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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things can only get better - A look back on 2013

This year was the first for several years that I haven't written this blog on Christmas Day - not because we were without power, unlike many in the Southeast, but because somehow I lacked the impetus to do so.

It was a strange Christmas this year, and as it turned out, the first in five years when I did not go to work. It wasn't planned that way, but the weather had other ideas.

We knew a storm was brewing several days in advance, but had little idea as to just how bad it would be. I was at work as normal on 23rd December, the eve of the holidays, when the wind started to pick up. It was at that point that I began to grow concerned, and I must admit that I was glad to be leaving before it got dark. That evening after we went to bed, the wind began to howl and prance about the village of Box Hill where I live, which luckily as it turned out given its proximity to the River Mole, is the second highest point in Surrey. I had very little sleep that night and awoke expecting half of our fence to be down. Amazingly it was not.

I got up for work on Christmas Eve then as normal, and immediately switched on BBC Radio Surrey. The news was not good with many roads closed, including the A24 which skirts the bottom of the hill, between the 2 towns of Dorking and Leatherhead. This was not disastrous though, as there are other ways off the Hill. I set out then as normal, but before I got out of the car park, I was stopped by another resident coming the other way who informed me that roads in and out of the village were blocked by fallen trees at both ends. I accordingly went straight home and rang work to inform them that I would be unable to come in.

A bit later on after it became light Coran and I drove through the village to see what the damage had been done. We were stopped about halfway along the road by two men removing a fallen tree. Managing to squeeze past, we proceeded a bit further up the road where we were greeted by a procession of tail lights and two feet of flood water. We immediately turned round and went back the other way! I continued on through the village to the top of the ZigZag where the road becomes National Trust, only to be greeted by a parade of cones blocking the road. I was forced then to return home.

A little later on after listening to BBC Surrey some more, we ventured out some more to find that the fallen trees which had been blocking the ZigZag had now ben cleared. We managed to get to the bottom of the road, and parked in Mickleham near Rykas CafĂ©, which we were surprised to find was also under several feet of flood water. Worst of all though was the Burford Bridge Hotel which was completely flooded,  with water halfway up the door. Several fire engines were in evidence with fire fighters helping marooned staff and their guests into boats. I have never seen anything like this in my life, but worse was to come.

When the announcement was made late on Christmas Eve that the Mole was on a severe flood warning we began to get really concerned. Not for our safety, for we are too high up here to get flooded here, but for the safety of others, with as it turned out, good reason. The previous day we had managed to drive through Mickleham to the junction with the A24, where we scrambled across the road to the bridge at Norbury Park - the water at that point was beyond the height of the footbridge and flooding across the road. I knew then from this that on Christmas Day worse was to come, as indeed it was, with half of nearby Leatherhead town centre under water, and many homes and businesses evacuated.

All is well though that ends well, for on Christmas Day the Fire Service came and pumped the water out, restoring access for villagers enabling them to get off the Hill. Sadly it was too late for me to return to work until Boxing Day, and I lost a considerable amount of money, but as I said to Coran, at least we had electricity, Internet and each other. There were many who did not.

Everything is back to normal then now, as we await the next lashing. Hopefully this time it will be confined to other parts of the country.

And so a New Year tomorrow will dawn. 2013 has not been a bad one all told. We said goodbye to  several influential world leaders in the form of Margaret Thatcher and of course Nelson Mandella, and welcomed several more to the fray in countries far removed. There has of course been much unrest - in Africa and the Middle East mainly, in particular Syria with the use of chemical weapons, and of course Egypt. Closer to home we saw the murder of Lee Rigby, the solider stationed at Woolwich Barracks. This was the one event that I shall remember from this year, plus of course Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. It is good to remember both the good and the bad - or as I prefer to say, the light and dark, knowing that the dark ultimately serves the light. It is hard sometimes to see this when in the midst of all of this angst, but it is true as we shall no doubt see in time.

On  a personal note I started the year off with a new job which has of  course not been without its challenges. I had hoped to start 2014 with another job still, but this has proved not to be for reasons
best known to those who would have been my new employers. They never did give me a satisfactory explanation, and almost one month after writing to them asking for one, I am no closer to a resolution. Many changes are afoot at work which will hopefully improve the way in which I work, so for the moment at least, I shall sit these out and see what happens.

My twin passions of reading and travel were both indulged with a passion during 2013 - in the case of books to the tune of 90 titles - a record for me. I also enjoyed several holidays, some for a few nights, others for much longer, including two trips to Lundy and a visit to Iceland in October to see the Northern Lights and experience the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower.

Perhaps though my greatest joy has been the reconciliation with my sister. It remains early days, but I am hopeful that our relationship has turned the corner, and we have finally, with the aid of her wonderful social worker and Doctor, found some common ground.

Coran as always has remained my constant companion and support through all the trials and adversity, holding both my hand and my spirit with her love and gentleness, which she exudes in such copious amounts. I am grateful for every single day that I wake up by her side, despite the challenges of our relationship, which have also been many, and look forward to many more by her side. 2014 can now only get better.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ringing the changes

A lot has happened as usual in the past few weeks, and sadly it looks as if I may be in my current job for a while yet.

Three weeks ago my CRB arrived. I immediately rang the new company to let them know, and it was then that they dropped the bombshell - do not resign until we have arranged your training. I thought this was slightly strange and alarm bells began to ring, but I held tight, waiting to hear back. A few days later I did - could I do my training the following week on Monday and Wednesday. The answer was, I very much doubt it, as I will be at work, and I cannot see my current employer giving me time off. Sure enough, they said no, so it was back to the drawing board once again, where I have remained ever since, growing more frustrated by the day.

In the meantime, the change machine in my current job continues to rumble on. I must admit that I am in two minds about these changes. On the one hand, having help at the weekends will be beneficial and greatly lessen my stress levels, but on the other, the way that certain of my colleagues have been treated is truly appalling and shocks me to the core. I can see why they are trying to do what they are doing, but there seems to be no compassion and no leeway for those who either can't or do not wish to go along with these changes. Not everyone after all can work weekends - one of my colleagues has custody arrangements to see her grandchildren at those times which have been awarded by the courts and cannot be changed, so she at least will be forced to leave.

With the consultation process due to end on December 18th, time is of the essence, yet the company seem hell bent on steam rolling these changes through. They have offered everyone who wants one, a one to one meeting with the Home Manager in order to discuss their concerns, so as it looks increasingly likely that I will be staying, I have arranged mine for Thursday afternoon. I have a list of questions which seems to be increasing by the day, the most pertinent of which is why are the Managers not being asked to work weekends when everyone else is, and who, after our own Line Manager has been made redundant will take her place, as no one else there understands the issues that us housekeepers face.

I am sure that it will all eventually come out in the wash, as things are rarely as bad as they seem, but no one seems comfortable or happy with this transition. Given the circumstances, I felt it best to seek advice from my Union on both issues, the new company and the existing one. They said what I already suspected, that the training should form part of my induction, and as such, take place after I begin work there and not before. I have then written the basis of an email which will be sent in due course. As for the restructuring that is going on, sadly my employer is not Unionised, and so they will be unable to offer direct representation, all they can do is offer advice, which was basically to be honest about my concerns and make sure that everything is written down and signed. It goes without saying that I intend to also make my own notes.

I am a little nervous about the meeting, as my experience of this particular Manager has been chequered to say the least - sometimes she seems okay, sometimes less so. I have to then hope that on Thursday she will have a good day. She might change her mind though after what I have to say. Such is life.

In the meantime, just over a week ago (was it really that long ago), we went to see my favourite rock group in the whole wide world - Sigur Ros. For those who are not in the know (what planet have you been living on), Sigur Ros are an experimental rock band from Iceland, who formed in 1994, and are best known for their ethereal music which in their own words, "plays the Icelandic landscape". Their trademark are the breathy falsetto vocals of their frontman Jon Pal Brigasson, otherwise known as Jonsi, and his use of the cello bow to play his guitar. It is hard to describe their music to someone who is not familiar with it, or indeed, is not familiar with their homeland, but it definitely has a spiritual resonance which is experienced differently for each person that hears it. This is heightened by the fact that many of their songs are sung in a made up language which is a mixture of Icelandic and nonsense, whereby Jonsi's voice is used as an instrument in its own right - you can hear and see in their music anything that it means to you, and for each person that is different.

As you can imagine, both Coran and I were hugely excited by this opportunity to see them live. As the big night approached, we booked a room at the Premier Inn near Wembley Park tube, knowing that it was a 2 to 2 1/2 journey from home,  and that we had no wish to leave early in order to get back safely. I also booked a few days off from work, in order to relax both before and after the show. I am so glad that I did.

To say that the show was spectacular was an understatement of one of the grandest proportions. One of the things that impressed me the most was how their music which although live, sounded so much like the recorded songs I am so familiar with - it is rare to find musicians who have this ability. The play list was a mix of older and more recent material with as expected, several songs from their most recent offering, and three encores. The drums on that last song could be felt right through my body - by the end of that piece every single cell was vibrating and it did not stop for at least 24 hours. I have never experienced anything like that in my entire life and cannot wait to see them again - preferably in Iceland, although I am not fussy - London will do just as well.

I am hoping go to Iceland yet again next summer - another reason why the situation with this new job is peeing me off, for the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes to make plans, especially when you are part of a small department and others also want their time off. We cannot after all have more than one of us off at the same time. Iceland has a short summer, and so opportunities are limited for me to get to the places that I wish to get to - namely, some of the wilderness areas in the northwest. This is challenging territory and isolated in the extreme, being well off the beaten track, but I have always loved a challenge and this is one that I would relish.

It seems then that once again I am finishing this year as the last one also came to an end - looking into the future with  reticence and uncertainty. I hope that by the time Thursday comes to a close, things will be at least a little clearer, but matters are really out of my hands. The only thing I can control is my own reaction to it all.