Saturday, 31 December 2011


Well, it's that time of year again when I look back at the year that's been, and try to make sense of it all. And it really depends where you look what the year appears to have been.

Looking at my Facebook status updates randomly captured by the Facebook bot and collaged above, I appear to have the most banal of existences. I'm not sure what that tells me - I don't think I'm as shallow as this little selection implies, but who knows! There are a few highlights in there - my continuing search for a permanent residence, my awesome friends, the usual niggles from work, my weakness for the guilty pleasures of idoitic TV, and hints of my new found partner-in-crime. But the real highs (and lows) of the year aren't captured, other than obliquely.

There's nothing, for example, about my running challenge - which is strange because I'm pretty sure I bored my online friends senseless with it this year. Who knows, perhaps even the bot was bored! There's also precious little about my life goals for the year - which is interesting, since they don't really appear to have been central to my day to day musings. And there's also not much about my great adventure to Sicily, surely one of the highlights of my year - not so much for the travelling, which was great, but for the sense of freedom, independence and confidence that it brought me, finally!

So, when I look back (personally*) on 2011 that's probably what stands out the most for me. 2011 as the year when I finally came to terms with who and what I am, and learned to love it. Work-in-progress me has come a long way over the last 12 months, and you know what? I'm pretty proud of myself for it.

And what about 2012**? What's it going to be like? Well, I have a feeling it's going to be a good year, perhaps one of the best. I'm in a great place personally, good things are happening, and I feel ready to make the most of them. I have awesome family and friends, I'm healthy, happy, safe, secure. Life is good. What else is there?

*As I say above, this is a personal reflection on the year. Self indulgent, I know, but that's what this blog is about! If you want a political or news review, try here for just one perspective on 2011 on a less insular scale.

** And if you want to know the real stock take on my 2011 goals, tune in tomorrow (or so!) for a round up and preview of my resolutions and goals for 2012.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas traditions

At a time when the rest of the country seems to have finished Christmas, here in chez Maxwell it's hardly begun yet. And no, it's not that we've been lying about in bed all morning. We've been up since 8am (well some of us have, others managed a long lie) and there's been lots happening, but Christmas itself as others know it - well, it's not really started yet.

I'm not sure when it dawned on me that the way we did Christmas at home was different from the way most other people did. We did the whole Santa thing, with stockings hung up, filled overnight and then opened with great excitement in the morning. And we did the Christmas lunch thing - the bird, the vegetables and all the trimmings. But that's pretty much where the similarities ended.

For one thing, present opening didn't (and still doesn't) start until after lunch. Present opening itself is a very civilised affair, with no paper wrapping frenzy, pauses between gifts to explore and appreciate (and thank the donor) and organised lists of who gave what made. While it might sound boring and sedate, I confess I enjoy it. It is much more of a family event, with true appreciation for what's given and received. And it makes Christmas last waaaay longer!

When I spoke to friends, of course, I noticed that they did things differently but it wasn't really until I started spending Christmas with other people that I realised just how different it was from the norm. And I've been reminded again this Christmas with a guest in the house, to whom I'm having to explain our idiosyncrasies. Luckily she's a flexible sort and is quite happy to go with the flow. Just as well really.

And with that, I need to go finish making my bread sauce... Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you're having a great day, whatever your traditions are.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Stripped bare

I was thinking the other day, it's been a while since I spent a day naked in public. I mean, if I know I'm not leaving the flat, I'll do it. But outside? With nothing on? No, not for quite some time.

If you haven't clicked on the link above yet, by now you may well be wondering what on earth I'm on about - or just what kind of place Stirling is these days! If you have clicked (digitally or metaphorically), you'll know I'm talking about having a make-up free day. Perhaps not quite as daring as the full Lady Godiva, but in some ways no less scary.

The good news is that my skin is so much better these days, and the thought of braving the outside without make-up is therefore much less daunting. I put that down to a couple of things - wearing less, and better, make up on a day to day basis, and a more consistent skin care regime. I only have to look at my friends who don't wear make up to realise that if I'm probably on the right track with that. 

But I'm convinced it's also due to a more stable, content and positive me. Less stress and angst really does seem to benefit my skin.

The bad news? Well, I'm not sure there is any, to be honest. Other than me still feeling the need to disguise my flaws and imperfections on a daily basis. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no, I guess. The make up I tend to wear is so light that it doesn't do much more than just smooth things out. It certainly doesn't change my face to the degree that I see some women trying to. But the fact that I feel the need for cover-up probably says something about my (lack of) confidence.

I don't think I'm vain, but I am conscious of how I look. Right or wrong, I feel people will judge me by how I look as much as by what I do or say. Part of me is bound up in how I look, perhaps too much. Not all of me, but hiding my imperfections is still something I feel the need to do to bolster my courage. Maybe that's what I need to work on next...

Sunday, 18 December 2011


As some of my online friends already know, I settled down this afternoon for a lazy pre Christmas Sunday afternoon - all my present buying is pretty much done, I've had a couple of lovely Christmas nights out already and have at least one more feast to look forward to before the big day itself. Not to mention another trip out for festive cocktails at my favourite watering hole.

Recovering from the pre-season festivities as I was, I thought I'd throw on a DVD as I lounged on the sofa in my (for a change) cosy living room with the heating on full blast. I was in the mood for some music, so I opted for the Live Aid DVD set I got a few Christmases back. Since I was in for the long haul, instead of flicking through and finding the artists I most wanted to see, I let it run from the beginning - including the original news report from Michael Buerk that kick started the whole Band Aid/Live Aid thing.

It's a while since I've seen the footage - and believe me, it's still as heart rending now as it was then. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried as I watched it again. And while I watched the Band Aid video. And again, when *that* Cars track came on. It is shocking and I defy anyone not to be moved. Disgusted. Appalled.

But do you know what makes me cry even more? The fact that it's still happening. All over the world. In this so called modern world of ours, even today, there are millions who go hungry - in fact, more than the combined populations of USA, Canada and the European Union put together. Hunger is a far bigger killer than AIDS, than malaria or than TB. 25% of children in the developing world are under-nourished.

At the same time, we throw away far more food EVERY DAY than it would take to feed those starving people. There are more obese people on the planet than there are starving ones - about 50% more. And that's a big number when you consider there are nearly 1 billion starving people.

Now, to me - that's real obscenity!

So, at this time of year when we prepare to tuck into our Christmas dinners, containing upwards of 3,000 calories in one meal - about 3 or 4 times what we actually NEED, I'm spending a bit of time finding out what I can do to help.

There's the obvious one about donating to organisations trying to help - people like the UN Food Programme, the Disasters Emergency Committee, Save the Children and many many more. And while it's nowhere near as extreme in the UK, far too many children here grow up in poverty too - approximately 4 million according to some sources. 4 million! In our 'civilised' society. Ok, they're probably not starving but they are still suffering. And their life chances are significantly worse as a result.

Giving money is the easy bit to be honest, my real challenge is to work out what else I can do to make a difference. I'm lucky that there are small things I can do through my job to try to change some of the conditions - but it feels like nowhere near enough. I need to do some serious thinking.

And as I look around at my life - my comfortable, luxurious, safe life - I'm embarrassed. Embarrassed at thinking that sometimes it's hard. Embarrassed at worrying about the silly things I worry about, getting annoyed at trivia. And embarrassed about the excesses that even my relatively low key life allows me.

Obscene - you bet it is! Funny, you never heard Mary Whitehouse complaining about that...

Saturday, 17 December 2011


Too much information? In these days of hyper digital connectivity, it's a question I often find myself asking. Finding and providing information, communicating and researching are just all so easy these days that I'm surprised we aren't all suffering from complete information overload.

It's a question, kind of, that my friend Frances is going to be grappling with next semester as she starts researching her Masters dissertation. Just how do we work out where to get our news and information from? There is just so much of it...

Which brings me to the other side of it - just how easy it is to share (often personal) information with the world. It never ceases to amaze me just how much some people are willing to share. I know I share a fair amount on this blog and through my Facebook profile, but I do censor - honest.

There are some things I wouldn't share. No, really - there are! And I don't just mean stuff I write. I also try to keep certain information completely private. I've been joking with a friend about stalking, but sadly it's not a joking matter for some people and these days of online lives can make it all too easy I suspect.

So, do yourself a favour - check out how secure your privacy settings are. Take the time to do that little check on Facebook, LinkdIn, wherever to see what can be seen about you. Google yourself a few different ways to check that you're only sharing what you want to share. It's not just about fraud, although that is made much easier by social networking than it ever used to be, it's can also be about your own personal safety. Time worth taking, if you ask me!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

It's Christmas time...

Yes, really, it is finally almost upon us. The shops may have been telling us since September, but with 2 weeks to go, I think it's reasonable to say now that it's very nearly Christmas.

As they say, Christmas comes but once a year, and I'm sure I'm not the only one that is thinking, thank heavens for that. For me, it's the fact that I haven't got my Christmas shopping under control yet that's panicking me. For others, I know it's the whole family/work/life juggling to get ready for the Christmas festivities that causes no end of stress. Sadly, for still others, it's the loneliness of loss or the fear of violence that can make this time of year hard to bear.

We all rush around at this time of year - visiting family, seeing friends, buying gifts, making and eating delicious food,going to church, giving thanks - just to make the holiday perfect. It does make me wonder why we have to save it all up - why don't we make more effort to keep in touch throughout the year, why do we need special occasions to tell people we love and care about them? Why can't we do that every day?

And with that, I'm off to brave Stirling shops again to see if I can break the back of my own personal Christmas stress factor. Yesterday's Farmers Market got me some of the way there, off to see if the independent traders are open today for round two!! I may not be managing to keep away from the big corporate fraud completely, but I'm doing my best to shop local, shop small, and when I can, shop handmade.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Whether the weather...

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!
                                    Traditional children's rhyme 

Well, it's been a strange couple of weeks weather-wise round here. Last week we had torrential rain and flooding, on Monday the snow arrived briefly, then it got warmer again.

And then on Thursday, Hurricane Bawbag hit - with a vengeance! Not only did it cause a weather storm, it's also creating an academic/geek storm over on Wikipedia as they try to decide whether to use the commonly known name or the official one for the Wiki entry. Go on, I challenge you - without looking it up - what's the official name?

As a slight digression, the whole naming of storms thing is quite interesting. Until relatively recently, storms were always given female names but that changed in 1979 - to go along with the times, apparently?? - since when names have alternated between male and female. And yes, before you ask, there has been a Hurricane Rebecca!! It does beg the question of why on earth name storms in the first place though?

Anyway, to get back to the point - in amongst all the humour, there is a serious side to this weather. We got off pretty lightly really. It could have been so much worse. As far as I know there have been no serious incidents but there are still thousands of households without power and struggling to cope in our now wintry temperatures.

But for all their current troubles, those families are still the lucky ones really. Spare a thought (again) for those without homes this winter, and maybe make one of your Christmas presents a donation to agencies that help at this happiest time of the year?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Home is...

Usually we say, home is where the heart is. But for the purposes of this post, it's something we take for granted - and probably shouldn't.

What's brought this on? A couple of things at work, that's what. I've spent most of the day preparing for a discussion on Homelessness tomorrow. I've been reminding myself of the legal aspects and learning up on the challenges that face agencies in trying to respond and prevent homelessness. It's easy to see it as a technical debate about supply of houses, housing demand and budgets.

But when you stop to think about it, you realise it's all about people. And people not lucky enough to have the one thing most of us just take for granted, a safe, secure, watertight roof over our heads. In 2010/11, there were just over 55,000 of them in Scotland alone - and that's a reduction of 5,000 since 2005/06. Actually, it's probably more people than that since those figures relate to applications, which can include families, as well as individuals.It's a scary statistic. In Scotland, if my maths is right, that means we have a 1 in 100 chance of becoming homeless.

Of course it's not that evenly spread. The majority of people who experience homelessness do so because of a variety of life circumstances - unemployment, relationship breakdown, violence and abuse, drug or alcohol problems, or offending behaviour. Many of them will have experienced tough lives already, and the homelessness is just one more kick in the guts from the life that they have. It's also true, however, that most of us are only ever a couple or three pay cheques from homelessness ourselves - just think how quickly rent arrears or mortgage payments can mount up, and if you don't have a good family support network in place, well those life changes are even less possible to weather.

So, what was the other thing? I had the great pleasure this morning of visiting a new social rented housing development in the area. It was the official opening and after the speeches and glad-handing was done, we were lucky enough to be invited in to see one of the new homes. It was lovely, a real quality development - both the houses and the street, and what was best about it was the space. The rooms were all well sized, the garden was more than just a postage stamp and the houses had gaps between them that you'd have been hard pressed to span with three, let alone one set of outstretched arms. In short, they were houses and an estate built the way we used before we all got greedy and saw houses as investments to make a fat profit from- either personally or commercially - rather than first and foremost as homes and places to live.

That was the good bit, the fun bit. The sobering bit was when the tenant showing us round was heaping praise on the design and thermal efficiency of the building. Why was that sobering? Because she said it was just as well it was such a well designed and well insulated house because she could only afford to spend £10 a week on heating and electricity and otherwise she and her two young children would have had to go cold.

Now, I complain about how cold my flat is, and how I wish it were warmer - but that's because the heating isn't very effective, not because I can't afford to use it. Again, something that I'm lucky enough to be able to take for granted. As I said, sobering!

So tomorrow, when I'm debating what we need to do to meet the 2012 Homelessness target, while I'll be talking for some of the time about supply of houses and numbers of applicants, I'll also be reminding everyone that it's about people and delivering positive outcomes. Tackling homelessness in a meaningful way is more than just putting people in houses. It's about understanding their needs, finding ways to support them, helping them with the stresses and strains of life that bring up the risk of homelessness in the first place, and by far, far the most effective and preferable response - doing all that we can to prevent homelessness happening in the first place.

And I'll be giving thanks that I don't have to worry about where I'm going to sleep that night.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


Yesterday turned out to be a wonderland in so many ways - a trip to Edinburgh, pampering, shopping, fun, culture, coffee, wine, great company. What's not to like?

I was due in town for a haircut and as luck would have it I was able to persuade my partner in crime to accompany me. We did some shopping - yes, I even managed to get my Christmas gift buying started - and then explored the Christmas markets before heading on to the newly re-opened National Portrait Gallery for a quick look.  After that it was the hairdresser's for me and more shopping for Frances, followed by more coffee, a quick file and polish and some wine before heading back home to Stirling.

I even managed to get closer to confirming arrangements to meet up with a friend at Christmas, so happy day all round really. The only fly in the ointment was that our other friend wasn't able to join us in our crimes. Maybe next time?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Jack Frost nipping at your nose

So, it's finally decided to get cold. Not cold like this time last year, but certainly colder than this time last week. Last night when we finally got out of work after yet another evening meeting, the ground was shiny, the sky was clear and our breath hung in the air, frozen in time and space.

It was really beautiful, but it was also incredibly slippy. After all the heavy rain we've been having, and with the temperature plummeting so suddenly, everywhere there were patches of black ice, just waiting to catch the unsuspecting evening homeward stroller.

Luckily I got home without mishap but with one or two near misses. And then again this morning, it was the same. Wet ground was actually ice, frozen leaves recently blown late from the trees adding to nature's treachery.

During the day the skies closed in that way they only do in winter, when the light turns them a shade of yellow grey you don't see at any other time of the year. It wasn't quite cold enough yet for snow, but we had a smattering of sleet instead.

Tonight it's warming up slightly again, not enough to stop the rain/sleet but enough to thaw the ice. The walk home from cocktails was wet but non slippery. To be honest I think I prefer the ice, but I'd really rather stay in one piece. My track record for health at this time of year is a bit delicate after all.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?