2021 A year in review

Its that time of year again, one that I look forward to every year, its review of the year time. This is nine years of doing this, so much has changed in life, in the world, in what I do and what I love the most, so here goes, here’s to 2021.

Diving into this year was always going to be hard, the lockdown we started the year with was soul destroying, you could get through every day without seeing any daylight or any real interaction other than over a video link. It felt at times like all you were doing was living to work. Luckily as a family we could see how to support each other so much more than in 2020 and really started to tackle the blue feeling as four people and a dog and turn them into sunshine moments wherever possible. As a team we instigated a golden hour rule where everyone took time during the day to get away from work and experience some daylight and some fresh air, so important to us all in January and February of last year, and sadly now as we flick the switch into 2022 some of that is coming back, lean on others and seek connection is I guess my only advice.

Staying in but eating out was something new we had learnt to do in 2019 and kept having to do in 2020, Burns Night was cancelled we were now reliant on popping into Leeds to the amazing Vice and Virtue picking up our food, our whisky and our instructions and giving each dish a go whilst remembering some of the poets most famous stories, not quite a piper and a sword but still a lot of fun to do and a real taste of what was to become an amazing Leeds restaurant. The Dine at Home phenomenon became a big part of the year from this Burns Night extravaganza onwards. We tried; Rick Stein, Sabor, Angel at Hetton, Blacklock, Indian from Man Behind the Curtain, The Owl, Simon Rogan, Dishoom and Vice and Virtue, but the last one won hands down for me.

Later in January we also managed to catch Ethan Hawke talking about his new book live from the Barbican and a signed copy of the book dropped through the letter box a few days later, I have always been a fan and loved him talking about what it takes to be a writer but also some of his stories as an actor too, a lovely experience for us to share, although mostly me being fanboy ‘ohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ at cool moments.

February birthdays involved a great dinner with lots of different types of meat from Blacklock and the whole family scattered across the UK cooking at the same time for birthday celebrations over a video link, quite good fun and the food was amazing and the first time the oldest one really came into his own as a wannabe chef (maybe).

Getting approval to take part in a reduced Masters in Digital Marketing through the London Business School was really exciting, 16 weeks of lectures, learning and assignments (and deadlines) was something I couldn’t wait to dive into. Having seen the kids cope with on-line learning I hadn’t banked on what a difference it would make to the experience but it was still worthwhile and a lot of fun, and it got me bitten by the bug, in 2022 I want to commit to something else similar and keep that learning mindset growing and growing.

I don’t know why but discovering new art through books also became a thing that started in earnest in February, I guess not being able to go and see museums and galleries pushed me to start investigating what I could do at home. With a collection of art books that has now grown and grown (much thanks to eBay) and a love for Basquiat, Cecily Brown, Keith Haring, Luke Edward Hall, Hockney, CY Twombly and Jean Dubuffet’s art has followed the collection of books.

Going to see new music in 2021 was still a different experience, like working from home you could now enjoy from your own four walls. Buying tickets for some bands in some new and innovative spaces ready to experience new music again was the new normal. Bicep released a new album early in the year and to celebrate played live from the portrait gallery in London, both the two lads and their support from Hammer were amazing with visuals that stood up to the music and an all-round experience that was so new it still felt exciting, but in reality dancing in your living room, whilst a great distraction didn’t quite beat the rumbling bass of a live performance.

And I guess now to the first of the new year lists, originally what this blog was for was a place to collect my ‘best of’ year lists, and therefore first, my music of the year:

Ischia – Isola

The Other Lover – Little Dragon

Thought About You – Joel Culpepper

Impact – SG Lewis & Channel Tres

Shackles (Praise You) – Malarkey

It Is What It Is – Vintage Culture

Waterfalls – Death Cab For Cutie

Oh, Miles – Lane 8

Red Lion – Lawrence Hart

Still In Love – Shuya Okino

London Grammar – Lose Your Head (Remix)

Deep End – John Summit

Redemption – Nathaniel Rateliff

Finally Ready – The Shapeshifters

Velvet Leaves – Puma Blue

Hold Me Up – Junior Jack & Glory

Bring On The Lucie – Richard Ashcroft

Marea – Fred Again & The Blessed Madonna

Strangers – Black Pumas

Strut Cho Funky Stuff – Mike Dunn

Love You Better – Alex Preston

Remember We Were.. – Bobby Gillespie

Keep Moving (Blessed Madonna Mix) – Jungle

That’s The Way Love Is – Ben Watt

Lost – Jake Bugg

Keep Pushing – Alex Mills & Solardo

Tired Of Waiting – Franc Moody

Lift Your Hands Up – David Penn

2367 – Johnny Lloyd

You’re Not Alone – Romy

Brand New Day – MF Robots

Summer rain – Leon Bridges

Paper Planes – Sault & Beatrice Burnt

Eros – Dusky

Secret – Jerome Thomas

Wonder (Woolford Mix) Nightmares On Wax

 

Its always lovely to reflect on the change in styles my appetite enjoys in the year, more soulful stuff, less big dance tunes although they are still there, and a couple of covers that I really love. I guess because there was less chance to go to festivals there was less chance to hear really new music anywhere other than through my own streaming accounts, I hope so much that changes next year. And, if I was to pick just one song, Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing) by Fred Again and The Blessed Madonna would be my song of the year.

If you want to enjoy the play list click HERE

The 2nd of March saw the beginning of a slow return to the office for us, I missed my desk, the environment and mostly the people so much in those first two months of the year, it felt lovely to be returning to Nottingham in the sunshine and build back to some semblance of normal, starting to see people and go out again, even if it often meant shivering outside in the cold.

The Man Behind the Curtain one of my favorite restaurants anywhere decided to do a one-off Indian eat at home experience in March. Ours lacked a fair amount in presentation but was so wonderful in the tastes and textures, I hope the team do something similar again in 2022.   

Exploring (all be it outside) became the normal again and the three of us went on a mission to find the Druids Temple in North Yorkshire, whilst in reality a folly rather than actual dating back to druid times an amazing day out walking through the woods and coming across a great ‘pile’ of stones, very ethereal in feeling made even better by us being literally the first people that day so we had the place to ourselves we went on from there to Aysgarth Falls, somewhere else I hadn’t been to before and I loved it.

So then came the 15th of April and at last we were allowed out for a night out properly again. Me and two of my best friends hit town with many many other people, it was so cold that by the third bar we were ordering coffees rather than a glass of wine but seeing people was such a buzz after what felt like forever. So much so that it felt like we had to do it again just a couple of days later, luckily we were blessed with sunshine this time around and had the most wonderful meal at Angelica on the roof of Trinity in a sun blazoned Leeds. Normally an event like these two wouldn’t quite make it on to a list of things of the year but in both cases it meant so much to be out out out! Although maybe not so wise on my part when the next day I had my first vaccine!

For much of the previous 12 months May had been planned as a huge month, personally and from a work point of view. Work was a huge amounts of change all to be committed to live in one weekend and personally we were going to be able to begin to get life back to a normal even keel and plan for our future in new ways.

Our leader described the work we were doing in the middle of May as being like a heart and lung transplant at the same time, as a description it stuck. I have never been prouder of a team of people I have worked with than over those few days, a very stressful and complicated situation resulted in an absolute success, on time and delivering all that was planned for. Brilliant fun in the end too. At the same time we also had a Worthy Farm special, Glastonbury live in your living room and my football team, Barnsley, in the playoffs all on the biggest work night ever!

As the restrictions were released we planned a trip to London for fun not for work, we made it to Albert Adria’s Bubbles and Cake, Jason Atherton at Harrods and the Little Social as well as Nopi, and Barra Fina, tasting new sensations along the way and loving every moment of it. Also though being able to get back inside the Tate Modern and revisit the V&A were special things that had been taken away for so long. The other side line of the trip though was shopping together in London, something we end up doing separately so often because of the nature of our jobs so; for sun glasses in Harrods and suits from YMC.

In those same three days though and by accident three announcements all happened that made me very proud, being placed in the HIMSS50 the top 50 people in health technology in the world was brilliant and a real honor, the  CIO100 Hot Topics came out and listed me as one of the key CIOs in the UK, and then surprisingly CXO magazine also placed me in their top 50 people too. We were in the right place to celebrate that was for sure.

I was then in London just a week later with a couple of evenings free so decided to hit different restaurants with different old friends. Continuing to sample London’s width of styles, in these three days was awesome, being able to go to Hide Ground with chef Ollie Dabous, then on to the Le Deli Robuchon Jr. and its truly fabulous choice and staff and then on to one of the most amazing Italian meals I have ever eaten at Margot on Queen St. in Covent Garden a place I would return to later in the year. Sharing Margot’s though were two people who were once acquaintances and that I can now say are definitely friends for life who I know I can turn to for advice and guidance at any point in time and will always get something helpful from them both, perhaps the best of friends you could ask for, always there for you and always bright for you.

The middle of June was a tough time for people I work with, so much to do and so little time, watching the impact stress has on people in the office is horrible and seeing people walk away from jobs that they loved because we simply needed to go so fast was really hard, but also seeing amazing rising stars leap forward, take hold of problems and deliverables and shine was at times the thing that kept many of us going. I love working and love my job, I have made some amazing friends in the last 12 months through work and that is one thing that 2021 will be remembered for by me, new friendships that I can rely on forever.

We had a heat wave in mid-June which resulted in some timely ‘abuse’ of a very lovely garden that we have inherited. A water slide in the garden, new furniture and a sound system all led to lots of fun and a new ‘trend’, patio drawing in chalk, something me and the smallest one enjoyed a lot in June. Talking of the small ones, we decided to take the bull by the horns and hit Leeds on a Friday night out with them in tow. The worlds best steaks and lovely British bubbles and a real life Leeds on a Saturday night out excited them both in a good way, Gaucho’s became a firm favorite of the little ones very quickly and we will return.

Being invited to go to Wimbledon this year was a first for me. The preparation for going to the event itself was awesome, a new suit, some new shoes for both of us and a plan for us to go there looking the ‘bees knees’. The actual event itself was just brilliant, wonderful food and drink, three amazing games of tennis and a lot of fun feeling very special as a couple out and about.

The European Cup final in mid-July was a first in so many ways for so many people. I guess really and truly it was the first time I watched an England team that looked like a rounded team not like a collection of players with one or two super stars. Youth, the right attitude and aptitude were there to be seen and a promise for the future. For me the game was a lovely day out (trying more and more new places in Wakefield) followed by the actual game on TV at home, wrong result but a team to be proud of was where we were after 180 minutes and the dreaded penalties again.

One of the things I keep reflecting on is how life has changed, who you enjoy things with is so different for me now as part of my blended family. My friends now tend to also be families of people, it is fascinating and truly lovely to learn from so many new people and their experiences, sharing the football with new friends Rebecca and James was another stand out moment and one that saw us meet some new lovely people that continue to be a huge part of our lives as we go on into 2022.  

One of the most lucky things for us in 2021 was the weather for the smallest ones birthday, we had planned for lots of friends coming which meant we simply had to be outside, the hot tub was coming, the Big Green Egg arrived the garden entertainment was put in place and then everyone arrived, and whilst it took a lot of doing cooking so much food for so many people on the new Big Green Egg it was so unbelievably rewarding in the end, everyone being so complimentary of all the different food we offered up and all the smiles on the kids faces as they were looked after like little adults and yet enjoying a kids party, I hope 2022 allows for the same.

We never thought we would actually make it to Greece if we were truly honest so on that very dark and a bit cold morning with four of us stood at Robin Hood airport we were all very very excited. Pethkos on the island of Rhodes was a dream, brilliant food, lots of fun in the pool and the sea, a climb up some ruins, a day trip out in a boat and seven days of real relaxation. Doing it with family in a way that meant you always felt love and fun in the room was truly brilliant. Two highlights the town of Lindos and an amazing day with just the six of us and our pilot in a boat flying around parts of the south of Rhodes, the face of the littlest one as she was asked to take the wheel at what felt like a great many knots will live with me forever. If you do make it to Rhodes and in particular Pethkos give me a shout we tried a different restaurant every night and it really is a town that is a foodie heaven.

Getting chance to read so much on holiday was lovely too, which I guess takes me to my next list, books of the year:

Sound Of Silver – Ryan Leas

This Isn’t Happening – Steven Hyden

The Witcher – Andrzej Sapkowski

Adventures In Wonderland – Sheryl Garratt

Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Troy – Stephen Fry

Vinyl Frontier – Jonathan Scott

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney

The Longest Road Out – Daniel Craanen

Calypso – David Sedaris

… Believe In Magic – Robin Turner

 

I have been saying for nearly as long as I have been writing this blog that I want to get to reading a book a month, given I spent 16 weeks doing the Mastering Digital Marketing course too I am quite pleased with achieving it this year, next year I need to keep it up as its made me feel so much better picking up a book of a night and reading rather than scrolling through social media.

We maybe were a bit bonkers agreeing to leave a music festival in the diary for the day we got back from a big family holiday, but in the end it made loads of sense as we got to have some time just to the two of us straight after lots of joined up time with the whole family, and it was a brilliant experience. We arrived at Wilderness Festival on the Saturday with so much going on for us, books, poems, activists, food, wine and some amazing music from Bicep, Georgia, Daft Punk (kind of), Jamie XX and so much more. We did the whole festival a little less conventionally staying in a hotel a short distance away so we felt very grown up on the last day after too much rain had landed deciding to go ‘home’ and have a nice meal instead of staying in a muddy filed, we may regret it to some degree as we missed out on a couple of bands but at the time it was so lovely.

We continued in to August with another family holiday, this time to Devon, Paignton as a base camp and then off to Kingswear by steam train, Dartmouth via a boat, Salcombe down a very scary hill (with a restaurant called The Winking Prawn at the bottom of it which was amazing), Torquay and its big wheel that all five us were able to go on together, the Eden Project and Padstow and finally Brixham and the amazing day crabbing that was had.

We started September with my birthday present from February 2019, a long postponed trip to Sat Bains in Nottingham. Its odd being so close to work in a restaurant I have idolized for at least five years and yet never actually made it to the restaurant before. It was a mind blowing tasting menu, absolutely perfect service and a beautiful room to stay in, the nerves about the pandemic by now were resurfacing and that did have a bit of an impact on the experience, but I cannot wait to go again in 2022.

Having the family Thomas to stay for a long weekend was just hilarious from start to finish. No matter if it was visiting the perennial Newmiller Dam or going to the new Sweet Sensation Creamery in Wakefield grown-ups and kids a like never stopped laughing, cackling and grinning from ear to ear, the fun you can have right here at home with the right people around you was something that this long weekend highlighted.

So much normality began to land though now, my own teams first awards night, seeing Arlo Parks in a really small venue live and loud and amazing, visiting our warehouse and supply chain capability and meeting the co-bots for the first time and my second Best of the Best awards at Boots after last years postponement. I got to DJ ‘live’ on stage between each of the awards as well as act as be the comedy ‘foil’ for Rylan the MC for the event, he enjoyed my costume changes between each award that’s for sure, nine Hawaiian shirts in two and a half hours. It was a great deal of fun if quite stressful and unbelievably hot under the studio lights being beamed out to a few thousand people but it has to be a highlight of the year really.

September also marked a moment in time for me, after a very difficult two years with the two people closest to me I repaired my relationship with my mum and dad, it felt like a life changing moment in so many ways to be able to lean back in to your parents after a couple of years of some what strained relationships and something that I will now hold dear forever having experienced life without their support.

In October a trip to The Star Inn in Harome was quite brilliant, taking ‘the in-laws’ to our very special place and having all manner of food but also sitting up late and simply chatting about life the universe and everything was great, and a big decision was taken that day, more of which later.

October saw us allowed to bring the whole team together and begin a new tradition, All Staff Days. Having everyone in the team for one socially distanced all day event was actually, and oddly, moving. These are a group of people who completely believe in what we are here to do in our jobs, the continued transformation of Boots and the experience customers have of the great organisation, a great day was had by all working together on all sorts of projects and stuff for the future.

Watching every episode of the made for Sky War of the World series was something I so rarely do, binge watching requires more time than I normally am prepared to invest but being away a little more in October meant that I watched the whole first series end to end in one month and loved the experience, which I guess is a good time to list my TV of the year:

Jack Ryan

Line of Duty

The Falcon and the Winter Solider

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Lupin (Part One and Two)

Time

The Titans

Normal People

Succession

Y The Last Man

War of the Worlds

Wandavision

It’s A Sin

Designated Survivor

 

With out a doubt though Normal People was extraordinarily the best thing on TV, oddly maybe against so much amazing competition but I fell in love with every character and their situations in that programme.

I guess one of the things that has always featured in this review of the year is the IDG CIO100, having first been placed in the list in my first ever CIO role I am always very proud to be entered into it and very excited when the results come out, placed at number seven this year was a thrill and in particular to see some of the others in the list and the diversity of their own background and maybe as importantly the diversity of their organisations too, a council CIO very proudly being the number one CIO was brilliant to see, and shows at last how much every type of ‘business’ is now adopting the role of technology at its core, superb to see.

November was going to be a month of gigs, catching up on postponed, moved or just missed experiences, and even with more and more restrictions coming in we were determined to keep testing to stay safe and make it to as many of them as possible. Joel Culpepper in a tiny venue in Leeds and London Grammar at the amazing Warehouse Project in Manchester were two highlights. Joel Culpepper I think is so underrated, almost a little secret, he put on an explosive set and wowed everyone. London Grammar’s ability to create a euphoric experience whilst having a relatively melancholy set was quite wonderful too.

But the highlight of November and the gigs has to be Fatboy Slim playing in the round in Nottingham.  A little stay over for both of us in the city that has been my second home for the last two years, a brilliant wander around, a wonderful meal (World Service) and then on to a wonderful new wine bar called Bar Gigi, recommended by the waiting staff in World Service we entered and asked for an Italian Red, clearly a code word for the waiting team being the best they could possibly be, a tour of the wine cellar and a lovely bottle picked, we’ve been back already and felt like returning family members, if you are in Nottingham go, its my find of the year.

The gig itself though, the beauty of anyone playing in the round is you remove some of the crush of being near the front, so we did it, and by chance we ended up at the place where Norman seemed to spend most of his time, and we danced our arses off for two hours, every hit, every remixed oldie even my song of the year got an airing and it felt like a bit of a religious moment with Praise Me ringing in our ears, absolutely top of the pops for me!  

As we flipped into the depths of November though we knew we were heading for a busy busy time, its retail after all, but with a resurgence in illness and new worries we were all on tenterhooks which meant a bit more time working away in Nottingham which meant a bit more time to watch a late night film here and there, my top hit film of the year has to be Malcolm and Maria, at times really hard but all the way through beautifully shot, amazingly poignant soundtrack and superbly acted, so now for the last list this year, my films of the year:

One Night In Miami

Uncorked

The Banker

Malcolm and Maria

Strange Fruit

MLK/FBI

Wonder Woman 84

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Where Love Lives

Spencer

 

After a superbly conducted trading peak where systems were supported so well by a team that the whole business now trusts we were onto the actual celebrations, but first a surprise that me and the smallest one had been planning a little while.

Sarah and I knew that at some point we would make that formal commitment to be together forever, I guess we had decided a little earlier in the year that we had a venue we wanted, we just needed to actually ask the question, so a lunch all planned at The Reliance a place of meaning to both of us the smallest one and I went off to pick the ring, a great hour spent in a wonderful jewelers in Leeds and next thing you know I am on one knee in our restaurant and getting the answer yes. With two kids as part of this it was such an honor to hear the answer be yes and now the planning for the actual wedding begins, November 2022 at the Star Inn. You can imagine next years review of the year may be a little dominated by these plans.

December has been a whirlwind, a cancelled US holiday replaced with a trip to the Lakes and London, a very busy set of family Christmases and a lovely new car to finish off the year with.

Its been an exciting year but one still marred by the world changing events, just when you think its over it strikes again and that makes it a rollercoaster mentally. Mostly we have smiled, always the four of us have been there for each other no matter what, we have a four legged friend who entertains us daily and pours so much love into our family. This family started the year a little uncomfortable with the tag ‘blended family’, it ends the year embracing the term, even being proud of the term.

So many people made this year possible, Jessica, Alex, Rebecca, James, Kev, Helen, Grant, Arup, Bayju, Molly, Kay, Jill, Jen, Andy, Sam, Michelle, Amanda, Hannah, Chris, Alice, Michelle, Sandy, Jo, Fiona, Stephen, Dave, Steve, Jason, Steve and so so many more. Some days you saved the world, some days you simply made me smile, some days you perhaps don’t realise it but you made the day worth getting up for and some days we all just managed to get through together, so raise a toast to friends that shine bright. 

But the most important people are Sarah, Ethan and Milly without whom there is no blue sky and no need for a new year, thank you for all the memories, my bright shinning diamonds. 

Here we are at the end of 2021, now lets step carefully and quietly into 2022 and do everything we can to create luck for 2022. A new year, new possibilities, new opportunities, new experiences and a new love for 2022. 

 

Come on, you target for faraway laughter. Come on, you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine. Come on you raver, you seer of visions. Come on, you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine. Shine on you crazy diamond. Come on! 

 

Happy new year dear friends, happy new year! 

 

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