Happy New Year

I never really know what to say at these times so I’ll leave it to John O’Donohue. Read or listen, and thank you for joining me in the shed throughout 2023. I wish you all good things as another year arrives on the horizon.

At The End of the Year 

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

John O'Donohue from Benedictus, To Bless the Space Between Us

Unexpected Item

Is it just me or is life speeding up? I’ll put the bins out and five minutes later have to do it again. I know this odd sensation comes with age, but who’d have thought that a big birthday would send me hurtling down the ramp of life at such high speed? 

So yes, I am now fifty years old. Fifty. Some days it makes sense (sore knees, grey hair) but some days, I think of that number and shake my head in disbelief. Youth really is wasted on the young. And some odd behaviours are creeping in too: grumbling about loud noises, enjoying a wee nip of sherry, annoyance about self-service tills. 

My local superstore (I won’t name names) has taken away most of the manned checkouts and installed these self-service tills. Even for trolleys. I suppose this is the future – robots are taking over and I just have to get used to it – but still, I feel a bit sad and frustrated. As I was beeping items through the other day, and trying to set them down and yet avoid the loud announcement about an unexpected item in bagging area (another one? Really? But I just bought the thing!) I couldn’t help but notice lots of staff members jumping to attention every time the red light of doom lit up. Customers cannot really do this alone, can they? Is an avocado a fruit? Where’s the barcode on this thingy? Oh hang on, that’s my toilet roll toppling off the edge and rolling down the aisle. 

It’s all a bit fraught now. I thanked the helpful staff member who came to my rescue (again) and realised that it’s not really the technology and clumsiness that I’m struggling with, it’s the lack of human interaction. Every time I did some shopping here over the last few years I would chat with a lovely lady on the till who had admired my handbag (you’ll not be surprised to hear that it’s covered in pictures of books) and we soon got to talking about all things literary and bookish. Her daughter is a writer too. We would joke about holding a launch in the store if my book came out soon, and making sure I brought a signed copy in just for her. Before I knew it, I was looking forward to catching up and sharing news. It meant a lot, in the end, to have someone ask me how things are going with the writing and wish me luck with it all. 

I spotted my book friend that day and waved sadly in her direction as I fought with all my groceries. She waved back and smiled. The machine told me to check I hadn’t forgotten my receipt and thanked me for coming. But of course, it wasn’t the same. No smile, no laugh at my handbag, no wishing me well. The self-service world is removing something precious from our human lives. Loneliness and anxiety will surely be the end result.