There was lot of talk on social media and in the papers about what a horrible year 2017 was, but I (perhaps naively) think it was an improvement on the year that preceded it. My heart was cleaved in two by 2016’s Brexit vote and the election of a certain American president and while twenty-seventeen saw the effects of these decisions come to fruition, I also took comfort in the resistance movements, demonstrations and positive forces of chance that sprung up as a direct result: like sunshine after rain, or the gold left behind in the sieve caked in mud, or the gleam of pearl in an oyster. The news has still been shocking, as usual, and I haven’t always succeeded in focusing on the glass half full, but I do think there are glimmers of hope. I’ve noticed a shift in the public discourse. Care for the environment is becoming daily more mainstream, gender inequality is more and more visibly discussed, the Women’s March was a pure joy to behold, and I protested more in this one year than I ever have in my life. Small fry, perhaps, but reason for optimism.
This year we celebrated – birthdays (by the seaside for her, on a Cambodian island for him) and new life and the nuptials of friends. I cried every time I saw a friend walk down the aisle. We travelled, near and far. We delighted in togetherness and solitude, too. We revelled in simple pleasures – homemade breakfasts with the weekend papers, coffee in bed (and the stained sheets to prove it), Sunday walks and cups of tea with dear ones. There were hard moments, too – days of uncertainty or anger. Days where the angels of our better nature took flight, or where my overactive imagination got the better of me. But we never went to bed angry and I tried to live more in joy than in fear. I thought of this poem, plenty.
Family members fell ill and I gave thanks for their speedy recovery and for the NHS. 2016 was crammed with European adventures, in a (pretty darn successful) attempt to make the most of my American pen pal-turned-best friend spending a year abroad in Ireland. 2017 was quieter, in that respect, and I missed her, but it was full of its own adventures. For the first 10 months of the year, we stayed close to home (with a few notable exceptions), living parsimoniously as we could in one of the world’s most expensive cities in a bid to save pennies for the year end’s travel dreams. We spent the last eight weeks of the years travelling through Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, stopping off at my parents’ flat in Singapore en route.
In January, we spent many a cosy weekend at home, drinking coffee and preparing our favourite, guilty-pleasure breakfast (fried egg + avocado + chilli jam on toast). The Women’s March was an incredible highlight and such a positive, empowering way to begin a year. (Can we have another one next week?)
In February, we walked a lot, keen to stave off the winter blues. We celebrated my 26th birthday with brunch at Dishoom and a surprise afternoon trip to blue, brisk Margate. I’d love to go back for a proper rifle through the secondhand shops this year.
We visited a dear, old friend in the quaint town of Ely for another winter walk.
I worked long and hard in a job where I (unexpectedly, and gladly) made a handful of genuine friends – kindhearted, interesting and interested, funny, fun. Together, we dragged ourselves through a set of months in the office that felt, often, as if we were wading through treacle. We were a good team, buoyed by lunch hours in the park beside the Thames, chatter-filled tea breaks and table football tournaments. I knew all along I couldn’t-wouldn’t stay – Asia was calling – but I feel proud that these friendships have continued to grow, even in absence, and I can count my old colleagues as new, true, real-life friends.
In March, the most hopeful of months, as the apple trees burst into bloom, we walked along the Thames most weekends (and found plenty of Victorian crockery and a piece of unexploded ordnance from World War II in the process!). Our autumn sabbatical was already in the embryonic stages of planning, so we knew Hammersmith wouldn’t be our home forever. I’ll cherish these memories of our London weekends, looping around the embankment and back home for coffee via the garden centre beneath the railway arch, my whole life long.
I took a solo trip to Singapore to visit my parents that month, too – a riot of colour and fecund, tropical heat after months of grey British winter. My ma and I took a little ‘side trip’, as she calls them, to Cambodia, too, and I fell more and more in love with Southeast Asia and its residents.
In April, we spent time with family, overjoyed at the imminent arrival of a new member. Our sweet, frail cat left us, eighteen years old, and I found some solace in the cyclical nature of the seasons.
My oldest friends and I rented a house in the hills of Bath for Easter weekend. Joyous! I pushed seeds into cool soil and crossed my fingers. I waited.
In May, we fell madly in love with the friendliest cat in the neighbourhood (and vowed to have our own someday).
We delighted in the discovery of an incredible neighbourhood pizza joint. We cooked plenty of meals, eating them around our small living room table with a side of conversation. We hosted friends and family. We walked I delighted, every evening, in running through the house and out the back door, feeling the cool stone on my soles, to water my flowers.
In June, the sweet peas bloomed with vigour and I filled our flat with them, stuffed into glass bottles, their scent fragrancing every room.
We tried to appreciate the last few months in our little, idiosyncratic home. We played Møllky in multitudes (and I sometimes won!). Our German friends, Caroline and Franz, came to visit on the hottest weekend of the year and we spent a Gatsby-esque evening drinking locally sourced cocktails in a herb garden perched on the roof of a museum by the Thames.
I found my wild swimming groove, spending so many delightful hours pondering life in London while swimming loops of the Serpentine. Sometimes I took my adventure-loving best friend with me; mostly, my thoughts and a gaggle of geese were my company.
July saw us feasting in France at my aunt and uncle’s home, wandering the alleys of nearby Bordeaux, and cycling along the river Garonne.
My friends and I hosted a hen party for our dear friend, Rosie, and had plenty of fun (going completely overboard, as only friends do) decorating the house and preparing a banquet for the ages.
I met the inestimably lovely Melissa, a wonderful writer and marvellous human – and a friend met through this very blog! We had such a magical day wandering around London’s gardens, hills and tearooms. I wish Glasgow and London were closer to one another!
2017 was the year I grew a garden. Or better put, 2017 was the year I successfully grew a garden. In 2016 our flat’s brown square of land out back remained mostly drab and lifeless. The wildflower seeds I’d flung at the cold, untilled earth in a too-cold spring had failed to germinate and my dreams of a green oasis beyond our back door remained just that. In 2017, spurred on by extracurricular reading, I got to work early in the year – mulching and digging and weeding and composting. It paid off, wonderfully, and I learned the veracity of that first rule of gardening: the importance of a good foundation. I spent many contented hours pottering in the shed with my grandfather, whose dahlias are the finest I’ve ever seen, whose tomato yield could almost feed a village.
By summer we had a patch bursting with copper nasturtiums, a rhubarb harvest that spanned seven months, bee-bringing salvia, umber marigolds, perfectly ripe tomatoes for lunch daily. It was my pride and joy and what I was most sad to leave when we left.
And leave we did. In August, with an eye to our future plans, we gave notice on our little flat – our first home together – and got round to all those niggling household jobs we’d put off for two years. We moved home, to my childhood bedroom, to the outskirts of London and we very fortunate to be able to house-sit for two months and save a few more pennies.
We moved out of our flat on a Friday and headed the heck outta dodge the very next morning for our ‘summer holiday’, a frugal but lovely week of cat-sitting in the Wiltshire hills.
We spent a day in Bath and a night in Bristol, catching up with old friends with fish’n’chips on the docks and revisiting the same conversation we have once or twice a week over and over (something along the lines of ‘Why don’t we live in Bristol? Let’s move to Bristol?’ Watch this space…) I worked my way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s truly excellent River Cottage Veg and discovered the world’s most failproof and toothsome (vegan!) brownie recipe.
In September, I handed in my notice at work – a relief, but surprisingly sad too. I learnt so much in the eighteen months I spent at that job and though I felt a little resentful at how much I’d given, for so little in return, I know it has and will continue to stand me in good stead for the future. I was so touched by the well wishes of so many colleagues there, who all wished me well in the future, with my travels and freelance venture. People can be so kind, and that moved me.
My sister and I rediscovered one of our favourite places in London, the Hill Garden and Pergola. I swam a lot and picked so many apples I started gifting them to my favourite colleagues. We purchased rucksacks and buried our noses in guide books. I met my newest cousin, Charlie Peter. I counted my blessings.
In October, I featured in a magazine photo shoot (eating Christmas dinner!), left my job and flew to Singapore. The rest of the year is well-documented on this blog, and will continue to be over the next month. Suffice to say, two months trekking around Southeast Asia (and missing the darkest days of the year) was a triumphant way to end a year of change. Leaving my full-time job to pursue my own agenda is something I’ve quietly dreamed of for years and I am pinching myself that I (with a great deal of good fortune, too) have made it happen.
2018 is a year of unknowns, equally thrilling and daunting. I’m forging a new career, my own little words-based business, and though I expected a month or two of an empty inbox (and bank account), I received my first commission on January 2nd and spent last week in a frenzy of translating and editing. And I loved it! Fingers crossed the seeds I sow – metaphorically and literally – continue to reap rewards. My other half is in the midst of a career shift, too, so while we’re back house-sitting in London for now, the year could take us anywhere. Thank you, as ever, as always, for reading this small little space on the web. I am ever so grateful for your readership and wish you a fulfilling 2018.