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Now I’ve recovered from my briefly nasty New Year cold, some yearnotes for 2023…

We’ve been here in rural Herefordshire for four years, which has flown by, but that’s what time does isn’t it.

I haven’t achieved a great deal this year. Each day or week it feels like I’ve somehow had not enough time and also done nothing with it. I feel I should be doing and/or enjoying more. I definitely don’t feel like I’m growing and, if anything, am shrinking.

I don’t think I’m doing very well, especially over recent months. I spend too much time feeling very glum. Which hasn’t exactly been rare, historically, but I think it became more consistent and deeper in 2023. It would be too easy to solely blame living here: I wasn’t exactly full of unbridled joy while living in London, which was one reason to try moving. But the isolation, and the lack of much purpose, as work winds slowly down, can’t help. I’ll save you further rambling on this.

In general, objectively and outside my head, things are fine and I’m very fortunate in many ways, not least in having Mary to share the good and the bad with.

§ A black and white photo of a leafless tree in a field, the sunlight behind casting its shadow forwards
A tree near us in February 2023

§ Work and retirement

In 2023, again, my only paid work was for a couple of nice, existing clients, and I did fewer than 30 days of work in total. I thought I might have completely retired by this point – by which I mean, “have to start living off savings and investments rather than paid work” – but thankfully that hasn’t been necessary yet.

§ Web stuff

While I had an ongoing “freelance career”, web-based stuff I did for myself was also a way of promoting myself, what I could do, and what I was interested in. As my paid work diminishes I’m seeing my personal projects as even more of a “hobby” than they were before. I should now only be doing them if I want to and get some enjoyment and satisfaction from them. Which is a change, for good and bad. Previously, there was an extra motivation to get things done when I didn’t feel like it, because it might help me-as-a-business.

Now, if Pepys’ Diary,, my own site and every other online project are purely hobbies for me then my only motivation is whether I want to work on them. Unfortunately I’ve enjoyed all of these less than usual for a lot of this year. Maybe there’s been too much dull maintenance and having to fix background things, which is rarely as satisfying – no one else notices.

But, although I haven’t developed it as much as I’d have liked, seeing people discover and enjoy over the past year has been gratifying, and I still think it’s A Good Thing. And Pepys’ Diary began its third decade-long run with, for the first time, people able to contribute money. It’s more than paying my costs and – while it shouldn’t take cash to show gratitude – it is pleasing that people get enough pleasure and interest from the site to pay a few $/£/€.

I’m not going to pack in any of my online “hobbies” – not yet, anyway – but I need to focus on enjoying my time working on them as much as possible.

§ A photo looking down across a field towards trees. The sun rises behind bands of clouds, lighting up the fog that lingers between the trees.
Sunrise over Grey Valley, near us, in February

§ Health

As far as I know, I still haven’t had Covid. Which is surprising given it’s still around and, although I don’t go out often, when I do I’ve stopped taking any precautions. I went to three gigs in 2023 which felt like my riskiest activity, but so far I’ve dodged the bullet.

It was only this year that I felt comfortable returning to the gym, after stopping in early 2020. It started to seem silly to avoid a small, often emptyish, gym, given all the other places I was going unmasked. Although it’s a drag to drive there in winter’s dark, cold, wet mornings, it’s been great. I’ve been easing myself back into it gradually and although I’m not yet where I was with some of the heaviest (for me) weights – and might never be; I’m getting older! – it’s good to be pushing, pulling, lifting, hinging, etc. again.

Also this year I bought my first bike trainer then a couple of months later bought a better one and a better second-hand bike and so now, on days I’m not going to the gym, I spend 25-60 minutes sweating in the spare room while videos of picturesque roads roll by in Rouvy. It’s not like super fun but it seems like a safe, efficient way to get some cardio exercise.

All that and some yoga using Apple Fitness+ and I think I’m doing OK. My cardio fitness did dip way down in April but has picked up since and is now mid-Above-Average according to Apple. Still no idea how useful or accurate that is, but it’s something.

§ A close-up photo of some clematis flowers. Pale pink petals with yellow, er, centre bits.
Clematis in the garden in May

§ Travel

After four years living in the countryside I still hugely miss all the things of London and, more generally, cities a lot. Thankfully, this year I’ve started traveling a bit more – I’ve visited Bristol three times, Edinburgh once, and London several times, on each occasion loving the coffee shops, cafes, friends, bustle, public transport, cinemas, etc, etc.

The first of two highlights of the year was the 30-year reunion with university friends in Bristol. Such a nice, friendly, relaxed, sunny, heart-warming weekend that made me feel so lucky. It also spurred me to start visiting Bristol again after years away, which is a good thing in itself. Until I feel confident enough to drive all the way to a Park & Ride it still requires a drive and two trains to get to but at least it’s closer than London.

The second highlight was our week in Italy including M&K’s wedding. Despite my nervousness about travel, made worse by a few years of little of it, everything went eerily well. Smooth journeys (UK train strikes aside), great weather, good food, nice sights, an unbelievable wedding, the best company. Magic.

The worst thing about travel this year has been Britain’s trains. Going to any city from here often requires at least two trains each way and it’s probably a 50/50 chance that at least one will be, at best, severely delayed on any trip, even without train strikes. Couple that with the cost, even if you book specific trains quite a way ahead… such a pain.

A photo looking out at the street from under a tall, ornate arcade. The sun is casting shadows of the columns towards us.
Via Pietro Micca, Turin, in October

§ Media

I haven’t seen a load of films this year, but those I liked most, seen for the first time:

A screenshot from Letterboxd showing the films I watched in 2023
From Letterboxd

(This only confirms for me how rough my star ratings on Letterboxd are. Most are 3½ or 4 stars and could easily be changed.)

I’ve seen a lot of great TV and here are the shows I liked most, all of which I’d recommend:

  • Colin from Accounts (S1)
  • Dark (S1)
  • The Diplomat (S1)
  • Halt and Catch Fire (S1-3)
  • I Hate Suzie Too
  • Julia
  • Kleo (S1)
  • The Last of Us (S1)
  • Looking (S1, 2 & The Movie)
  • Beef (S1)
  • Slow Horses (S2)
  • Succession (S4)
  • The White Lotus (S1 & 2)
A screenshot of a chart with the top three albums being In|FLUX by Anna B Savage with 149 scrobbles, Moot! by Moin with 115, and Fortitude Valley by Fortitude Valley with 111
My most played albums of 2023

There’s been plenty of music I liked but no real standout albums that I’ve obsessed over. Nothing where my enthusiasm has lasted longer than a week or two. I hope that changes in 2024.

For my birthday in 2023 we went to see Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre in London. It was the only theatre I saw during the year and it was brilliant.

I hardly played any games unfortunately. I finally finished The Last of Us Part II in January and that was about it. I started a couple of things on the PS4 but they were just too RPG-y for me. I don’t want to have to manage endless skill trees and equipment etc. Which is a shame because I’d love to get into the world of another big game but I don’t know what. I’d buy a new console if it was the only way to play a game I wanted but I can’t even find that excuse.

I had planned to read more non-fiction books in 2023, because I’ve felt my ability to follow in-depth writing and thinking ebb away over recent years. I didn’t manage that. Maybe in 2024! If I had to pick favourite novels I’ve read this year, it’d probably be Chris Bachelor’s The Throwback Special and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.

The first bit of scything in the garden in June. The rest was mostly in August.

§ Learning

This year I stopped and started practising piano a few times, and am currently stopped.

I also stopped German at the start of the year, after a few years of a little practise each day with various apps. A couple of months ago I started again, more intensely, trying to spend an hour-ish a day on it. This is better but whether I can reach a useful level of competence within a year or two (my aim) is another matter.

Watching a few videos by polyglots they’re keen to emphasise that anyone can learn a language and that natural talent is only a tiny factor in success: 90% of it is hard work. But, I’m thinking, that’s what people who are naturally talented at languages would say, isn’t it? They have no understanding of how hard it could be for everyone else, and assume the only reason they can speak five languages is because they’re such hard workers.

It occurred to me recently that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn things that perhaps don’t come naturally to me.

I had piano lessons as a child and have continued practising off-and-on ever since, but I don’t think music comes naturally to me. It’s always been a pretty mechanical process and I don’t have a bigger sense or feeling of how music works or how it all goes together. It boggles my mind that plenty of young people can not only play well but also write music or improvise.

Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time in acting courses and classes and I don’t think I’m a natural actor. I’m OK at it, within a narrow range, but nothing like some people I’ve seen. The difference between this and piano is that I (mostly) enjoyed the process of learning to act and wanted to keep working for the next breakthrough. It’s also much more sociable and somewhat therapeutic, so was worth persevering with no matter whether it came to me easily or not.

On the other hand my brain works well with coding and designing websites. I’m not the best at either, but I don’t struggle in the same way I do with languages, music or acting.

Similarly, drawing, painting etc. wasn’t a struggle for me (hence going to art school)… and yet I don’t do any of that now, instead devoting quite a bit of my time to things I find difficult. I don’t know if this is good or bad.

§ A photo of a white banner with black text printed on it reading 'I MISS MY PRE-INTERNET BRAIN'
Analogue Minds in a Digital World, by Meg Harrison, at UWE’s graphic design degree show in Bristol in June

§ 2024

Looking ahead, some things I’ll be trying to change this year:

  • Walk more. In 2023 I stopped going for walks other than when I visit cities. I don’t feel I need the physical exercise but it’d probably be good for the brain, even just 15 minutes a day.
  • Take the “proper” camera out more. I think this every year, but I do enjoy using it. I’m usually put off by having to carry something bigger than a phone. Also harder to justify as phone cameras get so much better. But let’s try again.
  • Read less internet. This is tricky because the internet is my connection to the outside world of interesting people. But that excuse leads to me spending too much time on it. Nevertheless, in looking for what to cut, my first action has been to stop reading MetaFilter because, on balance, it makes me sad and annoyed, for reasons too long to go into here.

That’s it. I hope your 2024 is full of the good and has less of the bad. Keep on going.

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1 comment

  1. I would highly recommend that you get yourself a dog. One of the best things you could ever do