2016. Quite a year. Not a great one for me. Arguably one of the worst ones.
To keep myself from rambling too much, I’ve decided to take 13 things from my year and write a few things about them. It’s not going to be a wave of unrelenting misery, as the title suggests (to be honest, the phrase ‘an evil dozen’ is there just in case Trent Reznor needs a name for the next Nine Inch Nails record), but some of the bleaker subject material might have a lot more words attached to them.
(As a side-note, these are not the main things that happened in my year. There were two or three particular stories that I’ve chosen to keep private.)
That book in the picture was something I bought on a whim in November. Little did I know how invaluable it would be for me to understand a lot of what happened in 2016.
I first noticed something was up towards the end of January, because I decided to cancel a party at our flat quite suddenly for no good reason. I’d get nervous thinking about it. I was second guessing what was going to happen. I thought it might be a blip. Then, after quite a terrible cold at the end of February, I was very out of sorts for a few weeks. My confidence was being drained. I wasn’t being responsive with people. I was making really simple mistakes. I thought that I was going to lose everything…that sounds very dramatic, but it’s true.
I made a decision in March to get help. From April to the beginning of June, I undertook a five-week course of CBT over the phone with a counsellor who was eager to listen, understanding, and enormously patient. It definitely helped me to understand my condition so much and, whilst I have had the odd blip here and there, I think I’m getting better at managing myself. There are exercises that can be done when needed. There are always opportunities to back away from situations that might make me uncomfortable.
But it’s hard. If you’re not alert to stop the ‘bad thoughts’ early enough, they infect your thinking and your actions. That’s why it’s always going to be an ongoing struggle.
Anxiety has been constant through 2016. Hopefully it won’t be as constant in future years.
I first saw Aurora at The Great Escape in 2015 – two shows, in fact. One was an acoustic performance in a small tent, and the other was in a dark and sweaty nightclub near Brighton beach. She, to be frank, blew everyone else away by being the most genuine, uplifting and euphoric presence imaginable. It’s been quite amazing to watch her profile rise. Her incredible debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, is the default ‘feel good’ record that I go to when feeling low. Its absence from a lot of best album lists astonishes me. Her most recent headlining show at Shepherds Bush Empire was as joyous as it was spellbinding.
One of three mini-breaks in Europe this year (if you exclude the annual trip to Finland, where I go very frequently), primarily for Lollapalooza Berlin. But I did manage to wander around a lot of the city and fell in love with it. It’s such a vibrant place with so much history. One of my more relaxing memories of the year will be decompressing after the festival in a really quiet cocktail bar, with barely anyone in it, with a couple of beers and a coffee before heading to the airport for my flight home
which was delayed by six hours and making me heavily sleep deprived. Bliss.
Another new festival for me this year. I don’t think it is without fault in the way it was organised, but it was still a massive revelation. The experience is unlike anything I’ve seen at any other festival (with the exception of Glastonbury) in terms of some of the weirder moments. Two examples: a man looking like Eugene from Gogol Bordello playing on a travelling piano, and winning prizes from a Tom Waits clone in a strange funfair game. Plus I saw Madness, which is always fun. There was one major downside to the weekend, which we will get to later.
Brexit is one of those things that made me wish that I was a child again and didn’t have to worry about big complicated things. (And I fully accept that that would mean going through the whole bullying thing again, which wasn’t great at all for self-esteem.)
It is hard to explain properly how much the referendum changed my view of the country, the way that politics works in this country, and the media’s role in properly exposing false information and lies. It also took a very long time to find my motivation again. My wife, who is originally from Finland and has lived here for 10 years, was crushed by the result.
My brain knows that this mess that we are now in is only going to get even messier in 2017. But I hope that for every day of rejection, there will be one of jubilation that follows it. That sounds incredibly hippie-ish and optimistic…but it did happen for me this year at least once. On the 25th June, still feeling worried about what was going to happen, I went to the London Pride parade. It was such a happy and jubilant afternoon that I badly needed, enabling me to finally let go of some of the sadness that I had been feeling.
I was fortunate to have a friend who told me it would be a good idea to head on over, who then proceeded to make me feel that my and my wife had support, regardless of what happens next. It reinforced that we do have an incredible support network that we’ve relied on. And continue to rely on. In the wake of such devastating news, it’s all you can ask for.
A busier year than ever at Challengers. Hard to believe that I’ve been there for 4 years now. I wrote a thing on their website, which is part of a new monthly series of blogs, talking about the festive season at Challengers schemes and some of my personal work-related highlights of 2016.
So I injured my knee quite badly at Boomtown Fair on the last day, and it bloody hurt! I was taking down my tent and must have awkwardly twisted it out of shape. The jolt of pain that I then experienced is something I hope never happens again, quite frankly. What made it even worse was the sheer lack of medical assistance from the first aid tents on site, so I had to trundle along for an ENTIRE EVENING with a knee that was swelling up more and more. After an A&E visit the following day, I was on crutches for a good couple of months. The first two weeks of that period, which was spent largely at home, was intensely lonely and my anxiety saw a mini-resurgence at that point. Never again.
Side-note: that pole you can see in the picture is a random ski pole that my friend ‘won’ earlier in the weekend, which she subsequently loaned out to me so that I could use it as a crutch and move around a little easier.
Another mini-trip so that I could see The National at Super Bock Super Rock. I was so sad, in hindsight, that I was only there for 24 hours, because it is a very beautiful city that demanded to be explored. The National were great though, and I can’t wait for the new record to drop next year. It will drop next year, right guys? Right?
Proof that I am a sucker for random flying spheres, I went to see Muse THREE TIMES in 2016. That is three times too many, arguably. However, they hold a special place in my heart. They were a massive part of my teenage years. Even though my affection for them isn’t as strong as it was in the ‘good old days’ (that’s the Absolution period, if you were wondering), the shows themselves were still entertaining and daft in equal measure. Though I did almost get hit by one of their flying inflatables…
I had been waiting to go to Primavera for several years and a chance finally emerged in 2016 to go to Barcelona. We got our tickets before the line up was announced. We couldn’t believe our luck. LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, PJ Harvey, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in full…astonishing. The highlight of that weekend was during All My Friends, the last song of LCD Soundsystem’s triumphant return to Europe following their reformation, and just seeing a sea of grinning faces. People who didn’t honestly believe that they would get a chance to see this glorious moment at all. But it was happening. And it was incredible.
When years are rough, you turn to comfort. For me, the musical equivalent of comfort food is Radiohead. As was mentioned on the All Songs Considered year in review podcast (which I recommend), the release of A Moon Shaped Pool was the right record at the right time. It’s been in heavy rotation all year in my flat. Even more delightful were the three shows I saw this year. Lollapalooza Berlin gave me Let Down, one of my absolute favourites of theirs. Primavera gave me a hits-packed setlist. But the intimate Roundhouse show on my birthday is hard to top. It was one of the few times this year where I truly felt like I was on cloud 9.
I have found it very hard to explain why Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, is my album of the year. My default answer is to instruct people to watch One More Time With Feeling, a film about making a record following an unspeakable and personal tragedy. Tim Lee wrote a fantastic review for MusicOMH that is far more eloquent than anything I could have conjured up. Towards the end of his piece, he says:
At the end of One More Time With Feeling, Cave talks about being hopeful, about it being the best, most defiant gesture in the face of tragedy. It’s hard not to then see that in Skeleton Tree, even amongst all that is wrong and dark and tragic. The last track ends with Cave cooing “and it’s / all right now” over gentle keys and it’s as if Skeleton Tree’s arc, its gaze, is upwards. It has a sense of moving on.
I’ve tried to understand what’s happened this year…and even after writing all of the above, I still don’t really have a handle on it. All I know is that I now have to look forward to 2017. I’m aware that more cultural heroes will die. I’m aware that politics may get worse. I’m aware that my anxiety issues will continue to challenge me. I’m aware of all of that. But I have to believe that it will be better.
Regardless of how your 2016 was, I hope your 2017 is even better.