A look back at 2022
Bradford on Avon, November
The start of 2022 found me in a more stable situation than I'd enjoyed for many years. I'd settled in at Lush and was (mostly) enjoying the work there, by this point I was up to speed with the New Technology being used and the iOS team had grown to three, giving us the flexibility & depth to cope with some of the more outlandish requirements coming down from Upper Management. The house was in good shape (although I still had a tarpaulin over my leaky, fake chimney) and I was shovelling money into my neglected pension fund in hopes of a comfortable post-employment lifestyle. The gradual dismantling of pandemic restrictions was opening up the prospect of distanced journeying & more IRL socialising (although anecdotes of international travel problems were common) - it was as if we were returning to what was vaguely remembered as 'normal'. The prospects for 2022 seemed predominantly positive.
January has become a medical month in recent years with my diabetes reviews & routine 'start of year' appointments. The diabetes results were good but my levels were slightly up on the previous tests, nothing to worry about but a bit disappointing after the gradual but steady declines I'd been seeing. Good news was that I'd be having annual rather than six-monthly reviews in future. My eye tests (both optical & diabetic) continued to show my right eye doing well but my left now essentially non-functional. A (phone) consultation with a physiotherapist diagnosed my growing shoulder pain as being due to rotator cuff issues and I now have a series of exercises to perform that provide some relief.
With the diabetes now under control most of my health issues seem to be simple wear & tear on an ageing body and nothing that isn't fairly easily managed. Losing weight & continuing with regular exercise (mostly on the bike) have had the biggest impact on my quality of life but from conversations with my contemporaries it's clear that age brings increasing reactivity to both random ailments & medical advances. Fingers crossed!
My musical output had dropped away alarmingly so as the year began I forced myself to sit down and work on something. I surprised myself (as usual) by coming up with a nice little tune - Automon - but sadly this didn't lead to an outpouring of renewed creativity. I would return to musical endeavours later in the year.
I'd begun to travel a bit more with trips to see Linda in Cardiff, Vi (my mum) in Essex and sister Kay in London, all simple train journeys but somehow feeling more adventurous after my lockdown seclusion. And then Covid caught me and I was back to solitary confinement. By this time (February) it seemed that the virus had gone from being the Dreaded Lurgy to a mere inconvenience and so it was for me, to the point where I carried on working (from home) as I didn't feel ill enough to warrant retiring to my sick bed. It was interesting to see how systems for supplying the afflicted had become routine with deliveries from both my local health food shop and the supermarket being easy to set up & receive. Despite my feeling (mostly) cured in a couple of days the virus took the full ten before giving me a negative test result.
March brought still more medical attention. I was invited to attend an abdominal aorta aneurysm screening which sounded very dramatic but turned out to be a one-off ultrasound test for potential circulation problems, given to all 65-year olds. And I passed! Then I was off for a checkup at my new dentist, chosen because my previous surgery had descended into hopeless customer unfriendliness. A bit more expensive but efficient & professional, a definite improvement.
With the weather getting warmer I found myself getting out on the bike again. Mostly this was for exercise rather than exploration and the vast majority of the time was spent doing circuits of my regular countryside route just outside of the town. Once again I watched the progression of the seasons & farming practices from my saddle, a reassuring way to plot the turning of the year. Most of the wildlife I encountered was pastoral but there were also deer, squirrels, weasels, & small furry things that were hard to identify in passing. For the first time I spotted a hare (appropriately at Easter) and a metre-long grass snake, sinuously crossing the road.
I had one scare on the bike when I came round a corner (possibly a little too quickly) and found myself facing a rapidly oncoming car. My squealing brakes were almost up to the job and I came to a halt with the lightest of collisions. I was fine (although somewhat shaken up, not helped by being yelled at by the driver) and although the bike came through mostly unscathed a follow up consultation with my cycle tech revealed several parts that needed replacing - including the very worn brake blocks. Although I was (arguably) in the right this 'near miss' gave me pause to consider my riding style & attitude and I now find myself a more cautious & considerate cyclist, to everyone's benefit.
An offbeat opportunity for charitable contributions popped up in April - I read that the radioactivity monitoring group in Chernobyl had approved the sale of (non-radioactive) fruit spirits from around the site of the accident, providing some income for the locals there. In addition they were donating a percentage of the profits to a Ukrainian charity. Faced with this somewhat whimsical way to provide support for the victims of both the atomic disaster and the current invasion I sent off for a bottle of the pear spirit. I'm not much of a spirits drinker but when it arrived it not only tasted rather nice but brought back memories of Yugoslav slivovic from my trip there in 1987. Come November and I found myself ordering another bottle, this time of the apple.
There's a fairly fancy stately home in the middle of Bradford on Avon, mostly hidden behind woodland & tall fences. One morning in April I was walking past and found the gates open and a sign proclaiming an open day, for the grounds at least. Intrigued I wandered in and spent a delightful hour or so exploring this example of the town's history & heritage. Maybe I'll see inside the house in another ten years.
Late April saw the resurgence of another family tradition as Vi & I travelled up to London to celebrate my sister Kay's birthday. Along with her partner Roger we met at Hoppers, a Sri Lankan café in the heart of Soho, where a fine time was had by all. My own birthday comes in early January which is not a great time to meet up so the plan for next year is to have a half-year birthday in the summer.
In the middle of May Bradford on Avon had its first (at least since I've lived here) Green Man Festival. Folk dancers & musicians - predominantly Morris dancers but there were styles from all over the UK, Europe & beyond - performed at venues all through the town along with a Hobby Horse procession and St George & the dragon/devil parade. A wonderful reemergence of old traditions but with a definite contemporary flavour - several of the Morris groups looked decidedly punk or goth. It reminded me of the 'Tribal' belly dance stylings I'd seen in New Zealand a few years ago, a funky mix of old & new.
With Covid fears continuing to diminish Linda & I decided to risk a 'proper' holiday trip, although with international travel still blighted with pandemic and post-Brexit paperwork we stuck with something a bit closer to home - an AirB&B stay in Solva, West Wales. The weather was a bit chill (and quite cloudy) but even so we had a fun time exploring the cute little village and pootling around Pembrokeshire.
Through the start of the year I'd been thinking about the logjam in my musical creativity and ways of getting things moving again. The mechanics of setting up & configuring a synthesizer can often blunt my creative impulse, especially on mid-price instruments like mine where compromises on control layout have to be made, and I'd been looking at online reviews of synths with (to my eyes (& ears)) more accessible & 'intuitive' interfaces. The example that shone out was the Waldorf Iridium, a 'big brother' to my delightful Blofeld synth, and after some serious deliberation I decided that this was the instrument for me.
Unfortunately I hadn't reckoned with (one of) my internal judges. Despite the fact that I could definitely afford it & was pretty sure that it would bring me years of delight there was a part of me that couldn't countenance laying out such a substantial sum on what could turn out to be an old man's folly. Acting as my own internal advocate I pointed out that I'd been down this path before and had been very well 'repaid' for previous instrument purchases, that my bank balance was more than adequate, and that I was hardly the profligate spendthrift that the prosecution was alleging. All was in vain, regardless of my determination to proceed I couldn't bring myself to make the purchase.
Renmei albums (tap to listen), June/July
And then a strange resolution presented itself. As I was no longer playing bass in a gigging band my backup instrument had remained in its case for quite a while. Taking a realistic look at the potential for future performances I decided I could live with just one 'proper' bass and that it would be OK to let the other one go. As it turned out this surplus guitar was quite the collector's piece and I sold it for more than the Iridium would cost, at which point my subconscious decided it was OK for me to buy the new synth. I'm still not quite sure what this says about me - I go into a bit more detail about the process in my Tribulations of a musical hobbyist piece.
This 'instrument exchange' process continued as I sold my Guild Bluesbird guitar (another prisoner of the flight case) and my trusty Waldorf Blofeld synth (upstaged by the Iridium) to buy an ASL Hydrasynth, another machine with an Andy-friendly interface. Later in the year my Arturia Microfreak was retired in favor of an Anyma Phi, an upgrade of the 'quirky but interesting' aspect of my musical setup.
These changes had the hoped for effect on my musical output and over the early summer I produced two new albums - Play was produced entirely on the Iridium while Eden was (almost) exclusively created with the Hydrasynth. Composition remains a baffling process for me as I often can't remember (or even imagine) how I managed to come up with most of my musical creations but from my perspective whoever is doing it is getting better at it. And I get to enjoy the results.
The late summer brought abundance with an unexpected tax rebate and a bumper blackberry harvest. There's something very satisfying about thawing out my hand-picked berries for midwinter treats!
I've had a few unfortunate experiences over the past couple of years caused by unexpected clauses in employment contracts and for some reason I never seem to learn to spot them before signing. After a year at Lush I was expecting the industry standard pay & performance review only to discover that this wasn't how the company ran things - both had to be initiated by the employee and a pay review was only done if your work or responsibilities had exceeded the normal expectations of your job description. In context of the current 10% cost of living inflation this amounted to an effective pay cut and explained the high turnover of staff, especially in the techie area where 'normal work expectations' were defined in the vaguest terms, if at all. However there was a formal process in place and despite the subtle deterrents in how it was laid out I began the process of filling in the forms and collecting testimonials from my workmates in the department.
All this focus on working conditions brought the question of retirement to the fore. I'd begun the year thinking that I would automatically retire on my birthday (at the start of the next year) unless I reached an agreement with my employer to carry on but it turned out that this hadn't been true for a decade and that my job would continue until I chose to hand in my notice. I was still (mostly) enjoying working at Lush, they were happy with my performance, and working from home alleviated most of the irritations of a regular working life. On top of which my pension preparations had been somewhat haphazard over the years and despite the assurances of my financial advisor I was very apprehensive about living off my savings into the future. I've always been haunted by the vision of my older self dressed in rags, sitting in a gutter and swigging some generic cleaning fluid from a paper bag - I have no idea where this comes from but it looms over me like Banquo's ghost - and this tends to undermine my attempts to get a realistic grasp of my prospects. Sigh! So the idea of keeping a regular paycheck had more than a merely logical appeal.
My plan at this point is to gently manage the transition from wage slave to gentleman of leisure. Lush are very big on flexible working so after continuing on through the winter months I'll switch to some form of part time work (probably 2-3 days per week) in the Spring and see how that goes. My general lifestyle isn't a particularly expensive one and I probably don't need to worry too much about keeping Mr Wolf at a safe distance but until I find myself with more hobbies & passtimes than, er, time it feels good to keep on working. At least while I still enjoy it.
My filmgoing had shrunk to nothing over the past few years, even as the cinemas reopened I found myself reluctant to return to dark rooms filled with people and Hollywood's recent offerings hadn't overcome my reticence. However I was finally tempted by the Tivoli in Bath, similar to the Everyman chain it boasted smaller theatres with comfy sofa/armchair seating and food & drinks delivered to your seat just before the main feature commenced. I made a few trips there during the later part of the year, the highlight was the delightful 3,000 years of longing.
As the year moved into Autumn I was back in the medical system for my combined Covid booster & flu jab. By now this procedure had become somewhat routine, both for the local health service providers and the jabbees, and it was a challenge to reconcile this mundane process with the deadly worldwide crisis of the past couple of years. The world turns upside down but we roll with it and adjust our viewpoints accordingly.
October brought my first (and, as it would turn out, only) house guest of the year when Linda came over for a short visit. We took the opportunity to have a rather splendid afternoon tea at the Bridge Tea Rooms, conveniently situated next door to my house.
With Vi approaching her tenth decade my (UK-based) sisters & I were spending more time visiting her. Once again Lush's flexibility towards working patterns came to my aid as I was able to take my company laptop and keep working both on the train journey there and while I was staying with her. This caused great amusement when during a video conference she appeared with a cup of tea for me and I proudly introduced her to the team. It's been great to spend more time with Vi, staying for a few days lets us chat around less immediate topics and get a better sense of how things are on a deeper level. And to get out & about - we've sampled a couple of gastropubs in the town and tried out Harlow's new Wagamama.
It had been three months since I'd submitted my pay review request and despite periodic enquiries I'd had no indication that anything was being done about it. So it came as something of a shock when out of nowhere I got an official looking email, and even more when I read that my review had been processed and accepted! The pay rise was less than I'd asked for but was still an appreciable increase. At around the same time a general 'pay banding review' was implemented giving everyone in the department a bump in salary. I'd like to think that my efforts to work through the bureaucratic barriers helped everyone to benefit but I wonder if I'll ever know...
I'd not made as many home improvements as in previous years but those I did had unexpectedly large impacts. Due to a misunderstanding with the builder I'd ended up with huge handles on my kitchen drawers & cupboards giving them (to my eyes) a sort of 'Noddy's Kitchen' look. Replacing them with smaller ones (I agonised over the choice but finally ended up with scaled-down versions of the originals) somehow made the whole room feel more harmonious & 'fitting'. After the demise of my TV sound base (a set of extra, better speakers under the set) I replaced it with a soundbar and subwoofer which provided the same 'cinematic' effect but with more control. This included a 'night' setting which compressed the dynamic range (boosting the quiet bits while muting the explosions) and a further 'dialogue enhancer' to turn up the frequencies used for speech. My hearing is still fairly good but it's nice to be able to compensate for what seems like modern media's tendency to mix soundtracks for teenage ears.
The final household addition was a new bedframe. My old one was a sturdy pine affair with large headboard and footboard(?) and for a while I'd been looking for something a bit smaller to fit into my cosy bedroom. After a fairly fraught customer service experience I ended up with a 'platform' styled one and although the physical differences are minor - it's about 12cm shorter and 5cm narrower - the effect has been dramatic with the room feeling substantially more spacious. A nice bonus was seeing the old frame go to a very thankful new owner via our local giveaway website.
The final 'event' of the year came when Kay, Roger & I took Vi out for a fancy meal to celebrate her 90th birthday. She'd already had a house party organised by my sister Terri and a meal out with neighbours (on separate days!) and it felt good to provide another treat on a small scale, something that we'd all enjoy. There's more about our afternoon tea (with pictures) at Vi's Birthday Tea 2022.
My apetite for reading has continued unabated with 63 books purchased in the course of the year. I'm finding it easier to abandon titles that don't grab me but this still only accounts for a few bad apples - maybe four this year. The unexpected highlight was When we were birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, a Caribbean magic story, but I also enjoyed works by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Juliet E McKenna, K J Parker, T Kingfisher, Olivia Atwater, Victoria Goddard, Yangsee Choo, Jim McDermott, Joe Abercrombie, Martha Wells, Andy Marino and Andy Weir. I seem to be reading mostly sci-fi and fantasy, not much non-fiction this year.
It's been a very thin year for music purchases with a couple of albums from Dave Bessell & Liam Boyle, continued exploration of the Cardiacs back catalogue, and a handful of singles. The most unexpected delight was the reissue of Revolver with its startlingly good remix. This does raise some interesting questions for me - is the new mix tailored to ageing ears? Will music in future be regularly remixed & reissued to match contemporary tastes? - but for now it's given me the chance to enjoy a treasured favourite as if it's for the first time, not something I get to experience very often nowadays.
And so 2022 comes to a close and 2023 beckons. It's been a relatively quiet year, more consolidation & refinement than bold new strides, but the year ahead seems destined for bigger changes with the question of retirement overshadowing most other decisions. With my shiny new synth setup I'm hoping to get back into more regular music creation and I remain hopeful that I'll find a gigging band before it's time to finally hang up the bass. With more free time on the horizon I feel like I have one more Big Holiday in me - another group tour in an exotic location most likely - and plan to do more exploring of the UK and Europe. A major redecoration of the house might finally come about (the associated building repairs were postponed this year) which will probably challenge my slowly emerging aesthetic sensibilities. And there's bound to be a whole host of unforeseen hazards & opportunities to push me into wild new worlds. Here we go!
(Click on the pictures for larger versions.)