2009 began, for Rachel and I, in a five star mansion house in the Brecon Beacons, snow all around, the world's most exciting shower in the bathroom. It was a peaceful, relaxing start to the year, but it was really a calm sandwiched between a large amount of discontent. I was in a job I wasn't enjoying and, as a result, I wasn't enjoying living in London. This upset me greatly, as moving to London was supposed to be a big adventure, a big step up in life. It backfired and I felt stuck. Every weekend I was leaving the city because I wasn't happy there. But not spending time in the area I had adopted also upset me, as it meant I wasn't meeting and befriending people or making the most of local facilities. This obviously made things worse. It wasn't long before I was commuting on a Monday morning from Birmingham to Kings Cross. It was surprisingly easy and far preferable.
I didn't write much early this year, certainly little that was personal. Anything I did tried to be positive, but mostly I didn't write about me because I didn't feel I had anything of any interest to say. Instead, I wrote about other topics and bigger things - the Simon Singh libel case, for example. But in doing so, and because I was largely unhappy, these causes came across more as rants. I was told this, and also realised it myself, and tried to back off. Besides, other people were doing a better job than I was. These causes haven't gone away, and I still appreciate their importance, but now that I feel happier I can hopefully approach them differently. I set up a second blog to provide a platform for this. The Sense About Science campaign that began as a result of Singh's (and others') case has since expanded, combining with English PEN and Index on Censorship to form the National Petition for Libel Reform ("Free Speech Is Not For Sale"). I support it, but I shan't rant or push you to sign. If you are interested I simply refer you to www.libelreform.org, which explains what is going on, and why it is felt that action is needed.
Meanwhile, I distanced myself from the Skeptic community that introduced me to the campaign. The idea is that Skeptics think rationally, so they are wary of woo therapies and claims, and this is an important skill. But the Skeptic crowd, intentionally or not, seems, in my view, to have latched on to the 'science=atheism' fallacy, and displays more than a little arrogance about certain causes, often before looking at any evidence. The appropriateness of scepticism is also context-specific, as we have seen with Climategate. I felt uneasy with the impression given that Skeptics ought to be atheists. I am not one, and I'd rather disassociate myself from a crowd that assumes this of me. The problems with Skeptics are being discussed at several interesting websites and blogs (see here, here and here), and I direct you to those. I believe that it is important to adopt a rational viewpoint, but that it is equally acceptable to have a faith. There are different philosophies in this world, and it is wrong to use one exclusively and dismiss the others, especially if we don't understand them. Science and religion, for example, are not mutually exclusive, but the philosophy of one cannot be used to explain the other.
While all this was happening I was making big decisions about the future. It prompted some self-evaluation and made me post some surprisingly candid posts (for example, Encore une fois). The big decisions all happened at once. I had to leave London and my job. I had to go to somewhere where I was more comfortable. At the same time, I realised more than anything that I wanted to marry Rachel, my rock in those hard times. So I handed in my notice, bought a plane ticket to Australia, went on holiday for 7 weeks and, while there, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. I've not told this story or any anecdotes around it because I'm saving it for the wedding speech, but suffice to say, she said yes.
Things since then have been a whole other realm of contentedness. We both live in Birmingham, although not together. I've started a PhD, which is obviously not an easy thing to do, but the atmosphere, topic, team and work style suits me far better than before. My boss complimented me the other day, even though I haven't got an experiment to work yet. In fact, much has gone wrong - in the first week alone I cut myself, burnt myself, grated myelf and came into unnervingly close proximity with a notorious carcinogen. But that positivity from my boss was not something I had been used to in the past year and a half, and it meant a tremendous deal.
My happiness is, I think, starting to show here, in the style in which I have been writing. So I'm sure that 2010 will see this site flourish with stupid anecdotes and whimsy, in the way that it was always intended.
I wish you a happy New Year and hope that whatever problems you are having will be resolved in the immediate future.