2013 / 2014

I adore New Year. I find the opportunity to reflect irresistible. Sure, in the wrong hands there’s a risk of sliding inexorably towards self-pity. But, exercise a little self-discipline, and reflection can be really quite good for the soul. It’s even been endorsed this year by the Queen (or whoever writes her Christmas Day speech).

When I look back, I usually start with my own digital archive for the previous 12 months. For one or reason or another (usually compulsion) I’ll have committed something to a blog post or captured what I thought was an important moment to document, in a photograph. Whatever the chosen medium, each ‘utterance’ are usually postcards from a particular moment in time, often impulsive ones.

From 147 selected pictures for my 2013, there are two pictures of note. The first – undoubtedly the blandest – was taken during a hurried day-long visit to Bury St Edmunds to see my Dad after his rescheduled hip operation. It was the first time I had set foot in the West Suffolk Hospital since he was last in there 30 years beforehand when he’d been admitted for emergency surgery after a serious garden accident. As I suspected it would do, it stirred up many unhappy memories.

I often wonder whether I have a fascination with the negative side of life, for many years concluding that I probably wallow just a bit too much in sad stuff in comparison with most. But as I pick out one other picture from 2013 which strikes me as important, I suspect I’m probably a good deal more positive than I’d previously given myself credit for. This picture taken in Studio 4 at what was referred to as BBC Television Centre (now the BBC has moved out, its just plain old ‘Television Centre’), isn’t the morose, self-indulgent opportunity for wallowing I’d thought it might be when I took it in February.

For years I’d longed to work in TV (up until the point I worked on a TV show and realised that there was far too much collaboration demanded for someone like me) and found the places where TV was made seductive as a result. Studios seemed effectively ‘out of bounds’ to anyone who didn’t work on TV shows at the BBC, so I’d never dared to go in them until March when I set out getting footage for the tap-dancing video. Spending time in these vast empty shells, they suddenly felt lonely places. And with the prospect of the iconic building they were housed in soon to be vacated, they also felt rather sad, perhaps even forlorn places, almost as though they had been callously forgotten.

Now I look on this picture, I see something different: I see the heavy studio doors wide open; light streaming in. There’s hope there in that picture. I rather like that.

The blog post archive shows something a little different. Just as I’d hoped this time last year, there’s been a considerably greater focus on arts and specifically my first love, orchestral music. Eurovision still featured in the posts, and looking at the top 20 posts for the year (below), it appears people still come to the blog for Eurovision stuff. I find that both gratifying, disappointing and also a little bemusing.

Best Performing Blog Posts

1. Correspondence between RNCM management concerning appointment of Malcolm Layfield
2. Eurovision 2013: Quick-fire review of all of the songs
3. Review: Sondheim Inside Out / BBC Concert Orchestra / QEH
4. BBC Proms 2011: How to Prom
5. Eurovision’s 2013 Logo: We are one, apparently
6. Making the BBC staff tap-dancing tribute to Television Centre
7. BBC Proms 2010: Rodgers & Hammerstein John Wilson Orchestra
8. Mitchell and Webb BBC Proms Sketch
9. About this Blog
10. Steve Martland (1959-2013)
11. Reuniting the Suffolk Youth Orchestra
12. Sifting through the BBC Proms 2013 brochure
13. BBC Proms 2013: Prom 4 / Stravinsky Rite of Spring / Francois-Xavier Roth / Les Siecles
14. RCM Fellowships, Honours, Doctorates & handshakes for 2013
15. BBC Proms 2013: Prom 10 / Schumann Piano Concerto / Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2
16. Corduroy at 02 Islington
17. Aldeburgh Festival 2013: Peter Grimes in Concert
18. BBC Proms 2011: Prom 59 Hooray for Hollywood John Wilson Orchestra
19. Vasily darling, a word in your ear if you’d be so kind
20. Reviewing Eurovision 2013 Final

In terms of arts-related blog posts, what’s most interesting for me is how well certain pieces have performed. The news about RNCM string teacher Malcolm Layfield, his trial and the tragic suicide of one of the witnesses violinist Frances Andrade wasn’t something which had been anywhere near my first list of things recalled from 2013, and the post’s appearance at the top of the list reminded me just how big a story it had been.

The review of the Sondheim Inside Out concert performed breathtakingly well (in Thoroughly Good terms) especially given that it was published in mid-November. Similarly, the Mitchell and Webb BBC Proms Sketch, published in early December.

The list also reminds me of the sad unexpected departure of composer Steve Martland, Vasily Petrenko’s really quite unfortunate outburst about women conductors, and just how many former Suffolk Youth Orchestra participants have read the call-to-arms for the orchestra’s 2014 reunion. Additionally, the list reminds me of my three most memorable music moments of the year: Les Siecle’s Rite of Spring at the BBC Proms, the opening night of the Aldeburgh Festival and a blistering Corduroy gig at the 02 in Islington. A cracking musical year.

Reading over the blog now, I notice a few things which have changed. A lot are shorter. There’s considerably less naivety and – it seems to me – impulsivity is on the decline. At the same time, I notice how there’s a recurring theme in a lot of what I’ve written. The one theme which emerges clearly is a reaction against snobbery and general vileness. Two posts which deserve an honorable mention then include ‘In Praise of Classic FM’ and ‘In Defence Of The Season Ticket Holders’. Classical music’s ‘problem’ (if it really has one) isn’t that its austere or elitist, its the snobs who reckon they own the genre in all its manifestations. And that – I discovered only yesterday – isn’t reserved for the older generation either. There are a great many I’ve seen on Facebook who are younger than me who are pedalling some pretty vile views about classical music artists which the rest of us precious little good at all.

Enough though. It’s late. This needs to be published and I have cocktails to make before Big Ben strikes.

What other things of note from 2013?

  1. I’ve worked with amazing people this year. I’ve loved it.
  2. I’ve commissioned and made some great stuff at work and on Thoroughly Good.
  3. I did write a short story. It was crap. I knew it would be. Short stories are difficult.
  4. Tried going to the gym. Didn’t work. So I bought myself a Brompton instead.
  5. Shed nearly a stone in weight before Christmas.
  6. Didn’t pay off more debt as I’d hoped. Did increase my debt a bit.
  7. Observed both my parents increasing fragility and their unfailing spirit.
  8. Didn’t stop biting my nails.
  9. Started reading in earnest again thanks to the purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite.
  10. Saw some brilliant Shakespeare at the National. Theatre is my new favourite thing.

And what are the hopes and plans for 2014?

  1. Write more.
  2. See more Shakespeare.
  3. Read more.
  4. Distance myself from Facebook – its not good for the soul.
  5. Use Twitter instead, but use it less.
  6. Consider a five year plan. It’s boring, but probably quite sensible.
  7. Tackle the garden – its a complete mess.
  8. Shave my beard off when I reach 13 stone in weight.
  9. Achieve bread-making greatness.
  10. Drink less coffee, drink more camomile tea. Its the way forward.

Happy New Year. All the best. Meet you back here in a year, OK?