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That was the year that was

Like most years 2011 was both good and bad. For the most part though, it was somewhere in between. Try as I might, though, I doubt I could write this without referencing the political climate.

My stint teaching poetry and creative writing at Kingston University came to an end with my decision that academia would not be the path I would walk down - not least because Tories in power seem to hate the humanities and immediately set about making any future endeavour in that regard hundreds of times more precarious than it needs - or should - be. I already miss the interaction with fellow writers but I do not miss the mountains of marking!

I was also glad to bid goodbye to a communications job that I'd also held for the duration of both phd and teaching, enduring it as a means to an end, and little else, but a role in which I'd communicated to the English speaking world how dangerous UGG-type boots are, having been designed in Australia as slippers and not for the cracked, concrete pavements of Bradford, Bristol, and Birmingham. There were other osteopathic headliners (which could also be read as synonymous with howlers). Such exciting stuff I made of this job I bet you're wondering why on earth I left!

By the time my least favourite season of summer arrived I was on the final lap of thesis writing and began a full-time comms role with a think-tank-cum-trade membership body. I had hoped to take on the Alistair Campbell equivalent role for the TUC, but I rest assured that it still has my name on it for some future chapter of my life!

The publisher of my debut book emailed me - or rather the administrators did - to inform me that Beautiful Books was no more and did I want to buy the remainder of my books for a pound a piece, which I declined, already troubled with a major books storage problem.

Anyhow - the phd was submitted at the end of September and I bit my nails as I imagined the examiners reading it with the forced attention that no other type of reader has to bring to it.

I took myself off - for the first time - to Iceland, perplexed at the generous carpeting of snow (why, because I had convinced myself that it wouldn't snow until January and that if I'd wanted guaranteed snow I could have gone to the trickily named Greenland instead). Perplexed also at the first music I heard being The Pogues Fairytale of New York and not Sigur Ros or Bjork! I had nursed the idea - ever since I was a child - that Iceland would be my spiritual home sans elves, goblins, and fairies that most of the country believes in, but which told me of their Celtic mystical roots and so was another sign that there lay my roots.

Needless to say I did not disembark the plane and fall to my knees and kiss the snow whilst crying 'I'm home'. I merely waited at the one baggage carousel for my case and boarded the bus for the hotel. Maybe I'd feel the sense of awe I was hankering after when we - led by the equivalent of a socially inept and repetitive geography teacher circa 1970s - were taken to 'chase' the northern lights?

The skies were far too cloudy - although it didn't stop me admiring the littering of lights throughout the otherwise snowladen otherworldly landscape - especially passing a cemetery in which every gravestone, every cross, arch and angel, was surrounded in fairy lights, although to pay them their due, these lights were of the same colour, and not a crazy colour scheme that would shout indecency.

The lights will have to wait for another trip. I returned and sat my viva voce. My external examiner - a man who The Guardian called one of the UK's top 100 public intellectuals and whose last book was to do with communism - and my internal examiner - who had grown up in a communist country and who had even met her husband at the Karl Marx Institute - then proceeded to interrogate me on all points left.

After more than an hour I was asked to leave whilst they 'conferred'. Called back in I was congratulated and told I'd passed with minor corrections. Public intellectual clapped and then asked if I'd like a chocolate biscuit. I politely declined, thanked them three times, and left before they could change their minds.

Another highlight of my year was benefitting from the seeming decadence of deep tissue massage. A couple of days after my first I had five whole days without a headache, which felt miraculous. It was only then that I fully realised that I carry - and hold onto - stress in every muscle of my body.

Ten weeks ago I also began running. I know, it sounds good, but by running I mean half jogging, half walking. I like walking. I'm very good at it, having started at two years of age. But running had always eluded me - or jogging, which is what it is. I now get up at dawn three times a week and attempt to enter a steady pace for twenty five minutes with absolutely no walking. It's made me want to make 2012 the year of the physical.

So, I started the year in a job I didn't like, stressed out with almost daily headaches, and I end the year as a jogging doctor of philosophy in an ok job. What could I improve? Far too many things that I won't delve into here - but one is to reconnect to the one thing that has served as a good enough foundation to all of this - the writing, the studying, the steady progression, the not drinking, not smoking, running person.

But what of the cultural year?

Instead of summarising the year in month-by-month as I have done for previous years round-ups, here are my picks of the films, novels, art, music, and journalism of the past twelve months.


Tinkers - Paul Harding
Of Beasts and Beings - Ian Harding
Red Dog, Red Dog - Patrick Lane
Then Came the Evening - Brian Hart
Nemesis - Philip Roth

All of these books were outstanding; poignant and well-written. The best prose stylist has to be Paul Harding for Tinkers, his debut novel, which bagged the Pulitzer.


Lady Chatterley's Defendant and other essays by Horatio Morpurgo
CHAVs by Owen Wilson
Arguably by Christopher Hitchens


Le Volte Quattro
The Fighter
How I Ended Last Summer


Don McCullin at Tate Britain and Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven at Dulwich Picture Gallery. (Biggest disappointment was Degas at the Royal Academy.)


PJ Harvey's second Mercury ward winning album, Let England Shake, was a revelation. So too, the old folk singer, Dick Geoghan for the World Turned Upside Down.

Kate Bush's Fifty Words for Snow also deserves a mention for a brilliant comeback (did she go anywhere?)


Saved by Edward Bond at the Hammersmith Lyric


Judas' Gift by Adam Phillips in December Xmas issue of the London Review of Books

Partnership of the year: Lasn & White of the Occupy Movement

Columnist of the year: Hugo Williams for Freelance in the Times Lit Supp

iPhone apps of the year: The Wasteland and Get Running


George Monbiot for For Corporate Welfare Queens and their Crystal Baths, there is no Benefit Cap, The Guardian - 21 November, 2011 and The 1% are the very best destroyers of wealth the world has ever seen, The Guardian - 7 November, 2011

Tanya Gold for Beside the horror of recession, something gaudy is stirring, The Guardian - 7 October, 2011

Notable deaths

Christopher Hitchens
Amy Winehouse
Shelagh Delaney
Pete Postlethwaite
Chartist historian Dorothy Thompson
Steve Jobs

Themes of 2011

Showing the seams of work

My resolution for 2012

Possible themes for 2012
More cuts!


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