That time of the year

news: That time of the year

Judy Sharp reflects on life and her world – as she sees it

IT’S THAT TIME of year, isn’t it? Christmas – an orgy of consumption. Originally, the celebration marked the mid-winter solstice. Evergreens reminded us of the promise of new life in the spring, mistletoe was a symbol of fertility, and Druids led us in worship of the nature spirits.

Then the Christians arrived and converted the heathens by taking over key celebrations and re-branding them. Mid-winter solstice festivities became Christmas, marking the birth of Jesus Christ. A tradition grew of offering gifts to special people as the Three Kings had offered gifts to the baby. Nowadays, Christianity itself is being taken over and the celebration is being re-branded again. The religion nowadays is retailing and the great god is stuff – we show our adoration by buying more and more of it. From the winter solstice to the birth of a major religion to the most important period in the retailing year – is that really progress?

I like to take time between Christmas and New Year to think about the things that have happened during the year – the good and the not so good. What are the lessons to be learned? How can things be improved? What’s happening in the world out there? This year, there has been a real mix.

On the positive side, I travelled a lot early in the year, discovered new places and met some delightful people. I went to France to meet a couple who run a wonderful guest house with a wine school in the old cellars. We ate oysters looking out on the oyster beds and explored the local markets at strawberry time. I met winemakers making delicious wine and marvelled at the natural beauty of the area, still wild and free.

Then I spent some time in the Douro Valley – first on a most enjoyable cruise, looking at the investment potential of the area, and then returning to visit some of the vineyards, where vines grow on impossibly steep terraces that run down to the river. I made two trips to Fátima, one in March to research the place and the history, and another in May to witness the huge number of pilgrims who gather there to remember the visions of the Virgin Mary to three young children. It was a hugely moving experience – 200,000 pilgrims, one lapsed Catholic photographer and me!

I have been involved this year with boosting the activities of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in the Algarve. That has been a real mix of frustrations and rewards, and culminated in the pre-Christmas party to welcome the new British Ambassador, John Buck, to the Algarve. All the hard work paid off – it was a really good bash and everyone who came along had a great time. For me, it was all the more rewarding because it showcased the best of the Algarve – food, wine and jazz, a wonderful surprise for most people who were there! It is great to be able to offer practical support and help to the smaller businesses in the Algarve – and to see what an amazing array of talent, skills and experience we have in the region!

And then there is the other side of me that is very involved in personal and spiritual development, and that has been kept very busy too! Douglas Ballard, the very gifted spiritual healer and medium, now comes to the Algarve on a regular basis, for both group work and individual sessions. There are already three groups up and running, and at least one more starting in the new year. It is very encouraging that so many people are taking time to develop that part of themselves – and, for them, it is wonderful to find a haven where they can be with like-minded people who do not think they are totally crazy!

On the negative – and I know I am not alone in this – the amount of money outstanding from certain clients is at its highest ever. Euro 2004 was a disaster for the Algarve and many companies are suffering not only from that but from the fall-out of the change in legislation last year that affected offshore-held properties.

Several people I knew personally have died this year, and good friends have lost relatives. While it is only human to feel loss and sadness, I personally believe that those who die pass on to something much better, and so our loss is their gain. Other friends or loved ones have become seriously ill, and some are coping better than others with the challenge. My nephew, Richard, for instance, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago, is – with some encouragement from his Aunty Jude – going to regular counselling sessions and has, thank the angels, found an experienced, caring counsellor who is helping him to uncover all sorts of stuff that has been hidden away for many years. Little by little, and with enormous courage, he is working through it and will come out stronger and wiser at the end of the process.

It is that time of year. It would be good to reflect on what has happened in the past year and what the coming year may bring. Go for a walk on one of our beautiful beaches, feel the sand between your toes, let the ocean lap at your feet while the sun shines bright – and thank whichever god you believe in for your many blessings.