“You OK mate”. I hadn’t spoken to Fordy for a while, so his text message was already unnerving, but even more so since I had missed a call from another old friend the night before. Sat on a train between Oban and Glasgow, several scenarios began playing out in my mind, but the patchy phone coverage meant any attempt to solve this mystery would have to wait.
2018 would only really get going once I’d returned from that short break in Scotland. A trip to Brazil in early January to visit my brother meant I enjoyed an extended Christmas, albeit one latterly spent on a beach in Ubatuba. Time spent with my growing number of nieces is a rare treat, so I embraced my inner child and joined them in playing hide-and-seek, building sand castles and constructing Lego.
Given the majority of this holiday was spent holed up in a tiny three-bedroom apartment with seven members of my family, another break was needed before I could face heading back to work. Long fascinated by McCaig’s Tower, the curious folly that sits above Oban (and excited by the prospect of another trip on the Caledonian Sleeper) I ventured north in early February. In the onboard magazine I found the following Robert Louis Stevenson quote:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
This affair would extend throughout much of the year, with trips to various parts of Britain, a cruise around the Norwegian fjords, an extended stay in Berlin and a trip to Iceland. But first I would need to complete my return journey from Oban. Once the train had finished winding its way through Argyll’s snow-covered landscape, I was finally able to speak to Fordy. Mystery solved, but in the most unimaginable way possible.
The following Saturday I was back on another train, this time bound for Norwich to visit John and Sophie. I had worked with John the previous year on a civic democracy project, but this was the first chance to catch up since he reached the same conclusion I did, leaving the company after its acquisition by a high-growth technology start-up. The weekend involved being woken by their cockerel and felling trees, but started with us sampling food from the city’s market and witnessing Evensong in the impressive cathedral. That evening we continued our conversation over a few rounds of pool in a local pub. With an atmosphere ostensibly similar to that of the George in Walsall, I was reminded of evenings spent doing the same a decade prior. Later that evening and suitably lubricated, Fordy’s news finally sunk in: my friend Kris had died. I cried myself to sleep.
Reminders of our mortality can be cruel, but the only way to proceed is to take stock and recommit to making the most of the present. Unsurprisingly, I made a concerted effort to spend more time with friends. Be it karting with Ben, marching with Kate, fishing with Emil, dining with Jon and Katie, discovering Brixton’s gastronomic delights with Andy or subjecting Chris, Frank, Mario and Sam to various rants; the year had plenty of memorable moments.
All were incomparable to the unexpected thrill of watching England win a World Cup penalty shoot-out against Columbia. As Cennydd will attest, I spent the entire evening convinced fate would decide the result, not least because ITV was broadcasting the match. Well, to hell with fate, I was in dreamland! Cennydd was also alongside me at Silverstone where we watched England beat Sweden in the quarter-finals, but absent for England’s semi-final loss to Croatia. Were it not for my previous suspicions being proven wrong, I might conclude that watching an England match with Rob was bad luck!
The year saw me return to Walsall on several occasions, including for the weddings of Lewis and Sarah in August and Mark and Ruth in October — the later somewhat marred by the recurrence of an old dental injury. Driving up immediately after receiving a partial root canal, an ineffective course of antibiotics meant I spent two wretched nights in a hotel room self-medicating with a cocktail of painkillers and mouth gels.
If that was the year’s low point, its highlight was cruising around the Norwegian fjords with my parents aboard the Aurora. I’ll never forget the sight of my Dad curled up with laughter as he watched besuited passengers waddle into the restaurant like penguins, or the delight on my Mum’s face as she treated herself to two deserts from the ship’s willpower defeating buffet!
Professionally, the first part of the year was spent contracting with Clearleft again, this time to design and build a website for a cryptocurrency and blockchain organisation. “Wait, wait! Before you roll your eyes…” is how Jeremy introduced the project to me in his eerily perceptive email. Keenly aware of my tendency to be close-minded about such things, I accepted his proposal hoping to learn more about this controversial technology. Turns out there’s only so much magical thinking and technocentrism I can stand, and my opinion remained largely unchanged.
In April I gave a talk at Create Leicester. I say talk; it was more of a structured rant about the prevailing technocratic move-fast-and-think-later culture, which is to say I was in my element! Thankfully, the audience seemed to enjoy it too. A topic that excites me, I attended a workshop with Will Storr in May with thoughts of writing a book and left with ample encouragement and a series of steps to follow to get a long-form article commissioned. Something to work towards in the year ahead.
Spurred on in part by the launch of Micro.blog, I enjoyed digging into various aspects of the IndieWeb. I’m delighted that the canonical location for my tweets and toots is now this very website. Still, adopting IndieWeb technologies can be an entirely frustrating experience, especially if you’re not a programmer. I would love to collaborate with somebody on building a fully-functioning Micropub application aimed at a more mainstream audience.
Regarding blogging, I managed to write 26 articles this year (up from 10 in 2017), but many topics I wanted to cover failed to make it beyond a few hurried notes. I also promised to write about the redesign of this site yet only managed one other post. The redesign unveiled in November remains undocumented.
I decided to take breaks from work in May, ending up in Exeter and St. Ives, and again in August when I embarked on a mini-tour of the north, from Preston to Edinburgh via Manchester and Newcastle. A repeated allergic reaction to my job was best exemplified by me telling Alis outside UX London that I couldn’t take any more bloody UX and needed to take myself off to nearby Greenwich to admire some old buildings.
In July I worked with Emma and Robin on the restructure of CharityConnect. In a move away from an all-encompassing social network to a more straightforward forum, I helped design the new discussion hubs and direct messaging features, and was able to revisit a few aspects of my original work from 2016, too. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. In August, I began mentoring Shlomi Rozilyo, thanks to an introduction from Anna. I can’t put into words how rewarding I’ve found this experience, so hope to extend this service to other young designers in 2019.
With just the two client projects, this was easily my least productive year since going freelance. At the Confront conference in October, Jessica asked if I was burnt out. It was a reasonable question, and I while the answer I gave was “yes, probably”, it certainly wasn’t the result of being overworked.
And so I start this year as I finished the last, having failed to address my career crisis. With savings almost depleted, the thinking needs to stop, it’s time to take action. Hopefully a well-travelled yet directionless 2018 was prelude to a year defined by its clarity and purpose. Just don’t mention the ‘B’ word.