C’est la vie to the year and the decade.
On December 5th, I saw IDLES live at the O2 Academy in Leeds with my best friend Lucy. I nearly died at least four times and spent 90% of it being churned all about the place since, hilariously, mosh-pits in medium-sized venues like O2 Academies very quickly stop being able to co-ordinate being actual mosh-pits and instead just turn into a more high-energy version of the everyone-crushed-in-together Sardines finale in primary school xmas plays. It was ace. There was this warm, inclusive, genuine sensation of communion pervading the entire evening, even as my head was frequent rocked and crushed by a seemingly limitless quantity of crowdsurfers I was nowhere near strong enough to help push along. This sensation of being a part of something bigger than myself, of a youthful force united in pushing back against the hatred and division sewn by the scumfucks heading up the country with love and unity. It was enough to plant the tiniest seed of hope that the election I was dreading and expecting disaster from a week later might bring about something other than a despairing trainwreck. (Based on my site traffic, we all know how that turned out.)
At some point during the gig, I cannot remember exactly when, I lost my watch. Said watch had been with me for a full six years by that point, goldish plating (I doubt it was actual gold) on its fourth battery and third strap which was itself on the verge of wearing out and probably should’ve been replaced when I got back from London Film Festival. This watch had gone everywhere with me for those past six years; all three years of uni, every sweaty high-energy crushed-body gig, all four London Film Festivals, every one of my failed job experiences, every misbegotten and fast-dropped effort to regularly workout, two different funerals, two different therapists, countless doctors visits, the three days I spent laid on a hospital bed with tubes stuck in my arms as they attempted to reverse the absolute worst of the damage my diabetes had done prior to being officially diagnosed. All of it. See, it was my granddad’s. Or rather, it was supposed to be my granddad’s. Before the cancer recurred, he bought a pair of new watches for himself. After he passed, the watch he used was buried with him and the one he’d kept as safety was gifted to me by my nan. In a sense, and even though I don’t believe in the concept of afterlives or what have you, he’s been with me everywhere I went for the past six years.
I didn’t realise that the watch had disappeared until about four songs before the gig’s end, when I briefly wondered why my right wrist felt a lot less heavy than it normally did. Upon noticing the watch had gone, I briefly scanned the floor to see if I could recognise it anywhere – despite the obvious fruitlessness of the endeavour, since I’d been thrown around the width of half the stage area during the previous song alone – then just kinda shrugged my shoulders and went back to “dancing.” After the gig finished, I did have a scan of the floor and checked the cloakroom to see if anyone had dropped it off to Lost and Found with no avail, but the whole time I was genuinely non-plussed about the situation. Had I lost this watch at any other time in any other situation, I would have spiralled and panicked and fixated badly on this one unfortunate turn of events to such an extent that not only would the gig itself have been ruined for me, but at least the entire following fortnight.
Yet, here, it felt kinda right. If I am being perfectly honest with myself, I think I’ve subconsciously spent much of this decade still grappling with my granddad’s passing in November of 2013 – I wrote about how that went down as part of my entry for The Farewell in the year’s Top 20 Films. Sure, I’d experienced depression, alienation, crippling loneliness, social anxiety and awkwardness, an ever-constant fear of death and all that good stuff prior to his passing – several of the many, many reasons why Sixth Form was such a purgatorial hell for me – but all of those things certainly increased in the wake of it. Which isn’t to say that the two factors are linked in causality because Existence doesn’t work like that, but I would say that the absolute shit canoe of the past six years had subconsciously bonded me to the few constants in my life in such a way that I wouldn’t realise how important they were to me until they stopped being there. I had indeed experienced minor panics over those years when I misplaced my watch somewhere, thinking it had been lost for good.
But on that night, in the midst of this IDLES gig, I was ok about the watch going missing. The hack writer in me found something rather fitting in this noxious waste dump of a decade closing out by the loss of my watch, a belief that I had kinda outgrown the need for this particular keepsake and, given how the year went, am now in enough of a position to take on the next one by myself. There was also this moment of clarity as I reflected on its disappearance whilst in line at the merch stand. Sure, I may not believe in the afterlife or anything like that and it may have been over six years with everyone moving on in their own way, but my granddad is still with me. Maybe not physically and maybe not even spiritually, but he’s there in the memories. Those memories may be somewhat faded and distant, but they’re still there and the moments we shared and lessons he imparted will live on through me, so I don’t need any particular token to keep the memory alive. It’s ok to let go. And if I was going to lose my last tactile connection to him anywhere, at a joyous celebration of unity and hope and progressive love that may, with any luck, represent the next wave of people trying to make the world a better place in their own small ways was maybe the best possible one.
Also, I still have a pillow at home that my nan made out of one of his old shirts, so there’s still something there to remind me. Although I guess admitting that takes away from the power of the story somewhat.
So… it’s been a year. I feel like I, and we as a collective Online society at large, have been saying that a lot more commonly as the decade has barrelled towards its nail-biting cliffhanger conclusion. But I am not here to assess the world’s place at the end of this year – although, seriously, it really does feel like we are in the endgame for modern civilisation and this next decade is going to determine whether we manage to pull out of that tailspin or pass the point of no return within my ever-precarious lifetime – and, for once, I am not here to piss and moan about my lot in life. At least, not exclusively anyway.
My 2019 has indeed been a frustrating, often demoralising and at-times isolating one. At points, I’ve never felt lonelier. In general, I’ve never felt less connected to or understood by my parents despite my and their best efforts, with whom I am still living because I am still so very poor and largely-unemployable. My diabetes has technically gotten more under control but such a development has only made the behavioural patterns I can’t explain all the more infuriating. I fear my depression has gotten a lot more manic over the course of the year, the swings to and fro being more severe than before, and that it’s beginning to negatively impact my interactions with other people despite my best efforts. I’ve definitely been more anxious this past year, largely on account of being the dumbass who cares about the state of the world and therefore pays attention to the news, so the Tories continuously threatening to drive this country off a cliff over Brexit like a toddler having a tantrum did not help. And I’ve finished off the year unemployed again, kinda maybe, after having spent much of the back half in a Schrödinger’s State of Employment.
But I’m also seeing the new decade crest on the horizon and feeling at least the teensiest level of hopeful and/or content about my current place in life and what’s to come. It’s a strange sensation I don’t necessarily trust, but not an unwelcome one. For one, I oopsied on my pledge/promise at the end of last year’s instalment in petty navel-gazing and wrote 136 articles in the past 12 months which, for me and for how long my articles almost always are, is a pretty damn-good achievement, I think. And I am a lot happier with my output this year than typically. Although I have frankly failed in my efforts to make it anywhere near the consistent project I initially set out for it to be, 2019 saw me start up We’re #2! and I am having a lot of fun slowly going through that series, doing long-form written dives of the kind you don’t always see with individual pieces of music nowadays, let alone providing said critical merit to Boyzone and forgotten novelty reggae numbers. I promise you, hand on heart, it’ll be back first week of February; I’m taking a week’s break after finishing Listmas then stockpiling a bunch of them whilst my drive is still with me.
Speaking of music, I think it’s safe to say that my writing output has effectively split 50/50 between movies and music as this year went on. Partly blame a relentlessly bland year for films, but also it’s been fun to stretch my wings and try writing about the other major constant in my life which keeps me going. Plus, doing so has managed to open a few doors professionally for me through a combination of luck and… well, I was gonna say “graft,” but it’s really just “more freak luck.” Still, I got to interview a few artists this year, interviews which I think largely went ok given that they were my first non-Nora Twomey times interviewing people by myself and I am notoriously bad at holding conversations with strangers. I’m planning to try and interview even more in 2020. My shift towards music, plus another factor we’ll get to shortly, also got me in the door with Soundsphere Magazine and their editor, Dom, has been highly supportive and encouraging about turning this hobby I keep using as an ill-justified excuse to not go through the job-searching mill into a potential real career these last few months. There will be a lot more Soundsphere articles in 2020, with any luck.
On the subject of a career, Kofi Smiles, whom I referenced occasionally meeting up and hanging out with in 2018, spent way too much of his time this year trying to help me out any way that he could. We made a little video for the BBC No Filter Facebook page about the unconscious racism and sexism of the Academy Awards voting body; it is unfortunately still online (at time of writing) and you can go watch it here (the editing is great, I am not). He’s had me on his BBC No Filter radio show a bunch of times throughout the year to fill in on the Pop Culture 5 A Day segment and, not only do I get a thrill from seeing up close a pro ace their work and the nerdy joy of seeing how a radio show is put together and kept on-rails, I can feel my audio presence getting better and some of my worst habits being slightly curbed thanks to being on. He’s repeatedly attempted to help find me job opportunities in the city, which I severely appreciate and can only apologise continuously blowing at the interview stages. And he’s often invited me to do things with his own circle of friends and made me feel like I somewhat belong even though he has no reason to do so.
I didn’t intend for this paragraph to just be me sloppily and publicly crediting him with helping get me through the year, but fuck it that’s what we’re doing now. He’s helped me this year way more than he’ll ever know and I am so grateful for knowing him, much as I am so grateful to Lucy and Paul for introducing me to him and pushing me to do stuff with him in the first place last year.
Anyways, going back to “career” and “job” and “employment,” I held down my first real job in 2019! Only took three entire years of being out of university, I’m aware, but let me have this. I will say that being ever-presently dicked over by the frequently incompetent upstairs management wasn’t much of a pleasant thing to deal with, especially given my continuously precarious financial standing meaning the irregular shifts are not ideal for me. But the actual experience of looking after a small record store (on average) once a week has been really good for me. Providing structure that my life sorely needed, giving me tangible experience which proved to myself that I could in fact do this kind of work without having an instant and total mental breakdown, and a few cool new awesome friends who are awesome and cool! (Shout-outs to Lydia, though I doubt she’s reading this; go listen to her band LIFE’s stuff!) Also it got me into Soundsphere, which operates upstairs, so that’s obviously a bonus.
And then there’s the second life I’ve been ever so slowly carving out for myself over the past four years. I already mentioned this in its own hyper-sappy and self-indulgent post at the time, but this year’s London Film Festival really was my favourite excursion yet. Even though I didn’t end up getting the BFI Mentorship slot, I still got to meet with a member of the panel and had an honest, critical and enjoyable conversation with them which I think helped me a bit, at least in terms of validating concerns I knew I had. My writing from that particular fortnight was, I think, the best of any such trip yet. And, far more importantly, I ended up being welcomed fully into the critical community, meeting plenty of awesome new people thanks to Kelechi Ehenulo inviting me into her particular circle of critic friends (go read her amazing stuff dammit) and discovering that equally as awesome old people I’d met at previous iterations had, in fact, largely remembered me without prompting. That last fact in particular is still difficult for me to believe. Cos, like, I obviously remember these people but that’s because I don’t have that much going on in my non-London-bubble life. For them to remember on-sight who I am, that’s wild and really amazing. I love all of these people and am grateful for the occasional invite I keep getting for meet-ups down there outside of LFF time. I wish so badly I could go.
Lastly, there are the isolated memories which made this year pretty alright. Somehow seeing Janelle Monáe and Bloc Party (playing Silent Alarm cos cash-grab nostalgia-pandering full-album tours are totally ok when it’s my nostalgia being pandered to) on successive nights at the same venue with the same cool friends. Myself, Ciara, and my good Internet friend Ben being sprayed in the face with champagne thanks to being near the front of a Confidence Man gig. Managing to get around the Peanuts exhibit at Somerset House on the last possible day. Meeting Katie M’s absolutely adorable new pup, Lola, and being constantly attack-licked by her – Lola, not Katie M, that would be weird, she’s engaged AAAAAAHHH – every time I visit. Doing the Inflatable 5k again but this time with Vicky and so actually running a fair bit of it. Almost every time I was able to hang with Lucy during the increasingly infrequent breaks in her extremely busy life. Having money in my pocket for the first time since university… then immediately blowing said money repeatedly on vinyl and gig tickets because I cannot be trusted with money. Seeing Endgame opening night in a sold-out cheering cinema with friends. Transcendent solo gig experiences at MUNA and The Chemical Brothers – I hope the Brothers understand that I need them to do at least one UK non-festival date every year from now til the end of time, thanks. The Hull pub crawl in honour of the departed Bari with folks I hadn’t seen in years and which may or may not have ended with me partaking in some karaoke.
Also, around the halfway point of the year, I had a mental realisation about my Self (as in sense of self) which may be the turning point that starts me on the course to not totally hating myself? But that’s a conversation for another day, after I’ve finally been able to see this mental health specialist I’m supposedly being referred to and talked it through with them, cos this is a bell which can’t be unrung and I want to make sure what I’m feeling/thinking is for real. Rest assured, if there’s something to tell, you folks will know as soon as I’m ready.
Looking back, I think maybe the biggest retroactive omen for how the year was going to go came in January with The 1975. I wanted to go see them play Sheffield Arena at the end of the month, but standing tickets had sold out once the dates were announced (when I was poor and iffy on A Brief Inquiry’s singles) and I wasn’t about to sit at a gig thank you kindly. Knowing that both Katie S and Kofi also liked the band, I asked if they wanted to come and so, two weeks out from the date, made a pact that, in searching for tickets, either all of us went or none of us went. Five days before the show, I was losing hope having constantly been too late to the Twicket alerts and scammed out of £60 because I am far too trusting of other people. That morning, a standing listing popped up on Twickets that I was able to get reserved in time… for one. I pondered for a good two minutes whether I, in good conscience, could go through with the purchase and throw my friends under the bus because I really badly wanted to go… and decided I couldn’t do that so let the tickets go. That afternoon, Sheffield Arena released a last-minute batch of standing tickets through their website and, somehow, I got through with tickets for all three of us. Four days later, we saw The 1975. It was soul-rejuvenating.
What was that story meant to mean? Seeing it all typed up, I’m actually not all that sure, particularly since karma isn’t a real thing (provable scientific fact since Boris Johnson is an elected Prime Minister). Maybe it functions as a reminder to myself to keep getting up every single day and never stop trying. Sure, things’ll go to shit more than occasionally and more than a little bit. But if I hang in there and keep trying, there’ll be that one victory, however minor, which at least partly mitigates the lows and the days where nothing much happens at all.
Thanks for sticking around, everyone. Whether you’re a friend whom I value more than anything else in the world, or just someone who reads and/or shares my self-indulgent novellas. It’s been a rough, long decade and there’s no indication that the next one is gonna be any better. Let’s try anyway, eh?
A better writer would conclude this piece with a picture of me and my granddad to tie everything together. However, I don’t have any digital pictures of me with him, they’re all physical photographs which would require a scanner I also don’t have. So, instead, here’s a picture of me doing my best Price is Right Model pose with Charly Bliss from back in May.