It’s been a funny old year again, which perhaps makes us yet more appreciative of things we enjoy. This is the kind of sentence one has seen rather too often over the past two years as folk gamely try to pretend that there’s a silver lining on the Covid cloud. I just want things back to normal as soon as possible, by which I mean travel abroad and half your friends not being vaguely ill – or actually ill. And meetings being face to face – I will be very happy when the word ‘Zoom’ returns to its proper meaning – a rocket shaped ice lolly.
Lovely here in Joppa today, appropriately seasonally cold at last before the more hardy snails finish off the garden, following our post-apocalyptic tropical New Year. Anyway, here’s a list of things I enjoyed or benefited from in 2021.
Films – not a great year for seeing films in the cinema, obviously, and there is something a bit samey about many of the Netflix products. That said, my favourite film of the year was ‘Power of the Dog’ (which I saw in the cinema). I had read the (brilliant) book but still this was a classy film by Jane Campion. I was pleased I liked it because I hated ‘The Piano’ (hated!) by the same director. Also fabulous was Spielberg’s remake of ‘West Side Story’ which I saw on the last day of the year, ‘I Care a Lot’ on Netflix, and ‘The Nest’ which looked like it was going to be a fairly conventional haunted house film, but was something entirely more interesting.
TV – I cried during the last episode of Season 3 of ‘Sex Education’, which may seem odd. Obviously, I cried at various points during ‘It’s A Sin’ which I really liked. I was five years older than the protagonists and lived the life they lived pre-AIDS, calming down a bit when the marking started in 1980; indeed, the pressing necessity of the S5 Interpretations may have saved my life and that, though expressed flippantly, is not a joke. Anyway, it was terrific and despite what some have said, I thought very real. But by a short head, I think the best programme of the year was ‘Time’ with wonderful performances by Stephen Graham and Sean Bean – and such excellent writing. I also really liked a documentary which isn’t new at all called ‘Hating Peter Tatchell’. I always thought he was very irritating, but really, how astonishingly brave.
Not that I’m here to knock but I was very disappointed by the vastly ponderous adaptation of ‘The Underground Railroad’ which was such a great book.
Music – well obviously I am getting to the stage when I completely fail to understand any new music. So it was a relief to love The Killers’ album ‘Pressure Machine’ – thanks for the tip from the Cameron Wyllie musical support group – Tom, Nick and Dave (Billy). So sad that Nanci died; I am still striving to learn ‘Anyone Can Be Somebody’s Fool’ on the ukulele.
Books – Pleased to say that I am continuing to read more and more, perhaps now at the levels I read when I was 15. However, I have to say I have not read much new writing that particularly impressed me this year and I’m beginning to worry that literature may go the same way for me as music has. That said, I did like Kevin Barry’s short stories in ‘That Old Country Music’ very much. Stylish and moving. Otherwise my favourite reads of the year were ‘Rabbit at Rest’, ‘Dombey and Son’ and Eudora Welty’s astonishing and beautiful (and difficult) ‘Delta Wedding’. But the big find of the year regarding books was Henry Green. He wrote nine novels and I have only read two – ‘Loving’ and ‘Living’ but I suspect he’ll be back in my best of 2022, running second only to a book as yet unpublished… . My favourite non-fiction book of the year was Lachlan Goudie’s ‘The Story of Scottish Art’.
Eating Out – How wonderful it was to return to going out to eat. I am still burning lots of candles for Macau Kitchen and Spitaki (going tonight!) But I also love Noto. The best meal of the year (just possibly of my life) was our return visit to Hjem in Wall in Northumberland. Dear, mind. It’s worth going to Peebles just to eat at Osso, but if you go on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday you can also get bread from The Fat Batard; the chili and cheese loaf was fabulous. And one of the greatest pleasures of the year has been my repeated visits to drink long blacks at Tanifiki on Portobello High Street: it is the best coffee I have ever drunk.
Other things : my favourite overnight stay was at the Talbot at Malton; the bathroom was amazing and we saw Eddie Redmayne in the restaurant. My favourite new smell of the year was Rozu by Aesop (if you like roses). I liked the things I bought from Farmer Gracy for the garden. In the perhaps slightly unlikely environs of Easter Road, I bought amazing eclairs from Éclair Ecosse. I love the products sold by Noble Isle – liquid soaps and shower gels inspired by different parts of the UK (like, nice parts); in a massively competitive field, they also make the best hand sanitiser (Rhubard, Rhubarb). I also like the products from Dook, just round the corner from me in Joppa; Eponine chocolates (yes, they are worth it), and more or less any clothes made by Oliver Spencer. And if you want something framed, the Portobello Frame King is a most helpful, interested and genial King.
There you go – hope there’s something there you enjoy. No guarantees, mind!