My yearly reviews are normally pretty long affairs, but this year is particularly lengthy! That's mainly because – for reasons covered below – it's been quite a busy year, with some major events that I fully intended to document in their own, dedicated blog posts. But here we are, at the dawn of 2022, and those blog posts are barely more than small scraps of virtual post-it notes. So, instead, I've decided to cover those big events in much more detail within this post; to clear the metaphorical slate. As always, if you're more interested in the high-level stuff, just skip to the "Looking Ahead" section. I've tried to leave any necessary context in there as well. Ultimately, I write these posts mainly for me, and doubt many other people ever read them, so I'm not going to lose too much sleep over making this a bit overloaded 😉
Our 2021 started with a very literal bang... we just weren't there to hear it 😅 On New Years Eve 2020 (exact time unknown, but I like to believe that it coincided with the final iconic bong of Big Ben) our flat was broken into. This would have been quite shocking to us, except we were actually trapped in Cumbria at the time and were therefore blissfully unaware. How did we get trapped in Cumbria? We'd gone up to see my parents just as government restrictions were beginning to escalate. I'm still not 100% sure whether our November escape from London – in the midst of the Tier system and their ever-changing goalposts – scraped through on a technicality or not but, even if we didn't follow the exact wording of the system, we certainly followed the spirit, quarantining and distancing until we'd formed a perfectly safe bubble.
We hadn't left a moment too soon, either. Pretty much as soon as we arrived at my parents, London slid into Tier 3, then Tier 4 – making it (I think) illegal for us to go home – before Britain ultimately entered our third full lockdown of the pandemic. As a result, we found ourselves significantly extending our time in Cumbria – and very glad that we'd taken our work laptops, PS4, and various other distractions and necessities with us!
Back in Fulham, we'd at least planned for a certain level of flexibility, ensuring that the flat was kept warm (but not too warm) and that everything was vaguely tidy and together. We had friends nearby who could pop round in a pinch, but we generally hoped to be back shortly after Christmas and figured the house plants could just about look after themselves until then. As the lockdown loomed, however, we began considering at least letting our landlords know, but, in typical fashion for our current government, the constant flip-flopping on policy kept us unsure of what we needed to say.
All of that came to a head on New Years Day, when our upstairs neighbours messaged us to say that the main door to our shared entrance hall had been found open: they had been burgled. From what they could see, our flat was fine, but we should probably make sure. We messaged our landlords who, thankfully, only lived a few minutes away and were able to rush round to check. It turns out that our flat hadn't been fully ignored; whoever had gained entry on the ground floor had tried to crowbar open our door but, fortunately, the doorframe had cracked in such a way as to make this much harder. I guess the door to the top-floor flat had given more easily, so they focused their efforts there and then hightailed it away. Our stuff was safe and, apart from some necessary repairs on the doorframe, the flat was in one piece. Our landlords were a little miffed that we hadn't given them more notice, but in our defence, we'd only planned to be gone for a couple of weeks, tops, which normally wouldn't have required that.
In the end, only one very fancy watch was actually reported stolen from upstairs, and the case was closed without our involvement. Still, the experience crystallised a feeling that our time in Fulham was perhaps coming to an end. Our upstairs neighbours – pleasant enough as they were – had begun leading lives that we struggled to agree with (dogs, parties, early-morning piano lessons), whilst the restaurant downstairs had used the second lockdown to renovate their sound system, something which they were increasingly fond of showing off around 1 AM. With an attempted break-in and our time in Cumbria highlighting how much green space and time with friends had become something rare in our lives, 2021 became the year we got serious about finding a place of our own.
I'm glad to say that the rest of the year followed a generally upwards trend. Yes, COVID continued to dominate both our lives and the broader global narrative, once again putting off any plans of international travel or adventure, but unlike the year before this now felt less like something to wait out and more that it had become a new normal.
By mid-February, with the lockdown still in force but the break-in fairly fresh in our minds, we decided we'd been away too long. Our time in Cumbria had been restorative, but I'm glad we chose to (once again) take a slightly poetic reading of the rules and just go home. What had started as a break from everything was beginning to be a roadblock to meaningful progress.
At the same time, Alison was on the verge of leaving her job for the past four years to begin a new chapter at a big, fancy consulting firm. This, too, would have been further complicated if we'd not had access to things like proof of address, so we felt we had a decent enough excuse to act on, so loaded the car and went on our merry way.
Once back in London (and after quarantining again), we began house hunting in earnest, spending most weekends driving around, frantically evaluating parts of the city we'd never previously heard of, whilst juggling estate agent's calendars in a slightly manic equivalent of "pin the tail on the donkey". We had failed to pay attention to the government regulatory changes, enacted to help boost the housing market during the first two lockdowns, and found ourselves thrown into a free-for-all sellers' market thanks to a significantly reduced level of stamp duty. It seemed that anyone who had been considering selling their house in the past ten years was now rushing to make it available, and anyone wanting to buy was desperate to get the ball rolling before the tax breaks came to an end. Whilst the stamp duty limits would ultimately be frozen at their low rates for another few months, the insanity of those six-or-so weeks had an outsized impact on our options.
We found that properties would be advertised, viewed, and purchased, all within a few days of one another. Prices were high, so under-offering was practically impossible and most homes were selling for 5-10% above the asking price. The market had also been saturated. In early March, as many as a dozen properties that we would have been interested in would go on the market each week, and be taken off by the start of the next. It. Was. Nuts.
Our first proper day of house viewings resulted in two things: we slightly fell for a small, old town centre called Carshalton; and we found a property that ticked a lot of our boxes. It was just outside our budget but the estate agent reckoned they would want a quick sale, and we had a good chat with the owner's son who said all the right things and made all the right noises. It was within walking distance of train stations, shops, and parks, and it even had a small stream (and bridge!) at the front. As a result, we found ourselves – having expected to spend several months looking – making an offer on a property just weeks into really deciding to properly look! Luckily – in hindsight – the offer fell through, but not because we low-balled them (too much): the property was taken off the market after the direct neighbour had swooped in with a fairly ridiculous counter, with the intent to knock through and turn their home into a huge, multimillion-pound house 😬 Ridiculously, a house across the street, which we'd also viewed and then considered offering on as well, was also removed from the market, because the owners had decided not to bother with the faff after all.
As I say, the housing market was a bit intense, and that rate of "advertise, view, sell" only escalated in the coming weeks. Over the following month we would view several dozen properties, with each one slowly narrowing our requirements or allowing us to rule out certain areas that had, on paper, seemed like a good idea. We made several more offers – a black-tar bungalow with a wonderful, sweeping front lawn that fronted a major road, and a quirky little hidden barbeque atrium; a split-level, penthouse flat with private roof terrace and all the mod cons; and several other close-calls that we never quite pulled the trigger on – and had begun to get almost a little blase about the whole process. Then, as March came to a close, we set off on a fairly intense weekend with almost a dozen scheduled bookings, including one last-minute addition which I was pretty excited about. Alison was slightly less convinced, and the only way we could fit it into the day was by sprinting from one property a block or two away, whipping round in less than ten minutes, and then running off to another option immediately, but we made it work in the end.
We spent about six minutes inside the house, and another couple checking out the garden and driveway. We barely had any time to ask questions; the roof was off access, as was the garage; and we spent the whole thing trying to catch our breath through tight masks and hand sanitiser fumes, whilst also attempting to present ourselves as competent adults who wouldn't pose a flight risk.
Despite the rushed viewing and hectic schedule, we both agreed: this was something special. We submitted an offer the next day. Having missed out already on three excellent properties, none of which had felt quite as good as this one, we decided to not mess around and jumped straight in with a value 5% over the asking price.
What followed was a nerve-wracking Monday, waiting for the obligatory callback that would inevitably say "the vendors like your offer, but there have been other strong contenders, so we're asking for your second-and-final now". But the call never came. Then, on Tuesday, Alison's phone rings. We're told that they've already gone through final offers, but the estate agents decided not to ask us, because our offer was already considered "competitive". My stomach sunk. For the last property that we'd offered on – the flat – we'd ended up putting in 10% over the asking price and someone had still outbid us so completely we'd just been sidelined. We had been fully prepared to go another 5% on top of our existing over-offer; the money was all lined up, that had been our plan, and now the estate agent was going to screw it up!
Wednesday rolled around and Alison's phone rings, again. With crossed fingers and sweaty palms, we answered. Had we been outbid? Had the estate agents messed it all up?
Nope. We got the house. Didn't even need to up our offer, they were happy. We got the house. They were looking to move ASAP and already had somewhere lined up. We got the house. We got. The house.
The next few weeks were a scramble. We were heading into April with a new stamp duty deadline of July that would save us a significant chunk of money – £15,000! As first time buyers (which, it turns out, had massively worked in our favour) we were the end of the chain and the place the vendors had offered on was already empty, so no delays there either. Perfect!
We rang up solicitors, we engaged house insurers, we organised electrical safety tests, housing surveys, and council checks. Back in February, when we'd arrived back in London, we'd stuck up a bunch of foam boards across one wall in our lounge and pinned maps to it to visualise our house hunting search. Now it was a mass of post-it notes; a twisted Kanban board of deadlines and daily tasks, all plotted out to ensure we were constantly progressing. Everything was going smoothly on our end: the mortgage was approved, then the surveys all passed, and we even got insurance lined up.
But then the vendors pulled out of their purchase. Their surveys hadn't passed; far from it 😬 They were still keen to move before the July deadline though, so we kept planning for it and making good progress. But as the weeks inched on and they still hadn't settled on a new place, it began looking less and less likely. I began keeping a close eye on the housing market in general, just in case the worst happened, but this only served to pile the pressure on: no one was selling anymore. Those manic weeks at the start of the year had obviously shifted every property that was likely to come onto the market for the foreseeable future. If we lost this place, it wouldn't just be a loss of our favourite find, it would likely set us back a year or so. Pulling out was definitely not an option.
Eventually, we gave up on the stamp duty rebate, rebudgeted and made our peace with the increased price. I mean, we'd been planning on offering more than £15k as a second offer anyway, so whilst it was money bitterly lost, it wasn't the end of the world. We even got a second visit to the property out of it, which meant we could properly measure up the rooms, see inside the garage, and meet at least one of the vendors in person. (Luckily, we still really liked the place once we'd spent a bit more time there 😄)
Time ticked on, and the July deadline came and went. We were told that they'd definitely be done by August. Definitely. But August came and was rapidly disappearing, too. We began to get a little concerned, because a secondary tax deadline of September 1st hadn't been something we'd considered missing. Plus, our mortgage offer expired on that same day. Oh, dear...
We began to put the pressure on, hinting at renegotiations, pointing out our lost savings as a result of still having to pay rent (thank god we were on a flexible contract and hadn't already handed in notice!), moaning about additional costs of living, etc. etc.
As the final week of September approached, we drew a line in the sand, in part thanks to our (excellent) solicitor. It was now or never; we needed a closing date. Of course, we were terrified. Terrified that we'd push too hard and they'd pull the deal; terrified we'd alienate them and they'd do something to the house before they left; terrified that some domino, somewhere, would fall and take down the whole shaky structure. But, in the end, it worked. With days left on our offer, and despite several sudden last-minute fits from the vendors when their moving van fell through and they tried to postpone, we were in. The deal was done. The keys were in our hands. We owned a friggin' house!
Unsurprisingly, September and October were largely filled with boxes. Alison's parents were kind enough to drop some off with us (back in April, when we thought the move was imminent 😄) and we padded out the rest with what we had lying around. Because we had a minimum notice period on the flat, we didn't need to worry about the whole "single-day move" concept, instead performing shuttle runs most weekends with various bits and pieces, unloading the boxes and returning to refill them.
We ultimately did need to hire a van, but luckily only for a single journey, allowing us to shift the bulkiest furniture in one go. By mid-October we'd spent a couple of nights in the new place, mainly to facilitate stuff like broadband engineers and receipt of deliveries. I'd even worked from the house for a few days, laptop balanced on an old chest of drawers whilst I sat, hunched, on a fold-up slatted chair.
My parents came for a quick visit and dropped off my old bed, a small double that we could use in our spare room (though, for about a month, it served as the main bed in the house), just in time for our annual Halloween celebrations. The usual gang were particularly kind and came to visit the new place, despite us not really having much set up; still, it worked and it made the house feel more like a home than it had before 😊
Following Halloween, we finally managed to get some work booked in. The house was in pretty good nick, all told, but there were a few small lifestyle improvements which made sense to get done ASAP, before our main furniture had been put in place. The first was a minor bathroom renovation, ripping out an old sink and broken wall mirror and installing a shower above the bath. Despite a couple of teething issues, this was immediately worthwhile; I just don't understand how people survive with nothing but a bath for a whole household!
We also had some electrical work done, partly to replace the fusebox (the one area that the survey had marked as "needs some work") but mainly to triple the number of outlets in the property and run ethernet to every room (bar kitchen and bathroom, for now 😏). Despite a slightly bizarre set-up in the garage, and some dubious work filling in the chases that they ran in the lounge, the availability of electricity and internet wherever you want it is so nice after years of renting. On the other hand, my decision to have all the light switches changed for dimmers, despite not having dimmable light fixtures in place, may have been a step too far. We live, we learn 😅
November was our final month in Fulham. We spent most of the time packing and straightening up the old flat, filling in picture hooks and painting over knocks and scrapes. It looked so much better by the time we were done, but I wasn't exactly sad to leave.
There's a lot that I'll miss about living on Fulham Palace Road. Having the Thames, and Fulham Palace Park, only a minute or two away; the old running route between Hammersmith and Putney bridges; living outside a 24-hour bus stop that would take you straight into Piccadilly, up to Paddington, out to Camden, or down to Putney; being able to walk to the cinema, South Kensington, Hyde Park, London WWT, Putney Heath, and, indeed, being able to walk home from central London at the end of a night, if you felt like it. Kew Gardens and the District Line. Friday cocktails at the V&A on the way back from work. And, of course, I'll definitely miss several of the restaurants and takeaways – Chosen Bun, Kokoro (though we can at least get this delivered still), Ta'mini, Flavourtown, Absurd Bird, Pizza Hut (which we can no longer get 😞), 696 Mangal, the cakes at Sam's Larder, and yes, even La Pizzica beneath us – I'll certainly miss their food and beer, even if I won't mourn their music!
Plus, of course, living so close to Tom and Julia, Becky and Diego, and having such quick access to so many of our other friends. But times, they are a-changing, and I sure as hell won't miss the noise, the dust from the main road, the roof garden that went slimy in the winter and melted in the summer, or having to park the car streets away and then periodically go and check that the parking restrictions hadn't been silently changed, yet again. And speaking of the seasons, here's hoping that the new place will actually be warm in the winter and cool (enough) in the summer; no more of this freezing, then boiling, because you either can't close the windows enough to cut out draughts or can't open them enough to get any meaningful airflow 😅
And, on the other hand, there's everything we're giddily looking forward to. Having space for guests! Space for Alison to have both an area to work at and a table to eat at. Having a garden, our own little chunk of green, where we can grow things properly and maybe even rewild a little. A bathroom with natural light (and no mice!). A craft area. A garage for the car so that it doesn't permanently seize up. Being able to put up our own shelves and picture hooks, paint rooms the colour we want, and not have to just live with things like a pockmarked floor because it's "good enough". Sure, there's no safety net when something goes wrong, but I'm not about to miss throwing away nearly a grand a month (each!) without ever seeing anything in return for that "investment", either.
I loved living in Fulham. It was a great base to experience London from. But I'm more than ready for a new adventure that better fits life as we live it now.
Of course, 2021 was the year of adulting. I haven't given it that moniker just because we bought a house (and did some minor renovation work on it). I mean, sure, that is one of the most "adult" things either of us have ever done... but what happened in May could potentially top that particular chart.
Y'see, unknown to Alison, our time in Cumbria had finally given me the space to come to some additional conclusions. Technically, I'd made some of those decisions back in 2019, but the pandemic had utterly ruined any associated plans. It wouldn't be until November/December 2020 that I'd revisit those thoughts and rearrange them a little to fit our new world a bit better.
So when we arrived back in London, house hunting wasn't the only set of plans I put into motion. I also began approaching various jewellers. I had, in fact, begun doing this from Cumbria, but with little success. Back in the South, I finally struck on both a look and a craftsman that felt right. By March that plan had evolved and Alison's parents had (slightly unknowingly) been roped in so that, by her 30th birthday in April, the last couple of pieces of the puzzle were able to slot into place.
The jeweller I'd been chatting with had a speciality for working with antique metals and gems; this focus on reuse and recycling was a large part of the appeal for why I had reached out in the first place. He'd suggested using family gold – an idea I loved – and Alison's parents were happy to help by donating various old, broken trinkets that had some kind of familial history attached. A cut ring from each grandmother, a lone cufflink from a grandfather that had lost its twin, that sort of thing. With a birthday meet-up planned (at Harold Hilliers, of course) it became the perfect opportunity for a secret handoff.
The meet-up also gave me the chance to complete an old tradition: the asking of the hand. Of course, you can't do that if the persons being asked already know about your intent, so I'd slightly stretched the truth when enquiring about the heritage gold. Her parents knew that it was for a piece of jewellery, but thought that it was for her birthday. I don't really know how much they'd pieced together, but when I revealed my true intentions, neither seemed anything but surprised. Thankfully, they also both gave their blessing, not just for the whole hand-asking bit but for the slightly different use of the gold as well.
The next week I made some utterly moronic excuse about having to drop off some files with a work colleague; yes, digital files, that for some reason I couldn't email (🤦♂️ I'd had months – years even! – to come up with something better, but oh well) and drove over to North Sheen, to see the jeweller. I had with me the family gold from Alison's parents, some arbitrarily inferred finger dimensions, and a South African diamond. The diamond had been a bit of a mission! Long story short: due to a complete breakdown in supply chains, due to both COVID and the whole stuck-ship in the Suez Canal ordeal, it ended up being easier for me to import it directly via a third party. Getting into the international gem trade had not been on my list of priorities for the year, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I first feared 😂
With the raw materials with the jeweller, a design agreed, and timeframes set, it was just a matter of waiting. Despite an initial hiccough where the gem was mounted through ninety degrees – which wouldn't quite have worked – a few weeks later I found myself making another half-brained excuse to run out one lunchtime and, on the corner of Fulham Palace Park, was handed the finished product. A single, baguette-cut diamond, sunk along the axis of a simple, hand-finished and slightly beaten band, made of the yellow heritage gold. It was perfect.
Flash forward a few weeks and, just as we're discovering that the vendors have lost their property, I put my plans into motion. For her birthday, I gave Alison a kite-flying token for Box Hill, a National Trust wilderness area just south of London; close enough for a quick trip, but far enough to ensure we'd need a whole day. This had always been a cover story. In normal times, I think a restaurant might have worked; the original plan was to do all of this in South Africa, under a star-filled sky out in the bush. But these are COVID times, and both restaurants and international travel are off the table, so it needed to be outside, big enough for some privacy, and interesting enough to warrant the necessary travel. Hence, kite flying and National Trust.
The day itself didn't exactly go to plan. Between travel times and weather conditions, everything ended up a little delayed. We managed a nice walk, an excellent picnic lunch (also part of the whole voucher schtick), and were generally having a nice time, but I couldn't find a good place for the whole, y'know, knee-and-question bit. Luckily, a post-lunch walk led us to a secluded spot on the back of the hills, lit up in sunlight, looking out over a leafy valley and surrounded by orchids, dog roses, and all manner of butterflies. And there was a bench! We'd found the ideal location.
Calling a stop was simple enough. We sat on the bench for a minute or two, drank some water, nibbled some leftover treats. I awkwardly suggested a selfie and began setting up my tripod and camera. The intention here was to film the whole ordeal; I hadn't banked on the tripod bracket breaking on me 🤦♂️😅 Ten minutes later, with much help from Alison's DIY skills and a couple of weak excuses as to why we should still bother with the whole photo affair, we take a couple of shots, I realise I've worn entirely the wrong clothes, hit record, and announce that there's one more birthday surprise, I just need to dig it out of the bag.
I quickly realise that I can't reframe the camera now and that we're almost certainly out of focus (we were) and slightly out of frame (that too). I realise that the ring box is a bit tricky to open (I scoured the web for a good one and ended up buying seven, just to find something that vaguely worked). I'm flustered, and all the things I'd planned to say, all the talking points I've been making notes on for at least two years (realistically, much longer) just evaporate out of my mind. It becomes apparent that I'm warbling and visibly nervous and have brought Alison to some remote hillside, pulled something hidden out of a bag that is now behind my back, and that there would be no witnesses...
Okay, that last one is a stretch, but what I'm trying to say is that the actual moment was not exactly that poetic. I rushed through a half-remembered list of thoughts, knelt down, revealed the ring, and asked the question. Luckily, my delivery wasn't offputting enough for the meaning to be lost. She said yes. I produced some champagne and glasses from another secret pocket. We sat in slightly shocked silence for a while. I remembered the camera was still rolling. That one man who had been power walking all over the hill, all day, came past for the third time and gave us a slightly quizzical look.
We were engaged.
I still owe her the kite flying.
So that's the main story of 2021. We bought a house. We got engaged. We moved. (Not strictly in that order). Of course, plenty of other, more normal things happened too; the kind of stuff that normally makes up the bulk of one of these posts, in fact!
On the health front, I finally finished my physiotherapy to a resounding dull thud of zero progress (and, arguably, a general worsening of conditions) so wound up in an MRI at the start of April. I got the all-clear and basically wound up dropping out of the programme as no one had any further ideas of where to go next. Then in May, whilst trying to find a good place to propose, I got bitten by a tick and ended up contracting Lyme Disease.
Luckily (sort of), in a weird set of coincidences, our close friend Julia had the same thing happen to her at the same time (minus the proposal bit) and, at a meal with her and Tom, I realised that this was probably why I'd been feeling rotten for the last couple of weeks. I say luckily because we were both treated in time and made full recoveries, which I may not have managed without her helping me put two and two together. Still, as a result of that and an ongoing (misdiagnosed, it turns out) bacterial infection I picked up the previous November, I spent almost half the year taking one form of antibiotic or another. That's been fun, particularly with my pre-existing IBS 😂
On the other hand, my anxiety is better than ever and, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, we're now both fully vaccinated for COVID (and boosted too, just after Christmas). Not only was the process surprisingly easy – and included a fun, slightly bizarro trip to the Science Museum for round two – but it also ushered in a new phase on the whole global pandemic malarkey. Despite the more recent emergence of Omicron, there were times when 2021 almost felt normal again. The masks are still firmly on and we never leave the house without hand sanitiser, but we did have a bit of a social life this year.
Two of our university friends got married (not to one another): Bridget had a small gathering and a pub lock-in; Johnny went with a more traditional church ceremony (at the Barbican, of all places) followed by an ale-filled after-party (and interspersed, for us at least, with an excellent meal out with a great combination of old housemates). Speaking of the Barbican, we also resumed in-person drumming, for a while at least (the whole moving house thing made it a bit tricky). We even played a couple of gigs, including a fancy charity fundraiser and a full-on march as part of the COP26 protests.
My monthly digital board game nights with the old Content team turned into IRL pub evenings (still with board games, of course), which have been great fun. We've been round to see Adrian and Nat's new place, and spent more than a couple of nights out with friends enjoying takeaway on the Thameside or eating at outdoor restaurants. Hell, just before Christmas we almost managed a Hawthorn Terrace reunion; if you swap Adrian for Boocks then we managed something that hasn't happened in almost a decade! (And which did, technically, happen at Johnny's wedding anyway, even if James is a little fuzzy on the details 😄)
We saw a lot more of family in 2021 as well. Alongside semi-regular trips to Hampshire to meet up with Alison's parents, we also stayed in an Airbnb down in Budleigh for a week to spend socially-distanced time with them in July. Despite my continued ill fortune with watching England play football, the cream teas, good walks, fish'n'chips on the beach, and various excellent outings – including a slightly epic trip down to Cornwall to see a much-desired museum exhibition and visit Chloe and family at their new home/project, plus a stop-off to see Tessa and co on our way back – all made for a great break away from solicitors, vendors, and looming deadlines.
In more local news, Alison's American cousin Claire moved to the country with her partner, Dylan, which has meant multiple visits from Sarah, a meal out with Arthur, and several days spent playing disc golf in Croydon. We also managed a surprise party (of sorts) for Alison's birthday, with a small family gathering of various cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends at Victoria Park, complete with a surprise-in-surprise song and dance routine, organised by Tess 😁
On my end, the main family gathering was, sadly, my great aunt's funeral. More happily, we managed to meet up with my parents and my gran just before Christmas for a lovely, fancy day out in the New Forest – a much more upbeat visit to end the year on! I also spent a week with my parents back at the start of December. That wasn't so much a holiday, per se; I went up to sort through the attic and cupboards in my old bedroom, pulling out everything I could find and deciding once and for all: keep, chuck, donate, or sell. It was more than a little stressful (I had bit off more than I bargained for) but it was one heck of a positive step towards getting control of that part of my life. Now I just need to bring it all down to Carshalton in 2022!
Work continues apace, with Alison starting her new role in May (as if that month didn't have enough life events already!) and quickly gathering two projects under her belt. I'm still with STech – no plans to the contrary for now – and have happily levelled up to "Mid" on the old front-end job ladder 😄 That coincided with my first project as technical lead, giving me complete control over the implementation of a new design system for the business, including integrated theming (currently supporting dark mode, but with much broader long-term scope). It was a huge amount of fun, incredibly challenging, and really helped reinforce that my passions lie in building accessible, responsive, and robust UIs. I've also discovered that I get a yearly training budget, which I managed to put to good use attending a couple of conferences and even taking part in my first technical workshop, Cassie Evan's exceptional Mastering SVG Animation, which was an absolute blast.
At a personal level, I also made solid progress on this little corner of the web, launching a brand new microsite (hopefully the first of many) where I can catalogue my growing music collection, as well as making great headway on my site's back end for life-logging. Whilst that has come at the cost of a much reduced Journal over the past six months or so, I plan to get the front end built properly in 2022, at which point I'll be pretty close to having the flexibility I've always wanted.
So that was the year that was; the year of adulting, and adulting pretty darn hard, even if I say so myself 😏 Once again, it wasn't quite the year we intended, but it's certainly a year with a huge amount of big – some might say stupendous – outcomes.
Now, this is the point in the whole review process where I would normally look back at what I'd written in the previous January, consider what my goals and ambitions for the year had been, and see what matched up with reality. But because 2020 was, well, 2020, I never managed to write last year's Year Of. What I will say is that I think most of what I'd hoped to do in 2021 actually happened, and I'm pretty pleased with that.
With that said, what about 2022? Pandemic notwithstanding, what are my hopes and desires for the next 12 months? As usual, I'm going to break this into my normal sections of things that I want to say goodbye to in 2022, things I want to begin in the coming months, and the bits that I'm generally happy with and hope to continue doing. There is a little overlap here, but I'm trying not to be too granular, so that was bound to happen.
- Archiving. The last two years have included some pretty significant progress in my attempts to sort out my life. In 2020 I successfully finished digitising all the game and tech magazines that I've bought since 2010, plus most of the other varieties too. Last year I finally went through everything still in-store at my parents and sorted it into keep/recycle/throw/donate piles, three of which are now fully dealt with. But I still need to go through the "keep" pile and work out what to do with everything. I also need to dig through the last boxes from the move. And I still need to clear out unwanted bulk from my filing systems, both digital and IRL. That's going to be a major focus for 2022, by the end of which I'd like to at least have better systems in place for archiving and storing information as cleanly as possible, even if I'm still working through the backlog.
- Hiding my life logs. This is a weird one, but for the last year I've proven that my new check-in and journalling system is both enjoyable and (largely) manageable. The next step – much like with reviews heading into 2020 – is to build the public front end for that information. There are some major hurdles to overcome in order to make that a reality, not least of which is the anonymisation of those friends and family who are liable to get caught up in that information, but I've spent months considering how I might solve these issues – now I just need to test and implement those solutions.
- Avoiding my health. The last year has included some fairly big health scares. Luckily everything has been fine so far, but it has made me realise that I need to get a bit more on top of this part of my life. The move is a good excuse to finally go back to a dentist and an optician, as a starting point.
- Building the music microsite. I spent a good chunk of 2021 creating a microsite to house my growing vinyl collection, with some clever little Last.fm integrations that have finally made my dream of analogue scrobbling a reality. However, there are a few features that have been sat at 80% completion for months that would provide slightly more granular control, and a couple of fun little tweaks that I'd still like to make. I've also failed to publish half of the blog posts I have started on the project. My aim is to draw a line under it all this year and come out the other end with a site that just works, with no real future maintenance necessary.
- Collections. To be clear, I don't want to get rid of my collections, but for the last decade I've been slowly chipping away at a few series of things. I've got a good batch of hardcover Discworld novels; half of the Knightfall saga and about a third of the Darkest Night/Brightest Day arc; not-quite-complete runs of Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four; and a few other incomplete, similar sets. It's horribly consumerist, but if I'm going to bother I might as well try to round these off, so I can actually enjoy them at long last.
- Planning a new life, together. As I've said multiple times, last year included some pretty major milestones, but one of those was more of a postponed promise. Specifically, there's now this whole marriage malarkey to begin thinking about 😏 Guess we better get started considering how that might work.
- Building a connected home. We've got the house. We've got the high-speed broadband. Next step: join the Internet of Things. I'd like 2022 to be the year I finally begin making my life a little more automated. My current plans involve a Raspberry Pi, Home Assistant, a Zigbee bridge, and a bunch of sensors, because why not jump straight in at the deep end. Let's see how that goes 😁
- Reading, reading, READING! I say this every year, but I'd love to find time to actually read again. What are the odds I can make it work this time?
- Exploring the world, again. It's been almost four years since we last properly travelled anywhere. But we're vaccinated now, and the boom/bust cycle of new variants appears to be at least a little predictable. The world is opening up, cautiously, and I'd like to start doing the same. We may already have some loose plans in place...
- Thinking in smaller chunks. Okay, that's a weird way to phrase this, but I struggled to come up with anything better 😅 I tend to make plans for either very short-term periods, i.e. next week, or very long-term ones, i.e. next year. I'm bad at the middle ground and I'd like to get better with that. My aim for 2022 is to try to prevent any singular month just slipping by whilst we plan for something in three months time. How will I do that? Well, I want to see if we can manage to get a minimum of two events involving friends, and two events involving nature, into every month in 2022. They can be combined and they can be incredibly small, such as an hour walk one weekend to a nature reserve, or a pint after work with a colleague one week. But I'd like to consciously force these things to happen more often, and this seems like a good way to achieve that.
- Exercising, again. Between the physio for my back and the Lyme disease, I found meaningful exercise in 2021 near impossible. Luckily, the move helped with that a little, but I'd like to get back to cycling and maybe even running. After all, I may need to squeeze into a fitted suit at some point in the near future... 😬
- Improving workflows. I've been really happy with how, over the past 6-8 months, I've become much better at making immediate, on-the-spot entries for things like reviews and check-ins. The mentality of "record the important bits immediately, flesh it out later" has massively reduced the stress around these activities and made them fun again. A large part of that success has been embracing Craft as a mobile editor, actively working to improve its UX where feasible, and streamlining the process as much as possible, but there's still lots I can improve.
- Getting back to nature. We've moved to a new part of the world, with several small nature reserves and wild spots in easy walking distance, and a fast escape hatch to the entire south coast (and everywhere in between). Heck, we have a garden now! The next step is to really double down on making the most of these privileges. I'd like to start rewilding our small plot of land. I want to get out more, exploring, taking photos, and birding at least once every few weeks. And I want to get involved in local conservation efforts and wider communities. I'm even toying with the idea of a new, supplementary online identity to focus these efforts around 🤔
- Seeing friends. 2020 was supposed to be the year that we began inviting people over for games nights and small get-togethers. Well, that didn't quite work out as planned, and I've been consistently reminded during our Big Move how many of our friends never came to our Fulham flat. We lived there for nearly four years and some of our closest and oldest pals never visited. I do not want that legacy to repeat itself with the new house; plus, we now have a spare room and a living area large enough to fit six people without having to completely rearrange the furniture for each new activity, so there's less excuse than ever (even if we have moved a little far away from most 😬).
- Working on the front end. 2020 was the year that I finally jumped feet-first into the career I've always wanted: working in front-end development on the web. In 2021 I grew a lot, launching several little projects and a whole new design system at work, embarking on workshops in UI design and animation, and joining a bunch of new communities. I'd like to continue that trend, doubling down on my specialisation in UI engineering, accessibility, and design systems. I'm not too sure what that'll look like, but I've got a few ideas where I'd like to start *cough* Eleventy *cough*.
- Gaming. A simple one, sure, but I continue to massively enjoy the time I spend with video games and I'd like to see that continue. I hope to complete AC: Odyssey fairly soon and pick up something new in 2022 to sink my teeth into.