31 December 2020

Yearnotes 2020 pt. 1

As I started these, sharing the couch with The Chef, she looked up from a Facebook idea to share the 12 positive things she’s done in 2020. It’s an excellent list. Then she asked for mine and I froze. I couldn’t come up with 12 for the year. I was stuck, not with a long dark night of the soul, but certainly a tepid evening of the couch. Subtly and incrementally, lockdown had bound me to stasis.

The year started—as year’s tend to do—in January. I was settling in with new boss and getting ready for a switch-up of projects. Covid put the brakes on that.

Instead it was months of remote visits. Made easier by the ridiculous spring weather. The restrictions on the shops forced us into behaving like adults and planning our meals. I upped my cooking contributions, but The Chef—by name and nature—still does most of the cooking. Her food is just nicer than mine.

Unable to travel abroad, to mark the end of maternity leave we took Piglet on her first camping holiday and heard the legend of Steve. We all but lived on the beach.

And despite everything we were lucky. Our close family and friends have all stayed healthy and safe. I got to have so much more time with Piglet that I wouldn’t normally get. We could bubble with the grandparents and we were never lonely.

But throughout the year there was a lingering malaise.

I spent too much time roaming the house by myself singing songs about poor mental health to a jaunty tune. The joke wasn’t funny anymore. If it ever was funny. I wasn’t depressed, but I’d lost resilience over the course of the year year. A bad mood was only a small shove away. It was too easy to feel attacked by innocuous comments and to look for fault where there was none.

Where I started the year imaginatively playing with Piglet, as time wore on, I found myself following the same tropes.

At work, being permanently in the house meant I was missing out the hard half-hours. They little gaps which get filled in an office. And they add up. I started to believe my own hype that I could do work without, you know, actually doing work. I’d lost my diligence, which is probably my primary saving trait.

By the autumn I needed self-intervention. Cutting back on caffeine helped my anxiety. As did regular paper to-do lists. And Piglet’s sleep, thankfully, took a turn for the better. But the vulnerability of my mood made the changes too fragile.

The upshot of all of this was that, by Christmas, I was left with a lacuna; I was beginning to feel too ashamed to be a proud dad. That couldn’t go on.

To fix it with a grand gesture would be a mistake. I’m better with small effort, done often. I sweep the hallway more when I let myself do it half-arsed. But half-arsed every day is cleaner than perfect once a week. (Sweeping the hallway? Covid has made my metaphors so small).

Piglet is too small to notice the lack of diversity in her play and my boss is still happy, so I’ve time to fix things. I’m taking a leaf from Instagram motivational posters. 1% better each day is 1.01^365=37% better over a year. Baby steps are the way out. I’m breaking the habit of a lifetime and making some January resolutions.

Here’s to a proud 2021.

Yearnotes 2020 pt. 2

Discussing feelings in part one (not a thing easily done by a middle-aged, centrist dad), it felt trite to finish with a big ole list of the year’s media. I’ve hived it off into a second post instead.


  • Get back into the wholesome reading. Which means 35+ books and less Twitter.
  • Better note taking. They’re good to capture my thoughts as they are, rather than as I choose to remember them. So no more than 6 missed weeknotes and toning down the false positivity. If I’m sad, I’m writing that I’m sad.
  • Nothing bigger than a B-Cup. This probably means correcting my levels of exercise, water and alcohol. This is the resolution I’m going to be least strict with.
  • Keep up with the analogue to-do lists. My work contributions are better. My work-life balance is better. My sleep is better without the hamster wheel of unfinished tasks.
  • I considered adding meditation. But get enough in the nursery while settling and while watching In the Night Garden. And I want to get angry enough this year.
  • Give Piglet the vocabulary to understand her feelings. Be honest with her when I’m annoyed. No-one wins with unexplained stoicism. And we’ll sprinkle it with kindness.
  • A stitch in time saves nine. And I tend toward ignoring needing nine and throwing the garment out. So single stitches done promptly this year.
  • The absence of holiday—or even planning for one—hurt last year. Travel is still going to be difficult, so maybe something like the North Coast 500?


In September 2017 I resolved to read 52 books a year. I managed 71 books in 2018. Piglet interfered with that pace, but I still managed 42 in 2019. This year a measly 25.

I managed to choose a lot of books that weren’t for me. Coupled with the pandemic I abandoned more books than normal. Unable to focus on long-reads, as per Tom Stuart, I’m also comfortable doing nothing.

My top books for the year were:

And I write my review up here.


Films and TV were close to non-existent. I watched half my year’s allocation of movies on a single transatlantic flight a week before lockdown. My top 3 (from 14) were:

  • Coco
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • If Beale Street Could Talk

I was luckier with the films than the books though, and I gave nothing less than a 3/5 star rating.


Lockdown meant I went to zero gigs this year. And I don’t have a great list of my year in music. Spotify’s wrap up has been Piglet-ified and tells me I’ve listened to Baby Sleep Shh over 22,000 times. At least I’m inculcating her with poor taste from the off.

My album of the year is 1958 by Blick Bassy. And The Pudding’s snarky AI was worried about how much Tom Waits I’d listened to this year. I blame the pandemic for forcing me to the familiar.


Lockdown also eliminated my commute so I’ve had to trim the fat from my podcast subscriptions. Mostly sport and politics. And what’s left is mostly sport and politics. My top-of-the-queue series are:

  • New Statesman. Mainly for Stephen Bush, who has a critical and elucidatory way of thinking and talking about politics. But also to listen to nice people talk about politics, rather than a collection of pricks.
  • Talking Politics. David Runciman’s honeyed tones. Helen Thompson’s insight. Regular cast of compelling guests and interviewees.
  • The Poet Laureate has gone to his Shed. I love Simon Armitage. I love this.
  • Bookshambles. I’ve decorated two houses to the sound of Robin Ince and Josie Long talking to people about books they love (plus whatever else is on Robin’s mind that day). I see no reason to stop now
  • Desert Island Discworld. Neither Robin or Josie like the Discworld books, so this a lovely addition to the roster to fill that gap.


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2020 Reads Men very much get the better side of the pregnancy deal. The impact of this and Kindred make me think I’m going to read everything Butler has
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Weeknotes 013: Well that was 2020 Work crawled to a finish with three things left to do. Of which I almost completed one. At least it’s January now, so I can get them sorted and