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.
Urgh. I knew this was coming. I knew that it was irresponsible to go home for Christmas anyway and was seriously uncomfortable about it – yet didn’t really have a choice.
But still, I feel simultaneously flat and angry.
Angry mostly at China who seem to be getting away with it – I’d be much more at ease if they still had an issue with covid, as horrid as that sounds. Angry at our government about the way they have mishandled an admittedly really difficult and shitty situation – but I’d really rather not have someone as optimistic as Boris in charge. Don’t fucking lead us up the garden path of hope only to be stabbed in the heart at the last minute. Just say no in the first place.
I’m angry with myself also as I cannot decide whether all these lockdowns and tiers are necessary or total bullshit. I went along with the original lockdown on the basis of saving the NHS, but also worried that it would cause more harm than just letting the virus do it’s thing – in terms of total years of life lost.
I cannot decide whether I am totally behind the restrictions or totally against them. I’m not in the middle – my beliefs over the necessity of restrictions pings between them as if I am a table tennis ball – or wiff waff ball, if you remember the heady time of Boris Johnson weirding out the Chinese in 2008.
Funny headline, huh?
And then I’m just totally flat and demotivated.
There is a pattern here. Hints come out about upcoming changes to tiers. Then the 10:30pm newspaper headlines hint further. I then spend all the next day feeling anxious and sometimes a restless night’s sleep. I did about 5% of what I intended on doing today. Same happens if it is a workday – I spend a disproportionate amount of time doomscrolling, and to do my job well I need to concentrate for long time spans – it isn’t easy to flick my head in and out of coding.
And then the announcement happens, yet I then feel weirdly reassured and calm down, as if I’ve been given a 2 year suspended sentence with a tag and 200 hours community service.
Yet still totally fucked off.
And I feel so helpless.
The only thing I can do is try to ensure that the first of two Christmases is as good as possible for my family – who I think are taking the news way harder than I am. I mean, I kind of like the idea of celebrating twice.
I even have a plan. Yeah I’ve been expecting this, so I’ve a 3 day plan written down for how we can try to maximise family time and replicate Christmas as close as possible given the circumstances.
It’s fucking shite and I feel defeated. Spiritually defeated. Yet somehow I intend on making the best out of the situation. I will have two good Christmases. Fuck covid. Fuck China. Fuck Boris.
I was talking the night before I started writing this post to a friend, and discussing 2020 and how crap it has been. I could easily conclude so, but I’m a contrarian fucker at times and I argued instead that 2020 has been good for me in some ways – life being cancelled and working from home permanently has meant that I can cook more often, and eat much healthier food. Which is what this post is about.
One of the most immediate changes was how I started the day. I had got into a pattern of being fucked off after 45 minutes stood up on delayed tube trains that I would buy a bacon sandwich to start work. And then I’d feel tired so I’d buy a chocolate bar or cake, washed down with a Red Bull.
That’s gone. I wake up, go for a walk, have a shower and start work. Breakfast is a small portion of nuts, followed by some fruit.
The random midweek after-work beers have gone – which is easily another 1,000 calories a week saved. As has the almost-daily cake and chocolate consumption.
Also what would happen occasionally, maybe once every two weeks on average, would be that I’d be so tired by the end of the day that I couldn’t face cooking properly – so would buy comfort food from M&S, things like pies, etc. That doesn’t happen any more – I plan my meals during the week and always have the energy to make them. Plus I’d have to wear a mask and go into a shop if I wanted comfort food…fuck that.
The next major change has been my lunches. I was always fairly good at work with lunches, and noted for it – someone in the office once told me that he called me the “fruit and salad guy”. Normally I brought salad in, or pre-cooked roasted vegetables. Though quite often I’d have cake afterwards – and I don’t now.
Lunches remain mostly vegetarian, and sometimes I do just chop up some roast vegetables with some spices, and bung it in the oven. Other times though I make more effort and cook properly – as I actually have the time now.
What I make for lunch tends to depend on what comes in my Oddbox vegetable box…
Years ago I had a vegetable box from Able & Cole, but was never convinced about the hefty price – and I don’t care if my veg is organic or not.
I’d heard about Oddbox, in fact, I’d invested in it a couple of years before – they basically take surplus fruit and vegetables that farmers cannot sell to supermarkets/restaurants for whatever reason – sometimes oddly shaped, but more often out of season, and in 2020 because restaurants have been on lockdown and food grown for restaurants has struggled to get a market.
Of course, they didn’t deliver to Harrow. Until around April this year when they finally expanded after me repeatedly nagging them. They even deliver to Reading now. Ooh and here is a link for you to get £10 off.
Mostly I get a really good selection of fruit and vegetables. Occasionally it is a bit meh, this week’s was a lot of salad ingredients which I wasn’t massively keen on for the first week of December – but that is what Oddbox is about. I got sprouts in October, peaches in December, asparagus in April – and apples every sodding week. Mostly it is really good quality too – and tends to last longer than what I buy from Sainsburys.
Not to mention weird things like kiwiberries and green squashes.
And this means that I have a challenge every week of how to use them up without wasting them. I often find myself looking for new recipes for cabbage or aubergine for example – and mostly this keeps my lunches interesting. And healthy!
Yes, I bought a vegetarian cookbook.
Now don’t get too excited, sometimes I have a side-dish of sausage and I ain’t talking Quorn.
However, more often than not, I do eat just the vegetarian dish on it’s own – it tends to be an early in the week thing when I’m more focused on being healthy – as much as I love steak and sausage, I feel better in myself when I’m eating vegetables or fish dishes. Weekends are still for meat, as are Thursdays and Fridays – it would take a super sexy Spanish vegetarian wife for me to even consider a vegetarian Sunday roast. At least on a Sunday.
It’s a really good cookbook – I started following Sabrina Ghayour because she posted some pretty pornographic meat dishes on Twitter, so I will get her more general cookbooks at some point (maybe for Christmas?!) – not all the dishes I’ve made I have enjoyed, but most I have, such as these butternut squash and feta rolls.
All this healthy eating means that I am now under 100kg for the first time in 2 years – 98.2kg to be exact. At my peak I was averaging 106.2kg – and was even a shocking 108kg on New Year’s Day.
Even if this year has been limited on the enjoyment side, I have made improvements to James – which are enjoyable achievements.
A few months ago, I reached the dubious milestone of owning 2,000 CDs.
Which made me think, why the fuck do I own 2,000 CDs?
I do listen to them all once. Before broadband, CDs were my main format to listen to music – and even discover music, and I would listen to each CD dozens of times. Now I listen once, perhaps twice.
I still buy them. Not as many as I used to, but I still buy one or two a month. It is my way of being able to justify downloading individual tracks via Soulseek or similar methods – I still cannot quite justify paying £1.99 for a track online, when I can get a physical album/compilation for £10. An actual product in my hand. Buying CDs is my way of giving something back to the artists so I’m loathe to stop.
Yet I don’t need 2,000 of them. I really don’t need Wonderwall by Oasis when I guitar music pains my ears. I don’t need Strictly Ayia Napa. I don’t need Jeremy Healy’s Clockwork Orange Mix or any of the other free CDs from Ministry magazine – a magazine that expired around 2002. I don’t need Hed Kandi’s Summer Sampler from 2001. I don’t need a CD of TV Theme Tunes…honestly, I really don’t.
I’ve always justified keeping them because they are part of my musical history. Yet they are also clutter. I feel that a field on the spreadsheet where I list all the CDs I own, bought in chronological order, is sufficient. Knowing I owned it at some point, now seems sufficient. By the way, that is why I know that I own 2,000 CDs. 2,020 to be exact.
I am decluttering
During the summer I started thinking about moving house – I was worried about being recalled to the office and hated the idea of commuting in a mask. The Met line is bad enough when you can breathe, so I was going to move closer to work – and somewhere big enough for all my stuff.
And when I started thinking about moving house, I then started to think about packing my stuff. And subsequently I started thinking about just how much stuff I have, that I never, ever use. Just there for decoration – like the 2,000 CDs. And 20 years of Mixmag magazines. Not to mention various t-shirts that are a medium size. Yes, I used to be a medium. About 10 years ago.
I’m not very good at throwing things away. I kind of think that I might have a use for it at some point in my future life – or I just don’t want to add things to landfill.
So I made a deal with myself – every time I buy something, I have to throw at least two things away. And mostly I’ve been managing to sell things on Ebay – even my Mixmag magazines sell, and I’ve made around £50 from selling them…well…less postage, packing, Ebay fees, Paypal fees…so probably £5 in net profit!
But at least I have a bit less clutter. And I am over my hoarding hill – I actively want to get rid of shit for my upcoming house move which will happen in 2021, honest.
Maybe one day I will be as minimal as my preferred music.
Been a great year so far, hasn’t it? Well, I’m trying to make the best of the situation that we’ve been granted and take what opportunities are available to me.
And things are changing in my life. Firstly – work.
We had an announcement a few weeks back that the team I work on, the product details page, was being disbanded. Project complete, and completed very successfully – one of the quickest loading product pages in retail (I think the quickest, but not entirely sure so don’t want to claim too much), much cleaner and more responsive than the old page and has directly led to higher revenue.
Of course, I did say a while back that my job was safe unless they disbanded my team, or the company went bankrupt. Well, it is thankfully still safe (though there are plenty of other jobs out there for software engineers) and I am being moved to the new “mission” team which is going to focus on recommendations.
I don’t know a lot about the mission – not much has been decided on yet. But basically we are going to be doing some hopefully rather clever data-focused stuff on the recommendations, which you see at the bottom of the product page. I probably couldn’t tell you even if I knew.
So this is quite exciting that I’ll have something new to contribute to and another string to my bow. I’ve set myself a target of being on a salary of at least 50% more in 2022, which I’d much prefer to achieve at M&S, but with their financial situation, who knows. I could probably already earn that elsewhere, let alone in another 18 months – the progress I’ve made at M&S as a software engineer is quite ridiculous. But so much more to learn.
I’ve decided against moving house for now. I still haven’t decided where in London to move, there is no longer any urgency as there is no threat of being forced back to the office until next year, and most importantly – there isn’t really any point now.
With 10pm curfews and Tier 2 restrictions, there isn’t much point in moving house for the purposes of improving my social life. My rent would go up at least £200 by moving to a more socially interesting area than Harrow, and with socialising on the backfoot, I might as well save that £200+ a month into my stocks and shares ISA.
Next year I’ll move. Honest.
My investments are my new drug at the moment (though I really need a couple of weeks off my main drug – booze), and I enjoy trying to challenge myself to invest in the best companies. I do make mistakes and it is frustrating at times – like nearly selling my shares in ASOS and then the next day they drop 15% after announcing much better profits than expected. Yeah, I don’t always get it. But I am outperforming the FTSE with my decisions.
I am still having some social fun too, despite the restrictions. I reckon I have one rule break allowed per senior politician’s rule break, though I’m not going to push it. I have my support bubble and maybe every couple of weeks I’ll meet one other person. From what I’ve seen, I doubt people will be following the rules to the letter, though it will certainly be a significant pullback of socialism (ahhh if only…socialising was what I meant to write), as I shall be doing also. The beat of the lockdown drum does seem to have slowed over the last week, though maybe that is because I was on holiday.
Oh yeah, I had a great time in Cornwall. You know there will be a blog about this coming up, to go on my travel page. It wasn’t quite an adventure through Japan. But Cornwall is super gorgeous and we had a great time – exactly what I needed.