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2019 in review

Six years have passed since I last reviewed the year. That was 2013; I got engaged and began to detach from the speed and distraction of design and tech, pledging to prioritise my personal life.

Geri at Snape Maltings in Suffolk, April 2019.

Well, I did indeed spend those years sorting my life out. And I paid little attention to my industry as it underwent its most significant changes to date. “No regrets,” I’ll whimper from future’s gutter. Anyway, I’m back now, and eager to write about everything all of the time. So, let’s get this year catalogued for posterity.

January

January was consumed by the return of New Adventures after a six-year hiatus. The experience was immensely stressful and utterly exhausting, but ultimately worthwhile. The highlight was undoubtedly Ethan’s closing talk. I’d asked him to speak about a thread he'd been pursuing on his blog, exploring the harm caused by the onward march of technology and the ethics of our work. This next step became The World-Wide Work, delivered for the first time at NA. Some considered it the most essential talk they'd seen. The response in the room, on social media, and all through the year was incredible. As his talk reached its climax, I tweeted:

Ethan Marcotte is on our stage right now, in my hometown, captivating the entire hall with a brand new talk. I’m sorry to FOMO you, but it’s been an exhausting few months and now... well, here we are. What a day.

Somehow, we found time to watch One Cut of The Dead (a budget Japanese zombie film with a side-splitting reveal), and pop down to the West End for Come from Away (a fun but flattering take on Newfoundland’s embrace of outsiders). We also squeezed into Rough Trade for The Twilight Sad’s intimate acoustic set. We enjoyed an excellent show from Death Cab For Cutie at Rock City.

February

Something of a come-down month after New Adventures. In fact, I kind of take three months off starting here, as the last six months left me drained with no idea what to do next.

We attended a panel featuring two Japanese authors and their English translator at Five Leaves Bookshop. Of particular interest to us was the author of the wonderful and slightly-sci-fi Convenience Store Woman. Near the month’s end, we and 7,000 others explored the cosmos with Prof. Brian Cox and sidekick Robin Ince at the arena. Science is the new rock ’n roll or whatever, and this celebration of universal chance, the joy of not knowing everything, and a reminder to live in the present made for a top Friday night.

March

Geri spent the whole month back in Tokyo, doing more intense language study at Coto. Filling time on my own, I set myself a few writing goals. I turned last year’s Japan travel notes into a few readable articles (see Meeting my wife for coffee, Bear Pond and Koffee Mameya, and Hoshinoya Tokyo) and researched a few possible writing projects. I also ran a lot; I think I ran 10k five times in five days at one point.

I was a guest at the launch of artist John Newling’s new book, Dear Nature, designed and printed by my friends at Beam Editions. I’d been asked to select and read one of the letters from the book; something that resonated with me. I’d commissioned John way back in 2003 for the art festival I organised, and the evening felt like closing a chapter that began in another life.

My Mam’s health concerns escalated, and I spent time either accompanying her to more tests or talking her through bouts of worry. I recognised the symptoms of generalised anxiety, and this worried me the most; I saw it take a firm grip and become increasingly difficult for her to manage.

April

My third unofficial month off, although I spent all year working to turn around my neglected personal projects, and I’ve just written about that progress.

Geri and I love Pump Street chocolate, so I took her to Suffolk for her birthday weekend. Our brilliant BnB was a short walk from the Pump Street bakery in the heart of Orford village, so we were able to visit several times. It was good to get away for a few days and experience a new landscape full of golden fields, big clouds, beautiful coastlines and exciting birds.

The following week, we had front row seats for A Special Evening with The National at London’s Royal Festival Hall, where the band played almost all of their new album.

May

My Mam endured more tests. Notts County crashed out of the football league and could no longer claim to be the oldest club in the world. I also wrote about my climate anxiety. Fun times.

Mid-month, Geri and I returned to Düsseldorf. Primarily, this was to attend another Beyond Tellerrand conference as Marc’s guests (and to gather fresh ideas for NA), but we don’t need an excuse. We love Germany, love Düsseldorf, love the rabbits in the park, and love the Japanese community with its superb food. We took the third in our trilogy of selfies, and I thought I looked healthier than in either of the previous shots.

Geri surprised me with a wish to start bouldering, and we had our induction at The Depot. Back at home, I couldn’t grip anything, my arms shaking for hours. It was clear that we had zero upper-body strength, but we enjoyed those first sessions and found the whole place very welcoming, and made a commitment to stick at it.

After almost three years of Brexit-inspired misery, I started to crack. I tweeted:

Exhausted by UK politics; by caring. Hoovering up every shitty soundbite and demoralising detail is misery-inducing mental health poison. Exasperated by Corbyn, enraged by brexidiots, Tory leadership wankfest of self-interest unbearable. Low on hope, must disengage for a while.

And yet, I continued to torture myself with every little detail of the whole debacle throughout every hour of every day of the rest of the year.

At the end of the month, we enjoyed a joyous night with Japanese melodic noise trio Mutant Monster at the Bodega.

June

Yet more tests for my Mam. Finally, the Doc prescribed something to take the edge off her anxiety, and it quickly made a huge difference. I’m still absolutely delighted about it.

We attended Nick Cave in Conversation at the Royal Centre, and it was an emotional night. The review I wrote the following day tackles talk of grief and racism and all sorts of heady stuff and was incredibly hard to write, but might be the best thing I wrote all year.

We also saw loads of great films in quick succession at Broadway: Mabarosi, Nobody Knows, Apollo 11, and Maradona — all excellent.

July

I found time to write about my new Timeline, and feel so good that it received a lot of positive attention. Even Kottke noted it.

We went to Manchester to see The National at Castlefield Bowl. The next day, I attended a panel at Tate Modern focused on the importance of culture to our sustainability challenges, featuring Olafur Eliasson alongside climate-minded politicians and activists.

I accompanied Geri to another Hyper Japan at Olympia. Sales were excellent, and I’m so proud of her steady, but assured progress with Geri Draws Japan. From there, we went straight to Newfoundland for our annual Summer visit. Although we’re sad that Fixed coffee shop went out of business, Bannerman Brewing Co. totally saved us. We spent at least an hour working in there every single day — mostly drinking coffee, but occasionally sampling a superb beer. Newfoundland is really delivering on the beer front now, with Dildo and Port Rexton out West, and the new Landwash taproom in Mount Pearl.

Despite a relatively bad year of running, we trained enough to run a brilliant Tely10. We shaved a few minutes off our previous time, thanks mainly to a determined pace set by Geri. On our way home, we spent half a day in Toronto between flights, then flew home overnight and woke up in August.

August

At the start of the month, we went twice to London, and twice we visited the big Eliasson show. We made a third trip to London later in the month to see a Twenty20 cricket match at Lords with Cennydd.

Most of the month was consumed by prep for New Adventures 2020. With much of it ready to roll, we ended August in Italy, enjoying our fifth wedding anniversary back in the tiny Manarola apartment we love so much.

September

September starts in Italy. Each morning the same grumpy bloke serves our coffee before we go revisiting the villages of Cinque Terre, and we spend most afternoons at the beach in Monterosso. Each day I got a little more confident in the shallow sea:

Today I dared float on my back in the sea for the first time in my life (I never learned to swim). Holy shit what an amazing relaxing weightless brilliant experience! I know most of you prob took this for granted since baby-years-old but not me, wow

Returning home, I did my judging duties for the Fixathon. Soon, I was celebrating my 46th birthday. I published my article about Jon Savage’s oral history of Joy Division, and within hours received an email from legendary photographer Kevin Cummins. I’d used his image without permission, but it was essential to my focus, so I licensed it, and all was amicable.

Geri went back to Japan as a resident at Almost Perfect in Tokyo. Her show, Defying Tradition, was a success and I had yet another reason to be proud of her. I just wish I could've attended the opening, but there was no way I could afford the trip.

Again, I ran a lot and wrote a lot while she was away, and I also stood with friends in the Old Market Square during the Global Climate Strike.

October

My Uncle’s partner, Pam, passed away after a long illness. I attended a new tech conference in Nottingham. We had dinner at Ollie and Sarah’s house with their guest, an old acquaintance from late-nineties London, called Andrew. I’d misjudged him a bit back then, and it was lovely to spend the evening chatting and setting a new baseline for friendship. We also had Sunday lunch with Clare.

We went to Madrid as I wanted to attend Primer EU, a speculative design and futures conference. It was fun getting to know Madrid, visiting almost every notable coffee shop, and devouring loads of tapas. We also saw Guernica. Before we knew it, we were back home, but my head remains full of ideas from that conference.

Bearface had been showing a few worrying symptoms, so he and I made numerous trips to the vets. In the end, he’s doing ok and getting his spark back, but we expect he’ll be on steroids for the rest of his life. I love that little floof more and more every day.

November

Back to Manchester for another Doki Doki event, where Geri typically makes lots of sales. This one wasn’t as good as we'd expected, but it’s still fun, and we’ll return every year.

A quiet month, all in all, with lots of New Adventures prep. I did leave the house a few times and guested on Rizwana Khan’s fun podcast. We went to Manchester yet again as the month ended, to see The Twilight Sad at the Ritz.

December

I caught four exhibitions in five hours during a quick day trip to London. Later that week, we returned for Brian and Robin’s Christmas Compendium, with guests including Eddie Izzard, Ben Goldacre, Milton Jones and Josie Long. Such a brilliant event, with lots raised for charity and bins filled for the food bank.

The National came to Nottingham and played a brilliant show at the arena. Geri finally got her phone into Matt’s hands, and we now have his fantastic video to cherish.

I’ve been feeling down for various reasons, unable to shake myself from a general sadness. It’s partly down to the conference not selling well and me worrying about every aspect of that. I also worry about what I’ll do once the 2020 event is over. The desperate state of UK politics has not helped one bit, and I’ve been carrying anger about all of it. Feeling well-informed about all the things that will potentially go wrong in our country feels like a self-inflicted curse.

The moment the exit poll result arrived at 10pm on election day, I felt my mind and body detach. I loathe the result, but the "well, that’s that" of Boris and Brexit gave me license to pause tracking this whole shitshow. I’ll disengage for a while; stop stressing about things I cannot change. It will draw me back in, and next year I’ll be looking for more pragmatic engagement and meaningful ways to do my bit.

As ever with December, a lot of mildly interesting but disconnected bits and bobs happen. Lots more NA prep. We bought a new tree. We had our Christmas party for two — basically, a stunning meal for two at Alchemilla. We watched Star Wars: Rise of Disney, and it wasn’t great. I finally deleted my Facebook account. We enjoyed a quiet Christmas, with lovely gifts.

Looking towards 2020

I’m a little nervous about 2020. I’m worried about New Adventures, despite it being our best yet on paper. I need to work out what happens beyond NA; how best to use my experience in this strange industry. Maybe I detach entirely and try something else; get an ordinary job. That said, I can do good work, and I’ve much to offer. I’d love to work hard for those in need.

I have this exciting and well-researched idea for workshops about visual culture and the things that designers and tech teams often neglect. I might push at some of my writing projects and plans for physical "things". It’s important I try to realise some of my ideas and don’t let fear thwart progress.

I’ll worry about our next visa application because I don’t trust the authorities. I’ll worry about the government, about the union, about inequality, about the rise of racism, the cost of living — about the whole world, and everything in it. I hope to make sense of it all, and find a way to do something positive. I’ll keep educating myself: more books, more art, more ways of seeing — more of everything nutritious. If I can take direct action, I will.

I’ll be grateful that Geri and I have each other, whatever happens. We also have the world’s best cat, and a home. And so, we have more than many in this world, and I will do my best to draw power from such good fortune.

More 2019 roundup posts

2019 in music / 2019 culture top-fives / 2019 in personal projects / 2019 run archive