Spring feeling

Since the snow melted last week, signs of spring have been everywhere, which has really helped my mood. The croci are budding nicely now along the snowdrops on the paths outside, and the supermarkets have finally started to sell daffodils – a month later than usual, but they’re very welcome! It feels warmer outside for running too, meaning I’m gradually starting to shed my winter layers. Last Sunday, I went for my first proper long run since September, and the weather made it really enjoyable. I’m really hopeful that I can get some good long runs done leading up to the point when races start again.

Since the announcement of the UK government’s roadmap for England on Monday, races (and parkruns… and of course non-running events too!) in 2021 finally feel like a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, which is a huge source of hope for me. Scotland is still more up in the air, so I’ll have to wait and see what happens before I know when I can visit home, but on the whole I feel a lot more positive about the whole situation now that I’ve got a bit of certainty. I know the proposed dates aren’t set in stone, but at least they give us an idea of when restrictions will ease.

I’ve felt a bit out of sorts for the last fortnight because I’ve not always felt able to stick to my schedule. However, I’ve done a lot better with it the last couple of days. I think it’s just that I need to tweak it regularly to make sure it always works for me – over the last month I’ve been doing a lot more cross-training (yoga and walking) than I was doing when I first drew up the plan, and so like everything else, that needs to be scheduled in so that it doesn’t take up more time than it needs to.

Bravely Default II arrived in the post today! I’ve been looking forward to this game for over a year and am going to be spending every spare second playing it from this weekend onwards. While still making time for all my scheduled stuff as well, of course!

Croci

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
Duran Duran – ‘Ordinary World’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Arcadia – ‘Election Day’
Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne – ‘Rather Be’

Sunday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
Will Powers – ‘Kissing With Confidence’
Taylor Swift – ‘You Need To Calm Down’
Ed Sheeran and Stormzy – ‘Take Me Back To London’
Lindisfarne – ‘Lady Eleanor’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’

Monday

Joe Hisaishi – ‘Kokoro No Kakera’
Ryo and Chelly – ‘Great Distance’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Levellers – ‘One Way’
John Newman – ‘Love Me Again’

Tuesday

Revo – ‘Horizon Of Light And Shadow’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’
Technotronic – ‘Pump Up The Jam’
Pop Will Eat Itself – ‘Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies!’
Daft Punk- ‘One More Time’

Wednesday

Bloodhound Gang – ‘The Roof Is On Fire’
They Might Be Giants – ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’
Duran Duran – ‘I Believe/All I Need To Know

Thursday

The Beatles – ‘In My Life’
Nobuo Uematsu – ‘Chaos Shrine’
Robert Allen – ‘Bloxonius’

Friday

Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire’
5 Seconds Of Summer – ‘She Looks So Perfect’

The long march out of winter

I am really glad it’s February now.

I don’t usually say that. I normally find February to be a fairly dismal month – there’s still no end in sight to the cold winter weather, and by now I’m a lot more fed up of it than I was at the start of January. It’s also still a long time before anything exciting or fun will happen in the year. Race season normally starts in March at the earliest, Easter break usually isn’t till April, and it’s generally May before the weather gets properly nice and Geth and I start going on all our small summer mini-breaks.

Of course, this year is different in many ways. All the races and gigs and trips we’ve got booked for the spring and summer – all holdovers from the cancelled year that was 2020 – are still up in the air. As ever with this pandemic, massive amounts of conflicting information and predictions are flying around, and it’s just not possible to make plans. I’ll be delighted if things are normal enough by the summer that I can sit or stand at a concert with thousands of other people, but I can’t see it happening. Races might be a different matter, as it’s easier to make them COVID-secure, but I still don’t see the ones I’ve got booked for late spring going ahead.

Then there’s the weather. What kept me fairly cheerful through lockdown 1 last spring – other than the novelty of it – was the fact that we were having the most glorious spring we’d had for years, and every day I was able to go out and run in the warm sunshine, with beautiful cherry-blossom trees everywhere I went. Lockdown 3, in contrast, has been BLEAK. The weather has been constant ice, snow and sleet, meaning that I’ve had to alternate between tedious treadmill runs and grim, slippery, wet runs outside (neither of which are conducive to speed training in the slightest).

As such, while I don’t expect things to change much in February – the weather, certainly, is showing no signs of becoming less awful – it does mean that we’re one month closer to warmer weather, and hopefully looser restrictions, even if things won’t quite return to normal this year in the way that we would like.

On a day-to-day basis, things are trucking on. I’ve had a fairly steady trickle of day job work over the last couple of weeks, and having my new daily schedule has meant that I’ve also been able to fit in a decent amount of time on my own projects. I’ve also been enjoying my evening downtime and making a lot of progress in my videogames. I’m nearly finished with Bravely Second, which should mean I’ll have a couple of weeks’ break from the series to make some more progress on Final Fantasy I before Bravely Default II comes out (already pre-ordered!). Following BDII I may then spend a bit of time playing non-JRPGs as there are quite a lot on my to-play list. I did this last summer (many happy hours spent on the armchair in the living room playing adventure games on the big screen) and am keen to repeat the experience.

There’s also another Adventuron jam coming up this month, so that will doubtless be a fun project for my spare hours!

On the whole, I’m not short of ways to spend my time. I just wish this particular chapter of life didn’t feel so endless at the moment.

Snowdrops
My favourite snowdrops have appeared in their usual place along my run route. I first noticed them when Geth and I had to move house during the Beast from the East three years ago, and since then I’ve always seen them as a reminder that winter won’t last forever.

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
Duran Duran – ‘Five Years’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’

Sunday

The Bangles – ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’
Duran Duran – ‘Save A Prayer’

Monday

Revo – ‘Fighting To The End’
The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar – ‘Pray For Me’
Chuck Berry – ‘You Never Can Tell’
Ed Sheeran – ‘Don’t’
Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’

Tuesday

Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’

Wednesday

Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’
Queen – ‘Flash’
Sebastian Gampl and Tommy Reeve – ‘Under Control’ 

Thursday

Yuzo Koshiro – ‘Labyrinth I: Emerald Grove’
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’
Beyoncé – ‘If I Were A Boy’
Elton John – ‘Step Into Christmas’
Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Blondie – ‘One Way Or Another’

Friday

The Bangles – ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ 

Videogames I loved in 2020

When lockdown first hit back in March 2020, I was… not unhappy. Concerned about the situation, of course, but not unhappy. Not being allowed to leave the house or see anyone was a novelty at that point rather than ‘oh god, how much longer?’, and as an introvert at the best of times (‘misanthrope’ is more apt most days), I wasn’t complaining. My first thought – slightly optimistic in hindsight – was that I would finally be able to make a dent in my giant backlog of videogames not yet played.

The dent did not appear. I made a barely noticeable scratch, maybe?… and then added a whole load more items to my game libraries due to Humble Bundles and Steam/GOG sales and Nintendo eShop bargains, so I now have far more in my backlog than I did at the start of 2020. Oh well. This lack of denting was also largely due to the fact that, as it turns out, not leaving the house does not make me any less busy. However, I did manage to get a little more gaming time in last year than I normally would.

These are the games that I lost myself in during 2020.

Gaming handhelds

RingFit Adventure (Switch)

Geth and I got this exercise-based Switch game for Christmas 2019 (and a good thing too, as it rapidly became impossible to find in early 2020!). It’s the exact premise I’ve always dreamt of – it’s an RPG that you play via running and strength training. Get your gaming and your exercise in at the same time! What’s not to love?

Unfortunately I didn’t get as far as I imagined I would during 2020… because other forms of exercise and other forms of gaming commanded too much of my attention! As such, I’ve not really uncovered much of the story yet, which appears to be about a giant gym-loving dragon escaping and causing mayhem. It is great cross-training if you’re a runner, though, so I really need to get back into it sometime soon – especially seeing as the cold winter weather makes me disinclined to go out for super-long runs at the moment.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

At the start of 2020, in the post-Christmas haze and before we ever imagined that this far-off coronavirus thing would ever cause any disruption here in the UK, I started a new JRPG playthrough as usual. On this occasion, it was my third playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening, which remains one of the best games I’ve ever played. This time (as I was conscious of having a lot of other games to play and so I decided to make it my last ever playthrough), I was going to complete it: all the characters, all the collectibles, all the DLC maps done. I did about 99% of it… and then it started to get difficult and boring. Still, the save file is there for when I do get the urge to finish it off for the final time!

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)

I was also in the middle of my Miracle Mask playthrough at the start of 2020, and finished it fairly promptly due to the incredible, engaging story. My favourite Professor Layton game by a long shot – I played the final 3DS installment, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, straight afterwards and didn’t enjoy it quite as much, though it was still good. Miracle Mask is one of those games that I’ll think about for years.

Bravely Default (3DS)

I was thrilled to hear at the start of 2020 that there was going to be a new Switch entry in the Bravely Default series. I happened to be halfway through my second playthrough of the first game, and so I made sure to finish it in the early part of 2020. After all, I knew I needed time to play through the sequel, Bravely Second, as well before the new game came out!

Adventuron Treasure Hunt Jam (online)

I’m still really enjoying coding illustrated text adventure games with the Adventuron engine (I have so many planned for this year!) and am proud to say that I’ve put a submission in to every Adventuron game jam on itch.io so far. My favourite part of every jam, however, is kicking back and playing all the other submissions once all the hard work is done. March 2020’s Treasure Hunt Jam was an especially fruitful one – there were eighteen submissions in total (two disqualified for being incomplete, but I still had a go at them). The jam conditions included the rule that responses should be no longer than six words, and so it was fascinating to see how all the game creators worked around this language restriction.

I’d like to choose a favourite, but I can’t. Going back and looking at the submissions page is making me really nostalgic and I want to play them all again!

Thimbleweed Park: Delores (PC)

The original Thimbleweed Park game was one of my favourite games of 2017, but that wasn’t much of a surprise, given my huge yen for LucasArts point ‘n’ clicks and how important they were to me as a young gamer. In spring 2020, Ron Gilbert released this experimental not-quite-a-sequel, which was a joyful thing to play during the first lockdown.

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World (PC)

Delores gave me the itch to dive into my backlog of classic-style adventure games, and so I dug out Kaptain Brawe from my Steam library. I’d played it a few years previously but had never finished it; this time, I spent an enjoyable week going through the story. The art was done by Bill Tiller and so it’s very reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island (the music is extremely similar too, which I wasn’t quite sure suited the game!). The puzzles are a perfect difficulty in my view, although there were a few annoying incidences of a vital item being near-impossible to spot on the screen. My only other complaint is about the constant typos in the onscreen text. This kind of thing drives me absolutely mad as it makes a product look really sloppy and amateurish – I know I’m a proofreader, but I also know a lot of non-proofreaders who would be equally annoyed!

Very fun story, though, and so it makes my list for the year.

Bravely Default II Demos (Switch)

Adding to my excitement about the next Bravely game (which is now scheduled for a February 2021 release… I am very excited and clutching my brand-new Switch Lite in anticipation!), there were two demos of the game released on Switch during the course of 2020. The first was back in March, and was another very welcome lockdown release – I managed to eke it out for somewhere between twenty and thirty hours, which is great for a demo (though actually fairly standard for a Bravely demo, having played all the ones on 3DS!). The second was in late December and was limited to five hours, resulting in a very different play style (I usually like to take my time and look at absolutely everything); I played it in the week between Christmas and New Year and am now very much in the mood for the main game. Just need to finish off Bravely Second first!

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition (Switch)

I first played Myst when the original came out in 1993. Well, I say ‘played’. I found that the puzzles were a little too brain-burny for eight-year-old me, so I sat for hours and watched Dad play it instead, fascinated by the way the world moved and the way the story was constructed. It’s still one of Dad’s favourite games and he owns the whole series, whereas I never even made it to the end of Riven, the first sequel. Still, I’ve always loved the first game, and after many playthroughs of the family’s ropey old CD-ROM copy, I decided to grab the updated bells ‘n’ whistles version when it came out on Switch in spring 2020.

The majesty of the original graphics is still breathtaking – but now it’s all in super modern definition and you can spin the camera around to see the world from every angle! Other modern updates: typing out game notes on my phone rather than handwriting them in the special notebook you got with the original game. Lots of things are not better in this century.

Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)

One of my favourite gaming memories is the week leading up to Christmas 2010, more than a decade ago now. For the second year in a row, the UK saw heavy snow over the Christmas period, and so Geth and I were disappointed to find that our flight from Edinburgh to Cardiff to visit Geth’s mum was cancelled due to the weather, leaving us at a loose end for the week. However, we made the best of it, and making the best of it involved me spending the week mainlining Super Paper Mario, a Wii game that my brother Malcolm had got me the previous year. I absolutely loved the game – the gameplay, the style, the story – and subsequently played through it again multiple times while we were still primarily gaming on the Wii.

However, in the intervening decade, I never got round to playing any of the other Paper Mario games that were coming out… until 2020. There was a lot of hype around The Origami King during the early part of the summer, and I became more and more nostalgic about Paper Mario, so eventually I went for it and spent a very enjoyable few weeks wandering around the origamified Mushroom Kingdom. The gameplay isn’t as good as in Super Paper Mario – they’ve removed a lot of the RPG elements and the combat system is a bit frustrating – but I loved the atmosphere of the game and it will always remind me of summer 2020, just as the earlier series entry always reminds me of Christmas 2010.

When I’ve got time, I may go back and play a few of the Paper Mario games that I missed!

Beyond A Steel Sky (PC)

Beneath A Steel Sky was another classic ’90s point ‘n’ click that I loved back in the day, so I was really excited to hear that this sequel was being made. It came out within a couple of days of the release of The Origami King, so I had to decide which to play first; Origami King won out, meaning that I didn’t get round to playing Beyond A Steel Sky until about four weeks after release. However, I still found the game to be very buggy, with awkward camera angles all over the shop (especially when talking to NPCs), and, to my disappointment, when I finished the game I found that it hadn’t registered any of my achievements on Steam! I do want to play it again, but not for a couple of years – hopefully they’ll have ironed all the bugs out by then.

I did love the story though – it was a fantastic return to Union City, and it really captured the feel of the original game, especially when visiting LINCspace (I gasped when I heard the original music theme!) and its updated equivalent. Really beautifully done.

Final Fantasy I (PSP)

I’ve been familiar with most of the Final Fantasy stories for over a decade, because Geth plays all the most well-known games on a regular basis. I’ve played spinoffs and sequels and related games and other peripheral things; however, until 2020, I had never played any of the mainline Final Fantasy games myself. In 2020, I decided I was going to play them all in order, despite the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that. Maybe because of the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that.

The PSP update of FFI is, by all accounts, a bit kinder to the player than the original, and so far I’ve really been enjoying it, despite the fact that there’s not much of a story to it (in the early part of the game it’s largely wandering around the world talking to people in villages, without much direction). I estimate I’m about a quarter of the way through the game, so at this rate it might take me the rest of my life to play every single mainline Final Fantasy game. Maybe in 2021 I’ll be able to dedicate a bit more time to it!

Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time And Space (PC)

I am very behind with Telltale’s episodic Sam & Max games, all of which were released well over a decade ago now. I did play the first two episodes of Season 1 back in the day, but only managed to finish the season in… 2018 I think? And now they’ve just released a remastered version of Season 1. Which I’ve bought, but probably won’t get round to playing for some time!

Anyway, in 2020 I managed to play a few episodes of Season 2. I’ve played three out of five episodes, so I should at least get the season finished in 2021. I hope!

Episode 1, Ice Station Santa, is an ideal Christmas treat (unfortunately, I played it in August). Episode 2, Moai Better Blues, is good filler, but it was Episode 3, Night of the Raving Dead, that really shone for me. It’s about club-going Stuttgart vampires and zombies, and if you have ever spent any time in German goth/industrial clubs (or the wider European goth/industrial scene in general) then you will not be able to get through this episode without howling in recognition. The goth club night held in a huge room with only five people in attendance! Sam and Max’s terrible vampire rap! The perfectly judged banging club track! (Geth loved this track so much that he would complain when I had to go to another location.)

I’m really looking forward to picking this series up again.

The Next Adventuron Jam (online)

The Adventuron jam of summer 2020 will always be extra special to me – it was the one where my game took first place, and also the one where I worked extra hard (in a fun way) to release three different versions of the game (Adventuron, Spectrum +3 and Spectrum Next) using the porting tools provided! Making the Spectrum versions was a really interesting project and something I want to experiment with again in the future.

There were seven games entered into this jam, so I expected to get through them fairly quickly – but memorable big hitters Over Here! and Dawn Of The Soviet Ladybirds were both very involving games and took me some time to finish. A really good quality lineup for this jam, and I feel that Adventuron users’ output is getting better and better.

Bravely Second (3DS)

This time, I’m going to finish it.

I first started playing Bravely Second in 2016 when it first came out, but I got stuck on a tough battle and never finished the playthrough. I started the game again in the autumn, and this time, I’m grinding more intently and got through the same battle with ease. I’m determined to finish it in the next few weeks so that I’m all caught up by the time Bravely Default II comes out on 26th February!

I’ve loved the new characters in the Bravely Default II demos, but I will also miss spending time with the original gang. I just hope the story has a good ending!

Link-A-Pix Colour (3DS)

One of the things I love about the 3DS (and why I expect I’ll still be playing it for years to come despite now also owning a Switch Lite) is its wide range of puzzle games – the type you might download as an app on your phone. I generally don’t use my phone for gaming as I prefer to keep the memory free for other things – and I’m just not very keen on phone gaming in general (it feels a bit casual for me). As such, my 3DS is where I play my puzzle games, and I have quite a lot of them.

My go-to during 2020 (and into 2021) has been Link-A-Pix Colour. It’s part of a series of games where you create pixel pictures through number puzzles, and is a lovely, relaxing way to switch off late at night. Some of the pictures are pretty tough though – I spent an hour and forty minutes trying to solve one a few nights ago! Maybe I was just a bit tired…

Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (PC)

Every year, I plan to spend a few hours in the days before Christmas playing the seasonal ‘Holiday Hare’ levels of Jazz Jackrabbit, which was my absolute favourite PC platformer in the mid-’90s. Most years, Christmas is such a rush that I don’t get round to it, but this last Christmas was a bit quieter for obvious reasons, and so I was able to sit down and play a bit of Jazz for the first time in ages. Maybe I should schedule some time to play all the non-Christmas levels again some day!

The best bit of these levels are the banging Christmas medley that plays in the background. Truly epic.

A few final thoughts:

  • I played a lot more games in 2020, but these are the ones that really stood out.
  • All of them created happy memories, but my number one game of the year was Paper Mario: The Origami King. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the atmosphere was just lovely.

Looking ahead to 2021:

  • I am very excited about Bravely Default II. Have I mentioned that?
  • First things first, though: I have a whole new slew of games from the recent Adventuron Christmas jam to play and enjoy before the ratings are due this weekend (go play them if you haven’t already!), and then I will be cracking on with Bravely Second in order to get it finished over the next few weeks.
  • Other than that, I’ve still got that rather imposing backlog to clear…

First (half) week of work done

I’ve only been back at work for three days, but it’s been a pretty busy half week, so the weekend is very welcome! The combination of lockdown and snow lends itself well to videogaming, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Geth got me a Switch Lite for my birthday, I still have plenty of games in my backlog on other systems, and I still have lots of games from the most recent Adventuron jam to play and rate – so I’m not going to run out of entertainment any time soon.

It always takes me a while to find my feet again after Christmas. There’s a lot of stuff that needs sorting out in the house, but I’m gradually catching up with things. I’m sleeping late at the moment, which is a habit I really want to get out of so that I can get more done in the mornings. Hopefully once Geth is back at work next week, it’ll be easier to get into pattern.

I started attending a new Zoom music group this week. It’s very beginner-friendly, and Zoom music groups are always muted so I can happily bash away on my ukulele without worrying about anyone hearing me. As such, it’s a really good way to get back into playing; I haven’t found much time for practising since my previous classes came to a halt last March.

A good start to January, given the ongoing circumstances.

Pizza calendar
All calendars now arrived and installed. Getting there!

Today’s earworm playlist:

The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’

Life without alcohol: two years sober

They say the second year of sobriety is a lot more stable than the first. I found this to be true in 2020, even though the world outside was anything but stable.

Christmas coffee mug

I’ve mentioned this a lot, but I cannot reiterate enough how essential my sobriety turned out to be during the pandemic and how lucky I feel that I quit when I did. If I’d still been drinking, I would have seen lockdown as an excuse for what would basically have been a year-long housebound bender. The ‘joke’ memes about day drinking to cope with the situation have been everywhere on social media since last March, and I know I would have taken that attitude as encouragement and come to believe that I ‘needed’ alcohol in order to get through the pandemic. However, I’d been sober for a year when it all kicked off, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I stayed sober in 2020 and I’m still sober now.

I’ve not read as much quit lit this last year (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve read any), largely because I have settled into my sober routine and know the tips and strategies that are working for me. In terms of support, a particular Facebook group and a sobriety thread on a favourite forum have continued to be incredibly helpful.

It’s been a long time since I tried any new booze alternatives, as all of my liquid intake has taken place in my own home this last year and so I just stick to my usual favourites. There are still a few from a long time ago that I haven’t yet logged, however, so I will do a few posts about those in the next few months.

I’m a little apprehensive about the return to normality that we all expect and hope to happen later this year. Lack of socialising has, in many ways, made staying sober a lot easier for me as I’m not spending time around alcohol, other than the quiet couple of beers that Geth has on a weekend night. However, I do feel stable and resolved, so I just need to be careful when things start to open up again.

In general, I feel a lot more positive about today’s soberversary than I did a year ago. I remember it feeling like a bit of an anticlimax, whereas today I just feel sort of quiet and happy about it.

I hope that this time next year, my sense of peace will have continued to grow.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Abba – ‘Thank You For The Music’
Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’
Eddi Reader – ‘Auld Lang Syne’
The Beatles – ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’
Traditional – ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’
Cast of The Muppet Christmas Carol – ‘Scrooge’

Last few days of Christmas, and a bit of blog admin

I’ll mostly be doing photo posts this week as I’ll be busy with putting the Christmas decorations away and getting back to work. From next Monday onwards the blog will be back on schedule, though it’ll be a different schedule from what it has been over the last year! With the pandemic continuing to rumble on, life is a bit too quiet for daily diary posts, and so I’ll be doing weekly life updates on Fridays instead. The rest of the week will be dedicated to ramblings about my various hobbies, which remain over-numerous.

I’m excited about a slight change of direction as there are lots of things I want to write about in more detail. More info about this next week (as I haven’t quite finalised everything yet!).

Colourful leggings
The leggings I wore for my birthday yesterday. 2020 was the year of colourful trousers and I do not imagine that will change for 2021!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Tears For Fears – ‘Shout’

Thirty-six

An unusual birthday today, like everybody else’s birthday during this strange year. I did the usual opening of birthday cards and presents under the Christmas tree, and the usual eating of birthday cake and drinking of (alcohol-free these days) fizz, but because I couldn’t be in Edinburgh this year it was in my own house under my own tree, with Mum and Dad on video call rather than in person. The birthday cake I made yesterday tasted just as it was supposed to, and I got some amazing presents, so it’s been a good birthday so far – it’s just felt a bit strange being at home in Newcastle. Like everything else over the past couple of weeks!

Birthday cards under the Christmas tree
As usual, my birthday cards will be living under the tree until Christmas gets put away on 6th January.

Today’s earworm playlist:

will.i.am and Cody Wise – ‘It’s My Birthday’
Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – ‘Especially For You’

Three years blogging… and a reflection on some accidental New Year Resolutions

For years, I didn’t start new habits at New Year – or if I did, they never stuck for very long. However, for the last four years in a row, I have chosen something to focus on every year and have stuck with it. My life is a lot better as a result, and so I’m hoping I’ll be able to stick to my main 2021 goal too.

At the start of 2017, I started going to Slimming World. The accountability of the group setting enabled me to lose the five stone that I’d been trying to lose for nearly a decade, and though I’ve not managed to stay at target during the pandemic, I only have a stone to lose again this next year (which is a lot easier than five!). Life at a healthy weight is immeasurably more physically comfortable and something that I will never take for granted. Once Christmas eating is done, I’ll be back on the light meals again – I’m following a calorie-based approach rather than SW now, but I’ll always be thankful for the motivation it gave me.

At the start of 2018, I started this blog. It was always my aim to blog every day and so sometimes, especially during the empty year of 2020, blogging has felt like a bit of a chore. However, the habit of getting my words out into the world has given me confidence to do so in other ways, such as reading at poetry nights and publishing text adventure games. I love having the blog as it just feels so much more ‘mine’ than social media pages.

At the start of 2019, I got sober. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel so, so incredibly grateful that I managed to do this (and get the first difficult year of sobriety out of the way) *before* the pandemic hit – I really believe that things would have gone nowhere good if I’d still been drinking in 2020. It’s still not easy, but life is so much more stable than it was two years ago, and that has been so important over the last few months.

And at the start of 2020, after four and a half years of more sporadic running, I started a daily run streak. The start of a new decade seemed like a good time to do it, and I just wanted to see how long I could keep it up. Again, this was incredibly well-timed in terms of the pandemic, as I discussed yesterday. Whatever life throws at me, and however long it takes for races to come back, I’ll always have my run streak to keep me motivated.

On to 2021, then, and this year the main focus will be to get my house in order (literally). I already made a good start by spending a few weeks in November/December sorting out all the junk that I’d been hoarding upstairs since we moved in, but there’s a lot more to do, and a lot of daily habits that I need to instil. One of the major negative factors for my mental health is that I constantly feel that my house is dirty and untidy, and so I can never fully relax. Making time for my house projects this year, and keeping on top of the upkeep, will hopefully allow me to feel a lot better.

On a personal level, I’m feeling quite hopeful today. Not for 2021 as a whole, but for one day at a time, which is how I’ve managed all my other big life changes over the last few years.

I’m excited about tomorrow.

Lancashire hotpot
Another day, another New Year recipe I made myself for the first time. Lancashire hotpot is all about the crust, and it came out just right.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Deacon Blue – ‘Queen Of The New Year’
Tears For Fears – ‘Shout’
Abba – ‘Happy New Year’
Traditional – ‘The Blaydon Races’
Beach Boys – ‘Sloop John B’

Parallel lives

Taking a break this evening from the old photos and returning to the here and now. Hogmanay, like the rest of 2020, feels a bit confusing and bittersweet. I think 2021 will eventually be better, but it will take some time, so I certainly don’t feel like celebrating tonight. Just a quiet evening at home with BBC Scotland on TV.

It’s my first ever New Year away from Scotland and so this year I had to learn to make Dad’s famous Hogmanay pizza for myself and Geth. Through the magic of video chat, Dad was able to help me with the dough, and on the whole it turned out really well. I hope I’m equally lucky with the Lancashire hotpot for New Year’s Day tomorrow.

Hogmanay pizza
Fish pizza for Geth, veggie for me.

I completed my first year of running every day this morning! A year ago, I noticed that Smashrun did a special virtual badge for running every day during a leap year, which was what motivated me to start my run streak. Today, I finally got the badge, and a bonus one to boot:

Smashrun badge
Smashrun badge

I’ve spent a large part of the year trying not to think about the Parallel Universe Where Coronavirus Didn’t Happen: the races, the gigs, the trips abroad, the time with family and friends. But there are other parallel universes that are a lot less happy – ones I only narrowly avoided due to sheer dumb luck, or the grace of God, or whatever you want to call it. The parallel universe where I hadn’t started a run streak on the first of January, and as a result didn’t run at all after March because I had no race-related motivation. The parallel universe where I hadn’t quit drinking, and ended up drinking more and more as a result of lockdown and stress. The parallel universe where loved ones weren’t able to stay safe this year.

I didn’t end up in the best timeline, not in the slightest. But I also didn’t end up in the worst. I survived, and I have hope. Bring on 2021. Even if I kind of wish we could just skip the first half of it.

Today’s earworm playlist:

The Proclaimers – ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’
Travis – ‘The Last Laugh Of The Laughter’

Hogmanay pizza, 1995

Dad always makes homemade pizza on Hogmanay. I eat a lot of pizza, but Dad’s recipe is my favourite, and it’s super special because it only gets made once a year. This year, I’ll be spending New Year away from Scotland for the first time in my life due to the pandemic, and so I’ll be attempting to make the recipe myself.

Here’s a photo of Hogmanay (aka pizza night) from 1995.

Hogmanay pizza, 1995

Today’s earworm playlist:

Robbie Williams – ‘Soul Transmission’