is undoubtedly one of Britain's best known institutions, and arguably exports, has almost 100 blogs attached to it whose readers are invited to comment on a range of different topics. However, Andrew Marr (former political editor of BBC News) has dismissed most of these bloggers as "inadequate, pimpled and single", and so-called citizen journalism as the "spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night". He goes on to say that "Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all. A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people."

It seems to me from my own observations, that he is talking about social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter more than real bloggers. There I see all sorts of comments, some obviously made by drunks, some yes by angry people, who in the heat of moment lose all social graces and communication skills (assuming they had any to begin with). Andrew is right when he says that people say stupid things online because it is anonymous, things that they often wouldn't dream of saying if they were face to face. Face to face communication though sadly in modern Britain, no longer seems to exist. Instead of meeting up to talk in person, or even talking over the phone, people share important news by text or email, where the words are all too easy to misconstrue. I have had first hand experience of this myself, when I used to moderate and at one time administrate, internet based forums.

This type of communication, to my mind at least is not communication at all. While it may be true that some bloggers are angry, late night uneducated drunks letting off steam,the vast majority are decent uright citizens simply voicing their concerns. Will blogging ever replace professional journalism? No, nothing can ever take the place of in depth news analysis which only a trained journalist can write, but when it comes to other issues, celebrity gossip, the insiders view of particular industries, gardening and everyday issues that are part of all our lives, then yes, blogging can be and often is, just as valid a means, if not more valid, of obtaining information, and I mean real information.

Self publishing, which I am of course an expert on, is a case in point. If you wish to obtain information on this, which source do you feel would be more reliable, a book written by a professional journalist who had not actually tried this method, or a blog written by someone who had? I know which I would prefer and find far more authentic, and I think the majority of other self publishers would agree with me. The same could be said of anything that you wanted to find out more about - which stereo or mobile phone to buy, which hotel to stay at, blogs written by those who have tried these things for themselves are infinitely more reliable and better informed than articles written by journalists who are given these things for free and simply asked by the manufacturer to write a review.

Is Andrew then right to attack bloggers in the way that he does or does he need to open his ears and eyes a little more to the real world - I suspect a bit of both. Yes there are some angry people out there (and most may well have good reason to feel angry), but this does not excuse their behaviour. On the other hand, there are also some very good blogs written by some very good and responsible bloggers. If he doesn't like a blog and the comments that it attracts, then he can always like everyone else, hit the escape key (or maybe the beep should just have better filters so that comments such as these don't appear inthe first place)!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The universe does listen after all

After weeks if not months of agonising over what do with my job, and having finally made the decision to stay and put out to the universe that a solution needed to be found that would enable me to stay, it seems like my request may at last have been heard. While I was cleaning the laundry room earlier this morning, my colleague came in and informed me that another of the housekeepers, has obtained another job. I know she has been looking for a while, as I discussed it with her, and what she wanted to do, and now it seems that like me she has also made a decision, the opposite of mine, in that she needs to go.

This is good for me, since it will now pave the way for me to get the hours and the long term security that I need. Of course I cannot jump the gun and speak to the boss until I have confirmed this with the girl concerned, for the information was after all second hand. Unfortunately I will have to wait a while for that, since as of last week, the full time housekeepers have been changed so that I no longer see her. I used to see her each week when she did her long day, but long days are now not so long, so she finishes at 4.30pm half an hour before I come in. Something tells me however that the Care Home Manager will speak to me about this anyway though, as soon as things are confirmed and she has handed in her notice. Again this may not be for a while, since her new employer will need to obtain CRB clearance, which can take some time. It seems though that all being well, I will be a full time employee by Christmas.

What a huge relief this will be in so many ways - I will no longer have that constant worry about finances and being able to afford things, and will once again be able to save. Neither will be running around going from job to job, working for a few hours at a time doing washing up for minimum wage just to earn a few extra pounds. There will be no more split shifts either of sitting on my bum in the staff room for 3 hours as the Manager in her own words "cannot justify paying me for those three hours in between". I won't be sitting around bored at home anymore either, with nothing to do but play Farmville, yes this make a really big difference to my life, in many very positive ways. All of this goes to show that good things do indeed come to those who wait, and the universe does indeed listen as well.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Anyone want to buy a book?

Today I am going to write about something that I have not written about for some time - my experiences as a self published author, and the problems associated with book promotion. I have not actively promoted my own work, Genesis of Man, for over a year now, in fact probably nearer two years, since after my return to work in retail in November 2008, it became more and more difficult to do so. I found out the hard way that the two things for the most part at least, are just not compatible. For those who work in the service sector, as I did and still do, it is well nigh impossible to concentrate on both your paid job and your book, as at the very time that you should be at home promoting your work, by writing press releases, phoning book shops, arranging book fairs, talks and signings etc, you are at work promoting other peoples wares. Writing, not to mention promoting a book, takes time and costs money. How are you to this on the ever dwindling royalties that authors now earn? The majority of authors, unless that are married to or in a relationship with someone famous, or have other independent means, cannot do this and have to find some other means of making money, which inevitably takes them away from what they love. It is a struggle and a dilemma that authors the world over have to face, and one that spelt the death knell on my burgeoning career before it had even got off the ground.

The thing that has prompted me to write about this today is another anomaly within the writing world that I found incredibly frustrating during the two to three years that I was promoting my work, and which has re-surfaced back into my consciousness again this week, prompted by a link to a free review site for print on demand works which I was notified of my another blogger whose site I used to read on a regular basis. This anomaly is the fact that there are far more resources (and far more of them are free) for fiction writers than there are non fiction.

Think about this for a moment if you will - what are the typical resources that writers use to perfect their craft and promote their wares - writing courses, networking via the Internet (blogs, peer review sites, forums and so on), radio, television and the press. Now some (in fact most in my experience) would say that non fiction is easier to market because the market is more clearly defined, and in many cases this may well be true, but they are assuming that the work in question can be defined in the first place. When that work (as was and is the case with mine) falls into three or even four categories then what do you do? It as my friend described the promotion of fiction, like throwing paint at a wall.

Actually though I disagree with his observation and his views that promoting non fiction is easier. In my experience it is in fact the opposite. It is a fact that the majority of resources that are open and available to fiction writers are closed to those who write non fiction. Peer review sites for example - there is to the best of my knowledge just one that accepts non fiction and even then without a separate Editor, blog sites - again most state fiction only, writing magazines are full of articles on how to write love scenes, how to write thrillers, write for the stage blah, blah, blah, but try finding an article on how to carry out academic research and gain access to the British Library archives or some such and it is nowhere to be found. The closest I have ever come to a writing course for non fiction writers was one in journalism, which is hardly the same thing (although I am an amateur journalist too as Editor of my village newsletter, so the course was useful from that point of view).

It all though leaves a very sour taste in the mouth and makes you think why? And more to the point what is the point, because I cannot see one. Even with forums it is the same, and I find doors slamming shut in my face - one in particular that I joined a few years ago, is a case in point. It is supposed to be a site for book lovers, but the non fiction forum is rarely used at all. When I contacted the owner about getting my book reviewed, I was told "We will get back to you". Two years later I am still waiting, and in the meantime, fiction writers who joined five minutes ago have their work reviewed and heavily promoted by free. It is just not fair.

I suppose though the point I am trying to make is that it is precisely the fact that there are more resources and more avenues for the fiction writer to try that makes it easier to promote. With non fiction, once you have exhausted all the avenues that are open to you (contacting magazines, specialist websites and forums etc, the press and so on) and they have done their piece or more likely not bothered to get back to you, what do you do then?

The fiction writer however has endless opportunities to play with, new sites and new avenues are constantly springing up to cater to their needs and help them with whatever it is they need, and all this despite the fact that at least two thirds of the books published in the UK are not fiction at all! Surely it should be the other way around and the the resources should be directed at us, but no, not a bit of it. Oh well, I guess I can't change people's attitudes, so maybe I should start a site of my own to try and address these issues. The trouble is I am too busy earning a living. Anyone want to buy a book ? !

Monday, 4 October 2010

Back from Cornwall

On Friday the first day of October, the south of England received around a quarter of its usually monthly rainfall, and this was the day that I chose for driving back from Devon - as it turned out, not a wise move, as it took 8 /12 hours against the usual 5. I thought I was never going to get home. As soon as I thought I was getting somewhere, the traffic seemed to slow again, and by the time I finally got in, I was tired, miserable and thoroughly fed up.

Still, it was worth it. The weather up until the day before had been fantastic. In fact it is hard to believe now that just last Wednesday I was sunbathing at Bedruthan Steps, one of the more stunning North Cornish beaches that I was lucky enough to be able to visit.

To try and keep costs down, I stayed at youth hostels. There are plenty in this part of the country to choose from, and the three I chose were Boswinger, which is in the south near St Austell, Tintagel and Westward Ho! which is just across the county border in Devon.

The drive out was long and tiring, along for me, an unfamiliar route, but now I have done it once, I will remember the way for next time. I usually find that I only have to go a place once in order to get my bearings, and remember my way around sometimes years after that initial visit. Boswinger is a small village near Goran Haven in the south of Cornwall, not far from the Lost Gardens of Heligan, which is of course the main reason I chose to stay there. Sunday then was spend exploring the different routes around the garden, and eating a delicious lunch of baked potato brushed with olive oil, salt and cracked black pepper with Cornish Yard (a Brie type cheese made with nettles), coleslaw and salad, all of which (apart from the cheese) was grown on site. When I returned to the hostel later on that day, I drove to nearby Hemmick beach, which is less than a kilometer from the hostel along a very narrow and very steep road. It was a a beautiful beach, but on the way back I met two cars trying to go the other way. Reversing round all those bends to the nearest passing place on a road barely wide enough for one car proved hairy to say the least, and is not something I would do again - I have a mental note to walk to the beach next time.

Monday was spent driving across Bodmin Moor via Golitha Falls and the village of Minions, which is the highest point on the Moor and close to the Hurlers Stone Circle and various other ancient artefacts. I had lunch in a lovely little tea room in the village and went back to the car to read before continuing the journey on to Tintagel. It was a lovely day, the scenery was stunning and I was in no hurry to get the hostel, which didn't open until 5pm anyway.

The directions said that it was perched on the cliffs near the south west coastal footpath at the end of a very rough track, and they weren't kidding. The track turned out to be a path strewn with rocks and gravel, and I found myself wishing for the first time, that I had a four wheel drive. I managed though, navigating the hairpin bends to arrive at the most beautiful location imaginable. I knew I was going to have an amazing few days and I wasn't wrong.

The weather was variable throughout my stay in Tintagel, but I managed to see all the sites - King Arthur's Castle, The Old Post Office and of course the various shops around the High Street. On one wet and windy lunch time, I treated myself to a delicious plate of scampi and chips. I then drove into Port Isaac, where the television series Doc Martin is filmed, in the company of an Australian lady named Barbara and bought some geranium flavoured Turkish Delight and a CD by local group, Fisherman's Friend.

The following day I went to Bedruthan Steps, around a hour and a half's drive from Tintagel, and not far from Newquay. There are probably quicker ways to get there but I was not confident at finding my way through all the small villages and so chose to stick to the main roads going, through Padstow. It was an amazing day and so warm - I removed the legs form my convertible trousers and walked up the beach for around an hour, stopping every now and then to take pictures of the surf and the huge boulders littering the beach, and supposedly used as stepping stones to the sea by the giant Bedruthan, hence the beach's name. It really was a beautiful day and probably the highlight of this trip.

Unfortunately it was over all too soon, as the following day I headed off out of Cornwall and back towards North Devon, en route for home. The last night was spent in the very cosy and by youth hostel standards, luxurious hostel at Westward Ho! I was the only guest and so had the place to myself - what luxury and how nice to was to sit in the conservatory watching television while listening to the rain, and to go upstairs afterwards for a long hot soak in the bath (the only hostel I have ever stayed at that actually has one). The following day it was back in the car for that long drive home.

It was a tiring week in some ways, with lots of driving (around 800 miles) but one that as ever stretched the boundaries and blew away the cobwebs of the preceding weeks. Of course now I am home, things continue pretty much as before - thankfully none of the residents at work died during my absence, but it is coming up to that time of year, so you do start to wonder who might be next. I would rather not think about it, but the thought is there.

My next time off now will be in November, this time just for five days, and then again in January, before I hopefully head off back to Lundy at the end of February. I need the wide open spaces and the solitude and sense of familiarity that only the island can bring. At the moment the cottage is free from Valentines Day onwards towards the end of March, so Is shall probably book as soon as the next credit card statement is processed, around 15th.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Early to bed, early to rise

When we got to the hospital on Monday after my last post, we were told that could do the scan on Coran's lungs there and then while we were there, so off we trotted and duly waited and waited for the results, which eventually came back clear. What a sense of relief that was. We were asked however to return the following day for an ultrasound scan on his left leg, which as it happens also turned out clear. So, all as they say, ended well.

What a difficult and traumatic few days it was though for both of us, not just because of the uncertainty of it all, but also because of the implications it may have had, and may still have, for Coran's hormone treatment. If the hormones that he takes have been responsible for this scare, then it does throw up all sorts of doubts as to whether he should continue to take them, and if it is really worth the risk. This is a decision that only he can make, in consultation with his Doctor at the gender clinic and his own GP. I am happy with whatever he decides, as long as he is happy and makes that choice for himself based on up to date information and honest, genuine advice as to the likelihood of this recurring. The risks do increase as you get older, but then again, so do most risks. You cannot go through life without taking some risks, but you have to weigh things up carefully and make an informed decision based on the information you have to hand.

So, things are gradually getting back to normal (whatever normal is) for both of us - I was back at work last night and again tonight to try and make up some of the hours I lost. I have a long day tomorrow of 11 hours and then 6 hours on Friday. I would normally work again in the evening, but have arranged for the evening off, as I have so much to do before I go to Cornwall on Saturday - food shopping, packing, collecting my new glasses and of course, completing the village newsletter, the prit deadline for which is Friday. I have to get that done before I go away, as otherwise it will be a week late, which I don't think the villagers would appreciate, not to mention our printer. For the moment though, it is off to bed. I have an early start tomorrow and need my beauty sleep.

Monday, 20 September 2010

It had better be worth it!

This morning we have been sitting and waiting for what seems like eternity for that phone to ring, for someone to put us out of our misery and offer us an appointment at the hospital for the scan that Coran needs to confirm whether or not he has that clot. While we wait everything else also hangs in the balance - whether he can continue to take the female hormones that he has been on for the past 2 1/2 years to femininise the body and balance his emotions and feelings, whether I can go to Cornwall at the weekend, or for that matter, even whether I can go to work tonight. I hate this waiting around and this not knowing, yet I also realise that we are not the only ones, and someone (in fact lots of poeple) somewhere else is also playing that same, the game of waiting and not knowing, and the game of uncertainty.

The trouble is of course, for those affected by this, it is no game, but very serious indeed. This is their lives and our lives. I spoke to one of the residents at work yesterday about what had happened, and she helped to put things in a little more perspective, as she has the exact same condition. She is the youngest resident in the home at just 56 and has a category 2 brain tumour and colonostomy, and as it turns out a blood clot in her leg for which she also has daily injections. This in many ways, despite her own problems, put her in a ideal position to offer the solace that I needed. I am ashamed to say that she brought tears to my eyes, as I realised just how much this has and continues to affect both of us. It is like I say the not knowing and all the waiting around.

Sure we joke about it with friends, but inside, it is a very different matter, both of are very fearful as to what it might mean and how it may affect our lives. This may sound melodramatic, but it is no small thing to be given news such as this. I know it is treatable, but the treatment is intrusive and affects both of us our lives. We have enough stress at the moment, with all the changes that are going on, both emotionally and energetically, and don't need anymore.

I have the added stress at the moment of preparing the October edition of the newsletter for which I have just realised I have no centrespread. This afternoon then I should sit down and write something - probably about my recent trip to Iceland in the absense of anything else, but somehow I do not have the heart. I think I would much rather switch on my phone and go and sit in the sun, but instead we have to the hospital for yet another injection. Perhaps we can go for that cuppa on the way back before I have to head on out again for work.

All I can say is that it bloody well better be worth it, or otherwise when I pass over God will be getting an alimighty kick up the backside!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

What a clot - not the best weekend

When I got home from work on Friday evening, with a bag of chips, I was greeted by a rather concerned Coran complaining of pain and swelling in his left calf and requesting that I take him to hospital to have it checked out. So I rather hastily gobbled down my chips and off we went, both of us wondering what it could be about.

Luckily it wasn't too busy when we got there and we were seen pretty much straight away. It was while Coran spoke to the triage nurse that I realised just how serious things might be, for what he hadn't told me was the fact that for the past two days he had been experiencing what he termed as a 'stitch' in his shoulder muscle and heart palpitations, both of which even with my limited knowledge I knew could be indicators of something far more serious.

Anyway, the nurse evidently agreed, for he ushered us inside where we were seen by an array of Doctors and Nurses. Coran had to endure an ECG, a chest Xray and no less than 4 different blood tests, for which we waited an eternity for results. When they finally came back all was normal except for one blood test which indicated that he may have a blood clot on the lung.

Well, I must admit that this knocked me for six. The thing with Coran is that although he is very much in tune with his body and knows instinctively when something is wrong, very often these are stress reactions. He does have an awful lot of fears about medical procedures in general, and in particular needles and the slightest ache tends to give rise to these fears and make them worse, exaggerating his symptoms. Both of us then thought that this was one of those reactions. When we were told otherwise if felt surreal as if it wasn't happening to us but to someone else.

It seemed to be a mirror of what happened almost exactly two years ago on the night that we went to see Stevie Wonder at the O2 and when we spent the night in Mayday Hospital, Croydon, in that 2 armed Police Officers came in as escorts to a young girl who had taken a drugs overdose. We had to sit and listen through closed curtains while the nurse pumped his girls stomach, and it was not a nice thing to hear. At least this time there were no refugees muttering to themselves in foreign tongues (understand that I am not being racist here, but when you are ill this is not what you want or need to experience).

We were finally discharged just before 1am, with Coran having been given (in the stomach) an injection of blood thinning drugs. We were told that he would have to have these daily until the diagnosis was confirmed following a scan which will hopefully be tomorrow. The department that does these is not open at the weekends and so we will have to wait for them to call us with an appointment tomorrow.

This has really knocked for me six and left me feeling really very low, emotional and tearful. It has brought into sharp focus just how much I do love him and take him for granted as I suppose we all do with our partners. Needless to say I didn't make it to work on Saturday. I made it in today though, despite the tiredness, only to find that I was the only housekeeper on duty (well I suppose Sue was the only one in yesterday due to Corans illness). Somehow though I managed and got most of the work done in time for Coran to meet me (having been given a lift by our neighbour) to go to the hospital, which isn't far from where I work for his injection. They did say that he could do them himself if he wanted, but not surprisingly he didn't feel able to, and I can't say I blame him. We both just hope and pray that he doesn't have a clot and this is a false alarm, but if it does prove to be true, well we will have to cope with it the best we can.

All in all then not the best weekend.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Making sense of the universe

It has been nearly a month since I last wrote on this blog, not because there has been nothing to write about, but because for some reason, I have not felt the need. This is strange since in many ways, there has been a lot going on. The tiredness that Coran and I feel seems to be intensifying of late, as with so many that I know -everyone seems to be experiencing this to some degree regardless of whether they are on the path or not. The difference is that at least we have some tools with which to deal with it, and understand a little of what is going on. Those who lack this understanding are left floundering with no sense of direction or understanding at all. The frustrations that they feel are directed outwards to the world at large, to their interactions with others, both verbal and otherwise, and also in their driving - I have witnessed some very erratic and irresponsible behaviour on the roads of late - impatience with regard not only to other motorists but also cyclists and most disturbing of all, horse riders, of which there are many in these parts.

As for me - it has been a strange few weeks, but since when is that new? Just as I thought I had decided to stay in my current job along came another opportunity - a full time housekeeping job in a nearby bed and breakfast. I duly applied and was invited along to an interview on Tuesday. It turned out that the job was a little bit more than just housekeeping, but really more a Deputy Manager, as you would be expected to fill in in the Manager's (who lives on site) absence, each time he and hi wife went away, which I was informed was for at least a couple of nights each month. This would have entailed staying over, to make sure that someone was on the premises, and taking responsibility in the case of emergency. It would also have meant cooking breakfast - and inevitably handling meat, as in this flesh obsessed world, guests demand the full English of eggs, bacon and other fatty, greasy flesh. I did not relish the thought of handling this, and made the mistake of saying so, which I guess did not go down too well, as this morning I receieved the standard rejection letter - "we regret to inform you" blah, blah, blah.

I must admit that it knocked me for six, as despite the above, I really did want this job - not least because of the salary (18K) which would have helped secure my future and enabled me to start saving once again. This is almost twice what I earn in my present two jobs, but, it was clearly not to be. I was then in rather a bad mood when I got to work. One of the residents though made me laugh, as only she can, and all was soon forgotten. When all is said and done it isn't too bad a life. I have more than most could hope for - a job that I love and a partner who loves me. I have food on the table, a roof over my head and a computer on which to type this, which places me in the richest 1 percent of the world. All in all then I have little to complain about.

I have a week off at the end of the month and have decided to go down to Cornwall and spend some time visiting the sites. I have joined the Youth Hostels Association to save money on accomodation and all being well, should have a great time. I have chosen a cross section of different places to visit, and will stay in two locations -one south (Boswinger) and one north (Tintagel). The plan is to drive to Boswinger on the Saturday that my week off starts and the following day visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan which are just three miles from the hostel. If there is time I will also visit some of nearby beaches (there is one less than a kilometer from the hostel). On Monday I shall drive across Bodmin Moor to Tintagel via the village of Minions, visiting the Hurlers Stone Circle and other nearby sites en route. The next few days shall be spent visiting the nearby villages and exploring the south west coastal footpath, possibly crossing into neighbouring Devon, before driving back on the Friday.

It has worked out well, since I have been able to exchange some Tesco Clubcard vouchers for YHA ones (£10 worth equals £40 to spend with the YHA). There has been some overtime this past month, and our Tax Credits have come through, so the financial fog should soon begin to lift, making all of this possible. Once again then, I have to concede that I always do get what I need as opposed to what I want.

When I look back on my life, the signs were there from an early age that I would end up in a job like the one I have now. When I did my Queens Guide Award at the age of 15 I did community service in an old people's home and also did my House Orderly Emblem - which involved hostessing, catering and housekeeping, so there you have it. It seems that for the moment at least, this is where I am meant to be. I have then conceded to surrender and accept the situation for what it is, for it is clear that the universe wants me to stay here in this job for reasons which do not need to be clear - since when has the Universe made sense after all? It isn't such a bad world after all.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Bending the elements to suit ourselves

Yesterday Coran and I went to see a film entitled The Last Airbender. We had been waiting to see this film for quite some time, having heard about it through the grapevine, via friends in the United States. It was an interesting concept that to me at least warrants further discussion.

The film is based on the first season of an animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and was adpated into a film by M Night Shyamalan, who produced The Sixth Sense and The Village, among others. The Last Airbender is the first of a planned trilogy, and is influenced by Asian Art, (so-called) mythology - for I strongly believe that myths are often rooted in fact, however far back in pre-history they go, and the martial arts, with strong cinematic effects.

The film is baseda around the theory that the Planet that we inhabit, is governed by a complex interweaving of four basic elements - earth, air, fire and water, which must remain in perfect balance. The balance is maintained by The Avatar, who has the ability to bend or manipulate all four of these elements, while ordinary mortals (at least some) can bend just one - the element of the tribe that they were born into. The Last Avatar, who was born into the air element, hence the title of the film, disappeared 100 years ago.

The film begins with a young female water bender named Katara, and her older brother, a warrior named Sokka, who live with with the Southern Water Tribe. One day they are out hunting for seals, when Katara detects a movement under the ice. Proceeding to unfreeze the iceberg, she releases a young boy named Aang, and his flying bison Appa, whom it transpires have been trapped for over 100 years. You can probably guess the identity of Aang.

This attracts the attention of Zuko, Prince of the Fire Nation who was exiled by his father until he can find the Avatar, whom the fire nation regard as a threat to their dominance. The rest of the film, without wishing to cut a long story short, details Aang's attempts to restore balance, escape from Zuko's clutches and master the other elements.

Like I say, it was an interesting concept, but one which for me at least was ruined by the American accents. However, as Coran pointed out, in order for people to understand these concepts, they must be couched in a language and a style that people can understand. To me to least (and while I realise this may sound like a generalisation), American is the least evolved spiritually of all nations on Earth, so the film had to shown in a way that would appeal to them, no matter how irritating it was to others, and I found it very much so. The language seemed to be almost child's talk, very basic in the amount of words used and the way they were expressed. I have observed from my own experiences, on both real life and television, that many Americans talk very much like.

Personally I would have liked to have seen much more emphasis on the qualities of the four different elements, which were barely touched upon at all. All that was said was the idea that water is connected to the emotions. This is true, but when you come to think of it there is much more to water than just this - water mirrors the state of not just the Planet but also our own bodies, with three quarters of both being ocmposed of this element.

I felt that this film has strong Atlantean overtones, many of which were echoed in my own work, Genesis of Man (I would urge you to read this book if you ae interested to know more). Atlantis had not four, but seven Royal families representing the four main elements, plus three others - love, spirit and evolution (change), elements which are less well known and less easily defined. In the film each of the elements had a northern and southern kingdom, with their own Royal families who were responsible for maintaining balance and order, just as in Atlantis.

I cannot help wondering if the film harkens back to what took place there, with the Fire element reigning supreme and wishing to be in control. Of course no one can ever be in control, for balance must always be maintained, just as we must express 'moderation in all things'. The balance is delicate but it must be maintained and that I suppose is the danger that we face now all over again.

Maybe that is also a message from nature, for there has certainly been an increase in natural disasters in recent years - the Boxing Day Tsunami (water), various volcanos (fire), earthquakes (earth), and sand storms in the Middle East (air). Earlier this year we saw major disruption to air traffic caused by the Icelandic volcano, which shows us how at least two of these elements are interconnecte. With the rise in volcanic and seismic activity, should the ice caps begin to melt, we will see how all four are connected in a much more dramatic way that could affect us all.

The message for me then of this film is that what we do does very much affect the planet on which we live, and we must learn to respect and work with mother nature as our ancestors once did, and not manipulate for our own sake, simply because we can, as the fire tribe does in the film. For if we persist in this way, the earth will no longer support, nourish and sustain us and that delicate balance will be gone forever, leaving us with no means to support and nourish ourselves. The choice is ours to make.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Moments are all we have

The reaction from friends to the decision I made regarding my job has I am pleased to say been overwhelmingly positive, with most I am saddened to say stating that although they understand and respect my decision, it is not something they would do themselves. This has left me wondering why? I mean why do so many people have this idea that they are not entitled to enjoy their work, and that it is as one of them said, "all about the money", when it is clear to me that it is not about this at all. We have to be happy with what we do or otherwise, as I know from bitter experience, we just wither away inside, each day giving a little more of ourselves away until in the end, there is nothing left. Nothing left with which to perform our so called duties, nothing left for our families and our loved ones, and most importantly of all, nothing left of ourselves. This to me is what life is truly about - the freedom and the ability to express ourselves for who we are really are - this is our God given right, not just outside of work, but every moment that we spend living inside our bodies on this Planet. It is over all too quickly, as I have seen all too often in my job, and we have to make the most of every moment we have, for the moments are all that we have.

This has left me wondering though, in my making this decision and sharing it with these people, am I giving them permission to do the same, and showing them that there is another way, that they do not have to live like this? I have noticed over the years that I seem to act as a catalyst for change, throwing these things up for others to look at, and it seems to me that this is the case here. I do hope so, but if I can help others as well as myself, I am fulfilling my purpose in more ways than one.

It seems that just as I let go and decide to put the call out to the universe to help me stay in this job, that help arrives, for this morning we have received a letter from the Inland Revenue confirming that we are to receive Tax Credits. Normally I would be loathe to put myself in the system as it were, but and I know for some it might be a big but (as opposed to butt, for the applicaton process was a bit of a pain in the a***), if I am to do a job such as this serving the community in return for low pay, then it seems only right that that same community helps to support me so that I can. The Tax Credit system is there to support people such as us, so why shouldn't I claim? They have also decided that we are owed money from laast year, which comes as a pleasant surprise, and at exactly the right time, for it will enable us to pay off the rent that we owe, which the park owners seem so relucant to claim. It will also enable us to get the house painted.

Of course this does not mean that I will rest on my laurels and make no effort to change my situation by looking for that second part time job during the week, but it does give me some breathing space to make sure that the job that I get is the right one, for I know better than anyone that anything other than that just will not work. Yes I am prepared to make certain compromises to stay at the nursing home, at the weekends if not during the week, but one compromise I am not prepared to make is settling for a second job that I do not enjoy. It has to be right and it has to make my heart sing in the same way that this one does. So, let the search commence !

Friday, 6 August 2010

A lesson learnt

I have learnt a really valuable lesson today and am glad despite the anguish, that I had the opportunity to find this out in a most difficult way. It was only difficult of course because I made it so, with my failure to listen to my own heart. While I am sure that I could have done the job that I went for this afternoon, and it would in many ways have been an excellent opportunity, it was not until I got in the car to come back home again that it really hit me just how much I love and do not want to leave the job that I have, at least not completely. I just cannot imagine never seeing those old people again and having the chance to interact with them and make such a difference to their lives.

I know the money and the hours are rubbish and that it flies in the face of all logic, but that's how I feel. So strongly in fact that when I got home I burst into tears. Yes one has to be practical, but what is life about, I mean really about? It is not about having material goods and putting on a front at work each day pretenting to be something that you are not simply to make a few extra pounds. Life is about forming relationships with others and finding out who you are, and we can only do that through interacting with others. I have had so many truly awful jobs over the years (where I nevertheless learnt a lot), where I felt that I was not being myself and that I had to wear a mask, but in my current job I have never felt that - I am more myself here in fact than I have ever been before. This is the job I have been waiting for all my life, so I have to find some other compromise that allows me to stay.

After I got home and spoke to Coran about the whole thing, I rang the agency and did my best to explain it all to them. I am not sure if they understood, but in the end it doesn't matter, for this is my life and my decision and I have to do what is right for me. I said to them that if the job was offered, would their client be open to the idea of a job share? That way I could continue my current job at the weekends, and work at this other one during the week, for two, maybe three days. They did not hold out much hope, but said that it may be a possibility and they could only ask - if and when an offer was made. There was no call by the time I left for work just after 4.30pm, and none while I was out, so I can only assume that they decided to offer it to someone else.

That is all fine by me, as I know that something else will turn up that does make this possible. Either one of the other housekeepers will leave, or another opportunity will open up elsewhere. This is quite possibily one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, but ultimately I knew that I had to be true to myself, as in the scheme of things that is all that really matters.

At the end of my days, when I pass over and have my life review, looking back on the things I have seen and accomplished, it is the relationships I have forged which will matter, and not how much money I made or how good I looked in my power suit. None of this is me, and it never will be. All of my life I thought I wanted a straightforward nine to five job which I can settle into and stay in for life, but I know now after today that is not where happiness lies - if I had taken that job I would have been bored as hell within six months and the search for yet another short term job would have started all over again.

It is time to call a halt to the wanderings of the mind, and to be happy with what I have - what I have is a job that I love, that makes a difference to the world in so many ways, that most could not begin to imagine. In this regard, I am truly blessed. It is what lie is all about - I am not there to clean and to do the washing up, important though that is, but to brighten the old peoples days and to make their twilight years and months as happy and comfortable as possible. What a joy and a privilige to be able to share those last precious moments of their lives, holding their hands and stroking their hair while they drift slowly off to the next phase in their evolution, wherever and whatever that may me.

I knew all along in my heart of hearts that this was where I belong, and I intend to stay put for quite a while yet.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The rest is up to her

When I got in from work tonight, Coran informed me that the local hospital had rung yet again, with regard to my sister, and that I should call them back. Once I had eaten and watched EastEnders I proceeded to do this, to be told that she had been to the Casualty Unit earlier that day complaining of abdominal pains, and not wanting to wait, had discharged herself. They could not then have been that bad.

Up until April, we had heard nothing from her in months, thanks largely to the fact that she had lost our telephone number. Given her illness and history, I have to confess that we were quite glad of this as it meant that we could get some peace. Yee of little hope!

At the beginning of April, a trainee telephone operator within The Police gave her our number once again, despite the fact that it ex directory, and she has been ringing more or less constantly ever since - a total of 117 times in the 3 months until I went to Iceland on 4th July. I think any reasonable person would agree that this is not reasonable at all, especially since many of these calls have been late at night, or in the early hours, and many more still have been abusive in the extreme.

Things came to a head while I was in Iceland, as she kept hassling poor Coran, ringing up to seven times each day asking to speak to me, when she knew full well I was overseas. When she rang at 2am this was for Coran the last straw. He telephoned the hospital back (she was at that time an inmate at the psychiatric ward) and informed the staff that if she rang again he would telephone the Police. An hour later she rang again, and so Coran did what he had to do.

The Police were very good, coming round to the house the following day and spending almost an hour with Coran, noting all the details. The end result was that they advised us to block her number, which very reluctantly we have now done - four numbers in fact, since she has both a mobile and landline and sometimes phones from her so-called boyfriends house, as well as the hospital. The only contact we have had with her since this time has been through her care team.

In time we hope to arrange a meeting between the three different parties explaining our actions and setting down some boundaries for the future. The plan is to use the carrot and the stick, giving her an incentive to change and to treat us with the respect that we deserve. We are not then shutting the door completely, but saying to her that if she wants us in her life then she has to work within our boundaries. If she is prepared to do that and shows that she is willing to change, then maybe just maybe, our relationship can be salvaged. The rest then is up to her.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Life carries no guarantees

For some time I have been receiving comments on this blog from an anonymous poster, which appear to me at this end in the form of a load of blank boxes which just do not make sense. Unfortunately then I have to reject these comments as they cannot be read. I am not sure what the problem is, whether the poster may be from overseas and be typing in a language that this blog does not recognise, but I post this in the hope that whoever it is reads these comments and understands the reason why his or her posts are not being allowed. If the problem can be solved, then I will be more than happy to post the aforementioned comments.

When Coran and I got home earlier today from shopping in Guildford we found a message on the answerphone from a job agency that I signed on with after my return from Iceland. When I telephoned them back they informed me that they have arranged an interview for me on Friday - the unthinkable then has happened and it seems that my departure from the job I have grown to love so much may come sooner than anticipated. Now that it is real, I am even less sure of how I feel. I understand on a practical level that there are compelling reasons why I should leave, not only financial but also in terms of stability. It would be much better for me to have one full time permanent job with regular hours than it is to have two part time jobs both of which offer irregular and less than social hours, yet at the same time I really do love what I do, as it offers meaning and makes a difference in so many ways, and this job which on the surface sounds so full of promise, will not offer the same level of fulfilment which is so important to me.

I have had many different jobs over the years, some good, some not so good, but up until now, the one thing they all had in common is that they did not really make all that much difference - at least not to me. Sure they made a difference to those that the company served, but not to humanity as a whole, and I really do need to feel that the work that I do does have meaning. This is very, very important to me, perhaps more important than money. Yet at the same time there is this dilemma, the knowledge that meaning does not pay the bills and does not secure my future. While it is true that Coran and I do manage, I want a bit more than that - I want and need to be able to travel and buy nice things, and to know that I can save for my future -the older I get the more important this gets.

I said the other day that I would place it in the hands of the universe and see what happened, and now that I have been offered this opportunity to go and see the company concerned, it seems that this may be the direction I am meant to go in. Why then do I resist? My friend Sarah Jane Grace's horoscopes for the month of August state that I have a desire for change coupled with a desire to cling to the familiar and that I need to figure out why I am reluctant to change. I suppose it is because I have had so much of it and am tired from the constant movement.

Sarah goes on to say that life carries no guarantees and I recognise deep down that this restlessness that I feel within is not going to go away. Cancerians are if nothing else resourceful, and whatever happens I know that there are no mistakes - only learning. The future may not be paved with gold, but this does not mean that it should be paved with caution either. Life is an adventure waiting to happen, and while I would and will (for one day I will have to leave if only when I retire), miss the residents a great deal when I do leave, the next job may be equally fulfilling but in a different way. I should embrace the changes and go with the flow a little more, which I admit is not always easy to do. The truth is that until I see that company and discuss the job in more detail I really do not know. I can only wait once and see.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A difficult choice to make

Since I got back from Iceland just over 2 weeks ago (it seems like forever) I have been trying to figure out what to do about my job - or to be more precise, whether it is time to move on. There has been a feeling of discontent brewing in the background for a while now, which when I think about it, began in May when the Care Home Manager rostered me to do some extra work without bothering to ask. It was a genuine mistake, and we have spoken about it since, but it still left me feeling very much taken for granted, and only served to highlight the cracks which have begun to appear of late.

This one seemingly small but nevertheless significant incident was for me merely a symptom of a much deeper unease. In the past few months there have a series of little things that have conspired to niggle away, which when put together seem a lot bigger - the fact that we haven't had a pay rise for one, when we all work so hard. This would not be so bad were it not for the fact that the Director who owns the home continually picks holes in the hard work that the four housekeepers do, finding fault and complaining about stupid things like a few specks of dust or some sellotape marks on the wall, things which most ordinary and sensible people would not worry about. He seems to think that this will affect his three star rating, but as my colleague pointed out to me last night, this rating stems purely from the quality of the staff that he employs. The discontent is such at the moment, especially among us housekeepers, that at least three of the four are looking for other jobs. I can safely say that he would have great difficulty finding anyone who is willing to work anywhere near as hard as we do, and put up with the flack that we get from him, for the money that is on offer.

It is not all about money of course, although it does play a part. There are other things as well. The fact that I am always told that they cannot justify paying me to work between 2 and 5pm when I dom split shifts of 8am to 2pm and 5 to 7pm, yet find the money to take on a Deputy Manager whom I will never see. The fact that trays of dirty plates are still being dumped on chairs with the assumption that the housekeeprs will deal with it when it has been mentioned time and time again at staff meetings that this looks bad for visitors. The fact that the housekeepers seem to be continually marginalised in so many things and rarely if ever consulted on matters that affect them - the decision to serve lunch later than usual at certain times, but expecting us to still finish at the same time. The thing that has annoyed me most of all however is the fact that we have been asked to undertake a distance learning course on health and safety which is a mandatory requirement for the job, in our own time, with no remumeration offered. Like I said, it seems like a series of little things of seemingly small signfificance, but them together and it becomes quite a big thing.

Despite my protestations of money not being everything, the fact is I am not being paid nearly enough for the work that I do. When I did my tax return for last year, after taking business losses into account, and despite the fact that I have 2 part time jobs, I earned a grand total of £7700. This is just not enough. It covers the basics but leaves nothing over for a rainy day, and leaves me without the ability to save for my retirement, something which at the age of 45, is increasingly on my mind. In the end it may be this more than anything that forces me to leave, even though in my heart of hearts, I do not wish to do this at all.

The reason I say this is because I have bonded so well with the residents and their families - their faces light up when I walk into the room, and I am able to talk to them in a way that somehow none of the other staff members can. Just the other night I was sitting in the lounge chatting on one of the men, who is in 80's and really quite frail. I asked him how he was and he looked into my eyes when he answered and took my hand. I have never seen him do that with any of the other staff. Then there was the experience with Lulu, who died just before Christmas, and allowed me to share in my dream state, the moment of her passing. This was an experience I shall never forget.

The job to me is so much more than a job - I am not there to clean and to wash up, but to spend time with the residents making their lives better, that to me is what it is really all about - making a difference in my own unique way. I am afraid that if I move to another job I will lose that connection, and so I have this dilemma - do I settle for second rate pay and conditions in return for a job that does make this difference, or I sell my soul for more money? What a difficult choice to make.

I guess a compromise for me would me to continue working here at the weekends and ditch the evening job, replacing this with another part time job two maybe three days a week. That seems a sensible compromise which could work quite well, but jobs like these are hard to find and what type of job would I want to do? It seems so overwhelming at the moment that I am doing the only thing I can do - placing it in the hands of the Universe to see what transpires.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Iceland voted as top destination for 2010 - but can I afford to go back?

Lonely Planet, the leading travel guide series, recently announced Iceland as the top summer destination for August 2010. They are encouraging travellers to visit the country, known as "the land of fire and ice" as in their own words (and mine) "there has never been a better time to go". This is partly due to favourable exchange rate for both the dollar and pound, which helps to make the country traditionally regarded as expensive, more affordable than ever before, with flights back to normal following the earlier disruption from Eyjafjallajokull.

Iceland was ranked fifth out of ten best value places to visit overall at the end of last year, but the publisher is now saying that that Iceland represents the perfect trip for 2010. I would certainly second that after my own recent visit. The country has something for everyone - whatever your age, interests or pocket. If you are a culture vulture then Reykjavik boasts a fine selection of museums for you to explore - how about a trip to the Culture House to view the ancient manuscripts or to the National Museum where you can follow the genealogical heritage of the modern Icelanders ancestors? If you prefer the beach, you can spend the day on the golden sands of the city's geothermal beach just beyond the city's domestic airport, complete with pipes that keep the sea temperature artificially warm and with bubbling hot pots on the shore. Prefer your swimming indoors - no problem, the city boasts several in and outdoor pools suitable for families of all ages.

If walking is more your thing, then Iceland will be like heaven - for there are miles and miles of trails to explore in all types of terrain - ranging from desert plains of black volcanic sand to lava fields and the greenery of the country's national parks.

Lonely Planet particularly recommends a visit to Landmannalaugar in the country's interior, only accessible during the summer months of mid June to September, which is famous for its multi coloured rhyolite peaks and hot springs, situated just 200 metres from the hut. They also single out the Westman Islands, which this time were on my radar, to see the thousands of puffins that breed there annually.

Yes Iceland is indeed a magical place, and with temperatures in Reykjavik reaching 24degrees yesterday, was probably warmer than my own Surrey village. I wish I was still there, but we all harken back to our holidays. Nice as it was, sadly it it is not real life, it is the grind and the graft that I experience now that pays for these trips. Despite the graft, I do for the most part enjoy my work, for it is at least worthwhile and offers meaning, unlike my previous job selling over priced junk to huge egos. I have a dilemma at the moment though, for I am not sure how much longer I can really afford to stay, if I wish to experience more of these kinds of trips - Iceland may be good value for money, but it still costs money - for me around £1200, the bills for which are rapidly coming in. I have the money to cover it, or at least will do once I am paid for those exams I invigilated, but if I continue to work part time this may not the case next year, so I am casting my net around to see what is out there - at the moment it seems like not a lot.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Let sleeping dogs lie

I had to return once again today, to the store where I used to work, and which 19 months ago (is it really that long) did its damned to get me the sack. Thankfully they failed, but I ended up resigning anyway. It's a long story which you can read in more detail should you have the time to go through the archives of this blog this far back. Personally I can't be bothered myself, which leaves me wondering why each time I have to go back in there, it dredges up such awkward and painful feelings - feelings of hurt and humiliation even though I know I did nothing wrong. Sure I was foolish, idiot even, but they played a part too, and I refuse both then and now to take the blame for something that was as much their fault as my own.

Ordinarily I wouldn't go back to a place where I used to work, but from time to time in this case I have to, as once again, a product that I bought from them was malfunctioning - if I say what is is I will give the game away as to who this company is, so it is best to keep stum. This time the Manager was there, who was also my Manager at the time that I worked there. It was obvious that she was aware of my prescence, since she walked right past me as I stood at the counter, almost brushing my elbow, and looked me right in the eye, but choose to say nothing. There she was again after I left, walking out of the store with one of her staff for a cigarette. Once again she looked right through me, although I know that she must have known that I was there. Why then did I feel so awkward about this when it is so obviously her stuff, and why after all this time do I still find it so hard to forget and move on? When I am not there I don't think about the place at all, but when I hear the company's name mentioned, or think about buying the products that they sell, the feelings come flooding back to haunt me. I know it is natural to feel this way after such an experience as I had, but is it natural to feel this way after all this time, should there not come a time when one begins to move on?

I think that to help that process in the future it would be best if I went to other branches, or dealt with the company over the phone, as it is not the company itself that causes the problems (although there was something inherently wrong with the way that things were run), but that particular branch, as that is where my painful memories lie. In the end I had a wasted journey anyway, as the assistant ascertained that in order to get my item repaired (thankfully it is insured), I would need to send it back in some packaging that would be sent to my home address, something that had I known, could have been done over the phone. C'est le vie - lesson learnt, from now on, keep the past firmly where it is, and stay away from those haunted places that hold such memories - the only way to heal is to stay away and let those sleeping dogs lie.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Back from Iceland

A funny thing has happened during the last few months, the more time I spent playing Farmville, a virtual farming game that I am ashamed to say I became rather addicted to, the more I lost the ability, or perhaps the impetus, to write. I hope that it proves to the latter rather than the former, but I guess only time will tell. Now that I am back from Iceland, there is certainly much for me to write about.

How do you begin to describe such a life changing experience? I guess at the beginning, although where the beginning is, I am no longer sure.

During the weeks and months leading up to departure, I certainly had a lot on my plate - with problems both at home and at work. With work it was mostly to do with feeling taken for granted - it started when I became aware that my boss had rostered me to do some overtime without asking whether I could. There were other things as well which increased the stress levels, not getting a pay rise, working hard at my second job as an exam invigilator, being asked to undertake a distance learning course for which I wasn't paid, and being asked to attend meetings on my days off, meaning that at one point I worked 13 days in a row. Add to the mix the constant abusive phone calls from my sister at all hours of the day and night, and worries about the forthcoming trip (the first I had undertaken of this kind in 9 years) and the stress levels became almost intolerable. It was not surprising that I was tired and irritable with everyone, and was not sleeping as well as I might.

Iceland did little to solve that problem, with the 24 hour daylight, but once there and once I had recovered from the journey (a series of delays meant that I did not get to my room until 3am British time), and had some rest and recuperation in the hot pools at the famous Reykjavik swimming pool, I began to feel better and more grounded, and litle by little the stress levels dropped away.

My first day after arrival in Reykjavik was spent pottering around the city and getting my bearings, in preperation for the second day where I took the long distance bus to Skaftafell National Park which is in the south eastern corner of the island, via the highland route that goes through Landmannalaugar. Compared to the hikers and back packers on that bus, I felt very middle aged and very out of place, but comparing yourself to others is a useless exercise and once there I enjoyed the freedom of walking the various trails out to Morsdalur where the glacial river crosses the foot of the valley, and around the Skaftafellsheidi loop. This was an unforgettable day spent climbing the summit of a very steep and very winding hill. When I got to the top and finally caught my breath, I looked out over the most magnificient view I have ever seen - a series of low cloud formations hovering over the edge of the glacier, as I heard the ice creek and moan making sounds that I thought as I approached, were distant thunder. Well after an experience like that, and an hour and half walking back down that mountain following the outline of the glacier, I didn't think things could get much better, but they did.

I travelled back to Reykjavik at the end of the second week and the following Monday flew to Heimaey in the Westman Isles in a blaze of sunshine which remained for the length of my stay. Three sun soaked days walking the length and breadth of the island, which reminded me in many ways of Lundy. It was a bitter sweet time spent walking among the graveyard of buried houses from the volcanic eruption in 1973, and walking around the beautiful blue green island, sitting on black volcanic sands and watching and listening to the myriad of birds - the calls of the curlews and the oystercatchers as they fluttered past on the breeze, circling round and round in the air to protect their young from my trampling feet. The climb up the radar mast at the end of the airport runway on the last day was exhilerating, sliding down the scree slope at the end on my backside which sent gravel and rocks flying everywhere. Walks around the volcano to see the remains of the buired houses, which are beginning to be excavated were no less so, but in a different way.

Following my departure from Heimaey at the end of the trip, I spent three days in Reykjavik, a city which I have got to know now very well indeed - time was spent at the geothermal beach, at the city's swimming pools, visiting the various museums and shopping for books and DVD's among other things, to bring back home. I also went to see the famous Geysir and Gulfoss waterfall, and of course Thingvellir National Park - no visit to Iceland would vbe complete without spending at least half a day here. The trip was rounded off by a visit to the Blue Lagoon, whose relaxng waters I cold spend hours in, before heading back to the airport at Keflavik and back home.

It feels strange to think that just 2 days ago I was sitting on that aircraft among a large group of noisy students waiting for take off, and 3 days ago I was on the bus somewhere between Geysir and Skalholt on my way to look at the ancient and very important church.

This holiday represented so many things to me - not only a break from work, but also from Lundy, and the opportuinity to prove to myself that I can still do many of the things that I used to enjoy so much. It was a chance to get that old confidence back, to get out in the open air meeting new people and doing new things, pushing through those barriers of fear and uncertainty, barriers which have now been removed.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The birth pains of a new era

You would have to have been living on another planet or in some uninhabited territory not to know that last week Britain went to the polls, the result of which was as highly predicted, a Hung Parliament.

There seems to be an enormous amount of fear around regarding the result of this election, but I am sitting and remaining detached from it all. I personally think that it was the best thing that could have happened, for it is forcing our leaders for the first time to be honest with each other and to work together, which is something we should all do. The inner reflects the outer, and so we get the Government that reflects our society. Before we start critisicing the politicians perhaps we should look in the mirror and remember that change starts from within us. If we really want change then we have first to change ourselves and the way in which we act and view the world.

The winner will ultimately be the one who shows the most integrity, and it will become more apparent in the coming months as to where their integrity lies. The results are a reflection of where we are at as a country, that so many could not make up their minds - I would not be surprised to find that in the coming months more irregularities and more corruption come to the surface as the parties are forced to communicate both with each other and with us, forcing the transparency in politics that is so desperately needed, and in the end also forcing change, most of all in the voting system itself. Change which will result in greater fairness and accountability all round. Politicians (especially the main two parties) are notoriously resistant to change, and with good reason, for they think they have an awful lot to lose. Like everything else though, it is all illusion, for none of this is real.

Whichever way it goes it will be the right decision. I say this in the knowledge that there is no such thing as a mistake - only choices, and whether or not we regret the choice we made it is pointless anyway. We have to live with that choice once it is made and run with it. The same is also true of our vote - I cannot understand why anyone would think their vote has been wasted just because the result was not what they wanted - every vote makes a difference, how can it not?

It is easy to think that this is a dreadful state of affairs and to get caught up in the drama of it all, but there is little to be accomplished by this view and it is not how I choose to view the world, living constantly in fear. These are exciitng times, filled with hope and filled with change, we are witnessing history unfolding here and the birth pains of a new way of being. This is not then a dreadful state of affairs as so many have said, but an opportunity to find out who we are both collectivity and as indviduals and to put that into action. It is what we are here to do.

If we truly seek change then that change has to start with us. The trouble is that many may say they want change, but when it comes down to it, they really don't, as the transitional period is too uncomfortable for them. Change doesn't after all happen overnight and the adjustment period can be quite difficult and painful. Yet change is the only constant force in the universe, more powerful even than love. It cannot be stopped or held back, to do so would only hinder the process of evolution. It is far easier to just accept the situation for what it is and take another tip from the Icelandic volcano - go with the flow ! It is ultimately far less painful for all involved.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

a memo (and a message) from the boss

I have been off work for the past few days with a nasty tummy bug that began last Thursday with minor back ache and rapidly worked round to the front, with at times quite severe cramps and constipation. Having seen various doctors at both the local surgery and the nearest Casualty unit, the consensus seems to be that I have picked something up at work - it only takes one incident of forgetting to wash your hands, which when you are busy is very easy to do. From now on though I will be taking much more care. The worst of the cramps seems to be over, and all being well, I should be able to return to work on Tuesday.

As always though, there may be more to this than meets the eye. A few weeks ago, the Director of the home sent a memo round to all the housekeepers stating words to the effect that the standard of cleanliness had dropped, and that since this was the second time he had brought it to our attention, the message had obviously not got through. If things continued in this way, and a third memo was sent, he would take (and this is his exact words) "appropriate action". As a former Director of one of the UK's largest banks, and no doubt enconsed in a large house somewhere in the subburbs with the proceeds of his bonusses, he has very little idea of what it means to be an ordinary working person and is clearly lacking in social graces. As I pointed out to one of my colleagues, he certainly has a way with words.

To be honest though, after the way in which I and the other housekeepers worked, especially during the 10 weeks that my colleague was off sick with a slipped disc (I did at one point more than twice my normal hours), this felt like a kick in the guts - and what do I get ? Stomach cramps that prevent me from working ! Of course, as Coran also pointed out, there may be another second way of looking at this too -the standards of cleanliness in the home itself may not have dropped (not from where I am standing anyway), but the fact that I got this bug means that maybe my own standards with regard to personal cleanliness have. Most bugs of this nature cna be prevented by simple hand washing, which I have to admit I have been a bit lax with of late. From now on I will be making much more of an effort to wash my hands more regularly, especially after cleaning the toilets !