Anniversaries and milestones
I am a nostalgist.
I am a history buff and geek.
And I have a strange impulse to mark every milestone and any meaningful anniversary.
Just the other day, in a random dinner conversation about Colonel Gaddafi, I had to remind someone that it was 31 years to the day since the Lockerbie disaster.
It is 25 years this Christmas since Mariah Carey was top of the charts with that jingly, jangly song of her’s (you know the one). Gosh, that is scary – a quarter of a century ago.
It started with fajitas
And now – as we approach the last few days of the 2010s – I feel an impulse to reflect on my own decade. It started inauspiciously, on December 31st 2009. I was at home, in Kentish Town, with a friend eating Mexican food.
I was responsible for the fajitas. My friend tolerated watching Jules Holland on the TV (I had just experienced a difficult break-up). I felt quite the grinch. Dressed in slippers and gown, I looked quite the grandpa.
And then it changed. I met my first serious partner. Of all things, quite the surprise to me even – I entered a civil partnership. There was confetti, the Beatles song ‘Here comes the sun‘ played in the stifling Camden Town hall reception room. And the very same weekend, Prince William married that most middling of women, Kate Middleton. There was a cheer in the air – we all enjoyed an extra Bank Holiday!
And I became an uncle for the first time, in September 2010.
I worked in what was probably my favourite ever role, at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. We campaigned – hard – against the awful cuts the coalition government inflicted on disabled people. We enjoyed terrific successes. And battled serious onslaughts on the rights and privileges – hard won – of blind and other disabled people.
I had my own personal battles with the Home Office. I learnt many things during those months in 2011 and 2012. The Home Office is a callous organisation with little regard for anyone – not even British citizens’ – needs. Yes, they fund the police. But they also deport British citizens to Jamaica. The 2011 riots in London also served as a reminder that not everyone was smiling.
Black men were being murdered on the street and many communities were seething.
London was the place to be
I absolutely loved the London 2012 Olympics and greedily bought whatever tickets I could. I vividly remember the sense of genuine camaraderie at the torch relays in the days leading up to the Opening ceremony and the unbridled joy my friends and I experienced.
London was the place to be and we were (despite David Cameron’s reign) a pretty fashionable, liberal place on earth. I watched Oscar Pistorious win race-after-race at the Paralympics (well, that particular story didn’t end well). And jumped for joy when Andy Murray won his Gold medal, and later in 2013, won Wimbledon for the very first time. A male Brit victor – the first since Fred Perry!
Bananas and bacon sandwiches
The Miliband brothers continued to prove that it’s a brave politician who tackles a bacon sandwich, or even peels a banana, when faced with the paparazzi. And the Labour Party continued to prove it had no limits on how stupid it could get: the Ed-stone was a case in point.
And yet there I was, in May 2015, rushing back from Rome (the airport was on fire, but nevertheless) to cast my vote for Ed Miliband, only to be confronted with the exit poll from hell. The Tories had not only been gifted an election victory – but with an increased majority. I started to drift from the UK perhaps, even then.
Travelling instinct takes off
It was around this time my enthusiasm for international travel really took off. I went back to the States for the first time since I was a kid and enjoyed San Francisco’s Castro and Mission neighbourhoods. I tried to find a Mexican who looked like Ritchie from the HBO series, “Looking“. In the end, I settled for sporting my very own San Francisco Giants baseball cap.
I was happily granted a sabbatical from my job at older people’s charity, Independent Age. And got to feel in touch with myself again – away from calorific pastries and mid-morning caffeine kicks – by travelling South America for eight months. This was the best of times. I had a spring in my step, backpack swinging from my shoulders, heading each day to Spanish school.
I reawakened to life’s possibilities and confronted some hard lessons about why in my personal life, I kept on entering unhealthy or impossible relationships. I was also spat at by a taxi driver in Buenos Aires, but that is altogether a story for another day!
I took up art classes and painted in lustful reds and pained pinks. I joined a creative writing class and started my story about Esther and Joe. I am still working on the transcript, seven years later and am now committed to finishing it!
I was lucky enough to experience great exhibitions; on Modigliani, on the 1917 Russian Revolution, on Abstract Expressionism. Above all, one specific thought started to form in my mind. I am not meant for management. I need to be creative.
And what did I choose to do? I took on a role as a Manager! Of a new team of fourteen people, no less! There were great benefits to this and I got to work for a personal cause, on cancer care. But deep down, I felt a bit of an impostor – only suited to reflect poetically or analytically on the strange world around me. And boy, was the world feeling very strange indeed by this point.
We all started reading about the new clash – not of civilisations, which (apparently) we dealt with in the first decade of the 21st century. But the clash of truths. Your truth. My truth. We started to all become a bit more dislikable: who ever dreamt up Twitter as a place to abuse one another?
I found out about the EU Exit Referendum result from a fried chicken shop in downtown Bogota. With two per cent remaining battery on my mobile phone. At a stroke, the world started to feel altogether less serious and profoundly more problematic. I returned to Britain, not quite sure why or what I was doing. I even toyed with teaching in South Korea.
Shepherd’s Bush and St John’s Wood
On Valentine’s weekend 2017, I met my current partner, who suggested we go for a walk in the park. He was fairly new to London. I agreed but was ever so confused when he suggested Shepherd’s Bush as our meeting place.
It was only after I got to Westfield and wondered what on earth he wanted to do walking across Shepherd’s Bush Green, that after some exchanged texts, I realised he was confused and meant instead to suggest St John’s Wood! I persevered and so did he, in an age of Tinder and Grindr, where all one’s natural instincts might have been to call the whole date off!
Opera and French pop music
But he broadened my interests – opera, French pop music – and I started to feel more confident. And through it all, Spurs under Pochettino, were a startling success! Things started to feel very different indeed! I was interviewed on BBC News in front of a million people – live – on breakfast TV (okay, some of this is far from being chronological).
And I even considered a complete career change – becoming a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language and seriously attending writing courses. There were wonderful return trips to South America, trips to discover my genealogy in Lithuania and the Ukraine and a chance to fall in love with one country in particular: Morocco.
And here I am now. Not everything is perfect. Nothing in life can be. I had a big year this year, as I have described elsewhere on this blog, donating a kidney to my father. But I enter this new decade very much more complete a person, I feel, than I did ten years ago.
I was delighted to become an uncle for the second time. And I am slowly but surely improving my French (how many times have I said that)? I am greying a bit.
And I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never ever be able to wear the speedos I bought in 2009 for a trip to Ibiza (even though I insist on transporting them from home-to-home in every single house move). I even quite like myself. And that makes for quite a serious change!