The 2016 Lookback

Regular Max-watchers will know I’ve filled in this end-of-year review questionnaire every year of my adult life. I think it originated on LiveJournal, where some of my friends used to blog, or still do. Much like 2014 – which set the ground for some of its events – 2016 is one of those years which started jolly well indeed and collapsed like a flimsy dessert in the second half. But January to April alone was momentous enough to be worth celebrating. Here we are then…

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? 

  • Was a bridesmaid (twice)
  • Ran a Marathon. I may’ve mentioned it a bit…
  • Walked ten miles across London for CLASP (I  chatted to Norman Lamb MP about the Marathon, and sandwiches. I also underestimated the difficulty of doing the walk, in May, in too many layers, three weeks after said Marathon, and fainted on the wooden floor of a pub in Battersea. But it was all worth it…)
  • Manned a couple of Freshers Fair stalls for the excellent male suicide prevention organisation, Campaign Against Living Miserably, (CALM) talking to students about mental health and such.
  • Tried ballet classes specifically for dyspraxic adults (not really my thing but very fun, and I’d like to try other dance).
  • Started spin classes.
  • Started driving lessons and actually felt I could pass my test.
  • Had a cameo in someone’s memoir, Bryony Gordon’s excellent Mad Girl (I’m unnamed, and it’s not the cheerfullest of subject matter, but very touching).
  • Had my face in Grazia and Glamour.
  • Disclosed mental health matters in a professional situation where the work wasn’t about mental health. Neither a happy ending or a disastrous one…

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’ll continue with the one to try as many new things as possible that aren’t natural to me, or return to hobbies I’ve neglected. Once I’ve cracked driving, I want to learn to horse ride, find a choir and possibly go skydiving with my friend’s other half. Having had a crack at ballet this year, if I can find a dance teacher who’ll work with me longer-term, I’d like to try tap. This’ll also be my fifth year of going to Pilates classes, which is a bit like dance with less leaping around…

Also: Feel more secure and fulfilled in my work, pass my driving test and finish my damn book (not that one, the new one…)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? I’m 32. Probably.

4. Did anyone close to you die? My Oma in Germany. But she made it to 90, which she had wanted.

5. What countries did you visit? Italy.

6. What would you like to have had in 2016 that you lacked? Certainty and money.

7. What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

  • The inaugural Mental Health Mates, on Valentines Day, the six month anniversary picnic in July where the BBC London News filmed us, and the Mad Girl book launch.
  • Marathon Day. And my massage at Browns a few days later  – my grandmother’s present to me for finishing it.
  • The two weddings I bridesmaided at.
  • The Mad Girl book launch, on a roof terrace with the other Mental Health Mates and lovely views of summery London.
  • Early September, when my other grandma died.
  • Clomping through Brexity-but-cute Hampshire in a palmed-off size-8 summer dress on the hottest day of the year listening to Thea Gilmore and Christine and the Queens (on Spotify, with inexplicably good mobile reception…), under the influence of a Pimms bigger than my head. Maybe next summer I’ll drive. Without the alcohol, obviously…
  • A photoshoot and lunch in Marlow (another Brexity-but-cute place) with my ace photographer friend, on another very hot day.
  • A long weekend in Rome with my mum.
  • Carol singing with Mind in Canary Wharf. Despite (or because of!) the sadly-lower turnout this year.
  • Ice-skating between Christmas and New Year.
  • Spending a New Years Eve I was meant to be hosting friends for dinner alone with stomach lurgy and barely the brains or the appetite to make a toasted sandwich. But (having apologised and quickly rescheduled with most of the friends who were meant to come, obvs)  actually finding the experience quite alright. When you’ve wasted too much youth seeking approval from people who don’t care about you, there is something quite liberating and fuck-you-ish about a simple, solo New Years Eve with boxsets, music, bland food and a long hot bath. I watched Dawn French’s magnificent two-hour one woman show Thirty Million Minutes on BBC4 – you should too, it’s on iPlayer!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

  • Running a Marathon, raising thousands of pounds and a heap of awareness for Mind.
  • The comments on the Reader Report that I got for an early chapter of the new book which had won me a New Writing South/TLC bursaried read at the end of 2015.
  • More an awkward relief in a “Ohhh, I seeee…!” and “Stop making things about you that aren’t, Max, you big twat…!” way than an “achievement” as such, but still. In 2015, I sensed that someone was keeping me somewhat at arm’s length, and assumed a particular reason for it. A chance discovery in 2016 seemed to explain rather a lot, suggested my assumptions were off the mark, and made me feel quite daft. Fair point to whichever mid-’80s middle-manager coined the phrase “Assume makes an ass of u…” .
  • Trying new things purely for myself and not because of anyone or to impress anyone.
  • Inspiring other people to try new things.

9. What was your biggest failure?

  • Being 32 years old and feeling less likely to earn enough, meet the love of my life, own a home or have children now than I did five or six years ago.
  • Not being as supportive of various friends who’ve been through redundancy or performance management at work this year as I would like to be.  My own experience is still quite draining to have to relive. Please don’t think I don’t understand or care.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? A stinking cold during Marathon week which lingered on through and probably added half an hour to my time, not that I cared very much because I wasn’t really running for time anyway.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Driving lessons. Best present was the post-Marathon massage.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration? All my Marathon sponsors and absolutely everyone who supported me through it in any way.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? 

  • Half the world’s electorateAppalled, angry and depressed.
  • Authors at charity events who use the space to plug their irrelevant books.

14. Where did most of your money go? Train travel and driving lessons.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? The Marathon obviously. And going to Rome, mostly.

16. What song(s) will always remind you of 2016? Tilted by Christine and the Queens. Walking in the Rain by Grace Jones. Ritual Union by Little Dragon. Mr Medicine by Eliza Doolittle. Let It Roll and Sweet Infatuation by Ladyhawke, The Dirt Is Your Lover Now by Thea Gimore, and her cover of Bob Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine. Everything on my enormous running playlist, especially Kiss and Not Tell by La Roux, Night In My Veins by The Pretenders, What The Hell by Avril Lavinge (SHUT UP), They Don’t Know by Kirsty MacColl, and Heroes by David Bowie. Heroes was a recommendation from a stranger who’d read that I was doing the Marathon in my university’s alumni magazine. It came on at mile 23 and I cried in front of 35,000 people.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you…?

– Happier or sadder? Generally sadder, although happy about some personal victories and trying to restore hope for 2017 in the face of a bit of a mental health lapse.

– Thinner or fatter? Fatter, I expect, because I was training for a Marathon last year and am no longer doing that. The first autumn-winter after a Marathon is a bit like early puberty when you stupidly feel huge just because you suddenly weigh more than nothing. But I’m probably still half a stone lighter than I was this time two years ago…

– Richer or poorer? Poorer. Which is a problem and a constant drain to discuss. This post early in the year did lead to a very nice but small and one-off project, but other than that I haven’t really made inroads in the direction I was hoping to. Most of my money goes on driving lessons and travel. Before Christmas I had a meeting with a director at a copywriting agency who told me I’m massively undercharging for my freelance work. Which is nice, except trying to get people to pay me even that is like drawing teeth. She also said agency jobs probably aren’t good for my mental health at the moment and suggested I think about doing internal comms for a mental health-related organisation or similarly good cause. I know of places that would gladly have me do it but can’t afford to pay me a bean. This is unhelpful….

(If you think you can be of any help on this front – coffee this month?? Please??)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Work that ends with a feeling my life has changed forever. But a) I’ll never be 27 again and b) for everyone but me that’s probably a good thing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Being anxious. But compared to early last year, or this time two years ago…

20. How will you be spending New Year?  See question 7.

21. Did you fall in love in 2016? Only with a pizza from Dan and Angel’s in Clapham Junction….

22. How many one-night stands?  Zero. In the summer I had vague, financially-unfeasible plans for a solo Eurostar weekend jaunt to Brussels channeling my Brexit anger into cheese, wine and hot Eurocrats free of dodgy politics. I’ll probably never do it but may write a play about it…

23. What was your favourite TV or radio programme? I gave up trying to ignore the big storyline in The Archers on account of it being too weird because the wife of somebody involved in it is extremely bad for my brain, and just went with the media frenzy and the tweetalongs. Neither she nor he do social media so it doesn’t matter. And Helen Titchener is free. Hurrah!

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Nope. Pretty consistent on that front.

25. Do you like anyone now that you didn’t like this time last year? Nick Clegg. More than I’m comfortable with.

26. What was the best book you read? At the moment I’m reading….

  • The Stuff Of Thought, a book about linguistics by Steven Pinker.
  • The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson, set during the Russian Revolution.
  • Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El-Feki.
  • Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsnea.

This year, I’ve liked….

  • Friendship, a turning-30 friendship novel by Emily Gould, set in contemporary New York and The Clasp by Sloane Crosley (similar theme, with an art-history slant).
  • I was given The State We’re In by Adele Parks in a free ebook promotion – I read it on a sunny Sunday afternoon thinking it’d be some breezy sub-Sophie Kinsella type-of-thing and it had me weeping like a jilted bride…
  • On professional advice “to enforce confidence in your own [considerable] abilities”, I read the memoirs Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham and I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Apparently my writing is reminiscent of theirs. Sloane Crosley is great. Lena Dunham alternates between being interesting and a bit of a prat but then, so do I….

27. What was your greatest musical discovery? Probably not as “great” as if I was 20 and at Durham doing a Gender Studies Module, but Christine and the Queens.

28. What did you want and get? To finish the Marathon in one piece.

29. What did you want and not get? To finish my book. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo in November, but that immediately got swallowed up by work and money woes.

30. What was your favourite film of this year? I don’t think I had a big favourite.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 32. Family dinner. Beaconsfield. Midweek. Brasserie Blanc does a good vegetarian tagine, if that’s your shimmy.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? The possible answers to this are either too dull or too incriminating to print. And one of them involves an alternate universe…

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016? A twig in a long dress.

34. Who kept you sane? If you’ve read this far, consider yourself among them.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Nobody I can remember or want to admit to.

36. What political issue stirred you the most? Brexit. Trump. Syria. The murder of Jo Cox.

37. Who did you miss? People who weren’t here. Seems obvious.

38. Who was the best new person you met? Bryony Gordon and all the Mental Health Mates, of course.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016

  • Someone who wants you to be happy and someone able to make you happy aren’t always the same thing.
  • Having things isn’t how you grow up. Dealing with losses is how you grow up.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up 2016:  

“Fingernails, thorn trees; my fickle heart too. So many things in this sad little world grow back except for you.” 

(I don’t think many lyrics can truly sum up any year. But Thea Gilmore is a lyrical genius, so there you go).

And: “Though nothing will keep us together, we can be heroes, just for one day…”

(David Bowie, obviously).

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2 thoughts on “The 2016 Lookback

  1. “In the summer I had vague, financially-unfeasible plans for a solo Eurostar weekend jaunt to Brussels channeling my Brexit anger into cheese, wine and hot Eurocrats free of dodgy politics. I’ll probably never do it but may write a play about it…”

    I will read/watch the hell out of this if you write it!

    Also, incorporating “Brexity-but-cute” into my lexicon; that’s going to be very useful shorthand for all manner of places I love whose politics I don’t…

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