Tuesday, 1 January 2013

2012: the year that was

Yesterday, I had my first ever traditional barber's wet shave. In between mild panic (when he put the hot towel on my face I thought of Christopher Hitchen's terrifying account of being waterboarded) and sheer terror (a straight razor shave is so close it actually hurts, and when the barber's at your throat your life really is in another man's hands), 2012 flashed before my eyes. Here's what I saw.


I went to five weddings this year, in the UK, France, Spain and Thailand. Nothing says 'early 30s' like your annual social calendar being built around weddings. I'm not complaining, I love a good wedding. I never cry and rarely take pictures, but there's something wonderful about seeing lots of people who usually take pleasure in being rude to one another smiling and talking interestedly, or hearing people say all the things they can't usually say in public, and really meaning it. The trick, I've found, is to get just the right amount of alcohol in you and in front of you in time for the speeches, so you're compus mentis throughout but never in danger of going without - there's nothing worse than minor dehydration signalling the onset of an early hangover. Then, when the speeches are done and the music starts, you can well and truly knock yourself over the edge in a blizzard of hugs, chugs and demented dance moves.


Children are closely related to weddings and the onset of true adulthood, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few of my closest friends' new additions this year. You're not human if you're not moved to prod, tickle, make stupid noises and grin at babies, and of course I did all that, but I was also surprised to find that I was genuinely interested in the routines, the stages of early development, the coping mechanisms that new parents instinctively develop. In January 2012, former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks became a mother and named her daughter Scarlett; a striking name, considering Brooks' 2011, and it struck me that having a child is so significant, signalling a new start, a chance at redemption perhaps, rebirth following birth. 2012 was also the year of the Jimmy Savile revelations - what a shame that the News of the World wasn't around for one last hurrah to help capitalise our collective feelings of outrage that Britain's most prolific kiddie beast was allowed to operate so flagrantly for so long.


Kim and I had our first Christmas together, in London, with both of our families. Now that I think about it, I don't remember a single argument, which is unusual for my family. Hollywood films and newspaper editorial columns and tv comedy suggest that bringing the in-laws together is generally a recipe for calamity, but it worked out pretty well this time round, until my dad got his 1980s Warren Beatty cream-coloured coat out of storage...


I rediscovered skiing in February, spent a week on a farm in East Sussex recording with Scandinavia in April, and got a firsthand snapshot of China's economic boom in June. I also got a load of much-needed sun at each of the weddings I went to, not just in France, Spain and Thailand but also in England - I spent the sunniest day of the year, in early September, sitting on the hill at the University of Kent overlooking Canterbury, with barely a soul in sight, and felt at once nostalgic and the most relaxed I'd been all year. But maybe best of all, I got to enjoy the London 2012 Olympics without needing to travel much - we'd all predicted armageddon, but instead we got a well-orchestrated month-long celebration of human strength, endeavour and spirit.

Material things

Book: My Friend the Mercenary is like Andy McNab on ecstasy: more vivid, exciting and sentimental. Cambridge graduate James Brabazon, the author, is a rookie war reporter, looking for his big break, which he finds in the civil war in Liberia in the early 2000s. His chaperone is Nick du Toit, an apartheid-era special forces soldier from South Africa, with whom Brabazon becomes close friends. It's a Boy's Own adventure come to life, highlighting the tragedy of modern-day Liberia and the moral complexities of doing politics and business in Africa. Photographer Tim Hetherington, who accompanied Brabazon and du Toit, was killed in Libya in 2011. I quite literally couldn't put this book down.

Music: As I get older, I'm not as interested in new things as I used to be. I buy my clothes from shops I've come to trust, loading up on jumpers from Uniqlo, buying shoes from Russell & Bromley when I need them, and so on. The Weakerthans are like one of these trusted clothes shops. Reunion Tour, their last album, was released in 2007 but it's the best thing I listened to in 2012. Night Windows in particular is majestic, the best song John K. Samson's written to date, inspired by the Edward Hopper painting but apparently about a friend who died in combat in Afghanistan.

Film: Maybe it's because I watched Drive alone, in a bed that felt like the floor, in a mostly-empty hotel with decaying '70s decor near Beijing airport, that it resonated so strongly with me. But I suspect that the technicolor dreamscapes set to Kraftwerk-influenced, transient, emotionless and catchy faux-80s synth pop, sharply contrasted with some thrilling all-American genre-violence, would have worked just as effectively regardless of the viewing location. I read the book afterwards, which is a triumph of chilling 21st Century LA noir and far darker than the film, but if you're going to cast Hollywood A-listers as anonymous outsiders you've got to add some haunting romance, and Drive the movie has it in spades.

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