2017 / 2018

I wonder whether such blog posts are the New Year equivalent of Christmas letters. I see more and more of them this year. All healthy stuff, of course. Good for the soul. But are people getting bored of them?

I hope not. As it happens I rather like both Christmas Letters and annual reviews.

So, in time-honoured Thoroughly Good tradition, here’s a review of this year against my original 2017 objectives, a few blog successes, a concert high-point, and some actions for next year. Consider it the appendix to the Thoroughly Good Blog User Manual.

2017 Objectives

  1. Face change with boldness; feed challenges with an open mind.

Totally did this. Left the BBC behind. It appears I’m more at ease with change than I had previously given myself credit for. But let’s regroup in a year’s time on this point. If I feel the same way in a year’s time then all is definitely OK. 

  1. Be an architect, not a victim.

If you can’t make your own decisions about what you think is right for you when you’re 45, when exactly can you?

  1. Help more.

A difficult one to quantify. I mentored a graduate in Kathmandu, and coached various people.

4. Seek out freedom; eradicate addiction.

I didn’t so much seek out freedom, as avoided those things which had a whiff of freedom being denied.

I’ve understood addiction more. My addictions are not what I assumed they were at the beginning of the year. Awareness is the first stage. I’m not sure the word ‘eradicate’ really helps. Understanding behaviours and making mindful decisions seems like the right way to go.

  1. Reduce my digital footprint.

Hmm. Well. No. Failed on that one. 

Review in (around about) 208 words

  1. Went to Kathmandu, made a film, and mentored a chap out there. A remarkable experience. Saw a country I’d never seen before. Something I want to repeat.
  1. Left the BBC.

Had worried I’d been institutionalised. Worried I would pine for it. Concerned I would flounder.

The outside world feels a little more raw than I had originally seen it inside the BBC.

A lot of the BBC’s flaws are more apparent when you’re a licence fee payer. I’m much better working for myself.

  1. Got selected for the first stage of the Penguin Write Now Scheme.
  2. Established Thoroughly Good Coaching – a new coaching business. Worked one to one with a variety of businesses, public sector and higher education organisations. Also secured associate work. Acquired my Coachy Accreditation.
  3. Secured some video commissions – want to do more of this kind of work in 2018. I really enjoy it.
  4. Played the clarinet solo in Rachmaninov’s second symphony. Got a bit emotional. No surprises there.
  1. Developed some new ideas for the Thoroughly Good Blog, developed a funding strategy to take it to the next stage in its development. Started producing a new podcast for launch in the new year. Uncovered some core editorial strands for my classical music writing. Always useful.
  2. Redecorated the living room, hall way and bits of the upstairs at home. Colours me and the OH have lived with for 20 years are now gone. A new dawn.

Blog Successes

Blog traffic is up 50% on last year’s total, rising dramatically in July (around the time I devoted more time to the blog, reached out to new content sources, and started expressing stronger (for me) views on the classical music world.

The five most popular blog posts were: Daniel Barenboim’s Post Concert Proms Speech transcription, Why on earth wouldn’t a woman on the podium be your cup of tea Mariss?, Why I Love This Music and What I Owe It, and Classical Music’s Biggest Problem.

These posts defy some of the assumptions I started the year with about classical music writing.

Readers are prepared to go with long reads, the classical music world isn’t the perfect world most might assume it is, and readers do seek out a personal perspective.

I don’t think that’s restricted to my blog necessarily. I see it on a few others of note where longer-form content is successful.

Thinking ahead, I think there’s undoubtedly a sweet-spot to be reached in terms of content where sentence length is optimised but authority isn’t sacrificed. Also, its increasingly important to remove as many barriers to the actual music as is possible.

Not being motivated by what the traffic is or might be undoubtedly helps shape editorial into something distinctive and authentic. Obviously, we don’t everyone doing that otherwise being distinctive will be ever more challenging.

Underneath it all

The most striking insight for me where the blog was concerned was the extent to which writing passionately about how I interact with the classical music world made me confront a side of my personality I didn’t especially like.

I see an encouraging rise around July in both accounts in terms of confidence and I recall there being a renewed sense of vigour throughout the summer and into the autumn.

The real come-down came in early December when the reality of what I had written in Classical Music’s Biggest Problem essentially appeared as an actual real thing at various events – elitism and snobbery amongst its own ranks.

Taking an objective stance on that might suggest that I created my own self-fulfilling prophecy – that has to be borne in mind. Or it might just mean I was right.

People I met and their impact on me

Business Leads

Potential new business leads are fascinated about the BBC. This was an odd experience when, shortly after leaving, the one thing I didn’t want to talk about was the Corporation. These conversations did reinforce my appreciation of the skills I have, and shone a light on the slightly odd expectations society still has on people who work freelance. My parents for example, refer to me leaving the BBC as me ‘retiring’.

Coaching Clients

There’s an assumption that coaches are the experts, that they’ve got life sorted out, and that if only the client could be like the coach then everything will be fine. My clients this year have helped me in my own personal development too. It is because of a coaching session that further personal learning is demanded. I like that.

Music Contacts

I spent years at the BBC assuming things about my musical contacts. I also definitely feared PRs (largely because within the BBC a lot of PRs exert a lot of necessary control over the projects they run). Outside the BBC I’ve discovered that isn’t quite how the PR world works. That’s made making new contacts and developing new ideas a breeze. That’s something I really value from this year.

And then there are the actual musicians and the writers. I’ve really felt supported by the people I’ve reconnected with and been introduced to in the second half of this year. It’s been invigorating. That’s something I really wasn’t expect when I changed direction in July.

Best Concert

This seems like a slightly odd thing to write about given that most people weren’t present at it and (unless you’ve got a login to Medici.TV) you may never see it.

But the most touching concert experience this year was undoubtedly at Verbier, Shostakovich trios in the first half and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in the second. The experience developed my listening skills in quite a profound way. I adore Verbier and the musical magic that emerges there.

Worst Concert

This one’s a difficult one to get across. The music was brilliant. Pianist Mitsuko Uchida was a revelation on stage at the Usher Hall. I was moved to tears.

But, the man who sat in the row behind me didn’t like it when I uncrossed and crossed my legs, momentarily blocking his view of the platform. So he punched me hard on the shoulder.

So I turned around and told him to fuck off.

2018 Objectives

  1. Be bold; be distinctive; be focused; don’t compare
  2. Think of digital content as strands as opposed to standalone posts
  3. Get to Aldeburgh Festival, Dartington, and the Edinburgh International Festival this year.
  4. Get more video commission and motion-graphic work
  5. Drive the funding strategy so it at least covers the annual costs of running the blog
  6. Build your immunity
  7. Don’t panic – opportunities come from all sorts of places
  8. Launch the podcast
  9. Crack the fear of money
  10. Acknowledge the terror and pitch some book ideas

2016 / 2017

Around this time of year I relish the opportunity to reflect on my experiences throughout the year. The outcome is an annual blog post published between Christmas and New Year – a way of bringing the year to an end, and looking forward to the next year. A self-imposed appraisal, now something of an annual tradition.

Content Highlights from 2016

What was the stuff I enjoyed creating throughout the year? This part of the process is fairly light touch – just looking over blog post titles and seeing which triggers what emotion. The following ten highlights are those which triggered some happy memories.

Letters from Stockholm for ESCInsight

I loved producing these short podcasts for the ESC Insight website in the run-up to and during my visit to Eurovision in Stockholm this year. Surprisingly for me, I do still enjoy listening to them too.

Meeting Howard Shelley

The ESC Insight podcasts encouraged me to make more of my own Thoroughly Good Podcasts this year. The most recent one – an extended unedited interview with pianist and conductor Howard Shelley – is my favourite.

The Women in My Life

Who doesn’t like a word map? This post was a personal exploration inspired by International Women’s Day started whilst I was recovering from pneumonia. I was amazed by the things I learnt about myself during the process.

Ten Things I Learnt In Verbier

A happy reminder of a delightful visit. I love Verbier. This year’s trip was where I discovered Brahms first piano trio and Beethoven’s Op.130.

Too Many Deaths

This maybe my most favourite post of the year. It’s short and to the point – a hint of the kind of stuff I’d like to do more of in the next twelve months. Brevity is rather pleasing on the eye.

The other surprising thing about the post is how it summarises one of the defining characteristics of the year – celebrity deaths – and does so before the full onslaught got underway.

Picture Highlights

Looking back on the year’s pictures (some published, some not) triggers different memories.

While we’ve confronted the divisions caused by the referendum and the surprise victory of Donald Trump, so things closer to home have had a disruptive whiff about them too.

Eurovision in Stockholm

In the years I’ve been writing about Eurovision, the contest has changed a tremendous amount. This year more than any other I’ve been aware of how its become something of a pilgrimage for those of us who ‘get it’.

This picture brings a smile to my face every time I see it. On the left is my partner of nearly 20 years, Simon, who was attending his first Contest. It was the first contest for Jess on the right too. We met in the arena before the Final. It was a very exciting during which I ended up drinking quite a lot of alcohol. Most unlike me.

Winner

On my way back from Verbier in the summer, I dropped in on former colleagues at the European Broadcasting Union. It was my first visit to the spiritual home of the contest and, whilst trotting around what is quite a dull building, I had a chance to lift the trophy. The smile says it all. I was, quite frankly, made up.

Recuperation

2016 was undoubtedly the year I understood the link between stress and illness, specifically how extended periods of low-level anxiety can damage the immune system. I wasn’t quite prepared for pneumonia, nor the slew of related illnesses which followed.

Recuperating was rather difficult: I wasn’t used to having to tell myself to not do anything and just rest. Colleagues sent me flowers and told me not to logon to work email.

Reconnecting with School

My demons with school have been laid to rest. This picture, taken at a school reunion, is proof.

Old Pal

Not everyone was able to get along to our school reunion this year. Marcel (above) was one of them. He and I were good friends back st school but lost touch. Social media connected us and during a lightning visit to Suffolk during the summer we met up for a beer in Cambridge. I don’t normally smile like this.

Yorkshire

Becky (left) and Emma (middle) were two very important friends of mine at University. We hadn’t seen one another for ten years when we met up in Yorkshire. Our trip consisted of a lot of nattering, some gentle hill-walking, and visits to local pubs. It was a delight.

Wimbledon

I went to the Wimbledon LTA Tennis Championships for the first time this year with the adorable Hannah whose generosity of spirit is something I aspire to. We spent all day there. I wouldn’t normally use the word awesome to describe things, but in this case it’s appropriate.

Travels

This is the interior of MUPA – Budapest’s newest concert hall. It has a majestic quality both inside and out. It was the sight which greeted me shortly before I stepped into the auditorium to watch my first ever Wagner opera -Das Rheingold. I found a deeply moving experience. I saw two other operas in the Ring Cycle before returning home a convert.

I was invited back to Budapest to write about another music festival later in the year. I love the travel opportunities I get and especially appreciated my extended time in Hungary’s capital. I really hope there are more opportunities like these in 2017.

Running

During my second trip to Budapest I started exercising regularly, running along the banks of the Danube every morning. I never imagined I would ever enjoy the process. But now, three months later I find I feel restless if I haven’t run. It’s helped me develop a strategy for tackling procrastination, and it’s transformed my mood.

Other stuff

Last year I set out my intention to be more mindful about what I published, to use email less, and to be bolder with my fiction writing. I was successful – distancing myself from my own copy was healthy, it’s helped me understand what interests me. It’s also changed the way I write – more concise, less verbose. I no longer look on email with suspicion. I use the phone far more to discuss things. Far more healthy.

The unexpected things are worth documenting here to. I’ve found myself pushing back in a lot of areas in my life, establishing personal boundaries. It’s the equivalent of having previously present at the village fete and this year having had the opportunity to set up my own stall there. I’m not entirely sure what I’m selling at the fete, but the opportunity to have a retail space is rather nice.

Some thoughts for 2017

In the spirit of concision, this year’s objectives are in list form.

  1. Face change with boldness; feed challenges with an open mind.
  2. Be an architect, not a victim.
  3. Help more.
  4. 4. Seek out freedom; eradicate addition.
  5. Reduce my digital footprint.

Boring Numbers

I published 184 posts in 2016 (compared to 165 posts in 2015, and  to 158 in 2014). The increase in numbers of posts is because unlike the year before I didn’t run a live blog for Eurovision or for the duration of the BBC Proms.

Total page views for 2015 were 27,591 (compared to 30,889 in 2015, and 30,774 in 2014).

The highest traffic generating post was the Ulster Orchestra’s appearance at the 2016 BBC Proms (1043 views) and the LSO’s Mahler 3 concert (589 views), both reminders of highly-charged musical high-points.

The blog homepage continued to hold its own (2628 views compared with 2,779 views last year).