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Baktuns and new beginnings

Well, 21 December 2012 has come …. and gone. The Mayan calendar has run its course and were the lads alive today, they’d be starting off at scratch again: 00.00.00. They measured their time in baktuns, periods of time lasting 394 years. This was simply the end of the 13th baktun. In all likelihood, they’d have woken up on 22 December and begun the 14th, just as we woke up on 1 January and started a new year.

The Internet was full of apocalyptic stories of the end of the world as we know it. Reports from Russia in mid-December talked of people stocking up on vodka and candles, while in China, the government was busy arresting those spreading doomsday rumours. More optimistic souls were maxing out their credit cards in the hope that their credit history would become just that – history! But for good or for bad, for better or for worse, we’re still here.  And while we have seen the end of an era, the world still soldiers on, undaunted.

Eleven days in and…

So far this year, in the USA, Congress and the White House swerved to avoid taking the country over the fiscal cliff. Croatia is on track to join the EU in July – all going well.  China is scheduled to attempt its first unmanned landing on the Moon and India is planning to send an orbiter to Mars in November. In Hungary, the country is battling with the results of a recent Eurostat poll that shows 31% of Hungarians at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The 2013 budget deficit is expected to rise to 2.9% of GDP and the IMF is expected to pay a visit in mid-January. Let the talks begin – again.

Ireland will hold the EU Presidency for the first six months of the year and has named 2013 as the year of the gathering when it will open its arms to friends and family from all over the world, inviting them home to locally organised gatherings in villages, towns and cities. The cynics say it’s a crude attempt at milking the pockets of successful emigrants; the idealists say it’s a wonderful opportunity to reunite families and friends and enjoy everything that Ireland has to offer. Somewhere in between, the publicans and hoteliers are rolling up their sleeves, oiling their credit card machines, and preparing for the onslaught.

What’s in store?

So what’s to celebrate…really? Let’s start with the fact that 2013 is the first year since 1987 not to have repeating digits. Excited? Brace yourself. It gets better. According to the Hallmark calendar, January 11 is Milk day. Back on this day, in 1878, milk was delivered in bottles for the very first time in the USA. Mind you, it’s also ‘step in a puddle and splash your friends’ day. Well pin my apron to the floor and keep me from stompin’. [I know about Hallmark as I’m writing this from the big island of Hawai’i and in the USA, Hallmark rules.]

Open house

It’s my fourth trip to the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands and once again, I’m completely amazed that people don’t lock their houses or their cars. They leave their stuff on display on the beach without a worry in the world. I’m the odd one out, shouldering my bag wherever I go or charging someone with keeping watch over it if I venture in to the ocean. I’ve had to be physically restrained from zipping up the Jeep’s windows when we go to the market and I hide my laptop every time we leave the house. In Budapest, I have three locks on my front door and a naggle of neighbours who know my comings and goings better than I do myself. I would never, ever think of leaving even a window open were I not in the flat. In Ireland, we have an alarm on the house that goes on every time we leave. Cars are checked and double-checked every night to make sure they’re locked and woe betide the one who leaves a bag, a purse, or a laptop in plain view on the kitchen table.

Great expectations

There are those who say that if we expect to have our stuff stolen, it will be. If we expect our house to be broken into, burglars will oblige. If we worry about our car or bike being nicked, we may as well wave them goodbye. But can it really be down to expectation and how we live our lives?  John Wayne apparently said that tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday. And yesterday’s lessons really do determine what we do today. We can choose how we react to both fortune and misfortune. We can choose what measures we take to prevent the same things happening again and again. We can choose how we live our lives. Now that’s reason enough to celebrate. Welcome, 2013.

First published in the Budapest Times 11 January 2013

Put a stamp on it

I had a birthday this past weekend. I’ve had so many now that it should be old hat. Just another day. An excuse to get some friends together and roast the year that’s gone and toast the year to come. Somewhere between thinking ‘where has the time gone’ and ‘I’m really too young to feel so old’ I managed a few sane, and reflective moments that might actually be constructive enough to share.

Mid-way through last year, I unchecked the ‘show birthday’ box on Skype and Facebook. Not because I am the shy, retiring type, but because I think that for all the good it does, Social Media is robbing us of so much. We no longer have to make an effort to remember and so when we do ‘remember’ it doesn’t quite mean what it used to. It was one of the best things I’ve done in a while. Yes, I automatically pulled the plug on, say, 50 viral birthday greetings, but every day last week, when I stopped off to pick up my post, I had a card or a letter from someone, somewhere in the world, who had remembered. Not only that – they had taken the trouble to buy (or even make!) a card, sign it, address it, and post their rememberance to me.

Because so much of my communication these days is electronic, I’d quite forgotten the simple pleasure that comes with real post – not just bills or subscriptions or junk mail, but real, down home, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned snail mail.

When I came back from the States in 2001, I started sending postcards to friends abroad who had never been to the places I was now getting the opportunity to see.  Yes, I blog about my travels, and yes I post the photos, but there’s something more personal about getting a postcard that says ‘while I was here, something I saw reminded me of you and I just want to share it’. My teenage self had a wall covered in postcards I’d received from friends travelling abroad – but this was back in  20 BTI (before the Internet).

This isn’t an ad for Hallmark, or a broadcast on behalf of post offices the world over. It’s not an attempt to stimulate a dying economy by getting out there and buying a card and a stamp. It’s just a reminder that all too often, in this needlessly complicated world of ours, it’s the simple things that give the most pleasure.