Under A Long-Haul Flight Path

THERE is a, potentially British, test of etiquette at the start of each year – how long after January 1 is it expected and then acceptable to wish people a happy new year?

Some begrudge it anywhere beyond the first dawn of the new year while others – looking at you marketing emails – will keep going until at least the middle of the month.

Personally, think the first morning back in the office – or first team video meeting – is about the limit.

Think we have all got the idea by then.

Which is why this blog is posting its traditional new year post (and reduced look at the best of 2021’s music) in the final days of February.

St Ives in the January sun

There is a good excuse – as there has been most years since the first of these posts was written in a dark Ghanaian beach bar seven years ago – and it is my normal  life was sort of put on hold for the first six weeks of the year.

Could not blame being busy at work as was off for the bulk of that time, but those six weeks were a step away from normal life after a wait of almost two years – 649 days apparently.

We will get to that, but let’s break a habit and get to the point of this post early by looking back at the last 12 months.

There were more longer than hoped for waits, at least between blog posts – not through any plan or intended reason.

It just sort of happened, most probably courtesy of spending so much time each day tapping away in front of a screen and wanting to do anything else in my spare time.

Consider this the first step in a drive to remedy that as form of belated resolution, along with losing the lockdown weight and regaining pre-pandemic fitness levels.

Not that there was much else to get in the way, especially with largely working from home, as life continued to remain largely wedged between the four walls of my flat.

Horizons were expanded by a change of job which has had me, at least occasionally, making the trip to Worcester although far more often rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, grabbing a shower and breakfast en route to logging on at home.

A year ago, work was writing about business, but when the offer came in to look after production for various newspapers – ask your parents kids – churning out pages and fighting a string of deadlines, it was not too difficult to accept.

Feel much more at home doing that. Especially at home.

Blending in with the locals

And then there was the other expanded horizon – the one over which the main distraction over the last couple of months emerged far too early one post-Christmas morning.

Anyone paying attention to the new year’s post two years ago – from the considerably warmer and sandier surroundings of a Rio hotel room – will remember a public declaration of no longer being single.

And it was Lisa – responsible for much of that sand, however much she denies it – who emerged into that grey Heathrow morning, a wrong turn through the departure gate delaying our reunion a few brief seconds.

But after 649 days (courtesy of PCR tests and security, she had a lot of time at Sydney airport to work it out), what does that matter?

Not that we haven’t see each other during that long time between bidding farewell in Bogota as the pandemic descended and her arrival from an Australian summer to an English winter.

Pretty much every evening in that time – or early morning, once her cat alarm system kicks in on the other side of the world – has been spent chatting via video until eventually restrictions lifted, borders opened and we could actually plan something definite.

So for those six weeks – much of my holiday time used up either side of being back at work – we were reunited, testing out the restaurants by my flat which normally just walk past, meeting up with friends and introducing her to the delights of Cornwall, a series of day trips from Gloucester and a final week chalking up the miles on foot around London.

She also developed a love for The Detectorists and The Repair Shop.

And on one of those day trips we got engaged.

Extra baggage to take home

No, did not kneel down (chances of getting up again not good with my knees), did not have a ring (that was the next day’s trip) or have any romantic words prepared.

But sat on a bench at Symonds Yat Rock – not the classic viewpoint, it is closed – came up with something which managed to take her by surprise and get the desired yes.

It opens up a lot of other questions for a long-distance relationship, but we will get there.

And need something to write about in all those upcoming posts.

• There is traditionally a second part of the new year post which has grown into its own accompanying article – the Travel Marmot nods to the best of the previous 12 months music.

A year ago, my music-listening habits provided enough candidates for long lists of album and track of the year.

But those habits appear to have changed in the past 12 months – less time in the gym with headphones, more time working, more podcasts – and we are back to a briefer affair on the end of this post.

That’s another thing that needs to change in the coming months…

Album of the Year
Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

Not a clear-cut winner in a year with plenty of good albums, but few standouts. Dry Cleaning was an early contender nobody quite managed to overhaul, starting a trend for spoke-sung lyrics and in Scratchcard Lanyard they almost produced the track of the year.

Surprisingly Close to Album of the Year
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Topped several end-of-year lists but on paper it is hardly my cup of tea. On vinyl (or whatever the download equivalent is), it most definitely is and soundtracked several train journeys to Worcester and back. To nobody’s surprise more than mine – some fucking wizardry.

Track of the Year
Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

“What?”

If you are going to release a debut single, make it this catchy, funny, Mean Girl referencing and did we mention catchy? All while remaining charmingly odd, making buttering muffins and chaises longue part of the zeigeist, Wet Leg produced an instant indie classic and their debut album is the most anticipated of the coming months (even with Fontaines DC on the horizon).

Obligatory Phoebe Bridgers Entry of the Year
Muna – Silk Chiffon

Having released last year’s album of the year, this is a fifth successive appearance in various guises for Bridgers – this time as guest vocalist for a band on a her own label. Slice of bubblegum indie guitar pop runs Chaise Longue a close second for catchiness.

Verging on Edge of Genius and Irritating Discovery of the Year
Yard Act – The Overload

The Leeds band were not too far behind Wet Leg for media excitement about new bands, enlivened by this witty slice of modern life.  Not sure if or for how long it falls on the right of the engrossing/irritating line, but for the moment it is very much in the to be embraced category.

Welcome Old Friend of the Year
Billy Bragg – The Million Things That Never Happened

Could have been The Wedding Present’s category as they found a lockdown niche of online shows and reimagined oldies, but Bragg’s latest musings on modern life at a certain age show you can grow older with charm, humour and valuable insight. Have to give it a try.

As ever, there is a long list of contenders well worth a listen or in need of greater exploration but chances are we will cover much of that as the A-Z iPod challenge kicks back into gear.

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