Goodbye 2016, or ‘what I’ll do differently in 2017’.

People keep saying that 2016 has been a really shitty year. Mainly as a result of the celebrity deaths we have experienced in the last 365 days. It’s very easy to jump on the bandwagon on death and disaster. The rise of Donald Trump The Anti-Christ, for example, and #BREXIT as a decision made by 50% of the UK population to be isolationist, backwards and to undo decades of progress. It’s very easy to look back at 2016 and think just how terribly awful it has been. And I very nearly got sucked into that pit of despair.

But then I stopped. I thunked for a bit. And remembered. You know what? My bad years have passed. 2014 was brutal. I lost Clare in the most wicked, cruel and evil way. Taken by cancer before turning 40. My world collapsed and I didn’t know how I would get through each day. 2015 wasn’t much better. I fell out with my brother which ultimately lead to our family being splintered and me not being invited to his wedding. Those wounds have yet to heal.

2016 hasn’t been bad to me. I have had my fair share of crazy experiences and dangerous liaisons, I’ve had stresses, I’ve tolerated fools. I’ve fending off stalkers and compulsive liars. I’ve been mis-sold on an idea which didn’t manifest in reality. I’ve been gullible, deceived, shallow and vain. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in my personal life.

Professionally it’s nothing but positives. There are no complaints.
I’ve maintained friendships with those I’m interested in and cast aside those who bring me down.
I’m closer to my parents despite being estranged from my brother. They see my side of things. We’re allies.
I’ve been to Portugal, I’ve been to Lanzarote. I’ve bought a car. I’ve made improvements to my home. I have more money than I have ever had. I’m far from ‘rich beyond my wildest dreams’ but my bills are paid, there’s money in the bank, and there’s wine in the fridge.
My relationship with the boy’s mum goes from strength to strength. My relationship with the boy evolves as expected with a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old. He’s stubborn and headstrong. He is his father’s son.

As the clock ticks over to midnight it’s time to consider what I’ll do differently in 2017. One criticism I’ll level at myself from the past year is my tendency to rush in. I’ve been so keen to capture that which I lost before that I have thrown caution to the wind and involved myself in situations too early and too soon. Too deeply. Too personally. I’ve opened myself up to people and given myself to them before I first weighed up their worth. I’ve invested time and emotion in people who did not deserve my time or my emotion. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been kind. I’ve been cruel.

2017 is to be a year of standing still and taking stock – I’ve said that before. I have plans to do interesting things and read a lot of books. I might even move house, but if I don’t or if I can’t I’ll make my current house more of a home. I’m going to go on holiday; maybe twice(!) (maybe thrice!!). I’m going to enjoy life and living it.

But there’s going to be No More Mister Nice Al. It’s time for me to be careful, calculated, cautious. Rather than taking people at face value I need to wait until the big reveal. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It’s time, 2017 is going to be the time, for Al to no longer be foolish.

I’ll see y’all on the other side of the bells.

Spend time not money

I asked The Boy the other day what he wanted to do on Saturday. I had a full tank of diesel and a reasonable swedge of cash available. The world was our oyster. “Let’s go to Roseberry Topping” was his reply. Deal.

Saturday morning I pick him up and we head off into the Cleveland hills. And do you know, my boy is growing up! And I think that sometimes if you don’t stop and think about it, you miss it. You miss the development of infant into child into young man. Driving along listening to him natter away. Pointing out cars he likes (“COOL FORD FOCUS RS, MATE!”) as we swing through Yarm. Telling me about getting detention two days in a row because “Peter is a grass”. He’s his own little person and I wasn’t paying attention to that. Guiltily, I wasn’t paying attention to that; to him.

We walked up Roseberry Topping, stopping along the way to rest and to chat and to look out across the scenery. Kids are inquisitive aren’t they? They observe stuff. “I can see your car” and “I can see the sea”. A helicopter flew overhead, “Do you think he can see us?” Parts were slippery. He insisted on holding my hand. I don’t think it was entirely for balance either. These are the moments kids remember. Tramping up through the mud towards the summit. Holding onto Dad. The years and months pass by so rapidly. Soon he won’t want to do that. Soon he’ll forge on ahead and leave his old man behind, I’m sure. But for now my boy wanted to hold my hand, and that’s a feeling I won’t ever forget.

We got to the top and looked out over Teesside. North towards the sea, south towards Captain Cook’s Monument (I’ve promised that next year we will walk all the way there and back). He wants to sit on the edge and dangle his feet over. NO! Funny how invincible kids think they are.

We start the walk down and he says, “This is awesome.”

“What is?” 

“You and me doing this. Mum said if she wasn’t going out she would have come with us but I said in my head, ‘I don’t think so, it’s me and Dad time’.”

Which is when I thought, you know what? This is what it’s all about. It’s not about spending money. It’s about spending time. Your time is invaluable. You’ll never get that time again. The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. img_4271

(If you click the image you’ll get it full size)

Doing nothing

“What are you doing Thursday?” 
“Nothing.”
“I might come see you, I don’t want you being a ‘billy-no-mates’.” 

No, no, that’s okay. I think you’ll find I’m okay with having an entire day to myself doing exactly as I please without having to consider anyone else at all. I don’t want company, I don’t need company. I’m perfectly happy and content with my own company.

Seems that some people struggle to differentiate between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone’. I may be alone today. Intentionally, willingly, necessarily alone, but I’m far from lonely.

That’s a good word for it. Necessary. Sometimes it’s necessary for Al to rest and recharge his batteries. Life is complex, it’s complicated. There’s so much to do and so many people to keep happy, so many obligations to friends, family, co-workers, my employer, service users(!) – everyone wants a slice of me.

‘I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.’
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When you’re pulled and stretched it’s required that you take a moment to rest and recuperate. I need days like today. They’re essential to maintaining good mental health.

The issue is when people take offence to your required solitude. It’s not that I don’t want to see you, it’s that I don’t want to see anyone. It’s not that I am ignoring you, it’s that I am ignoring everyone. My door is not always open, this house may be small but the welcome isn’t big, please go away and come back again another day.

Does that make sense to people? Do you have your own fortress of solitude? Some place you can get away from them all for a time, to refresh and recharge?