I had contrasting responses to the end of the two main lockdowns – as the first lockdown ended I was still very subdued and I think somewhat shaken out of living – it took weeks until I ventured to a pub or restaurant.
This lockdown, I ended with a flurry of activity – drinking out on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening (which is rare for me), then a staycation in Matlock for the weekend.
The reason for the staycation is that when our Vacuum of Integrity announced the roadmap out of lockdown, we realised that it would be not until 17th May when myself and my sister could legally visit our parents. We did consider breaking the rules, but I have tried to follow them with very few exceptions, and those only once the cases were very low – when we were discussing how to meet up, we were still in peak grass on your neighbour phase.
Yet there was a way around this. From April 12th, we could meet outdoors for dinner, or in a pub – or even a zoo. And then we realised that separate households could book self-contained accommodation – so we could have separate Airbnb bookings in the same town, and meet up in the garden, pub garden, restaurant garden – etc.
We did look at Cheltenham at first, but everything either lacked parking, lacked a garden or was too expensive, so I shifted the search further north, and fairly randomly came up with Matlock – kind of half way between London and Hull.
It was kind of surreal at first, meeting up with my parents for the first time in 6 months – we walked up the hill (some big hills in Matlock) to the nearest pub, sat on what seemed to be the only remaining table and ordered some drinks.
Ahhh. A beer with my family. Finally.
Matlock And The Area
Matlock itself is quite a beautiful town nestled in the Peak District. Some stunning views, some steep hills – one of the walks that we could have gone on has this path along the outside of a cliff that just makes me feel ill looking at it, and if you search Google for Britain’s Scariest Footpath, then you’ll find it. Good job my mother vetoed it.
Matlock has the River Derwent running through it, some nice forestry, steep hills – and the weather was sunny all weekend – I even ditched my coat at times. Oh and importantly, it has an M&S. Definitely quite an upmarket town without being overly so.
Unfortunately we didn’t do much research before going there – I’d tried to find some pubs with outdoor areas to book in advance, but updating websites and social media doesn’t seem to be a thing in Matlock.
And we didn’t research places to go/things to do either. After a little wander around on the Saturday we got the train to Matlock Bath. Which is rather different to Matlock and not what any of us expected.
Apparently people in Matlock think that Matlock Bath is a shithole. That would be overstating it – the town itself has the same stunning scenery and many gorgeous stone-based buildings.
Yet – the horrors – it has Union Jacks. Urgh. Not sure whether I’m being serious or facetious there. It also has a huge amount of fish and chip shops, candyfloss stalls, arcades (closed due to covid) – basically everything you’d expect at Bridlington without the same level of obesity. And sooooo many bikers – hundreds of motorbikes in this small town.
Still, we got the last available table outside a half-decent pub, which was out the back so we didn’t have our conversation interrupted every 30 seconds by noisy motorbikes, that actually served Neck Oil – yes, Neck Oil that far up north, had a half-decent menu (well, better than a Greene King), then made our way back to actual Matlock – where we sat in the sunshine and chilled.
Yeah, we should have done some research.
Matlock but no Blacklock
In the evening myself and my sister cooked the Hawksmoor feasting box – making it a steakation. Get it? My Dad’s joke, I cannot take the credit for it. There was a porterhouse which I’d never cooked before and struggled with, a rib-eye and a fillet.
I have to say that the porterhouse was outstanding.
And the triple-cooked chips were so, so, so gorgeous too. It also came with creamed spinach and a garlic mushroom – and was far too much food for us. Oh and gravy. Why gravy with steak? Not that I’m complaining.
Sunday arrived and we drove towards Derby to find a Sunday roast that I’d booked – again it took a while to find somewhere that had a good roast dinner that was actually taking bookings. I complain about poor websites in Europe when I visit – well, the same is true further north. Is it just London where people bother to update their websites so people know whether they can book ahead?
Roast was pretty good – though only two roasties and the parsnip was solid. Very tasty lamb though. Chocolate dessert was yum also.
But I don’t want to turn this into a not being able to write about food blog.
Life has returned
I have to say that I feel much better now life has returned. I feel like I am living again, that I have things to be excited about – that I can enjoy my life fully. Once again life is about more than work, study and avoiding covid.
Seeing my parents was the most important thing to do, which was healing for my soul after the heartbreak of a cancelled Christmas. Well…a postponed Christmas.
Other than that, it has been good to get back out on the roast dinner trail – I’m booked for the next few weeks now which is exciting. Plus I have some other things booked – drinks in London tonight (yes I’m actually going out on a Friday night), a sit-down nightclub experience at Costa Del Tottenham tomorrow, an actual staycation in the Lake District in a couple of weeks, and then Christmas 2020 to end May which is very exciting.
A couple of months ago, my employer, who I normally hold in very high regard, advised that staff couldn’t carry holiday over into the new year starting 1st April. Meh.
I still had 5 days left to take. We were in the middle of the worst phase of the covid crisis – everything was still going to be closed no matter when I took the holiday. I wouldn’t be able to go to a pub let alone another country. We’d also just had a sudden stratospheric warming event in early January so the likelihood was spring would start cold, so I wouldn’t even have opportunity to sit outside in my front garden.
Normally a staycation can be quite useful. My life runs on multiple to-do lists, and they tend to gradually get out of control at times…well…most of the time. Until I have some time at home, like a staycation, where I can just concentrate on catching up on all the life admin.
Yet covid means that my main to-do list of regular/semi-regular tasks is cleared most weeks now. The time saved from not commuting means I have time to spend on this during the working week.
The other useful thing about a staycation is not being in the office – 5 whole working days away from the Met line and the office. Yet covid means that I spend 22 hours a day in my bedroom, 1 hour in the kitchen and 1 hour outside walking.
I would not have booked this week off if I had any choice in the matter – it was my best hope for a week when there might have been some warm sunshine. I had planned on a week off in April originally – when I hoped the pubs would be open and the weather would be warm.
I had nothing really to do. All the occasional cleaning tasks like cleaning the fridge that I tend to put off are long completed. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t sit in the sun. I didn’t even want to bake a cake.
It really was going to be the most pointless staycation ever.
Or was it?
The one thing that I will probably never be on top of, is the amount that I need to learn for my job as a software engineer – or at worst, the amount that I could learn. Thankfully I enjoy both learning and writing code.
However, soon we will be using React! And I don’t know it. So if I don’t learn it I will go from being really good at my job to being useless. Plus I also need to learn TypeScript, GraphQL and Next, though all smaller missions that learning React. I bet you are tired even reading about what I need to learn.
One of the attractions about becoming a software engineer was that it always changes, that I’d always need to learn – of course, the money is rather attractive also. Knowing React probably increases my salary expectations by around £10k – and increases the amount of jobs that I am qualified for by rather a lot – React is very much “the thing”. In theory, with another 2-3 years of experience I could easily command a salary of £80k – if not £100k. M&S ain’t going to like that!
So that is pretty much all I have done. Instead of writing code for M&S, I’ve been learning code so that I can write even better code for M&S in the coming months when the project hopefully starts.
But it wasn’t a holiday
Alas, all this time coding and the brainwork required does mean that it feels like I’ve just had a normal 9-5 week – plus I studied for much of last weekend too.
I really haven’t done anything else. I did cook some ox cheeks in the slow cooker, which were superb. And I watched England vs San Marino. Oh and I spent £440 on an ergonomic office chair. Well, it was money that Ryanair won’t be getting this year.
What I really need is a break from the pandemic – a break from the UK – a break from the flag-shagging morons in charge of this country. Or at least to get away from Harrow from a few days – my bedroom – my prison cell of a bedroom.
I am going to have a Blacklock all-in tonight with a nice bottle of Rioja. And yes, I will be eating with another human being which means breaking rules for only the second time this year. Judge me if you want – but I need a snippet of humanity, a few hours away from my computer, a few hours away from the endless months of solitude. Everyone else has been breaking rules, though they often don’t seem to even admit it to themselves let alone everyone else – some proper hypocritical shite on social media but that’s a discussion for the beer garden in a few week’s time.
Don’t worry, I’ll be back in front of my computer for the rest of the weekend – though I’m going to keep the studying to a minimum. I might even not do any.
I’ve been peak miserable this week. Emotionally defeated, mentally exhausted – physically exhausted too. Lockdown and being on my own for the best part of 3 months has finally broken me. Well…temporarily.
Weirdly in the first lockdown, peak misery hit after a couple of months – and the same has happened this time. Though it is compounded by the strictures that I’ve put myself under, with no alcohol, no cake, no chocolate, no fun – as well as no face-to-face human interaction (bar occasional 5 minute chat with my housemate).
It’s kind of been like groundhog day for the last few weeks actually, though only really this week has it got to me.
Weekends have become nothing more than an extended lunchbreak, except I’m still writing code and studying – I probably did around 10-12 hours of studying and coding last weekend – though I do once again have a nice speedy roast dinners website.
This is kind of fun to solve problems and improve things, but it isn’t really what I want to be doing on a weekend. Mix in some cleaning, general life admin and some really boring things like listing CDs on Ebay or sorting out the music I’ve illegally downloaded over the last year (which means formatting files names so they all look neat…yeah I’m so anal) and my weekends are pretty dismal. And lonely.
My working week recently has involved re-doing work that I’d previously done – one ticket which took about a week of effort was to replace something that was implemented in a rather horrid hacky manner to test out a theory…the theory worked and is worth 6 figures of incremental revenue – but that meant I had to implement it properly and replace the horrid hacky thing I’d built (there wasn’t a non-hacky way to do this test).
Other tickets have had to be re-done because there was a backlog of code reviews – and those tickets being reviewed and implemented all affected each other so when changes were implemented in one, things then had to be redone in the other tickets in the backlog. Finally ready to test on the public come Monday – after nearly 3 months of work and re-work by myself and my colleague. So if you are buying a bra and see a matching items carousel, do add some knickers. Or vice versa. Thanks.
So it has been a bit frustrating at work – and dull outside of work. I know good (ish) times are tantalisingly close, but the winter of doom is persisting. Detox doesn’t help with the lack of fun – I would love a few beers or a bottle of red wine one night, I am soooo ready for it – but also I’ve lost 6kg in weight this year and am no longer obese. It has been a dull few months (it feels much longer) but a period of time that I think I’ve made as much use of as possible.
Yet there are moments, like now, when I just want to give up my efforts. If I think about it long enough, I feel weary, I feel isolated, I feel miserable – not depressed – but miserable. I generally avoid talking to people unless they instigate it, because I fear feeling like I am missing out. I sometimes wonder if this is comparable to being in prison but without the drugs. I really have had enough of this fucking pandemic.
I concluded that it was time to write about it. And what better after a moan than to remember that I do have some things to look forward to.
The list of things that I am looking forward to
So these are all things which should definitely happen in the coming months. I’m not even thinking of trips abroad or being off my head in some muddy field dancing to shitty tech-house. Just things I’m pretty certain will happen – things that are in my control – things that I dare hope for.
I am finally going to see somebody other than my housemate or a delivery driver this weekend, as we are now allowed to meet one other person for a picnic, so my sister is visiting with a roast dinner from an actual pub. Yes we are going to sit outside in 11’C, showers and a chilly wind. Dominic Cummings.
2. A week off. I was a bit pissed off about being told that I cannot carry my holiday over until the next financial year, so I had to take it in March. Really would have preferred it in April so I could have actually done something like sit in a beer garden on a Tuesday afternoon. But I am looking forward to a week off, my emotional wellbeing needs a week off – even if the main thing I’m going to do is study – roll on the last full week of March and give me one day of warmish sunshine PLEASE! Alas, weather models currently suggest snow more likely than warmth. Fucking sudden stratospheric warming.
3. I’ve ordered a curry from the highly-regarded Clay’s in Reading. I keep hearing how good they are and keep meaning to order – finally I’ve done it. Arriving next weekend.
4. The end of the detox! I know this lockdown has been easier without drinking because I’m constantly needing to keep myself busy – whereas drinking gives me more downtime, and more time to ponder what life used to be like. Yet detox is far less fun too, and I have been avoiding talking to people because I feel like I’d be too tempted to drink. I am now bloody well ready for a beer or 5 – and my detox will end at some point on my week off – date undecided. I’ve even ordered some beer – and found some Bone Machine too. Hmmm Bone Machine.
5. Sitting outside in the warm sunshine and having a beer or two. Yes, I really cannot wait to be able to plonk my chair outside in the front garden (the back garden is a shithole), t-shirt on, short shorts hopefully on, beer in hand. Bliss. Those who read my weather forecasts will know that I’m expecting a sunnier and drier spring than normal – though that first warm day where I’m not working might take a while – if it happens on my week off that would be amazing (and will be my detox end date), if not then hopefully for Easter.
6. Blacklock. Ohhhhhh Blacklock. I think for my week off I’m going to order an all-in for the weekend. This may or may not be my detox ending celebration – and what better way to end my detox with a load of beautiful meaty goodness and a nice bottle of red wine?
7. Matlock. From Blacklock to Matlock. So I haven’t seen my parents since October and this hurts – especially missing out on Christmas with them. We realised that 12th April means that we can meet outdoors and stay in self-contained accommodation within our household (granted I am stretching that definition slightly) so we are staying in the same area and meeting up for outside hospitality and walks. This really is necessary for the soul.
8. Roast dinners outdoors. Also from 12th April I will be able to start booking roast dinners, albeit outdoors only and one assumes it might be quite difficult to find anywhere, especially for the opening weekend. I do need to pull my finger out on this one.
9. A trip to the Lake District. So last year 3 of us went to Cornwall just as London was disgracefully plonked into Tier 2 – gosh tiers really do seem like they are from a different age. We are repeating the feat this year and going to the Lake District – pubs and restaurants should be open indoors and our trip will be fully legitimate – 3 separate households staying in 1 house. They also have a goat. Yeah, the goat sold it to me.
10. Christmas 2. A date has been set – the final bank holiday weekend in May and we are going to faithfully recreate the Christmas that we never had, as best as possible. Presents, decorations, tree, turkey roast (not sure my mother knows this part yet), sprouts, mince pies, booze, Christmas songs, yadda yadda. Well…unless…Boris…
I feel a bit better now. Hope you are all surviving…if you survived reading to this point.
Years ago I would have bemoaned my loneliness on Valentine’s Day. You could probably search this blog for a few “why am I so lonely” posts.
This year, I didn’t care. In fact, I now feel like I prefer being on my own.
I remember when the first lockdown happened, saying things like “well at least it didn’t happen in winter – at least we have the warm sunshine and I can sit outside and have a beer”.
I remember the first lockdown, when it was all new to us – there was a sense of worry, of the unknown, but most of us that are not exceptionally old, obese or otherwise unhealthy were gradually reassured by the data. There was a sense of “all in it together”, meme culture was at its best on social media, banana bread baking was the British cultural activity of the spring – that super sunny spring meant that we could sit outside.
Zoom calls were a plenty – I was normally having two a week. I was in touch with lots of people still – phone calls, arguments on Facebook over lockdowns, arguments on Twitter over masks. The sudden shock of isolation was there yet there was that camaraderie and togetherness without being anywhere near anyone.
The long winter of doom
This lockdown feels a lot different. Coming right in the depths of winter and right at the start of my 3 month detox – this one is a tough cookie. Winter can be tough to get through in normal years, but there is normally things to do, culture to visit, restaurants to eat at – people to see.
This lockdown, I’ve retreated very much into my shell. I’m not arranging Zoom calls. I’m not being invited to Zoom calls. I’m not speaking to many people at all. I don’t feel like speaking to people.
Apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way – my Twitter feed has plenty of people saying they are finding this lockdown tougher and more isolating – I’m sure I read in The Economist that people are having a lot less family/friends Zoom calls in this lockdown, but cannot find the article online to share.
So why am I feeling so anti-social?
It isn’t that I have nothing at all to say. Work is going well, I’ve enquired about the possibility of a pay rise, I’m getting involved with recruiting and learning Node and React at the weekend. Weekends otherwise have been filled with life admin/cleaning which is pretty boring, but I’ve still ordered a few roast dinners to review – though I think I’m going to knock those on the head for a while, until we can socialise again.
I’ve been losing weight – it has plateaued the last couple of weeks but I’m down 3.5kg this year. I’ve booked a holiday to the Lake District. Stock market investing is fun/awful/great/shite – depending on what day you read this. So I do have plenty to say – and I’m still well up for an argument over masks.
I guess not drinking doesn’t help. I feel that my detox could very easily be broken – as I could be emotionally broken without too much effort. And I’m trying to stay strong enough to complete my detox, which will end some time near the end of March I think. There isn’t a date as I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself – but I do feel that Zoom calls will just make me want to drink again. So maybe that is part of the reason why I’m avoiding social contact.
But I think mostly the reason why I’m feeling so anti-social is that I really miss everyone. I miss going to pubs with friends. I miss going to restaurants with family. I miss wandering art galleries with people, craning my neck to try to see past the hordes of people with camera phones.
That sense of longing to want to just simply sit opposite someone, look into their eyes and talk to them, over a glass of wine, whilst they scroll through Instagram and take no notice of what I am saying but at least they are there.
And every time I speak to someone, I just want to make plans to do something with them – and there is no point.
There is hope
Psychologically this winter lockdown has been fucking tough. I’m doing what I can to get by, and I guess retreating into my shell, avoiding social contact is part of this. And it isn’t like I’m ignoring people – I’m just not instigating things.
Not drinking actually helps get through lockdown – as much as I’d love a bottle of wine and would thoroughly enjoy one right now – I can end up miserable once drunk when alone. Alcohol helps – then un-helps. Losing weight helps me be happy, as does learning stuff and sorting out all my mess – all things which I am able to control and am concentrating on.
But spending time with people makes me most happy.
I am trying to keep myself happy and manage being alone as best as possible – everything I am doing during lockdown is to try to make my life better after lockdown.
There is hope. Spring is on the way and it looks like being a sunny spring, at least for March and April, eventually warm too. I’ve taken the last week of March off as holiday (we are not allowed to carry over holiday this year which is pretty shit) – but I’m hoping to be able to sit outside, have a beer in the sunshine, order a Blacklock roast dinner, have a nice steak, go on some longish walks. And do lots of studying – as there is a huge amount to learn for the probable new tech stack at work.
And at some point not too far away I reckon I’ll be able to invite my sister over for a roast dinner on a Sunday.
Most importantly, I want to go visit my parents and have our stolen Christmas. They’ve both had the jab, cases are as low as they were when they visited London in October – but I still think we are a fair few weeks away from it being socially acceptable to pack a suitcase and travel 200 miles up north.
Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear me. Happy birthday to me.
Look what I got for my birthday:
I’m lying, I didn’t really get that.
Look what I got for my birthday:
I’m lying. I didn’t really get that.
Look what I got for my birthday:
Yes, I’m blessed enough to have a sister weird enough to buy me porn for my birthday.
I think I need to mention the pandemic in case somebody hasn’t thought about it enough today
So I was lucky last year in being able to celebrate my 40th birthday when covid was something in China and wouldn’t come to this country so we had nothing to worry about. This year, lockdown and winter have combined to eliminate most forms of enjoyment of life. But I insisted on enjoying my birthday and I had a bloody good attempt at a bloody good day.
Firstly I took the day off work. I enjoy working but the freedom to do whatever I wanted, within the bounds of the very limited options that I have nowadays was even more important.
I started by walking up the hill in Harrow. EXERCISE. I left my house before 7am.
Then I emptied my large wardrobe so that I could move it 5cm to the side. Then filled it back up. Gosh I am living the life, aren’t I?
You know how sometimes I think I know best (you may have noticed that I don’t mention herd immunity much now)? Well when I put up my DJ desk the other week which involved 5 hours of screwing, I decided not to attach the speaker stands, ignoring the instructions, as my speakers were too large for them, or so I thought.
However, I concluded that I was wrong, so I then spent an hour or so screwing speaker stands to the unit yesterday. Which meant having to unload the DJ desk, move it to an area where I could reach it for screwing, do the screwing, move it back and put everything on to it. And it was really quite awkward to do so, after the whole stand was put together.
Are you bored yet? Yeah that was my morning. The cupboard had to be moved as the speaker stands just didn’t quite fit without that little bit of extra space.
I made a nice lunch.
Garlic didn’t really work with the smoked salmon and I could have done with some Hollandaise, but hey, this is not the perfect birthday.
After a bit of studying (need to understand Node, Mongo and Express properly so I can build a dating website), I had a Zoom call with my family, where I opened my birthday cards – 3 of which came from my Grandma. And a Christmas card from her brother. Ahhh old age is going to be interesting, isn’t it? My sister also bought me the Dishoom book, which I am looking forward to starting next week. Am I the only person that goes through recipe books from beginning to end?
Then had a Zoom call with my sister, Martin and Ali – I feel like I was on good form, though helped by my first beers of the year. A detox break – I might have another break in a month or so, but the intention remains to make it until the end of March. Then again, I intended on something similar last year…
And the evening was all about the Blacklock all-in. 4 types of chops – two lamb, one pork chop and one small rump steak. Seriously beautiful. Beef-dripping chips, which I slightly overcooked, some kale, some fried bread and THAT chop sauce. Annoyingly I overcooked the chop sauce also – I followed the instructions but it just reduced far too much.
And that was followed by their white chocolate cheesecake, which this time came with rhubarb topping. So, so, so good – I think the 6th time that I’ve had their white chocolate cheesecake and it felt like the best ever. I really need to be on commission.
Also topped off with a bottle of red wine – first time I have paid more than about £8 for a bottle, at least to drink at home. £32 it cost – a treat and it was bloody nice too, an Argentinian Malbec.
And that was that. I didn’t even see my housemate in passing so I spent the whole birthday on my own. It could have been better – it paled into dismality (new word, just made it up) compared to the fun and jollity of my 40th birthday last year.
Yet you have to make the most of life, considering your circumstances. And I think I just about managed to have a bloody good birthday.
With blessings and gratitude to all those that wished me a happy birthday…I hope I thanked you all individually but I’m sure I probably missed someone.
Time to set myself some goals for 2021, and they will not involve any holidays, and definitely not Japan. Clearly I am setting them in height of the pandemic with little opportunity to do much that doesn’t involve a computer, so they will be slanted towards computer stuff.
I’m also setting environmental targets for the first time ever. Don’t worry, I still love steak, actually really appreciate the usefulness of plastic and would love to get a flight or 10 in 2021 in an ideal world.
Lose 10kg. I can do this. I think I will actually do this this year. I have fewer excuses. I work from home. I can easily eat a low calorie diet. I can sleep enough. I will have plenty of time where I cannot eat or drink out.
The detox, or two. I’m loosely aiming for a 3 month detox to start 2021 and to help me achieve quite a bit of the below. I intend on drinking on my birthday in late January, and Christmas 2, though I guess Christmas 2 will be April at the earliest.
Reduce wine at home. One of my major downfalls in 2020 was the bottle of wine on a Friday night, after a few beers. And the bottle on Saturday night. This needs to be the exception, rather than the rule. One bottle, at home, each month?
Work & Finance
Pay rise. A pay rise is impossible when there is a company-wide pay freeze so if you can all buy a few more bras and pants I would appreciate it. However, if the pay freeze relaxes then I will put a case forward for one. I can earn circa 30-50% more elsewhere thanks to what I’ve learnt so far at M&S, but I like it there. 2022 would be move on year if I don’t achieve a pay rise.
Invest £10k. I love investing in the stock market – it was my favourite thing of 2020 and, of course, would have been my least favourite had I lost money. I am saving for a house deposit for some crappy new build in a scummy part of London, so to stick to my plan of having a deposit by the end of 2023, I must save £10k this year. Which does depend on both a pay rise and a lockdown so I cannot spend much.
Charity. Give at least as much to charity as I did in 2020 – which was £363.80, according to my calculations.
Learn React and put some React code live. If you actually remember what I write on these every year, you may recognise this. React is the thing I can learn that will boost my future earning power most. Plus it looks like we are moving to introducing it at M&S and I’m trying to get involved as much as possible…I’ve launched the Learn React teams channel at work, even though I know zero. So, learning is one thing – but creating something either for personal use, or shipping React code live to the M&S website is required to complete this.
Create a web app. I have an idea in my head for a social media network and a dating website. Not sure I entirely want people to use either, as shit would just get too complex/heavy, but I want to learn how to make one, and also to look good for my portfolio.
Upgrade my life. Didn’t do very well on this last year, but over the course of the year I need speaker stands, computer speakers, monitor, office chair, laptop, keyboard (yes it needs to light up) – all this needs upgrading in 2021.
Declutter. I surprised myself with starting a decluttering project in 2020. I have a loose goal of maybe owning 10% less stuff, but quite how I count that is another question. I managed to get rid of 134 of my 2,058 CD collection last year, so if I can get that to 300 removed this year, plus sell/bin my Mixmags then that would be a good achievement.
Plants. I need a nicer front garden when I sit out and drink beer in 2021. So plant some plants in planters.
Zero food waste. I feel that zero is probably impossible but it is easier to measure and should push me towards thinking of solutions. I don’t feel that I waste much anyway and I get my fruit and veg from Oddbox so I’m actually saving food waste already (and you should sign up – you get £10 off and so do I if you use my link).
10% green investments. If you know me, you’ll know that I enjoy investing in the stock market. I’m going to aim to put 10% of what I invest in purely green investments – so things like solar companies, sustainable infrastructure, wind power, etc.
20% green charities. I do give a bit to charity, fairly haphazardly as to what I choose, so this goal is to ensure that 20% of what I give goals to environmental causes. Charities that don’t disagree with free-market liberalism – as making people poorer doesn’t make people greener.
So I shouldn’t set goals for just 2021. Looking further ahead I am hoping to either get a promotion to senior software engineer at M&S in 2022, or a new job in 2022.
Mid-2023 is the very earliest that I think I will be able to afford a deposit on a shabby new build above a kebab shop in London. That is me assuming that I make 1% a month on average in the stock market (I’m way ahead of that), that I get a good pay rise this year and that a £50k deposit is sufficient – it may need to be £75k, I’m really not sure. Also I might get away with less with the Help To Buy Equity Scheme, but again I’m not sure. To be investigated after the pandemic.
Well we all know what 2020 was like in terms of fun, enjoyment and quality of life. So, was 2020 a productive, successful year for me?
I’ll go through the original goals for 2020 that I set myself in, erm, February (don’t you remember that we still had a life in January?) – original headings in bold, original elaboration in italics, and 2021 comments in ordinary font. Not sure why I explained that to you as it should be obvious what I’m doing.
Two Detoxes. A 3-week detox prior to my 40th birthday and a 3-month detox after my birthday.
Hmmm, kind of did this. Well I did the 3 week detox, then 2 of the 3 month’s – guess what caused me to start drinking again in late March? Though I also had another month off in November.
Stop unnecessary drinking. This is the bottle of wine at home on a Friday night after work, or the can of beer at my desk on a Friday afternoon, or drinking prosecco on a Tuesday afternoon at work…that kind of thing.
Well I didn’t drink at my office desk in 2020. But I drank plenty of beer and wine on my own, albeit quite often with a Zoom call to start.
Lose Weight. …maybe I actually will lose weight this year – and my goal is 10kg for the year. I am setting monthly goals too – January I have passed, February I will almost certainly pass. If I fail my monthly goals than I will punish myself with a vegetarian roast dinner…
Well I finished 2019 at 107.5kg and finished 2020 at 101.2kg. At one point at the end of November I made it down to 97.3kg, so I technically managed 10kg, but I’m comparing like to like so…
63% successful. Oh and I had forgot about setting monthly goals by April. Blame China.
Work & Websites
2021 will be too soon for promotion – I’ve now read the job spec and it is really something for full-on seniors, people with say 7-8 years experience. I have learnt loads this year, I am more comfortable with presenting technological information, and now actually good at writing tests.
Met Line Bingo. I’ve started work on a website called Met Line Bingo – which will be a fun, simple game for passengers to play when they are delayed AGAIN.
So I wrote the code for this, it was all working on my local machine, pushed it live, it didn’t work – then covid happened, nobody used the Met line let alone got delayed on it, and I lost interest.
I just think I didn’t bundle the assets correctly.
Improve websites. I do want to do a complete re-brand of my roast dinners blog, and at some point my iwillbeawebdeveloper page.
I did rebrand my roast dinners website – in fact I completely rebuilt it and made it super quick too. Really quite impressed with myself – even my vegan manager appreciates it. Didn’t touch iwillbeawebdeveloper.
Monthly culture. I want to do a different cultural activity every month this year (granted January I didn’t and February I probably won’t). Burlesque, ballet, bingo, comedy, cinema, theatre, musical, drag brunch, 20/20 cricket…that kind of thing.
Japan. Well, the flights are booked, the first hotel is booked. Research is ongoing. I am going to Japan.
I didn’t go to Japan.
3 New Countries. I normally aim for 4 but fail, and with half my holiday allowance being taken by my trip to Japan I’m making this more achievable.
Does Cornwall count as a country?
Random Country. I really want to play random country holiday with someone this year.
0% successful. Thanks, China.
Upgrade My Life
Replace stuff. Now I have a reasonable salary, it is time to upgrade my belongings – my battered office chair, my ugly over-sized (but free) office desk, my slow Surface, tired towels, suitcases with broken wheels, computer monitor with weird wavy lines, computer speakers that are far too bass-heavy.
So I bought a new desk and a new suitcase. There is really no excuse for not achieving this in 2020!
New socks. I need to finally get rid of all my old, tired socks too. Sock upgrades are required.
My sock drawer is full!
100% successful. BOOM.
Double my savings. I’m not telling you how much I have, but I do want to double the amount of saving that I have by the end of the year, and ideally have a fair amount in shares.
I cannot remember exactly how much I had in savings at the end of 2019, but I’m certain that I have twice as much or even 2.5 times as much now.
100% successful. Thanks, China.
Move house?I don’t want to do this, even though I know the pain would probably be worth it. …I’m going to look into what is out there.
I did start looking online when we had anxiety-inducing the “everyone back to the office” phase. And I am now saving for a deposit on a flat.
Donate to charity more. Last year I gave a total of £76 to charity, which was up from £46 the year before.
According to my spending records, I gave £363.80 to charity in 2020. Check me out.
Waste less food. …I do buy too much food that I don’t finish – cheese for example I rarely eat a block before it goes off.
I definitely threw away my (un) fair share of quarter blocks of cheese in 2020, but on the flip side I’ve signed up to Oddbox and apparently I’ve rescued 156 kg of odd & surplus fruit & veg that might’ve otherwise gone to waste. Gosh, what a champion I am.
Plant a tree. Bit out there this one, but it is something good I can do for the planet and local area.
Masks required? No thanks.
That gives me an overall goal success score of 48.7%. Not bad.
Time to start writing some 2021 goals. Some covid-proof goals.
A few weeks ago I put myself through the misery of a one-hour BBC documentary charting the pre-pandemic course and the scientific response (or lack of) as things unfolded in China, and later Europe.
It was like watching a horror movie.
We’ve all lived through this horror movie this year and I don’t intend on a eulogising look back through this hellscape – but unfortunately even most of my highlights of 2020 are from the context of covid. I have every intention of this being a positive piece of writing to reflect my own being, but it is of course grounded in the situation and not every turd can be glittered.
I guess I should start with some covid shit. My top 6 are definitely my top 6 moments of the year – but previous 9 moments have no real order.
15. Masks on tubes
I don’t even know where to start with the emotional clusterfuck of covid and its restrictions. From the worry over whether it would stop me from going to Japan, to wondering when I would ever see another human. How the whole scenario made me angry, confused, anxious – and for quite a few weeks in May/June I was in quite a pit of misery…many others said that they also struggled in May/June.
But for me, peak misery was when masks on tubes were announced. The thought that I would be stuck in Harrow forever depressed me.
And fuck, the arguments about masks. Gosh…I generally don’t like being on the same side of the argument as a Corbyn, so it was quite painful defending it. I still think I’m right in that they are bullshit, and suspect that they may even have contributed to this new super-spreading variant, but I guess we’ll never know (or won’t be told for years).
But eventually I relented and got on the tube. I sometimes even put it over my nose now.
14. Guess who’s garden
So we’d all gone from working in the office as a team, to working from home – which for me was a delight, no Metropolitan line, being able to wake up when I was ready, being much better able to control my diet.
Yet there was something missing in terms of team cohesion, and everyone kind of asking if people were OK but not really sure if they were themselves, of course having to handle the whole situation and the new experience of being in separate silos – and being very alone.
Which is when I realised the answer. I organised a game of “Guess Who’s Garden” for the team one Friday afternoon and I really (possibly deludedly) think this actually helped, and our regular Friday games from then on helped enforce our team spirit.
My new team that I joined in November doesn’t have anywhere near the camaraderie – and my old team no longer has their socials.
13. THAT spring weather
Spring at times was fucking miserable because of you know what – as I mentioned above there were times when I was more miserable and down than I had been in a good decade or more, especially a 3-4 week spell in May and June where my solitude and hopelessness really got to me.
And maybe the long, glorious spring of watching my neighbours sunbathe whilst I was working didn’t actually help matters, not to mention the drills, the chainsaws and the fucking lawnmower every single day. But looking back now in the depths of winter and the second wave, the weather really was gorgeous.
I was quite happy with my short shorts on in my front garden, drinking my IPAs, listening to minimal techno, reading about covid-19 in The Economist.
12. Falling in love
Yes, you read correctly. Summer was a glorious time, I fell in love with Lola, so sweet, so sexy, so chilled and so white that even my most distant relatives in Hull would approve.
Yes, my AEG Chillflex Pro air conditioning unit kept me cool all summer – no matter how hot the rest of the house was, my bedroom was chill.
11. RIP Swennieh
Oh man. If there was ever someone I met that didn’t need 2020 to teach them to make the most of life, it was my dear friend, Swennieh.
The news came in August, I think. I didn’t believe it at first. Then I cried. What a top bloke and I was honoured to know him. If you knew him, you know exactly what I’m on about.
I know a couple more close friends lost loved ones, and another close friend has successfully been battling cancer. It always puts my own struggles into context.
10. Barnard Castle
For me it was the political moment of the year. The guy – the unelected advisor who’s self-appointed mission was to fight unelected advisors – in one fowl swoop (foul swoop or fowl swoop?) managed to undermine everything the government had been attempting to do with the lockdown.
Every single time from that moment onwards, someone had a third person on a pub table, had a hug indoors, drove to Beacon Beacons – whatever the cursed break of whatever new rule – “but Dominic Cummings” was the answer.
Seriously, how many times did you excuse your minor rule-breaking with “but Dominic Cummings drove his kids to Barnard Castle to test if he could see”?
If Boris Johnson had had sacked him on the spot, whilst the pandemic course would not have changed, the public would be more likely to be paying attention now. Alas, he had to wait for Carrie to defenestrate him. Oh for a proper leader. Anyone. Any party.
Next slide, please.
9. Not going to Japan but I made people laugh
I guess I live to put a smile on people’s faces.
Still would have preferred to have gone to Japan. Fuck you, China.
8. Hull City losing 8-0
Part of being a Hull City AFC fan is being able to enjoy misery. Memories consist of singing songs like, “silverware, we don’t care” and “how shit must you be, we’ve scored a goal”. I feel like I enjoyed being a Hull City fan more when we were proper shit in the 90’s.
At the end of January, we were 8th in the league, challenging for the play-offs and I stuck £5 on us being relegated at 250-1. I mean, there was a thought process other than being a Hull City fan – I’d watched a couple of games and we were shite, I thought our manager was clueless, I thought we’d fluked some recent wins. I knew we were selling our star player. 8th in the league though.
We then went on a run of 12 games without winning, we were one point above the relegation zone and about to play a team in the relegation zone when – BOOM. Yes, I cannot even do a football post in 2020 without mentioning covid. FFS.
But when the league restarted, we were even worse – and lost 8-0 to Wigan. Wigan got relegated.
We finished bottom. I won circa £1,150.
Making money from your football team being relegated? That is such a 2020 thing.
7. Boris’ Christmas emotional stabbing
I don’t know where to start with this.
I don’t blame Boris Johnson for the pandemic. I blame China. I do however blame Boris Johnson for running a government of incompetence and cronyism.
And for giving us false hope about Christmas. I could cope with not being able to see my parents at Christmas – I don’t mind having to wait a couple of months for things to calm down again, for the vaccine to be rolled out. But it was the pretending that everything would be fine for 5 days despite expert’s advice that it was a bad idea. It was the hope that killed me. And one very upset family.
Oh for a proper leader. Anyone. Any party. I feel like I’m repeating myself. OK, only happy shit from here. No more Boris Johnson.
One of my closest advisors suggested going for a staycation in October. Another of my closest advisors also joined.
We settled on the idea of going to Cornwall, which is somewhere I’ve never been before and is absolutely stunning. Who needs Tokyo’s used panties vending machines when you can go to Drippy Droppy?
It was less than 3 months ago yet feels 3 million tiers away, we stayed in a converted mill, had some nice walks, saw the beach, shit myself at the cliff edge a few times, pined for proper London beers, had a pastie.
And finally managed to visit two good friends on the way in Dunster for a roast dinner who I’d only been promising to visit since before the referendum. Not mentioned Brexit much, have I? You impressed?
No, not that Stratford, the one with the river.
As soon as we were allowed, me and my sister went north to see our parents – though they wouldn’t hug us or come anywhere near. Well, we went one day before we were allowed to , but you know, “Dominic Cummings”.
And then we booked a family holiday in Stratford-Upon-Avon for a few weeks after. Staying in a Travelodge. On the 3rd hottest day ever in Britain.
It easily goes down as one of my most memorable and fondest moments of the year – being able to go away, albeit in the UK, with my family after a pretty emotionally scarring few months.
And my mum hugged me.
4. I’m a future star
Work couldn’t really have gone any better this year. The pandemic meant that I got to work from home every day which I love – no more moaning about the Metropolitan line. I’m healthier, more productive, yadda yadda.
And I got a new manager. A vegan. Uh-oh. But he’s sound as fuck and doesn’t mind my hesitantly mentioning what I do on a Sunday (whenever I’m allowed to, anyway).
I’m officially in the “future star” box, which 10% of staff are and is the second best rating. I am actually going places and it feels like it. I love working for M&S and even better that they seem to like me too.
I still have to pinch myself – 4 years ago I’d just been fired from my first web developer job, which was a bit of a failure, with the words, “I don’t think you are cut out to be a developer”.
Need to add a few more strings to my bow next year, then come 2022’s moments, I will hopefully be writing about a promotion. Or a new job. Your call, M&S. And don’t you dare ever again tell me that I should do Veganuary.
3. I actually lost weight
Every year I say that I am going to lose weight and almost every year I put on weight.
I finished 2019 at a whopping 107.5kg. I will finish 2020 at a still whopping 100.5kg – I was actually down to 97.3kg at the end of the plastic lockdown but then I started drinking again.
And you know what this is thanks to? Yep, the pandemic. And working from home. Next year, my goal will be to become officially “fat”.
Investing in the stock market has been one of the most enjoyable things that I’ve done all year, which is possibly kind of sad and maybe I wouldn’t have said this had I not made circa 20% profit.
Certainly I wouldn’t have firstly put so much money in, and also had the spare money to invest, were it not for the pandemic. So, thanks covid – you’ve helped my financial situation.
I have to say that I have always wanted to test myself against the stock-market, as I’m arrogant enough to think I know enough to do well. And so far so good, though any idiot could have made money this year had they started investing after the crash. Yet I am outperforming the FTSE by some way.
Early days, but it has given me hope that I might actually be able to save for a deposit for a flat. There is now a plan and for the first time ever I think I can actually be able to save up for a deposit for a flat in some dosshole in outer London.
But how the fuck is Tesla worth £1.3m per car produced?
1. My 40th birthday
I was blessed enough to have my birthday pre-covid, back in January when it was a thing that was bad in China but could never happen over here.
The Wednesday of my actual birthday I spent with my sister, who proved even more indispensable in 2020 and not just because she can drive me places. We went to Casa Tua for brunch, Flight Club to play darts in the afternoon, then Blacklock for dinner. Ohhh Blacklock. So, so good.
On the Saturday we spent the day and evening at Mare Street Market, and loads of people I love turned up.
And the Sunday we had a roast dinner, with two lots of Rule Of Six groups all around the same table – crazy shit. It feels so distant a time now, but I’m delighted that I do have some great memories from my 40th birthday.
So, thanks for helping me get through 2020. I hope in my inane attempts at humour I helped you a little bit too. Thanks for arguing with me about masks. Thanks for arguing with me about Brexit. Thanks for not arguing with me about the wrongs of racism (well, mostly).
Apparently when I went back to Hull on the weekend before lockdown, in March, I joked to my parents that I might not even be back at Christmas.
Yet the last month or so I’d been slowly mentally preparing myself for the idea that I would be spending my first Christmas away from my parents.
Sure, I could have said “fuck it” and broken the rules – it wouldn’t be the first time in my life. But with covid surging across London and my parents not in a zero risk group, it just wasn’t worth the risk. I don’t moralise on anyone else taking a different decision, but for me, it was irresponsible to take such a risk in my situation, and have the worry.
Thankfully, and for about the millionth time this year that I’ve been thankful, my dear sister also lives in London. So I wasn’t alone.
Once we recovered from the emotional stabbing by Boris Johnson last Saturday, I sent my family a plan of action for Christmas, so we could try to replicate as best as possible.
On Christmas Eve we had a Zoom call with my parents – shockingly my Dad was like a natural using Zoom for his first time ever. He even turned the screen the right way around.
I suggested watching an online pantomime, which I should have researched a little more – I thought was dreadful – I did get into it and it was well produced, but aimed at 5 year olds. My Dad loved it. It was definitely aimed at 5 year olds. I always through that pantomimes at least had copious innuendo involved even if just for kids, but maybe that was just growing up in Hull.
Once the second Zoom call ended and I had consumed over a bottle of red wine and some beers, I did feel some sadness at being alone in London on Christmas Eve, instead of with my family. And then ate 6 mini mince pies.
So on Christmas Day, my sister picked me up from Harrow and drove me back to hers – her flatmate was also there due to similar decision-making so there were 3 of us.
Starting off with the traditional bacon sandwich and glass of fizz – though I eschewed Bucks Fizz for a beer. Bucks Fizz? Eeeek. Give me a Japanese-themed can of IPA to celebrate not having visited Japan this year.
Most of the presents were in the wrong city, but me and my sister were able to swap presents, and my parents had some to open also.
Christmas dinner was from the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate – and yes, has the appearance of being provided by a homeless shelter, as one friend commented.
It does look better on a plate, but it still wasn’t that great. My mother isn’t the most amazing cook, but I definitely missed her Christmas dinner. The Red Lion & Sun can do much better – I know that, but at £31 including cauliflower cheese (which was very good) and dessert (also very good), I thought pretty decent value for London on Christmas Day.
Speaking to the guy who runs it on Twitter after, he said it was an intense and not fun day – they made 367 meals which sounds like a lot of saving Christmas to someone like myself that has probably never cooked for more than 3 people at once. He didn’t ask me what I thought of it!
Then we had the privilege of my grandma’s first ever video call. No, she couldn’t always hear us. Yes, she did try to feed us cheesecake through the ipad and tell us off for not opening our mouths. She was on cracking form, I have to say.
More drinks and a 3rd Zoom call of the day followed with my parents, and this was followed by a quiz with my sister’s flatmate’s family, which was more fun than I expected as I always seem to think I’ll get bored in a quiz. Winning does help.
Alas, the day ended with a 30-40 minute Uber journey home suffocating in a mask – fuck I was so out of breath by time I got home. Really nice taxi driver who clearly wanted a chat, but I just cannot do talking and not breathing.
Christmas Day obviously wasn’t what any of us were hoping for, there is a large unmet spiritual hole where I should have had a family Christmas – but at the same time, I actually still had a great day. It was a Christmas to make the best of things (or to hide how good a time you had if you did break the rules!) – and we made the best of things.
It did also make me ponder what it is like for those people out there who don’t have anyone. My cheap Poundland cracker hat is raised to those who give up their Christmas Day to help those in a homeless shelter, etc.
So we’ve reached that time of year where everyone tells you how shit 2020 has been. Of course, I will be doing the same, but I’ll try to offer a more positive slant – and what can be more positive than music?
If ever music has been necessary it has been in 2020, but it is necessary every year and has been all through my life, especially the more difficult parts where it is a source of solace, a world of musical refuge – and sometimes also offers me opportunities to wallow in misery, when I see fit. Or jump up and dance.
I do feel like it has been more difficult to discover great new music this year. It feels like there has been less really good music released – maybe producers are holding back on some gems for when life returns, and more importantly in a dance music context, nightclubs re-open.
My tastes haven’t really changed much from 2019 – only subtle changes at most. And, of course, much of the music I discovered in 2020 would have been released in previous years anyway.
I still love minimal. I think less of the trippy, hypnotic minimal and either more bassline-led like this two tracks, or more clicky.
Rhadoo is an obvious one, but Lee Burton really is making some fabulous tracks also.
Ricardo is omni-present throughout my year – rarely does a month go without discovering a new (or old) track or remix from him. Though I’m upset with him that he hasn’t made a 12 hour long track in 2020. Surely he had the time?
Or you could try his 18 minute remix of Aaliyah:
Offbeat techno – pretty much anything on Hessle Audio has been the biggest source of original-sounding music for me the last couple of years, but this year I’ve noticed it start to merge with minimal sounds too. DJ Python and Call Super stood out to me.
Or you can go full-on offbeat weirdness with the likes of Pangaea or Ossia:
What about house music?
Well, I don’t listen to that much house music nowadays, not in the strictest sense. I don’t think there is much good quality, fresh-sounding house music around.
I guess also house music is for happier times, it is for dancing to with human beings not fucking 2 metres apart with a mask on. So maybe subconsciously I avoid it, but maybe also it just isn’t a 2020 sound for very good reason.
That said, anything by Sharif Laffrey is just the bomb. Every single track/remix of his.
And then occasionally I find something so good from years gone past that I just want to be off my head in a club full of hot Spanish women.
And I still like a bit of fun. Or Fun Fun in this case.
Well I hope I didn’t bore you too much. I know my music taste isn’t for everyone, but maybe it did open your ears to something.
I still like to pretend that I’m a DJ, or at least a music discovery agent – and have my music blog still just about going, House Minimal Techno Disco, though I have a lot of posts to add. You’d have thought I would have had the time this year wouldn’t you?
Not only have I purchased more vinyl then ever this year, around 30 records at a guess, I’ve even purchased a DJ stand – alas, it is waiting for me to have the energy and motivation to put it together. I should have it ready by time the pandemic ends and I have a social life (well…ish) once more.
Anything else to mention? Favourite DJs are pretty much the same – Barac, Ricardo Villalobos, Dana Ruh, Julietta, Vera, Priku, Jay Bliss, Raresh, Cristi Cons, Rhadoo, Magda – basically women, Romanians and Ricardo. Oh and David Vunk’s Boiler Room…fuck…how many drugs before DJing on a live stream? Impressive.
Yeah that’ll do. Oh go on, just one last track for the romantics out there.