Thursday, 30 August 2012

Turning it around

Yesterday I swam a little over 2.5k.  Quite an ordinary training session in this respect.  But extraordinary in the fact that I got out of the pool feeling as though I'd made real progress.  Swimming long distance, and being largely self-taught, I know that I have developed habits some of which don't perhaps serve my aim of efficiency.  Habits are hard to break.  Some are harder than others.  I know that perhaps better than most. 
On average, I swim 3kph.  It's not particularly quick, but it's not slow either.  Particularly when the bulk of my usual training is done by my upper body alone.  I swim arms-only, keeping my legs steady using a float.  I am working towards letting go of this aid, and swimming with my ankles tied together as my friend and fellow aquatic enthusiast does.  Losing the float will introduce an additional challenge, I will have to work hard to maintain correct body position in the water.  My legs had their workout on the bike last night. 
Ploughing up and down for 100-120 lengths is something of a pleasure.  I appreciate that this may not appeal to all, but confess that I am never disappointed.  The biggest hurdle for me is generally getting to the pool; once I'm there, it generally goes swimmingly.  Recently I've not been making it as regularly as I like to, but am hoping to commit to an increased schedule in coming weeks and months. 
Wednesday's session was something of a surprise, as I had not intended to work on my turns.  In order to maintain momentum and rhythm, I flip turn at each end of the pool to continue swimming length after length.  Yesterday I did over one hundred turns in total.  The first quarter of my swim, my mind was elsewhere.  It takes me a while to fully arrive - whilst my body is there, my mind often take a little time to catch up.  Upon arrival, I experimented with a couple of different turn techniques.  By what was to be the mid point of my swim (I don't, generally, decide this in advance, preferring to go with the flow, remaining attuned and responsive to my energy levels), I had adjusted the timing and style of my turn.  I continued to practise, knowing that to integrate this into my regimen, I needed to coach my muscle memory - here, my body needed to catch up with my mind.  Being able to envisage the perfect turn is no help at all when you're upside down underwater; your focus needs to be sensory, not intellectual - in order to maintain the all-important breathing pattern throughout the turn.
For my final 200m, my turns felt seamless and might have looked (I optimistically imagine) rather slick.  They felt effortless and easy - I was achieving a consistent body posture when starting the new length, and my breathing was stable and settled.  I noticed too that, in spite of fatigue's advent, my splits had improved, a great feat at the end of my swim.
My encounter in the pool once again resonated with my experience on dry land - that taking the time to come back to basics can be an important step in making any significant change.  Establishing firm foundations and creating new habits, through practice and repeated action, can help solidify the change, underwriting it in the future. 
Habit breaking is best followed up with the introduction and of new habits, the cultivation of which require patience and persistence.  Turning things around is one of life's great pleasures, and we each of us have the power to do this - in all areas of our lives. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Go-to people

"I'm something of a go-to person for each of them, I s'pose", he explained.  In this constellation, he is important.  Go-to people are extremely important.  Are you someone's go-to person?  Who are your go-to people? 
Most of us need a go-to person.  Someone with whom you can be honest, and open.  Somebody you could call in the middle of the night (and be confident that they'd pick up).  Whose call would you take in the wee small hours?  Even the most self sufficient of us benefit from the knowledge that there is someone to whom we can turn, come what may. 
Being a go-to person is a privilege, but it is also a responsibility.  The ability to respond to another's distress, and genuinely be present for someone else, depends on our own self care.  Ideally, we construct a go-to network, accepting the reality that even in the age of instant communication, we cannot guarantee that someone will be there for us when we most need them. 
As a therapist, I may be something of a go-to person for some of my clients, some of the time.  Believing as I do that within all therapeutic encounters is the goal of interdependence, a healthy balance comprising self efficacy and an important degree of self awareness, to both know what one's needs look like, and how one might access and then use support to meet these - I do not strive to be anyone's go-to person indefinitely.  Mine is a bit part in the grand scheme of things.  I am the understudy for the many other characters who will walk into the lives of my clients, and play roles negotiated with my clients, as directors of their own stories. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Disappointed but not defeated

I had been looking forward to it.  I had the onset of lastminute nerves as I carbed up at breakfast.  I checked my registration information before setting off, leaving plenty of time for the 11.00h start time.  It wasn't to be - the organisers of the Big Swim decided to change the start times accommodating for the different events that were being held at the Vachery Triathlon Festival.  As I queued in the registration tent, my heart sank on catching sight of the whiteboard displaying the unwelcome information.  The water temperature at 20.2° concerned me not in the least.  The start times for those entering the 1500m and 3k swims did.  My wave had started an hour earlier than the published start time. 
"If we will be quiet and ready enough,
we shall find compensation in every disappointment."
Henry David Thoreau
I don't do disappointment terribly well.  I particularly don't do unforeseen and non negotiable changes of plan in the middle of a Bank Holiday weekend very well.  I crashed.  Having sought an energy spike to combine with the nervous energy that inevitably hits on getting into the cold water, I hit a wall of lethargy as my spirits plummeted.  My wetsuit never made it out of the back of the car. 
My remedy for this particular disappointment were to get onto my bike and push myself hard this afternoon.  Whilst not the day I had envisaged it was still a good one.  The ride more than made up for being stranded on dry land, looking longingly at fellow open water swimmers from the edge of the big lake not destined to make it across the pontoon that had been specially imported from the Olympics.  A good reminder that we can't know what lies ahead.  Flexibility and resourcefulness are sometimes more useful than careful planning and punctuality.  As the season draws to a close, I am looking for my next big challenge. 
"Life is like photography. We develop from the negatives."


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Nowhere to go and everywhere to look

Sitting beside the grave of a 2 day old infant whose family I don't know, I was confronted with a difficult mixture of feelings.  I could immediately imagine the importance of this bench for the child's mother, or father, who have somewhere to come, and know where their baby girl is.  As I stayed there awhile, the beauty of the graveyard became apparent - the stillness of the summer's evening, the colours of the trees highlighted and accented by the sunshine.  The brightly coloured windmill, standing beside the tiny grave of a little girl I never met. 

"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. 
I miss you like hell."
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

There is perhaps nothing capable of taking away the pain of such a loss, but having somewhere to come, and be, must allow it to be there in a way that families of missing persons cannot experience.  The headstone speaks to the certainty of a life cut tragically short.  This child was born on 29 June and died on 1 July.  If it is not already, peace may one day be possible.  Sitting in front of her grave, I understood more deeply the predicament of those left behind when someone disappears.  For all the intellectual research and reflection I have done on the experience of ambiguous loss, nothing could speak to me more directly than the agonising ache I felt in my heart and in my gut as I sat there.  Families living in limbo have nowhere to go, and everywhere to look. 

"Sometimes, when one person is missing,
the whole world seems depopulated."
Alphonse Lamartine (1790-1869)


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The long and winding road

Fighting cancer is, I guess, rarely a straightforward road.  Charlotte's journey has been more easily navigable than many, but there have been twists and turns aplenty.  Having had life changing and (God-willing) life preserving surgery 3 weeks ago, she is now free of the drains that resembled tendrils and life can begin to return normality - whatever 'normal' is when you're living with cancer.  The new school year is due to start in a week's time, and whilst this hasn't been the summer she might have envisaged, it has been summer nonetheless.  The inferno like heat in recent days has been both a blessing, as a natural mood enhancer and spirit lifter, but has made for uncomfortably sticky weather for post op healing. 

Charlotte's hair, when not concealed under hats and headscarves, is benefiting from the turbo charged boost of Vitamin D, and is a wonderful sign of her body's inner strength and wisdom.  Whilst energy levels have been zapped, and she continues on a nauseating concoction of antibiotics, things are progressing and her recovery from surgery has been swift, whilst not without a few hiccups, now thankfully behind her. 

Life really is to be taken a day at a time.  The oncology results weren't exactly what we might have hoped for.  They revealed a less than perfect outcome - chemo is good, but there can never be any guarantees.  The alien has been evicted from her breast tissue, but the weaponry will need to be enhanced to blast this devious enemy who has made her mark on Charlotte's lymph system and has not yet disappeared for dust.  And so the journey continues. 

Whilst not easy news to take in and fully absorb, things could be an awful lot worse.  This changes everything and this changes nothing.  The original plan remains intact.  Radiotherapy awaits.  As do a new timetable and new students.  Much remains unknown.  No one could have foreseen the discovery of the hostile invader, and no one can predict its departure date.  Cancer must be faced head on, and fought on its own terms.  Charlotte is an admirable opponent, who is bravely keeping her eyes open and her spirits up.  I live with a daily reminder that life is short.  Life is precious.  Life is unpredictable.  Life defies plans.  Life is for living.  Cancer doesn't change any of that. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mind the Gap: Discrepancy Based Processing

"Comparison is the thief of joy"
Theodore Roosevelt

Comparison is sometimes recipe for disaster.  The phrase "Compare and despair" carries with it particular meaning to those of us prone to a depressive outlook, or a tinge of melancholia.  As human beings, one of the curses of our tremendous evolution is our tendency to look outside of ourselves and jump to the swift conclusion that things are other than they should be, and that we are not where we would like to be.  We compare our observations of others' external appearances to our internal self perceptions and, at the moments we are most likely to do this, we are most vulnerable to arriving at a negative conclusion.  We compare our self perceptions (often inherently and unfavourably distorted) to things as we see them and arrive at a place that confirms our suspicions that things are not as we would have them.  We have not achieved what we think we ought to, earn less than we imagine our peers, do not own our own homes, have yet to tie the knot with the partner of our dreams, and see ourselves as unlikely to bring into the world the 2.4 children we think we should.  Suddenly, a moment of introspection at the end of a long day is an existential crisis - why are we here, and what's the point, anyway?

"Why compare yourself with others?  No one else in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you."

"Learn to be what you are,
and learn to resign with good grace all that you are not."
Henri Frederic Amiel

There is another expression that springs to mind - "Don't dial PAIN".  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous talk about the importance of not picking up the first drink, for those of us with a relationship to depression, we need to watch the first thought.  For this is where the damage starts.  Our stinking thinking gets us caught up with the what ifs, if onlys, and shoulds, oughts and musts.  We start evaluating ourselves in the world when we are least able to do an equitable job of this, and so begin our descent into the bottomless pits of rumination.  Knowing this, I find myself smiling whenever I come across the phrase made famous by London Underground - I am someone who must take care to "Mind the Gap".

Friday, 17 August 2012


Some time ago I was told about a survey carried out either side of the Channel, which sought to investigate the eating habits of English and French lorry drivers.  Separated by only 26 miles, the disparity across the findings was stark.  When asked to describe their eating habits and patterns, the researchers discovered a serious cultural difference.  Having just returned from a brief sojourn en France, I have paused to reflect on my recent experiences and in particular, those concerning food...

There is no doubt about it, the French most certainly enjoy their food.  And why not?  From the simple to the sublime, the last week has been about good food, locally sourced, simply prepared and savoured.  It has been a luxury and a revelation to take time, and something I intend to incorporate more deliberately into my everyday routine.  Food, for me today, is about more than fuel.  Eating leisurely is an essential component of the digestive process.  Tasting, Chewing, and Breathing are all important, and without any of these vital ingredients, the recipe is likely to be less than successful.  Noticing both taste and texture helps us to prepare our digestive system, activating crucial enzymes and catalysing the processes we need in order to gain the best from what we ingest. 

Being on holiday is a great time to experiment with the signposts so seldom referred to in modern times - hunger and appetite.  In our results orientated culture, we tend to eat when we have time, rather than making time to eat when our bodies will us to.  We eat lunch because it's 'lunch time', but our internal systems are not consulted.  Unconstrained, and out of one's usual routine, it becomes interesting and illuminating to come back to one's senses, and detect the body's signals for food as these tell us not only when we're hungry, but equally importantly, what it is that we are looking for. 

Our physical bodies are incredible machines.  The best we'll ever encounter.  And yet we're apt to neglect, ignore, or override the countless processes that keep us ticking over.  Left to its own devices, the body does a marvellous job.  When we eat because it is the culturally appropriate time to do so, and take in food because it's quick and easy, we do ourselves a great disservice.  We lose connection with our body's inner wisdom, and grow out of sync with the default equilibrium.  Being guided by hunger, appetite and subsequently satiety promotes digestion, and is also likely to enhance mood.  Old habits die hard, but being out of one's comfort zone is not always a bad thing. 


Sunday, 12 August 2012

A shared journey

The timing of my summer holiday was inadvertent brilliance.  I have been able to witness and enjoy the spectacle that has been London 2012 far better than I would have done, had I been at home engaging in my usual routine.  As someone who rarely switches the TV on (except occasionally to watch something I've pre-planned on the basis of a strong recommendation or intriguing review) and seldom, if ever, watches live sport I have been gripped and thrilled by the coverage following my own favourite sports (swimming and cycling) and learning lots about events about which I realised I knew very little. 

It has been extraordinary and I feel privileged to have been able to follow Team GB's progress, especially over the last week - medals, or no medals.  What I have enjoyed most however has been the interviews athletes have so generously given, even immediately after completing their events, or a little later having had an opportunity for some reflection on their performance and prospects.  The intimacy afforded by modern technology has provided rich viewing, and I have been moved on countless occasions by the honesty and willingness with which the competitors have shared moments following the achievements of personal bests, record breakers, the culmination of countless hours of training with dreams coming true, or hopes being shattered. 

These moments shared globally, via television, radio and other social media feel to me to be so precious offering the humble layman a glorious insight into the pinnacle of these talented individuals' careers, capturing once in a lifetime moments, and the wealth of emotion therein.  I have revelled in overhearing snapshots of live dialogue between athletes and their coaches immediately after races, testament to these unique (and highly therapeutic) relationships. 

My interest stems not from simple voyeurism but rather from a deep interest in relationships that foster and enhance and maximise performance that spur individuals and teams to realise and then achieve their potential, laying aside history and expectation.  When a thousandth of a second counts, for me watching this epic event has been about far more than sport - the Olympics has been about raw human emotion:  the remedy for inspiration and motivation.     

Some of my personal highlights...

Greg Rutherford strikes Gold in the Long Jump
He almost quit the sport earlier this year due to numerous health related setbacks

Nicola Adams
The brilliant fly weight boxing champion and first women to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics

Sir Chris Hoy MBE wins his sixth Gold Medal
becoming Britain's most successful Olympian

Victoria Pendleton retires after an emotional and nail biting Games
The six-time world chamption added a Gold and Silver medal to her collection


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The only way is up - via down time

It was time.  Time for time out.  One of the most important lessons I've learned as a therapist, concerns my diary.  Knowing when my next break will be means I can offer the best of myself to those I seek to support.  My breaks are planned well ahead of time, and this is reflected in my diary.  I actually cross out those days I am not working, and have agreed the length and regularity of holidays with my supervisor who regularly asks me where I am in my working cycle.  It's important.  Working in the charities sector for much of my early career was good preparation:  holidays could not be carried over, and we were encouraged to make good use of our allowance, booking it in advance to guard against the dangers of burnout.  Working for myself, the same applies. 

Time spent switching off is not a luxury.  It is vital.  It is factored into every week, and not confined to the weekend.  I need to switch gears more regularly that that - mentally, and physically.  Longer breaks allow me to let go of my usual  routine, and I try to combine this with a change of environment.  This is one of the reasons why, for the time being at least, I don't choose to work from home.  I like to travel to and from work, and the movement between different geographical locations throughout my week is actually an asset rather than an inconvenience. 

That said, time spent further afield, exploring somewhere new and unfamiliar has a medicinal quality too.  Opening my eyes in a fresh landscape allows me to adjust my view, refine my focus, gaining clarity and the possibility of a new perspective.  So called 'down time' can be some of my most productive and creative time.  Diaries are placed to one side, schedules may be interrupted or even suspended.  Deadlines remain on the horizon - where they remain, neither forgotten nor foreground.  They have been accounted for, and just for now, I need be only here.  My senses are awakened and deepened, due to the possibility of increased engagement and willingness.  Expectations and assumptions, such good friends with routine and normality, are given a break, creating a spaciousness into which the new and unexplored can emerge.  There is a whole new world, waiting to be explored, if only we give ourselves the time to do so. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Prize winning

As Great Britain hover around third on the Olympic medal table, we have witnessed some extraordinary scenes from the various sites around London (and further afield).  London 2012 has exceeded expectations and there is much talk of renewed inspiration in schools up and down the land.  The power of national pride is, it seems, not to be under estimated.

In a different part of London has been a rather different performance, but one certainly worthy of a prize.  The courage and determination are comparable to the best of Team GB.  Her grace and humility have taken my breath away on more than one occasion.  Shortly before her pre op assessments, Charlotte was given very encouraging news from the oncologists who confirmed that she had responded well to the gruelling chemo regimen.  This was a most welcome boost in advance the mammoth mammary surgery that she underwent last week. 

I am, quite simply, in awe of Charlotte's recovery.  Visiting her at the first possible opportunity, not even twenty four hours after she came round from the massive anaesthetic I was stunned to see her looking serene and chirpy, sitting up in bed, with four drains emanating from her sides like tendrils, the only obvious sign that the operation had actually happened.

Her journey so far has been a long and winding road.  It's had several twists and turns, some scary ascents, interspersed with hope, joy and tremendous love.  Her story is a reminder of the inescapable truth that things don't always go our way and this is when it really counts.  Charlotte has never been a cruiser.  Since first meeting her in '99, watching her train and perform as an elite athlete, on the water and on two wheels, this is a woman who knows when to pull out the stops.  And that's exactly how she's met and tackled the alien, whose invasion was first traced in January and has been tracked ever since. 

Regardless of their sport, Olympians all play long games.  It has been four years since Beijing, and it's another four until Rio.  In Charlotte, the so-called 'Big C' has met an even bigger C, prepared to go the distance, come what may.  Right behind her are a dedicated support team she can count on every step of the way.  In the absence of a medal this week, Charlotte has a new pair of pyjamas and some Union flag socks courtesy of M & S, a fitting prize for a well fought second battle of this particular fight. 

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, 3 August 2012

What's in a Tradition?

...Lots, apparently.  Traditions can actually serve to keep things vibrant and relevant.  The Twelve Traditions that underlie Fellowships have become increasingly meaningful to me the longer I stay around.  There is, of course, no point in a tradition for the sake of a tradition.  That would be pointless, and would have put off countless numbers who came in search of an escape from the many institutions who have been found not to provide the solutions one could be forgiven for thinking they might. 

I have heard it said that while the Steps prevent suicide, the Traditions prevent homicide.  They work to keep the rooms a safe place in which people can recover, a day at a time.  They have preserved the fellowships and ensured their longevity.  They provide guidelines for relationships between the twelve-step groups, members, other groups, the global fellowship, and society at large.  Questions of finance, public relations, donations, and purpose are all explicitly addressed within the Traditions.

A new book recently caught my eye and is now on order...

Whilst the short form of the Traditions is generally apparent in meetings worldwide, often to be found hanging on scrolls at venues, the longer form is perhaps less well known:

Our experience has taught us that:
  1. Each member of is but a small part of a great whole. The fellowship must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first. But individual welfare follows close afterward.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
  3. Our membership ought to include all who suffer from the disease. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three members gathered together may call themselves a group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.
  4. With respect to its own affairs, each group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighbouring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect the fellowship as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.
  5. Each group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose—that of carrying its message to the individual who still suffers.
  6. Problems of money, property, and authority may easily divert us from our primary spiritual aim. We think, therefore, that any considerable property of genuine use to the fellowship should be separately incorporated and managed, thus dividing the material from the spiritual. A group, as such, should never go into business. Secondary aids to the fellowship, such as clubs or hospitals which require much property or administration, ought to be incorporated and so set apart that, if necessary, they can be freely discarded by the groups. Hence such facilities ought not to use the fellowship's name. Their management should be the sole responsibility of those people who financially support them. For clubs, fellowship managers are usually preferred. But hospitals, as well as other places of recuperation, ought to be well outside the fellowship - and medically supervised. While a group may cooperate with anyone, such cooperation ought never go so far as affiliation or endorsement, actual or implied. A group can bind itself to no one.
  7. The groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of the fellowship is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. Then too, we view with much concern those fellowship treasuries which continue, beyond prudent reserves, to accumulate funds for no stated fellowship purpose. Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money, and authority.
  8. The fellowship should remain forever non-professional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counselling alcoholics for fees or hire. But we may employ members where they are going to perform those services for which we may otherwise have to engage non members. Such special services may be well recompensed. But our usual "12 Step" work is never to be paid for.
  9. Each group needs the least possible organisation. Rotating leadership is the best. The small group may elect its secretary, the large group its rotating committee, and the groups of a large metropolitan area their central or intergroup committee, which often employs a full-time secretary. The trustees of the General Service Board are, in effect, our General Service Committee. They are the custodians of our fellowship. Tradition and the receivers of voluntary contributions by which we maintain our fellowship. General Service Office. They are authorised by the groups to handle our over-all public relations and they guarantee the integrity of our principal newspaper, the Fellowship Grapevine. All such representatives are to be guided in the spirit of service, for true leaders in the fellowship are but trusted and experienced servants of the whole. They derive no real authority from their titles; they do not govern. Universal respect is the key to their usefulness.
  10. No group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate the fellowship, express any opinion on outside controversial issues—particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The fellowship groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.
  11. Our relations with the general public should be characterised by personal anonymity. We think the fellowship ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.
  12. And finally, we of this fellowship believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practise a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

All in a week

A lot can, and generally does, happen in a week.  In that respect, this last week has been nothing out of the ordinary.  In many other weeks it has been utterly unusual with highs and lows of both magnificent and appalling proportions.  I was shocked to learn that our friend Naomi lost her battle against bowel cancer.  She was diagnosed within a week of Charlotte, but their journeys were to be very different.  I was heartbroken to hear that a beautiful life had been cut so tragically short by this most brutal disease.  My sympathies are extended to her wonderful 'superhero' husband and Sam, and all Naomi's family, especially her sister Jess. 

"I like bikes. What I lack in height I make up for in willpower."
In loving memory of Naomi Hemmant (nee Anderson)

Naomi took extreme sports to another level and her year-round cycling was the stuff that legends are made of.  Never have I heard of anyone taking to two wheels at temperatures well below zero.  But this was Naomi's preferred mode of transport to, and from work.  Come rain or shine.  Or deep snow.  In the dark.  She was, I think, happiest out and about climbing the steepest of hills, or pushing herself in the final leg of a road race.  I like to think that she has the full complement of bicycles in the better place she has departed to, complete with world class mechanics and physios.  We have lost a friend but her inspiration lives on. 

So, dissertation finally complete and submitted ( style via courier), I feel as though I can breathe once more.  I can reclaim my weekends, and maybe even sit (on the sofa or on my bike) without feeling as though I should probably be doing something related to academia.  Whilst the bane of my life in recent weeks, it was allocated no more time than was strictly necessary as, life goes on, and this degree has not perhaps been afforded the same priority as previous programmes of study.  The slogan 'how important is it?' was something I have clung to throughout, and whilst I am proud of my efforts, and the achievement of completing a substantial piece of work, I am not yet quite ready to sit on my laurels.  I just hope it passes. 

The last 8 months have been extraordinary. Looking back at 2012 is apt to take my breath away. There have been challenges and changes aplenty. Sitting alongside Charlotte in her 'garden' recently (which is actually a giant, but most beautifully cultivated flowerbed together with a vast array of pots bearing all kinds of goodies, some of which are edible), it hit home that we never know what's just a-round-the-corner. Life is precious. Life is wonderful. Life is to be lived. 

I am looking forward to visiting Charlotte later.  Yesterday she went under the knife.  Well, strictly speaking, knives.  There were a pack of consultants on the job.  And what a job.  Double mastectomy and reconstruction.  The alien has been poisoned and her remains thoroughly excavated.  Charlotte's new best friend is of the opiate variety, but this is a woman made of the strongest stuff.  She's a Northerner, after all.  Hailing from County Durham no less.  They don't make them stronger than that. 

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