Friday, January 02, 2009

So, farewell then, 2008

Rising food and utility bills, plunging stock markets, the near collapse of the banking system... 2008's perfect economic storm made it a year in which we survived (or didn't) rather than thrived. And I'm sure when the history books come to be written it will be turn out to be a turning point year in lots of ways... some things, for better or worse, will never be the same again.
When the dust eventually settles, I think there *will* be things that are better -- housing will be more affordable, we will not spend so much money we don't have on things we don't need -- but there is trouble ahead for many of us. For anyone with an anxious streak, it was a traumatic year. There are tectonic plates shifting, and we don't know what the landscape will look like when they stop, and whose lives and livelihoods will turn out to have been built on sand. 
But chez joella, on the whole, things weren't so bad. Financially it's tight, especially as we took out a new fixed rate mortgage just before the interest rates tumbled. But we did well out of it last time, so I guess you win some you lose some. In an attempt to offset this, we changed providers of everything -- broadband, TV, phone, gas, electricity, insurance -- which was as excruciating and turgid a process as I always imagined it would be but I think is probably a necessary 21st century evil. Other frugalities have also come into play, some of which I am quite pleased with. My favourite is the discovery that you can wear disposable contact lenses two days in a row (just store them overnight in clean saline solution). Obviously an optician would Not Recommend This, but it works for me and saves a fortune. 
Other notable (if not conspicuous) consumptions... 
Gig of the year: it hasn't been a huge year for gigs, but there have been a few... the highlight was probably Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, at the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford. Their live version of Robert Wyatt's Sea Song is a heart stopper. If that doesn't count as a gig, what with it being sitting down and having no bar, I'd go for the unexpectedly moving Bevis Frond gig at the Luminaire in Kilburn. I first saw the Bevis Frond when I was 20, and I hadn't realised quite how long ago that was. 
Album of the year: not new, but new to me -- In the Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. Came to me via the website of the year: And there is now a copy of the book about it in the house, which I look forward to reading. 
Book of the year: it was going to be Revolutionary Road, which was thrust upon M by the new man of Plumbing S, and which left me speechless. But it was pipped to the post by On Chesil Beach, which I got for Christmas. I read it in one go on December 30th and then I had a big weep. It's set around the same time as Revolutionary Road, though in Oxford rather than Connecticut, and there's something about the fragile modernity of the central relationships that just hurts. If only men and women could actually talk to each other. We still struggle, but we do better than that these days, I hope. 
TV show of the year: The Wire, duh. Season 4 was my favourite. 
Hangover of the year: also no contest. One night at the lake K looked at me with a bottle of Finlandia in her hand and a glint in her eye and said 'I want to drink myself insensible'. It was the morning after that
Childcare triumph of the year: taking baby Tungsten swimming at Coral Reef in Bracknell All By Myself while ex-housemate S was Going Ape to celebrate her big Four-O. There aren't many things I'd choose childcare over, but swinging through trees is one of them. And as it turned out we both behaved ourselves very well, and shared a secret packet of salt and vinegar afterwards to celebrate. 
Meal of the year: Out... I had a splendid birthday lunch at the Inn at Whitewell. In... well our now-traditional cheese fondue and winter salad Christmas dinner has to be up there. Elsewhere... the big dinners at the lake: smoked fish, gherkins, halloumi, what's not to love? 
Other highlights... fitting T's bathroom round the corner for £50, a curry, and the knowledge that my NVQ was then in sight. Getting to sauna, swim, sauna, swim all day long on a proper summer holiday with some proper summer holiday companions. Drinking pints of mild by a peat fire in rural Lancashire with snow falling outside. The flurry of text messages letting me know about a certain resignation from a certain NGO. Getting on the plane home from the Hot Place knowing that I did something useful, however small. Harvesting onions and potatoes and broad beans and sweetcorn and chard and spinach that we had grown ourselves. 
There were lowlights as well... a vile sinus infection, many allotment mistakes, days of mildly depressed inertia, some truly frustrating experiences at work, the truly scary moment I deposited housemate P's rent the day after the government bailed out the banks and thought 'hang on, am I mad to be putting money *into* the bank?', a general inability, which blights my life, not to seize the day. 
But the lowlights are always on my mind, so for 2009 I plan to try and dwell on what grows, what works, and what doesn't cost much. It'll be all right, I reckon. It usually is. 



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