Last Christmas and New Year were very busy for us, and we did not manage to write to all our friends and relatives. As this year's festive season approaches, we realise we are less busy than we have been for many years. During the last year, John's business has wound down a lot and he is finding more time for his longstanding interest in the Scots language, writing again as well as continuing to edit Lallans magazine and undertake various work for the Scots Language Society. John also manages to visit his mother, in residential care in Auchterarder, nearly every day.  In September, Andrew, John's brother, married Ishbel. We really enjoyed their wedding and meeting their friends, and wish them well in their new home at Ardrishaig. John and  boating pals still have their boat in Loch Fyne. Andrew's son David has completed his degree and, after working very hard and saving from his job in a Glasgow night club is rewarded with a long break snowboarding in France. Sheonagh is a second year medical student in Glasgow and Kirstin still at school in Lochgilphead.


Anna and Alan are settled into their new home in Falkirk, which needed almost nothing done to it when they bought it over a year ago. They have space for a study each,  and a balcony (for smokers and bird feeders) and no garden. Along with all the usual amenities, this was what they were looking for. Alan works in Edinburgh, and Anna has recently moved to a research job, in Stirling University's Psychology Department. She is now Dr Law, having completed her PhD. Janet's Mum, Joan celebrated her eightieth birthday with all her family, including her brother David who came up from Kenilworth, at Blackford in January.  Janet and her mother and sister Briar have started taking annual short break holidays together in the autumn. Following their successful trip to Cornwall in 2003, this year they went to the Lake District. Briar held a party earlier in the year for her husband David's 50th birthday. Laws and Browns from Scotland joined with Smiths from all over and Briar and David's many friends at a very lively and happy event. Briar and David's son Graham is studying Geography at Glasgow University, and Catherine approaching her A-levels has already passed her driving test.


Janet's job as National Policy Officer for the Scottish Out of School Care Network (www.soscn.org) is now involving her in more travel throughout Scotland. Her organisation is the national umbrella organisation for services providing play, care and learning opportunities for children in Scotland outwith school hours. The recent growth in childcare and after school care in particular continues, and looks set to be a policy priority for the government in the future. With so much travelling involved in her work, Janet has turned down opportunities to go forward to be selected as a candidate for the forthcoming next elections.  The uncertainty about the dates of Westminster Elections makes it particularly difficult to do justice to a campaign as a candidate if you are also in full time work.


With Janet's flexible hours and decreased responsibilities in the SNP, and less computer work for John, some of the neglected walls and ceilings of Blackford Lodge have benefited from a coat of paint this autumn and the grapes from the greenhouse have been made into wine.  Other long neglected chores in the house and garden await us in 2005. We are looking forward to celebrating Christmas and the New Year with family and friends.We know we will all have a happy time and hope you all do too.