2013: My review.

I’ve quite enjoyed 2013. On a personal level mind you, as a member of the human race, it’s left me even more annoyed, disheartened, pissed off and ready to simply stop breathing out of sheer frustration than 2012 did. BUT this is New Year’s Eve, and a time for celebration, making promises you never intend to keep and looking to the future. Basically, you are getting into a relationship with 2014. You say you’ll stay (or get into) shape, embrace life more and do all the things on your bucket list, but two weeks in you’re bloated from too much festive food, cursing the man who invented sambuca, and suffering from the early stages of gout.

Here is my run down of what has been great for me in 2012, what has sucked, what music has blown my mind hole and other tidbits that have left an impression on me this year.

The best thing to happen to me this year was my trip to South-East Asia. Travelling with my BFF, Peter, we started off in Bangkok (a God-awful city) and pretty much when where we wanted for the following 6 weeks. It was an eye-opening experience, not only for the stunning sights and sounds, but for the disparity in how other human beings live their life. Obviously I understand how gut-wrenchingly unfair the world is, but that doesn’t make seeing deformed people beg on the streets, or the sexual exploitation of women any easier. In spite of this, what struck me most of all is how even in awful situations, the kindness of other human beings shone through. A homeless Cambodian girl and her brothers and sisters giving me jewellery and toys woven out of grass and plastic straws was one of the most touching experiences of my life.

My grass grasshopper

My grass grasshopper

I met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met: Janelle, Emily, James, Ralf, Finja and Corinne to name but a few! They made my experiences better than I thought possible.

LETS TALK SOME MUSIC!

This was a bloody fantastic year for music. 2012 fell a bit flat for me. No new bands really captured my imagination, and the festival circuit. However this year I discovered a lot of new bands, giving me hope that poplar music isn’t quite ready to evolve into some screaming One Direction/Beiber hybrid, farting out Simon Cowell penned nonsense for the remainder of my life.

London Grammar, HAIM, The 1975, Disclosure, A$AP Rocky to name a small number of artists, have really impressed me this year. I’m aware that a number of these artists have been going for many years, but they’re in this list because this is the year they ‘made it big.’ The 1975 are a band that I’m most pleased to see getting wide recognition and acclaim. I’ve followed them for a number of years, making me one of those wankers who proudly cry “I KNEW ABOUT THEM FIRST!”. You know what, it felt good and I don’t care! They produced a brilliant debut album after teasing us for a year with 4 EPs.

A band that similarly to The 1975 managed to write a self-titled album full of brilliant, 1980s twinged pop songs was HAIM. For me their debut, ‘Days Are Gone’ was the album of the year.

Two bands that have a Bowie-esque skill in reinvention are Arctic Monkeys and Foals. Arctics continue to become even more massive than they were the previous year, with ‘AM’, Alex Turner is continuing to cement his position as one of the songwriters of his generation.

Foals’ third album ‘Holy Fire’ was a stark departure from their previous work. After their first math-rock oriented album came ‘Total Life Forever’, a sombre and atmospheric work that grows on you with each listen. If ‘TLF’ was Foals’ smoking quietly in front of the house, then ‘Holy Fire’ was them kicking the front door in. ‘Inhaler’ was one of the standout tracks of the year.

London Grammar produced a beautifully minimalist album ‘If You Wait’. Guitars reminiscent of The XX, only more cheerful, blend perfectly with Hannah Reid’s haunting vocals. This is one album I’m going to have on repeat for much of 2014.

Special mention to Mastodon. They’ve been around since the early 00s, but I only discovered them this year. A truly outstanding metal band, I eagerly await their new album in 2014.

TELLYBOX

Who doesn’t love Idris Elba? And I haven’t seen him in The Wire (OK I HAVEN’T SEEN THE WIRE LET’S MOVE ON). One of the best characters on TV at the moment is DI John Luther. Luther has managed not to descend into sillyness, as many BBC crime shows seem to do (I’m looking at YOU Spooks), hopefully the gritty realism can remain for many years to come, just so we can see Ruth Wilson portray the completely brilliant, if slightly sociopathic Alice Morgan.

The BBC continue to impress me (as much as they disappoint me). The White Queen was a delightful surprise for a history nerd like myself. I’d grown accustomed to the often hammy, poorly written period dramas the BBC were once so good at, and didn’t expect much. BUT, I was very much impressed. The story din’t stray into cliche, but at least to me, tried its best to portray the myriad intrigues and deceptions of 15th century England. Bloody loved it!

Breaking Bad. Don’t really need to say much. It’s one of the best TV shows I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston deserve the highest praise for not only creating a character with such depth, but also how they developed him over the course of 5 seasons. Exceptional. Watch it. Also, Aaron Paul is just awesome, BITCH!

Finally, The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin has the ability to create the type of world I yearn to belong in. I don’t care if his TV panders to the left, surely it’s better than pandering to the right, the same political leaning that is the reason that gay people can’t get married, stem cells cannot be used, and allows Rush Limbaugh a platform. For fans of the West Wing, this is the TV they have been waiting for.

So that’s my round up, there are so many great things that have happened this year I’d need a book to catalogue all of them. Needless to say there have been bad times, but I have great friends and a great family so FUCK YOU BAD THINGS.

In 2014 I’d like to see less of: Justin Beiber, One Direction, The X Factor, the Conservative party, Richard Dawkins being racist, less TOWIE (BUT MORE MADE IN CHELSEA) and on a serious note, I want to see the crisis in Syria end. It’s heartbreaking and something CAN be done, but just isn’t. Go to Save the Children to see how you can help. (Little speech over.)

Thank you to everyone who read my blog in 2013, even though in the past month I’ve neglected it so..but! I’m going to blame that on finally getting a proper job, with a salary and EVERYTHING!!

Have a great New Year!

Ciao!

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Has social networking ruined backpacking?

I recently returned home after two months backpacking around South-East Asia. Without a doubt the experiences and things I saw during my short stay will remain with me for the rest of my life, however I’m not going to write about that aspect of my travels.

I last backpacked in 2009, spending six months on the east coast of Australia. As many will remember, in 2009 ‘smartphones’ were not so smart, when compared to the 4 inch supercomputers we all carry in our pockets these days. The iPhone 3 (not even 3G!) had just celebrated its first birthday. (I suddenly feel very old..) During my travels, I spent a lot of time lounging around with fellow backpackers. The Australian climate and abundance of beaches was a contributing factor behind this policy. This gave my fellow travellers and myself a great deal of time to talk to fill the spaces when you just didn’t want to read and the iPod had died. And talk we did. I left Australia feeling like I had known the friends I made for years, rather than the relatively brief time that I actually did. I remember opening up to people, as they did to me, and really connecting. When travelling this is not uncommon, you are thrust into a strange place relatively unknown, therefore you naturally band together. This, in my opinion is the reason that the backpacker community is such a close-knit one, as we all shared a mutual feeling of self-imposed isolation.

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This is not to say that I felt any differently during my more recent travels, in fact, I was even luckier this time around, as I had even more in common with the group of friends I found myself with. However, one thing that I found myself observing more and more as time went by, was that during idle moments of the day, our hands invariably reached down into our pockets, and out came the small black mirrors (thanks Charlie) that dominate modern-day life. For tens of minutes at a time we were transfixed on the latest Facebooks updates, tweeting and Instagram-ing our latest breathtaking photo (@jonnysnaphappy, wink wink). To clarify, I’m not attempting to take a holier-than-thou standpoint on social networking, as I was just as guilty of shutting myself of for 10 minutes to endlessly swipe down on a screen. However, I did feel slightly guilty every time – had I travelled 7,000 miles to update twitter? I felt bad that I was potentially missing out on golden conversation with people I had grown very fond of for the sake of seeing what was going on in a life that I was thoroughly, and quite happily detached from. When I asked my friends about our use of smartphones, they felt the same as me – quite silly at how dependent we were to use our smartphones.

There are certain positives to having a smartphone whilst backpacking, which I should mention. Whilst in Australia, if I was lost, or needed help of any kind, the solution was simple as opening my mouth and making sound – as everyone speaks English. While this is somewhat the case in South-East Asia, as more and more people learn English – the language of tourism. However, there were instances when there was no way in which I could communicate, other than speaking louder, and gesturing. This is where a smartphone was invaluable – Google translate, maps, or any other aid was at my fingertips, and on more than on occasion I was able to get from A to B with nothing more than a point at a screen and a smile. Communicating with my anxious mother was facilitated by WhatsApp, and I was able to at least partly able to explain the wonderful things I was experiencing via a tweet.

Ultimately I have mixed feelings towards smartphones and social media combined with backpacking. They can be a huge benefit, and if anything allow you to share the wider world with one and all back home. While at the same time, it removes the escapist element of travel, the one which made backpacker such a draw, and one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. You are no longer truly alone, as your entire world that you left behind is a swipe and click away.