Me Me Me: My eclectic Top 10 of 2011

1) Dawlish

What to many might be a boring seaside town in Devon, Dawlish has meant more to me in 2011 than anything else.

I lost my mum back in 2006 and, understandably, my dad hasn’t been the same since. One of the big issues was the family home, which he and my mum had moved into together in the ’60s. When they moved into it, South Harrow was a thriving suburb far from the hustle and bustle of central London. Now it’s a grim, fetid overspill with no character, no prospects and no chance.

My parents had talked about moving, but never gotten around to it. Once my mum passed away, it got even worse – my dad hated Harrow, the road, even the house; but his ties ran so deep it made it impossible to let go. While deep down he wanted to move, it was made harder by not really having a particular place he wanted to go.

Marling TowersStep in his friends Hazel and Gordon, who had moved to Dawlish. After many visits to them in the last few years, much to many peoples’ surprise (I always had faith), he finally took the plunge and headed to the coast. Helping him settle in and seeing the instant change in him has made my year.

Zoe and me spent Christmas with him there and it was a lovely, relaxed time (she loves the place too) – there’s simply no comparison to the shit heap that is Harrow now. While I’ll miss my London bolt hole on gig nights, and don’t particularly relish the five-plus hour train trips, I couldn’t be happier for him. Harrow, the Marlings have left the building.

Plus, I’ve caught up with old uni friend Mark, who lives near Exeter, and who’s blog No Crowdsurfing is well worth checking out.

2) Pop Will Eat Itself, Oxford

I won’t blather on about the show – I did enough of that here already. In truth, it wasn’t the greatest gig ever – small crowd, a handful of familiar faces, no support etc etc. But it wasn’t the show itself that puts it up here – it’s that the Poppies are BACK.

3) The basics (work, home, the pub, gaming)

This is going to sound vomit worthy to many, but another hugely important part of 2011 for me were the things that fill in the gaps between all those big events. While there have been a few crappy bits, overall I’ve been very lucky this year.

I’m really happy in my flat with my lady, work is enjoyable, I’m not in debt (bar the stinking mortgage), I have a great pub/friends/social life close to home and my hobbies (gigging, board games etc) are keeping me jolly and sane. You just can’t put a price on this and long may it all continue. Yeah yeah, I know.

4) Old friends

Alongside Beautiful Days (below), 2011 was a good year (once more) for getting out and reliving my well spent youth with other old folk. There were awesome crusty old gigs such as Carter, Stuffies, and Dolittle, with Loudon Wainwright III at the De La Warr Pavillion in sunny Bexhill another big highlight (back in May).

There were also some lovely celebrations and get togethers (Ian Ware’s 40th in Guildford, Lauren and Barney’s wedding in Cambridge, coming second in the Hatchenders Fantasy Football in London). Cheers to you all, you fast greying mother fuckers.

5) New York

I was going to do a blog about my trip to New York in October, but just didn’t get round to it. I think that because it was second trip to the city, that tourism wasn’t our main reason for going (it was the lovely wedding of the equally lovely Paul Goodwin and Annie Dressner) and that I didn’t do much ‘new’ stuff it just didn’t really feel very blog worthy.

That said, it was a fantastic trip. Unless you really (and I mean really) hate cities, you have to visit New York at some point – and for at least a week. From the big obvious sites to just hanging out, eating and exploring, it’s a unique, exciting and exhilarating place to be that has a completely different feel from other capital cities, as well as other places I’ve visited in America.

New for me this time was going into the Guggenheim (quite a bit of which was closed, unfortunately, but it was still a great museum), the M&M Store (what…?) and the brilliantly conceived and executed High Line Park (a part of the overhead train line transformed into a walkway/garden). Sadly no sport this time though.

But Central Park, the Empire State, Time Square, the Statue of Liberty – all were just as great the second time as they had been the first. And then there’s the delis, the shopping, Peter Luger’s steak house (oh my…), walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, even Grand Central Station. Good times.

Also, there’s something special about going to a fabulous place you know a little bit about with someone that hasn’t been before (it was Zoe’s first trip). And as an added bonus it gave me a chance to catch up with old friend Claudia, which was lovely (if too short).

6) The New Forest

Possibly my favourite place to be in the world, trips to the New Forest, Hampshire are always a highlight of my year. This one was Zoe’s first proper holiday there since childhood, even though it was only a long weekend, and we had a fantastic time walking, relaxing and eating/drinking nice grub/booze. And all thanks to Tesco vouchers/New Forest Hotels (we stayed at the Beaulieu, which was great).

While its simply raw beauty is enough to beguile most people, along with the ponies/pigs/deer/gawd knows what else running free, it holds a lot more for me. Some of my best childhood memories are born here, while the grandparents I stayed with back then are now scattered there (as is my favourite dog ever, TJ’s springer Luna).

I fully plan to head there again in 2012, so will properly bore you rigid about it then (if you’re good).

7) The Cambridge Folk Festival

Not a vintage year, but certainly an improvement on the last two (which were a bit disappointing musically, despite a few outstanding performances).

We had a great camp set up, with Zoe and me joined by Yvonne (her last folkie before moving to New Zealand), Morph and Davina (their first full weekend), plus the old school Swedish contingent (Janne and Staffan).

The Cambridge Folk Festival itself is like an old jumper now. This was my 18th in a row and the ninth year I’d written the programme notes, and it’s nice to know where everything is, who’s doing what where etc. And it has a lovely atmosphere, plus nice toilets (hey, I’m getting on a bit now).

Musically there were some great moments. Highlights for me were Richard Thompson, Frank Turner, James Vincent McMorrow, Orkestra del Sol, The Spooky Men’s Chorale, Brian McNeill, Katzenjammer and Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs. Not much folk, admittedly, but good times aplenty.

8) Beautiful Days Festival

For atmosphere and a good camping crew, this was every bit the equal of Cambridge. There were some brilliant musical moments too, with Carter USM, Levellers, PWEI, Stereo MCs and I Am Kloot topping up their pensions with gusto. Special mention for comedian Bob Mills too – silly, rude and very, very funny man.

It’s in a beautiful part of the world and with the exception of the stupid bloody hills and a bit of slightly dodgy health on my part, Beautiful Days was a great festival. Cheers to Gary and Alex, Ian and Lauren, Duffield and Sally, Steve, Ben and Steve for a cracking weekend.

I’d certainly go again, but will be holding out on the line-up to see if it’ll tempt me. With a trip to Greece already booked, a hankering to do the Essen Games Fair this year, a pull towards Goteborg after a year off and the Cambridge Folk Festival work in the bag again for 2012, the line-up is going to have to be pretty special.

9) Barcelona

This was a work trip, taken on my own, but hey – it was still Barcelona. It was my third visit, the second for Mobile World Congress (MWC), but the city has lost none of its majesty over time; in fact it now vies with Prague and Stockholm as my favourite European city.

Barcelona has an awful lot going for it. Alongside the sea and the Mediterranean attitude common among many places in this part of the world, Barcelona has architectural and artistic highs that perfectly suit my tastes, alongside an enviable night life and restaurant scene.

I stayed in an OK hotel, close enough to my favourite little bar (Alsur Cafe) and the metro to make me feel like I was at home. MWC is a massive telecoms conference, and daunting at first, but second time around it wasn’t quite so manic. I felt confident, got some good work done and generally felt at ease, if crazily busy.

Unfortunately I managed to get ill so couldn’t really enjoy the trip as much as I’d have liked, but just being in Barcelona for a week was enough to get the trip onto this list. Again, I’m signed up for 2012, so I’ll blog properly on it around February/March time.

10) The future

Again, a bit naff perhaps, but I’m genuinely looking forward to the new year. As mentioned above trips to Barcelona and Greece, plus maybe my first trip to Germany and a return to Goteborg, are all on the cards; Dawlish is a new quick break destination, while we’ve enough Tesco vouchers for another New Forest break; plus a new year’s resolution should see me make trips to a few friends who I’d really like to catch up with.

2011 has seen several good friends getting more into board games, with others a possibility, so expanding that hobby to more people, rather than adding a lot more games, is something else I’m looking forward to. As for music, Pop Will Eat Itself for two weeks in March is ON – everything else will be a bonus.

Work looks like it might throw up some interesting challenges, while as long as things in the flat don’t fall to bits all should be stable on the home front (fingers/toes etc crossed). Here’s to 2012 – bring it on!

Highly commended

There were so many great one-off nights out such as MJ Hibbett in Cambridge,  Weakerthans in Camden and Supercross at The O2 which came really close to the list.

It would also be remiss not to mention fantastic gigs featuring Half Man Half Biscuit; Chris T-T; Wave Pictures & Pony Collaboration; Blancmange; Tellison; Hadouken!; Adam Ant; Rival Schools; Gary Numan, and Jeffrey Lewis.

… and finally, four wooden spoons

It wasn’t all good. Alongside some truly frustrating problems with the flat (boiler failures, power cuts, broadband nightmares) there were a lot of bad days too, with these things being the cause of the worst of them.

1) Football

I’ve been an Arsenal fan forever. I chose at 11, and I’m stuck with them. It’s the law. But I just don’t feel part of it any more – the prices, the players who don’t care, the club that cares even less. A part from being in my DNA, Arsenal and I have nothing in common.

Yet, thanks to the stinking Premiership and the FA, those stupid wages and player fees have trickled right through the system so that I expect I’d be charged £10 to watch a bunch of fat greengrocers have a kick about on Hackney Marshes on a Sunday afternoon (or even worse Peterborough United). More anon.

2) Ciarafest

I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the Ciarafest gigs over the years. But since Midway Still really took the piss in December 2010 I’ve been needing something to get my heart back into it. Sadly, that hasn’t happened.

Ciarafest 16, back in May, was almost brilliant. Emily Barker & Gill Sandell, The Travis Waltons, Liam Dullaghan anf SH Davison (from Tellison) all put on great shows, but I flogged away as hard as I could to get things going and still hardly anyone showed (in comparison to previous gigs).

I hope it won’t have been the last one, but with things not looking hopeful with the co-organiser I don’t really know where it’s going, if anywhere. Fingers crossed that 2012 will see a renaissance, but I won’t be holding my breath.

3) Online gaming

This should be a topic for a lengthier post, so I won’t stay on this too long. But my god, what a terrible year in MMORPGs. Rift? Shit. Star Wars? Shit. That was it; two derivative games lacking any real innovation or imagination. It speaks volumes that Mine Craft (a cheap ass bedroom project with more ideas than the other two games put together) took way more column inches than either of those titles.

All I hope is that Secret Worlds becomes at least half the game it’s promising to be (that alone should be worth the entrance fee), while the likes of rift and Star Wars are pulled – pushing the industry into some hard decisions, and hopefully down some more interesting avenues.

4) Happy apathy

And finally (promise), there was the apathy that being happy allows to creep in; that “let’s just stay in” conversation that sees so many opportunities – especially to see new bands – pass by.

While it’s born out of good feelings, my biggest regrets of 2011 are not seeing enough music while putting on a bit of weight. So, 2012, bring it on – more gigs, less pies. Awesome.

2 thoughts on “Me Me Me: My eclectic Top 10 of 2011

  1. Great post, I’ve enjoyed this resurgence of yours in the ways of blogging. If nothing else it’s been an inspiration to me to get on a nd write more myself. So many ideas (well some), so little time. Thanks for the plug by the way.
    Your thoughts on Dawlish were touching and I look forward this year to seeing you on more visits to delightful Devon. Us Getting back in touch was one of my highlights of last year. Happy new year!

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