2017 began in a funk of rolling, raging anxiety that I honestly thought I’d never recover from, and is ending with the loss of my darling, darling grandmother. And yet despite those things, it’s been a pretty good year, on balance.
2017 was the year…
…I started taking antidepressants, and they gave me my life back.
…I tried cognitive behavioural therapy, and had mixed feelings about it.
…I stayed in a job for longer than six months, which is a vast improvement on 2016. I’m not usually much of a job-quitter, but if you don’t look after yourself, no-one else is going to do it for you. Incidentally, I feel that my experience of last year disproves the idea that you have to stay in a job for a year minimum to have a hope of being taken seriously when you apply for your next role. Prospective employers understand that sometimes life just happens, that things don’t always work out like we hope. (Or maybe I was just very lucky.)
…an attractive stranger slipped me a note with his number on it after we’d smiled at each other a few times on the bus. It was incredibly sweet but the ensuing rather awkward friendship taught me a valuable lesson in believing not what people say, but what they do.
…I became a dog owner. Best decision DB and I have made, 85% of the time. The rest of the time, it’s the worst thing we’ve ever done. Having a puppy is relentless, tiring, fun, joyous, hilarious, and disgusting – and sometimes it’s all of those things in the space of an hour. The things I’ve said to Noodle today alone include “Noodle, let go of the knickers!” and “Noodle, give me the banana skin! Drop, DROP!”
But God, how I love this manic, fluffy-eared, sullen-faced, ball-obsessed pup. He gets me out of the house and on to the beach on weekend mornings, rain, sleet or shine, he prompts conversations with jolly strangers and he terrifies me with his apparent lack of an instinct for self-preservation. If I had half his energy, I could take over the world twice before lunch. When he conks out on my lap with a big doggy sigh, my heart is utterly full.
…I made a speech at my friend’s wedding, and honestly, it was my favourite thing I’ve ever done. When she asked me, I nearly said no, but instead thought “fuck it – yes, I will”. And the great thing about saying you’ll do something for a bride is that you absolutely cannot back out. When I stood up to make the speech, my hands were shaking so hard you could see my notes fluttering. But God, when the first laugh came where I hoped it would, it was like a switch had been flicked. “Oh yeah,” I remember thinking. “This is going to be OK. I like this.”
The high I got from successfully doing something I didn’t think I could do lasted long after the wedding. It was like a shot of champagne in the bloodstream; I had an extra spring in my step for a week. I felt like this girl:
Turns out, I really like being given a microphone and loads of attention. I bet you’re shocked.
While you absorb that truly relevatory piece of information, let’s look at the good stuff from the last twelve months…
Book(s) of the year
I’ve been pretty lax with my reading the last couple of months, so I’m looking back to what I read earlier in the year. Elizabeth’s Day The Party was a dark pleasure, and I ripped through it in a couple of days. But I think my favourite novel of the year has to be No Good Deed from sweary, scathing Scot John Niven.
Because no-one is better at writing middle-aged men in freefall, men locked into a twister of complete self-destruction, than John Niven. No-one skewers the London-dwelling media class – with their Farrow & Ball-daubed homes and their organic veg boxes – quite like John Niven.
No Good Deed is a tale of two friends who grow up together but end up on very different paths, only to be reunited in rather improbable circumstances. The trademark Niv wit, snark and flick-knife phrasing are fully present and correct, but there’s something else in No Good Deed – something I wasn’t expecting: it’s a love letter to the author’s children. The parts where our protagonist ponders his offspring positively shine with fatherly love. I honestly welled up while reading certain paragraphs. No Good Deed is a tale of friendship, money, class, and men – but it’s also an ode to family, being part of your own little team, and crucially, having a place to take shelter from the world.
Honourable mention: Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, Harold Evans.
Evans has had a long and illustrious career in journalism, and was editor of The Sunday Times from 1967-81. Do I Make Myself Clear? is, unsurprisingly, all about writing clearly. It’s pretty nerdy; you have to be serious about your prose and/or a full-time writer to enjoy it, but even though I read it months ago, it has genuinely improved my editing skills.
Album of the year
Michelle Branch’s Hopeless Romantic. I waited over a decade for it, and it was worth every day of that wait. Dreamy, rocky, sweet and sassy, it’s got plenty of singalong hooks and – perhaps thanks to Black Keys’ drummer and Branch’s fiance Patrick Carney’s hand in the album’s production – neat little grooves. It’s just a really nicely put-together pop/rock record.
Seeing her live in London back in March was a real highlight of this year – and became an even-more-treasured memory when her autumn UK & Europe tour was cancelled. I hope she comes back this way soon, I really do.
Honourable mention to Impressions from Tall Ships. That’s a glorious record – lush, melodic, and full of beautifully-paced, anthemic tracks.
Series of the year
The Handmaid’s Tale and Stranger Things (1 & 2). No contest. Handmaid was bleak, intense, and chock full of incredible performances, while Stranger Things pulled off the extraordinary feat of being both an homage to 1980s’ pop culture and quite unlike anything else on TV.
Gig of the year
Ooofff, now this is tricky. There were the big, rare gigs – John Mayer and Michelle Branch – then there were the smaller, more intimate ones – Brontide’s farewell show and Desperate Journalist. Can’t choose, sorry. They were all very different and all fantastic.
Comedy gig of the year
In March, I saw Bridget Christie’s brilliant Brexit-themed show, ‘Because You Demanded It’ – her eloquent fury was a joy to watch and I adored every second of it. A month or two ago, I went to Standard Issue in Conversation, Sarah Millican’s website-turned-podcast-and-live-show, and saw a panel that included Labour MP Jess Phillips, comedian Katherine Ryan, and presenter Alex Jones. They were funny, feminist, and right, and it was a joy.
Just after DB’s birthday, we saw Simon Amstell at the Brighton Dome, and he was spectacular.The combination of his painful self-awareness and his scalpel-sharp wit produced observations that hit home with alarming accuracy and a show that was genuinely a laugh a line.
But, having thought about it, I think Bridget Christie was my favourite. I’m still furious about Brexit, because it’s so painfully clear that the government wasn’t prepared for a Leave vote, and the referendum should never have gone ahead before impact assessments were completed and published. Brexit is a huge middle finger up to Northern Ireland, to young people who’ve grown up with right to work, study and move freely within the EU, to areas of the UK that rely heavily on EU funding, to academic, scientific and technological communities and industries. Christie’s show articulated the bafflement and anger felt by millions, making it one of this year’s cutural highlights.
Have a lovely day tomorrow, whatever you may be doing.