At the end of 2020 I shared one photo and one blog post for each month of a year that none of us could have predicted. I did the same thing at the close of 2021, documenting my emergence from covid lockdowns and restrictions. Continuing the tradition, here’s my personal look back at 2022 in photos and blog posts. I hope you’ll enjoy looking through it as much as I did putting it together.
The year began on a social note when I attended a party organised by my friend and fellow blogger Aimee Wilson to mark her blog’s continuing success. I enjoyed helping her celebrate her achievement and met several of her friends for the first time. Taken at the venue, Room 305 in Whitley Bay, this photo captures the spirit of the occasion and my hopes for the year ahead. From January’s blog posts, I’m choosing Helping People Helps You Too (But Don’t Lose Sight of Your Needs). I wasn’t doing very well at the start of the year and this post reminded me there are things we can do to lift us when we’re feeling down, including being there for other people.
It wasn’t hard to choose a photo for February, because I hardly took any! I’ve selected one of my Traveler’s Notebook at my favourite coffee shop, Costa Coffee in Kingston Park. It’s one of my four happy places and one of my all-time favourite writing venues. I spent many hours there during the year, mostly on a Saturday when I’d settle at my favourite table to work on my blog post for the week. Of the articles I posted in February I’ve gone with Too Small for Comfort: When Life Closes In On You which describes how I was feeling at the time. I’m happy to say that I closed out the year feeling a lot more positive.
In March I rented a car for the first time since December 2019. It was great to get out and about, and visit places I’d not been for a couple of years. These included the Barn at Beal, Bamburgh, Alnwick Garden, Morpeth, and Otterburn (pictured).
I’ve chosen an article called Shhhhhhh! A Friend’s Guide to Secrets which was inspired by a quotation by Vikrant Parsai: “Be careful with whom you share your secrets. Don’t forget your best friend has a best friend, and your best friend’s best friend also has a best friend.” I found it an interesting topic to explore, and it’s a post I revisit at times.
My fortnight off work was interrupted when I started feeling poorly. I tested positive for covid at the end of the first week, which put an end to being out in public. I spent the second week at home, apart from a couple of short walks for exercise. I wrote up my experiences in a blog post titled Pathologically (Covid) Positive in which I reflected on what it meant for me to get poorly, and how fortunate I was to be able to rest and recoup without any serious risk to my health or employment. It was also a reminder that it’s okay to acknowledge that I was actually feeling pretty ill for a few days. I was fine after a week or so, and fortunately haven’t caught covid again since.
The photo shows a Lego sculpture at Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which I visited with family in May. It was interesting to see how the place had developed in the four or five years since I’d last been there. I’ve sponsored a swan with the WWT for a number of years now and the program includes a complimentary ticket to any of the Trust’s sites. My subscription has just renewed, so I’ll definitely pay a return visit in 2023.
I wrote an article in May titled It’s Not Enough: Exploring Loneliness for Mental Health Awareness Week. The inspiration was a quotation by Mark Rowlandthe, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation: “Loneliness is the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want.” I touched on more positive themes in Up-Blips of Emotion: Exploring the Strange Things That Make My Weird Little Heart Happy.
I took very few photos during June, but this skyscape near where I live reminds me of the many local walks I took, and the pleasant summer weather we had before the debilitating heatwave that hit the UK in July.
Throughout the year I kept myself busy teaching myself shorthand. I shared my interest in different modes of writing in a blog post titled From Thought to Page: Adventures With Teeline Shorthand and Other Writing Systems. I’m still far from expert but it’s something I want to continue with this year. As well as enjoying learning a new skill, it’s proven a useful distraction technique when I’m feeling down or otherwise not at my best.
The photo shows the view from River House, just outside Ambleside in the Lake District, across the deck and garden to the hills beyond. This was my first trip away from home since October 2019, and coincided with the highest temperatures the UK has ever recorded. I didn’t set foot outside the house for two days, but there were plenty of opportunities to explore through the rest of the week when the temperature was more reasonable. I enjoyed revisiting old haunts from previous vacations, including Bowness, the Lakeside to Haverthwaite steam railway, the Lakes Aquarium, and the Kirkstone Pass Inn. Best of all, I got to visit the Wateredge Inn in Ambleside, another of my four happy places.
I’ve chosen to spotlight an article of mine, enigmatically titled Brass Taps and Watering Cans: a Few Thoughts on Friendship, Duty, and Sacrifice. Like many of my posts, it was inspired by a conversation with Fran. It allowed me to explore some of my thoughts and feelings about offering help to others, drawing on my experience supporting Fran and other friends, as well as some of my short story writing. It’s one of my favourite posts of 2022, and a close runner-up for article of the year.
It might seem odd to choose a photo of a keyboard, but it represents a couple of things that are important to me. I’m never happier than when I’m sitting — as I am now — at my favourite table at my local coffee shop, with my little traveling office set up in front of me: my phone and tablet on their respective stands, and my Bluetooth headset and keyboard. My previous TechGear keyboard was great, but it was fiddly to switch it from phone to tablet. I fell in love with the Logitech K380 the moment I saw it advertised, but what sold me was the hot key function which means you can swap between up to three devices at the press of a button. I had a few issues adapting my typing to the K380’s layout and larger size, but it’s made a huge difference to my writing experience, whether I’m sitting in a coffee shop, at home, or in the office. Continuing the writing theme, in August I shared a post titled Write without Fear, Edit without Mercy: Eight Questions for the Honest Blogger. Presented as a Q&A, it invites the reader to explore their approach to writing with integrity.
The photo I’ve chosen is of the sun setting over the tracks at my local Metro train station. It serves as a reminder that I crossed the tracks to go to Costa Coffee (up to five times a week) or the supermarket (Tuesdays and Fridays) far more often than I took train rides anywhere. I went into the city centre three times. I commuted to the office twice a week. I caught the train to the airport to collect and return rental cars in March, July, and October. I visited the coast twice, in January and November. Barring those Metro journeys, and occasional taxi rides to Blyth, my year was lived within walking distance of home. And it was none the worse for that. I’ve learned that where I am is less important to me than what I’m doing and who I’m with, whether in person or online.
I’ve selected two blog posts written during September. Each was inspired by conversations with friends. The first came about after my friend Maya challenged me on something I’d previously written in an open letter to my father. In I’m Weak and What’s Wrong With That? I explored aspects of weakness and stigma, with a particular focus on men’s mental health. The second article — A Few Thoughts on Taking My Own Advice — was my response to my friend Brynn asking if I follow my own advice. Spoiler alert: not always!
During my October break from work I rented a car and enjoyed days trips in North East England. These included the Heatherslaw Light Railway and Etal village, the Blacksmiths café at Belsay, and Otterburn Mill. I spent the rest of my fortnight blogging and practicing my shorthand. In Speaking Up, Speaking Out: Harnessing the Power of the Spoken Word for World Mental Health Day I explored the importance of the spoken word in countering stigma and ignorance about mental health. There are links to video and audio recordings from some of my speaking engagements, so you can hear me for yourself, if you’d like to!
I mentioned earlier that I only went into Newcastle city centre three times last year. The first two occasions were in February and March, respectively, to celebrate birthdays with friends. The third was in November when I traveled in for my covid booster at the NHS vaccination centre at the Centre for Life. I didn’t linger in the city but I did stop for breakfast — and my first mince pie of the season — at Caffè Nero at Central Station. November also included two meet ups with friends. Aimee and I had a great time at the Christmas Market at Spanish City in Whitley Bay. A week later, Louise took time out of a visit with family to meet me in Costa and revisit our bench! Thank you, both, for ensuring my Christmas got off to a great start!
For International Men’s Day (November 19) I wrote Being a Man: Exploring My Gender, which proved a lot trickier than I imagined. As I wrote, “it’s not that I’ve ever felt misgendered, or unhappy at being thought of as male. I’ve worn my gender identity all my life, albeit without thinking much about it. I was a boy. I am a man. But what does that mean?” My exploration led me to consider some of the most important men in my life, including my father and uncles. It’s an important topic and one I’m likely to revisit in the future, because I don’t think I did more than scratch the surface.
I visited my local Toby Carvery several times through the year. This photo, though, recalls one particular visit in early December when I met up with my American friend Laurel and her sister Tiffany. Laurel is one of Fran’s best friends. We’d shared video calls a few times over the years when she’d been with Fran, but this was the first time we’d had the opportunity to meet in person. Whether the chance ever arises again or not, it was fabulous to see them both. As testament to friendships young and old, I’ve chosen something I shared originally on social media in 2011. I Am Known, Inside and Out is a short expression of the best that any friendship — any relationship — can aspire to.
Post of the Year
It wasn’t easy to pick one photo to represent the year as a whole. I settled on this one of my Traveler’s Notebook taken after I’d archived the older of the two completed inserts — each crammed full of memories — and added a new one. It’s always a poignant moment for me. The archived insert ran from October 2019 to March 2021, so that’s eighteen months I’ll no longer be carrying around with me everywhere I go. I’m excited, though, to discover what moments and memories will be recorded in the new insert over the months to come.
One way or another, 2022 was a transition year for me. At work, I moved from supporting systems I’d worked on for years, to an old-but-new-to-me application which will be the focus of my work for the coming year. As well as learning new skills and practices, it meant integrating into a new team, which I enjoyed greatly. (Shout out to Nick, Pete, Shilpa, James, and Ray; also to Tony and Gary who made the transition with me.) There have also been shifts in my key friendships over the year, with some easing away and others opening up.
I explored transitions in my final blog post of the year, And Sometimes It Happens: The Gentle Art of Letting Go. That might seem a sad topic on which to close, but ultimately there’s a message of hope and moving on, which feels appropriate as one year ends and another year begins. We need to let go of what has happened — the good and the not so good — in order to make room for whatever is coming next.
Here’s to 2023, whatever it may bring.