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Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

This time last year, I was looking for an end to a global pandemic, and the beginning of healing—physical, mental, and emotional.

I’ll gather with family and friends, I said. I’ll grieve the ones who won’t join us again. I’ll get a vaccination, I’ll dance in a street. I’ll hope for a world moving forward again.

I was mostly wrong. And surprisingly right.

For Americans, 2021 began with a January of epic highs and lows— three Wednesdays of insurrection, impeachment, and inauguration. With the rest of the country and the world, we watched the President of the United States spout baseless conspiracy theories about what his own appointed officials called the fairest election in history, while calling on supporters to march to the capitol, stand, and fight.

Confederate flag in the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021

The world watched as rioting supporters broke into the nation’s center of government, screaming their intentions to capture and kill members of Congress. What a civil war hadn’t accomplished, what thousands died to prevent, occurred that day as the Confederate flag, symbol of white supremacy and slavery, flew for the first time in the United States capitol building. A week later, the President was impeached for a record-setting second time.

Tribute to over 400,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic, on the evening before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in as president and vice-president.

Then a president who promised healing, and a vice-president who is a woman of color, were inaugurated.

To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. —Joe Biden.


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February saw release of our next India travel memoir, Please Don’t Ask for Extra Glasses, the second book in our series, Your Camels Are Here.

A few months earlier, I had asked for help from Arran residents when my two friends and fellow writers who had hoped to meet up with me on Arran instead were diagnosed with lung cancer. In a (to me) unprecedented outpouring of generosity, my fellow islanders not only sent hundreds of incredible photos, but also filled boxes with gifts representing our little island off the coast of Scotland. After many postponed and changed dates, we ‘met’ at the beginning of March for our virtual Arran visit. 

So many of the small moments that we have taken for granted assume their true proportions when we look back… They are not the mundane bits and pieces that always drop to the bottom of the bag, but the raw gems from which strings of jewelled memories can be made… and perhaps, if the earth holds our memories in trust, it is their sparkle that we see when the frost or the first dews of spring catch the light.Sue Vincent

We caught up, we laughed, we remembered. And we made new memories.We ended our visit, each with an Arran wishing squirrel on our wrists. Sadly, Sue passed away soon after, while Mary was still able to manage an actual Arran visit last summer. My wish came true that very day, so now the squirrel on tattered string looped around my wrist reminds that I’m guardian of those memories.

“If you can read this, send coffee.” —Christmas socks for a pandemic lockdown prisoner.

The Hub was offered a year’s appointment in Florence, which sounded like a dream opportunity. Covid had other plans for us, which included spending the year on lockdown, with the art, music, architecture, and food of Florence spread beneath our hilltop rental, so near and so unreachable—especially to Poste Italiane. So it was April before our Christmas presents were finally delivered—just after the Easter ceremony where an artificial dove packed with explosives was sent through a cathedral full of some of the greatest treasures of Western art, setting alight a cart packed with explosives, before finally streaking back through the Cathedral. They do this every year for luck, although personally I think the luck is that they haven’t burned the place to the ground in the thousand or so years of dove flights.

Thank you Italy, Pfizer—and especially gracious and charming Dr. Reyna Martinez—for a wonderful Mothers Day jab!

Happy Festa della Mama to me! The beginning and end of May saw me getting the best Mothers’ Day present ever: both vaccinations.

Finally, in June I was fully jabbed (we didn’t know about booster vaccinations yet), and Italy was starting to open up. Obviously, I went for my first haircut in two years and began to explore the mysteries of Florence, searching for those extra balls and missing penises.

As I was walking through the Medici’s Pitti Palace, I couldn’t help noticing something about all the male statues, such as this one of a young Hercules dating from Imperial Roman times. In classic fashion, most were beautifully carved examples of naked manhood, some Greek and Roman statues, others more ‘modern’ Renaissance-era copies. And every one was missing one essential element. I asked one of the guides, but she just said old statues were fragle. She didn’t meet my eyes. Luckily, a quick GFC (Google Fact Check) turned up the theory a Pope in later years was so offended by the manhood on display that all statues were required to cover up, at least during papal visits. (Since the Medici placed multiple scions into the role of Pope, this was probably more frequent than you might expect.) But those fig leaves just wouldn’t lie flat, so…

In July, after a year inside our rental house in the hills above Florence, lockdown lifted long enough for us to load up the car with the results of my new-found addiction to Deruta pottery, and make a dash for Scotland.

A year’s worth of rant and some pots.

August was a dream-come-true get together with some writer friends as Covid restrictions were ever-so-briefly lifted just before my birthday.

Over too much cake, just enough wine, and a lot of laughter, we exchanged writing tips and suggestions. Possibly because I did too much of the former cake-eating, I didn’t get to my part of the advice-giving. Since my bossy fitness watch was vibrating in horror and demanding that I make up for my lapses with a brisk 250-mile jog, I’m posting the bits HERE that we never got to pre-cake—How to write your own urban fantasy best-seller, take the perfect vacation trip, come up with the third item on your bucket list, and create a Fantasy Kitchen Sink mashup. [It really was a very big cake.]

In September when my friend Sharon texted to join her for the upcoming protest about our failing ‘lifeline’ ferries, I knew what I had to do. I made my sign, told the Hub to be ready with bail money, and headed out for a morning spent demonstrating in the pouring rain because…Scotland.

We stood in the deluge, protesting for an enormous audience consisting of a photographer from the Arran Banner. Then we went for cheese scones at Janie’s coffeeshop because we may be passionate but we’re not idiots. NOTE: we have a couple of the shirts left if anyone is interested.

Flushed with pride! Victorian Gents toilets, Rothesay Harbour, Scotland.

October saw us sneaking in a quick road trip to see the spectacular Victorian Gents toilets at Rothesay Harbour. [Why? What do you do for road trips?] While we were there, we took in the OTT Victorian awesomeness that is Mount Stuart House, home to the Marquess of Bute since the 12th century and one of the greatest treasures of Scotland.

In November we considered the Art of Presidential Turkey Pardoning.

In December I continued my perfect record of NEVER, not once, outguessing that wily Covid virus. Restrictions had lifted, and I quickly booked a trip to visit family and friends in the States. “What a great idea to take a trip across the ocean in the middle of a pandemic,” said nobody ever. Of course, when we finally did make it back to Scotland, our ferry booking was cancelled and the boats stopped sailing on Christmas Eve. And Christmas Day. And Boxing Day…

This has been one of the most difficult years I can remember. Like almost everyone, I’ve lost family and friends to illness, accidents, and a voracious pandemic. I said goodbye to our beloved little dog who has been all over the world with me.

BUT after a pandemic year that saw us in living in Italy, driving across Europe, visiting the (closed) Victorian Gents in the Highlands, and traveling to the western USA, we’ve finally and gratefully made it back to Arran. (I’d like to ask all of you to remind me of this year from travel-hell if I ever decide to go anywhere again. Just try it.)

Mostly, I’d like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those who went through 2021 with me—readers, family, friends, and kind strangers—whose cheer and generosity made all the difference. You’re my heroes!

“Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye ought, man:
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye when sought, man.”
—A Bottle and a Friend, Robert Burns

Wishing each of you a safe, peaceful 2022.