It’s a tradition in our house (one of several) that, every Christmas Day, we sit down to our prawn cocktail starter and turkey dinner after the festive edition of Top of the Pops, just as Queenie, aka Queen Elizabeth II, comes on telly to do her annual Christmas message to the country.
Many mock this rather quaint set-up that our country insists on (I’m talking about the monarchy just as much as the speech itself), but as we tucked into dinner with the national anthem playing in the background, I couldn’t help but think Queenie’s Christmas message call to take time for reflection was something I should act upon in a year that, at times, has felt quite tough for me. Rather than focus on the things that haven’t gone to plan (erm… updating this blog every two weeks!) I want to take a moment to obey my sovereign and reflect on my past year (if you’ll kindly excuse the #cliche).
2013 feels like a whirlwind but when I take the time to look back on the year and reflect on everything I’ve achieved I can hardly believe just how much I’ve managed to pack in and, in the spirit of last year’s new year’s resolution, how many strangers I’ve had interesting conversations with!
In January, I took a pretty big chance on a stranger and went on a second date to Paris to meet someone I’d met over Christmas who lived there. Egged on by my work colleagues, who thought it was hilarious, I thought ‘why not’; with Paris only 2.5 hours away from central London it was, essentially, the equivalent of going back to Leeds, where I went to university. Though we decided to stay friends, it was an amazing experience; I’d never done something so spontaneous before, and seeing Paris with someone who lives there, watching the snow come down heavily across the city and, frankly, eating some really tasty duck pate were some of the highlights.
In February I jetted off again to Melbourne, Australia, with a close work colleague to visit another old colleague of ours who had recently moved back ‘Down Under’. We had a fantastic time: much champagne was drunk, ‘roos and koalas were spotted and we felt the sun on our backs as we drove down the Great Ocean Road, stopping to stay at Sizzle’s beach house in Lorne. Vics and I also flew to Sydney for one night only, Valentine’s Day in fact. We were in two minds but it’s a decision I will never regret as I got to see a dear old friend, Pete, one last time before he passed away in April this year. After visiting him, Vics and I spent a day around Sydney Harbour, quaffing a few spritzaroos before dining out under the harbour bridge. It was touristy, and we were surrounded by couples, but it was magical. I have more than one photo of me pretending to kiss Sydney Harbour Bridge…
Back in London for two days only, I was then off to Berlin for a few nights with ‘the girls’ from university. In retrospect it was a little too ambitious shortly after a 24 hour journey back from the Antipodes and still jetlagged… I’m not sure I’d recommend two such trips in close proximity but I still had a great time, with lots of good meals, walks in the freezing city led by a (rather attractive) tour guide, and one hilarious night out in a German nightclub.
In May I made the rather crazy decision to move jobs, move house and go on holiday again to Portugal. It’s more than a slight understatement to say that a lot went on that month! Leaving my job was an ‘end of an era’ kind of decision; it was my first role out of university, I’d learnt so much cutting my teeth there, been promoted, and, most importantly of all, met some brilliant people who I count as good friends. It’s been difficult to accept that, though I don’t regret leaving, my new role doesn’t quite match up to the old, but I’m still focused on learning and achieving as much as I possibly can and with some really great new colleagues too.
In June, I ran my first ever 5k Race for Life with my sister, in memory of my grandma who suffered from cancer up until her death in April 2012. The race was on her birthday itself which we saw as a sign that we should get up off the sofa and do something for her. I’d never even properly ‘run’ before, and especially not a 5k. In typical fashion, I did absolutely no training and yet was running alongside my PE teacher sister. I like to think my gran would be incredulous at the fact I managed to finish only 30 seconds (or so…) behind her, with a first time of 33 minutes. Up there with one of my proudest moments of the year, considering you’d never catch me even running for the bus!
We were lucky that, after around 3 washout summers, we had months of warm weather and lots of sunshine. When the UK has a heatwave (or rather our British kind of heatwave, which gets to about 28 degrees Celsius maximum!) you don’t need to go away. Picnics in the parks, pints of lager shandy sitting out in beer gardens, and, for me, my very first garden to laze around in. Just need to figure out how to work the lawnmower for next year…
Nonetheless, in late August, for the bank holiday, I had another weekend getaway with my family to Cascais, Portugal. I estimate that it was our first family holiday in around 5 years. It was, surprisingly, argument-free, mostly consisting of lazing by the pool reading (and I can recommend a hundred times over ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walters). Shortly after, in September, I took another hit of spontaneity and flew to Cap Breton in the South of France to spend a few days with an amazing guy I had recently met who was travelling in London. Again, we decided to just be friends as opposed to anything more, but we had the most amazing three days getting to know each other, cycling through the town, drinking nice red wine and crashing into the waves (almost scarring some small children around me when I lost my bikini top for a moment). I honestly think I made a friend for life, and I’m so glad that I took another chance in agreeing to holiday with him.
Nearing the end of the year now, two friends and I headed to Tennessee to visit a dear old school friend who has moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to marry a kind, generous and generally perfect for her man. It was a great trip; we got to experience something of her new life out there, meet her new extended family including new pup Archie, drank too much craft beer, ate too many burgers and listened to incredible live musicians. We visited Nashville and Memphis, and in them, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Bluebird Cafe, the Station Inn, the Frisk Museum of Art, the Lorraine Motel, numerous hipster cafes and Graceland itself. We stayed in a beautiful air bnb in Central Gardens, where I went for a 5k jog round the neighbourhood; did a brewery tour on the outskirts of Nashville and, back in Chattanooga, did something I never thought I would do (and can safely say will probably never do again): hang-gliding on Lookout Mountain. It was also the place where I started the little experiment that will make up most of the content of this blog and I’ll update on that in a later (but not too much later!) blog post.
As well as all these standout moments that punctuated my 2013, I’m proud of smaller achievements too. Studying for my marketing diploma and passing another module of it; doing an ‘Introduction to Russian’ language course just for the hell of it; organising an internal event for 80 colleagues where I presented a new idea. I can’t emphasise enough how un-British it is for me to revel in what I’ve done; as a nation we generally hate a boaster and cheer on the underdog. The thought of someone thinking I am arrogant or cocky is almost too much to bear! I’m buoyed by the fact that it’s pretty much just me who will be reading this in years to come, and I’d like it as a reminder of a brief moment in time, sitting in a house by the coast full of good friends, who currently I’m ignoring as I try desperately to stick to a mini-resolution I made to write one more post on here before the end of 2013! (Sorry guys!)
So what will 2014 bring? A year as action-packed as 2013, I hope, as well as health and happiness for my friends and family, and all those strangers I briefly met and am yet to meet. My ‘talking to strangers’ resolution is going to stick with me for another year, and this time I’m going to expand it to include this blog and my little experiment, which has already paid off more than I ever thought it would.
Happy New Year!