My reviews of the year seem to have become a bit of an institution, with people commenting that they find it very hard to keep up with my day-to-day drivel but that these annual summaries are most helpful! So I'll keep with tradition, OK?
Let's be blunt, 2002 really has not been a great year, although it started off decidedly reasonably. In my review of 2001 I suspected that my relationship with Claire was going to be a pretty major part of this year's summary, and in a way it will be, but sadly not in quite the way that people may have hoped. Other things have happened this year, but the rise and subsequent catastrophic fall of that relationship overshadowed everything else, I'm afraid to say.
So yes, 2002 started off absolutely great, as indeed 2001 had ended, with ever more frequent trips being made up and down the motorway between Burnham and Milton Keynes, and our relationship strengthening by the day. Claire's little girl Jessica warmed to me as time went on, though that aspect was never quite as good as it should have been, and when Jessica did from time to time show resentment at my presence, it often hurt more than I was able to bear. Claire insisted that Jessica was just going to have to learn to like and to respect me, and that I shouldn't take her outbursts too seriously. However, I knew from the start that Jessica could well make or break things between us, and that was an awful lot of pressure for a six-year-old to be subjected to. In the meantime though, Claire and I enjoyed a couple of days away in the New Forest, where we got to know each other a lot better and fairly swiftly decided we were right for each other and that we should get engaged and married.
There was a bit of faffing to get the right engagement ring, but we got there in the end, and we announced the decision to our respective parents, who all took the news with very little surprise. Jessica wasn't terribly impressed to start with - she insisted that Claire should instead marry her natural father - but she got used to the idea fairly quickly, a week later deciding she would be a bridesmaid after all. We met with Olivia the vicar to discuss the wedding arrangements, but by then something deep down had seriously changed between the two of us that wasn't at all positive, and the rot really started to set in.
I won't go into the exact details of what happened, because this is supposed to be a summary, not a blow-by-blow account, but unhappiness welled up in both of us over the coming weeks. Sometimes it was blindingly obvious, other times we did our best to hide it from each other, but the tell-tale signs were there nonetheless. So it was that a few days before Claire's birthday, she drove up to Milton Keynes to deliver the news that the engagement was off and that she couldn't possibly marry me. All in all, she was probably right, and given how I'd been feeling over the previous few weeks I can't say I objected. For both of us it was the most we felt we'd ever been loved romantically, and we both got rather carried away with it I guess. Claire needed it more than I did, perhaps, but we were both as weak and mutually gullible at the end of the day.
That's why I bear no resentment towards Claire, only towards the situation that arose against our better judgement. I hate what happened, but in so doing I would have to criticise myself just as much as Claire. Indeed I would probably have to criticise myself more, since I had no excuse for maintaining my side of the lie. I have only pity for Claire and for poor Jessica, and the fear that without great care, this sorry pattern of events could well repeat itself for them. Yes, there's more to it all than I am prepared to share here, but that's what some would call the executive summary of what happened earlier in the year - though the knock-on effects still last to this day, strong as ever.
I've not had much luck since, relationship-wise. Although it wasn't Claire's fault, what happened left me untrusting of people's motives and very cynical about my own chances of finding happiness of that kind. So perhaps it's right that for the moment I just chill and take stock of the situation, and hope that maybe in a few months, years or whatever is necessary to heal the wounds, I might - whether with an existing friend or someone else - get back on track.
The next bad news of the year came just after my birthday in May, when my Mum phoned to tell me my uncle Tim had suffered a heart attack and died. Tim was a little younger than my Mum, but had in the last few years remarried with a much younger lady by the name of Jo, and successfully started a new family. It was most odd to go to the funeral just outside Nottingham and for the first time meet my new aunt - not that she likes to think of herself that way, as indeed was the case with Tim's previous wife funnily enough - and my little cousin Hannah. The overwhelming realisation though was that with all my grandparents now gone, the sands of time have started to erode at my parents' generation. I kept my composure most of the time, but when invited by the priest to sprinkle holy water on Tim's coffin, that blew it for me, and rare tears flooded down my cheeks. In better family news, my brother's divorce has finally gone through, and he recently announced his engagement to his delightful new partner Kim!
Work declined dramatically over the course of the year. After my engagement to Claire I informally announced to my boss that I wasn't likely to be staying at the Open University any longer than I needed to. Fairly understandably he was therefore not too keen to assign any particularly substantial programming projects to me, so I accepted getting some rather bitty and tedious dog-ends to do as a price worth paying for better things to come. But when all that fell through, I was still stuck with the lousy work and no escape route any longer. Thankfully I did get one interesting project assigned to me, which I managed to concentrate on over the summer in particular - and have recently returned to - but that was about all I could really say was positive about this year at work. I've not even managed a proper holiday as such; for the last few years I have used up a big chunk of my annual leave in September, but the anticipated workload was such that I couldn't this year. In the end, however, the promised work never really materialised, which was even more of a kick in the teeth.
To say I had no holiday at all this year would be a lie, though, but what I managed wasn't really to be much of a break, alas. Last year I spent a fairly successful week in Newquay, Cornwall, with my friend Sarah and family, and after my disappointment in the spring this year, Sarah's dad and step-mum there insisted I should go down again during the summer. At the time it seemed a good opportunity to get away from it all for a few days, with the change of scene and sea air likely to do me the world of good. In the end though, the week was an utter disaster, and I very nearly lost some of the best friends I have. I've certainly decided never to make that particular trip again, so please remind me forcefully should I ever appear to be going back on my word. Oh, and I also managed to get to the Greenbelt Christian festival in August, for the first time. It was OK, but I'm not sure I'll rush to go again, and it was an emotionally difficult time thanks to agreeing to meet up with Claire's friend Jenny and family and friends there, which perhaps in retrospect wasn't such an entirely brilliant idea, reminding all of us too much of happier times. Christmas was good though, spent with my parents at a holiday cottage in rural Herefordshire, at a manageable driving distance from my brother and sister.
In August, my housemate Mark finally did what he'd been "threatening" to do for a long time, and moved abroad to take up a senior teaching post in the United Arab Emirates. Mark was keen to rent out the house properly, so Matt and I both had to seek alternative accommodation. As it happened, we both ended up in Walnut Tree, a relatively recent development towards the south-east of Milton Keynes. Matt's sharing a flat with a friend, and I'm renting a studio flat - and although it's small, I like it a lot and the location is quiet and great for walking into work, as I have done every day since I moved! It took me a couple of months to get sufficiently organised, but in October I finally threw a flat-warming party, though with generally lousy weather we couldn't make the use of the patio that I'd hoped, so it was a bit of a sardine job!
Church has been a mixed bag to be honest. I don't regret leaving MKCF last year, but I'm still not sure if the Vineyard is the right place for me. It's just little things that have irked me through this year, but they all combine to make me feel unsettled and not particularly a part of what's happening. I think it was about at the beginning of the year that I was invited to jointly lead one of the Open House groups, which I said I would think about, so it was rather a shock when my "decision" was publicly announced at a Sunday meeting. Needless to say, when my engagement with Claire got called off, I was in no fit state to lead, so my tenure was very short in the end. I also took a much needed break from the worship music team, which came at a bad time with other key people having to do similarly for other reasons. I guess in a way I did leave them in the lurch, but it was by no means the way I'd liked it to have been, and if assumptions hadn't been made about my willingness to get involved so much in the first place, it might have been avoided. As it is, I've now largely been sidelined, and feel out of the loop with regards to much of what's going on within the church. Most ironic, given that one of the key things I had genuinely agreed to help with was communication, with no suggestions I have subsequently made in that regard being taken particularly seriously, alas. The Vineyard people are a lovely bunch, but I really doubt I'll stay much longer, especially now their main meetings are far away on the other side of town.
I think that's just about everything that's happened. To a large extent I feel I've merely "existed" this year; let's just hope that December 2003 can witness me reporting back rather more enthusiastically about the year gone by!