Here follows the annual report for my imaginary shareholders in the year of 2021. Or, as I prefer to call it, the year of the ring-tailed lemur.
The report, you’ll notice, is over a week late. This is because my partner and I were hit by the dreaded Omicron at the eleventh hour and have been resting ever since. We’re doing fine but it’s surprisingly hard-going considering the claims of it being a “Covid Lite.” Look after yourself, readers. Get boosted pronto.
Mutant viruses aside, the year saw some personal victories:
First, we got the visa! It was the big one we’d been working towards for almost six years. It should have been five years, which was bad enough, but a pandemic backlog meant stupidly long processing times. I hope to never have to think about such things or prostrate myself before the Home Office again. It is done.
Next, Stern Plastic Owl came out. This is my fifth book, a collection of short writings with a focus on idle joy and absurdity and fun. It was published by my heroes at the comedy production company Go Faster Stripe and aided by a modest but successful Kickstarter campaign. I extend my thanks to everyone who pledged and, more importantly, gave me the “front row” of an audience to think about when putting the book together.
I encourage everyone else to buy the book. Go on, you know you want to. It’s a beautifully produced little book and I’m very proud of the contents.
Third, we bought our first ever flat. I have mixed feelings about this because I never really wanted to own a home but we were feeling the burn of rising rents and other precarious scenarios on the horizon. As someone else put it, we “had to get a mortgage to buy some rent control.” Still, our financial future is secure in a way I’d never imagined it would be, and we can knock as many nails into the walls (our own darn walls) as we please.
Fourth, we spent a week in Paris. Travel, you might remember, is probably my favourite thing to do. Thanks to the pandemic and a badly-timed “year off from travel” in 2019, I hadn’t been anywhere in three years. I was starting to get twitchy and weird, so the Paris trip was just the tonic. It was a travel double-whammy of sorts too, since we were there to see our excellent friends Landis and Andi who were over from Chicago. I came home to Scotland feeling refreshed and invigorated.
Fifth and finally, I wrote my first novel. It’s not yet finessed and I’m yet to choose a publisher for it, but the basic text of it is done. I have written a novel. Ambition unlocked! But I will save the details and reflections on this front for another day.
Blimey, did I’m Out happen this year too? I rather think it did. This is the re-titled paperback version of Escape Everything! and it can be bought anywhere you like to buy books.
Despite these victories, I spent a lot of 2021 feeling mildly unhappy and slightly unhinged (much like everyone else, of course). Most days saw grim news about the virus and the logistical problems it has caused as well as moronic objections to the obvious and only solutions. I found myself vibrating between thoughts like “it’s the end of the world, better stock up on baked beans” and “the virus is cooling off, all will be well.” Flipping between those two extremes is not a great place to be, mentally. I’m sure you can relate. My instinct, as ever, is to escape! But since a pandemic is an international problem, there’s not really anywhere to go. Hence malaise.
Chins up, one and all. There’s plenty to be getting on with. In my case, it’s to get a novel out and to work with my partner on getting our new home in shape. Perhaps you have similar projects on the go, dear reader?
Maybe when home-based commitments are complete in the summer, travel will be on the cards again. Well, it might be! My hopes for 2022 (the Year of the Mantis Shrimp no less – a good omen) are being able to wrap everything up and see a bit of World again.
I have also been wondering if 2022 might be the year for starting a bigger creative enterprise than writing books all on my own. As important as it has been to me to write and publish my books, I miss the social buzz of New Escapologist; how we used to attend indie press fairs and throw parties and commission work from old friends and new. It was hard work, especially for what was essentially a side project, which is why I stopped it in 2017. But man, it was fun. So I’m toying with bringing the magazine back (though, of course, it’s also tempting to try something completely new that still brings back that old buzz). If you’ve read this far and have any strong feelings in any particular direction about a New Escapologist Vol. 2, let me know.
Elsewhere, I sent letters on paper to Henry’s cottage, saw the Ray Harryhausen models in Edinburgh, popped over to the Isle of Bute on a ferry, bought my first proper tool box, took the Caledonian Sleeper train to London for the first time, visited Charleston Farmhouse (I can’t believe I didn’t blog about that at the time; maybe some other day), joined Tumblr, played the local pub quiz every Monday, took a little ride on the Severn Valley Railway, walked to Ikea a couple of times through the spooky Clyde Tunnel, and grew my hair long to look like a castaway.
Our non-festive Christmas Day movie this year was Airplane! (1980).
Crumbs, I almost forgot to post the book list. Here it is:
Sarah Gerard – Sunshine State
Olga Tokarczuk – Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Kathleen Jamie – Sightlines
Steve Martin – Born Standing Up
Muriel Spark – Robinson
Kate Wilhelm – Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
Ursula Le Guin – The Dispossessed
Werner Herzog – A Guide for the Perplexed
Muriel Spark – Loitering With Intent
Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy – The Best of Milligan & McCarthy
Patrick Hamilton – Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
Tove Jansson – The Summer Book
Ray Bradbury – The Illustrated Man
Joan Didion – Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Dino Buzzati – Poem Strip
Ray Bradbury- Something Wicked This Way Comes
Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles
Haruki Murakami – First Person Singular
Haruki Murakami – The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle†
Robert Seethaler – A Whole Life
Judith Schalansky – Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands
Richard Kennedy – A Boy at the Hogarth Press
Dervla Murphy – Through Siberia by Accident
Charles Boyle – The Other Jack
John Fordham – Jazz
Stephen King – Elevation
Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities
Ian McEwan – Solar
John Wyndham – The Chrysalids
Jules Verne – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Genki Kawamura – If Cats Disappeared From the World
Patricia Highsmith – The Cry of the Owl
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
Alex Kotsko – Creepiness
Agnès Poirier – Left Bank
Alison Castle (ed.) – The Stanley Kubrick Archives
Bob Mortimer – And Away!
Dan Rhodes – Gold
I also gobbled about 400 pages of Ray Bradbury’s humongous Bradbury Stories, which I highly recommend if you want to stick your head in the sand for a long time. Just a lovely escape.
I end the year reading Thomas Dolby’s music biz memoir, The Speed of Sound, and cracking my knuckles in anticipation of what comes next. Let’s roll our sleeves up! And you won’t hear me saying that very often.