How do we judge a year that’s gone by? Well, in global terms, this has been a bad one; in some respects worse even than the pandemic years, which now seem curiously distant to me, and more dream than reality. How did a social butterfly (well, an oldish butterfly) survive all that locking down? I can’t believe I really did it, now that my days are back to being coffee, lunch, coffee, dinner, not usually all on the same day, but sometimes. But in 2022, hanging over us all, there was Ukraine, and Truss and Braverman and Boris and small boats and energy prices and increasing poverty and strikes. The old butterfly often felt uncharacteristically…angry. Edgy. And some nice friends died. This, I imagine, is how it is from now on: one wedding (quite a wedding, mind) and what, five funerals?
There were a great many good things, though, in this cheery older person’s existence: paintings, gardening, friends, travel. Here are some more of them.
It was good to be back at the cinema with Dr Scott. Often we were more or less our two selves. The Filmhouse shut suddenly, but the opening of the Everyman was at least some compensation, with its fancy décor and eccentric performances and good coffee. Nobody seems to go to it, though, so please do try. It was a good year for movies, and I particularly enjoyed ‘Belfast’; ‘The Hand of God’ (so very Italian); ‘Official Competition’; ‘My Old School’ (a much happier film than I expected about a very strange episode; a sort of love letter to Glasgow); ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (though, Golden Globes, a comedy it is not!); ‘Blonde’ – I have placed my first ever bet, on Ana de Armas to win Best Actress Oscar. Recently, I very much enjoyed ‘Living’, with Bill Nighy.
However, my two favourite films of the year were ‘Boiling Point’ with the excellent Stephen Graham as a chef, playing out the ghastly stresses of his life in real time and ‘Aftersun’, directed by Heriot’s own Charlotte Wells, a film unlike any other I have seen and full of luminous beauty (and that’s not just Paul Mescal). At a book group not long ago, talking about my book, something which I seem to have been doing for a decade, when it’s actually only six months, one lady commented that I kept saying in it that something had made me cry. Did I not think, she enquired rather fiercely, that it was time to man up? Well, sorry, dear, but both these films made me cry.
On TV, ‘Mare of Easttown’ (which came out in 2021, but I am always late to the feast) had me shouting at the TV and was the absolute best ever ‘tired older cop with rocky past deals with crime’ story. And was my favourite television programme of the year. Of course, like the world, I adored ‘The White Lotus’; admired (and occasionally wept at) Ken Burns’ epic ‘Country Music’( in the year we lost Loretta), and sat on the edge of my seat – literally – throughout ‘The Walk In’ (Stephen Graham again). And then there was ‘Heartstopper’ which I was sure neither Mr F nor myself would like, but I was wrong. OK, life is not really like this, but who cares: the joy and beauty and tenderness on show made me very happy. Bring on the next 32 seasons, please.
Books. I really admired the memoirs of an Edinburgh schoolmaster – ‘Is There…’ – nah, just kidding. I read a lot of non-fiction, but as usual my favourite books were all novels, with two exceptions. My friend Maria Chamberlain’s ‘Never Tell Anyone You’re Jewish’ is about her family and the Holocaust. I read it because I felt I should, but actually found it lucid and compelling and, curiously, warm and redemptive. An extraordinary family. James McEnaney’s ‘Class Rules: The Truth About Scottish Schools’ also benefited from the author’s clarity and it summed up everything that’s wrong with the current state of Scottish education. I wonder if anybody who can effect the necessary change has read it.
So, novels. Early on in the year I loved Rumaan Alam’s ‘Leave The World Behind’, a thriller with an eco bent, with real characters; also refreshingly short in an era of massive books. ‘Reservoir 13’ (again I’m catching up) was great, original, clever. I loved the Irish novelist Niall Williams’s ‘This Is Happiness’. However my two favourite novels of 2022 were both by the same writer, again Irish – Claire Keegan. I read ‘Foster’ in a day, and ‘Small Things Like These’ even more. These are short books of great power, about the beauty of ordinary life and the heroism of ordinary people. Again, I cried, even despite an intense regime of manning up. Where are you, Andrew Tate, when we weak old homosexuals need you? Oh! In a Romanian prison. Ah well.
Restaurants. I ate and ate, very often in Ka Pao in the St James Quarter or Fava, the new Greek restaurant at Haymarket. I also continue to enjoy Macau Kitchen, First Coast, Baba and Spitaki. Eleanore is fantastic. Out of Edinburgh, I had great meals at The Cookhouse in Newcastle, Hjem in Northumberland, Las Tomasas in Grenada and the Gray in Savannah, Georgia. My two new Edinburgh restaurants of 2022 are The Palmerston and Argile, the latter’s tasting menu almost as good as Hjem’s, at half the cost.
Music – well, you know, at 65 I mainly listen to things from 40 years ago. But I do like The Bonnie Light Horseman album, and two tracks stopped me dead (both while driving, perhaps unfortunately). The first was a track called ‘Time Forgot’ by Conor Oberst, and the latter was the astonishing final track of Phoebe Bridger’s 2022 album, a song called ‘I Know the End’. Phoebe will never be involved in the making of ‘Carry On’ films for a host of reasons, not least because she is nery a cheery soul, but she is so talented and clever and sad.
I very much recommend products made by Noble Isle, the perfect meeting place of quality and value.
Obviously, like more or less anyone, my person of the year is President Zelenskyy. Another is Lyse Doucet. And Doddie Weir…I taught Doddie English when he was in S1 at Daniel Stewart’s and Melville College; he was entirely amiable and not at all interested. That he went on to be so brave and do so much good in the face of horror is humbling and must be cause for hope, even now he is gone.
Happy New Year!