All at sea: 2021 in review
Nothing lasts forever.
The onset of a new year is always a curious mix of emotions: an opportunity to reflect on the year gone by while looking ahead with undiluted optimism.
I find it amusing that each year starts with a hangover from the last (figuratively, if not also literally). Christmas sticks around for a few more days, as do the associated decorations and waistlines.
A new year being an arbitrary mark in the calendar, I can point to specific days when a year properly got going for me; 4 March 2019, 23 March 2020, 5 May 2021.
2022 started on 1 January. Such was the pain and anguish of the previous year that to escape its clutches was to have permission to start afresh. In terms of hangovers, my review caused upset in expected places, the predictable result of a selfish act of blood-letting and record straightening. Regardless, its content wasn’t something I wished to re-litigate. Line drawn, I moved on.
Returning to work with the team at Made Tech and the Department for Levelling Up (don’t laugh), also saw a return to my old self. I grabbed the project by its milestones and threw myself into helping the team ready the service for a private beta launch in May.
I was relieved to discover that working in an agile multi-disciplinary team, solving problems, committing code and pushing against the status quo is where I thrive, not dependent on being part of a particular team or group of people. This type of work is my happy place. I was also acutely aware when I was ready to move on. I extended my contract by an extra month, which coincided with the point at which the programme was taken on by another agency.
In the final week of my contract, I took part in the beta service assessment. That we passed was the perfect way to conclude my engagement. I’m proud of what we built, the foundations we laid, and the roadmap we passed on to the team at Softwire.
Now it was time for a well-earned break.
I stayed with my brother for the first two weeks of August to look after my two eldest nieces. We held a baking competition and a karaoke show, binged all four seasons of Stranger Things, enjoyed an afternoon at an adventure park and spent a few evenings eating out. I even managed the odd parenting win.
The year has been immensely more enjoyable with these two around. My third niece moved to the UK in December, with the fourth hopefully not too far behind; plenty more opportunities for children’s entertainment in the year ahead.
After a fortnight of childminding, I took the inevitable train trip around Europe. The idea was to have an extended stay in a city with a warm climate and work on Indiekit. But having never visited Porto, my time was spent exploring the city rather than working in a fancy apartment or slumming it in coffee shops.
Also, turns out getting to Porto by train is non-trivial. Thanks to the permanent suspension of the Sud Express and a limited number of connections between Portugal and Spain, getting to Porto requires several stops. I decided to spend a few days in San Sebastián, with additional nights in Vigo, Madrid and Paris. For a supposed stay in Porto, I spent a good portion of it on a train or somewhere in Spain.
Soon after returning from Porto, it was onto the wetter, greyer climbs of Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. In what is now a yearly tradition, Jon and I saw off summer with another cycling trip, this time south of the Solent. The hills are even steeper here, but lunch at the Garlic Farm and stops at Pedallers Cafe were welcome recompense (less so getting stuck in stinky seaweed trying to walk along Whitecliff Bay).
2022 was also the year of making good on pre-pandemic plans.
In April, I took the trip on the Caledonian Sleeper I had planned for 2020. I say planned: there was little preparation. Arriving in a damp and largely empty Aberdeen, I decided to hire a car and embark on a road trip up the A99 to John O’Groats (Inverness would have been a more suitable staging post). It took over 7 hours to reach the most northerly point of the British mainland before driving back again. Easily the stupidest trip I have taken in pursuit of a selfie.
The one thing I was interested in seeing, the V&A in Dundee, was a huge disappointment. Little more than a beautifully designed yet mostly empty shed, and not nearly as interesting as the smaller yet far more engaging McManus.
The other trip – twice postponed due to COVID – was to Monaco with Cennydd to watch the Grand Prix. I wrote about this in detail, but in short, while I’m glad I got to experience this ridiculous event (especially given its future was uncertain at the time), it’s not something I want to do again. A return to Nice however would be… nice.
During the first half of the year, I invested a good amount of time working on various government-related side projects:
GOV.UK Eleventy Plugin – An opinionated configuration and set of layouts and styles to enable teams to write documentation using Markdown and publish it using GOV.UK styles
GOV.UK Prototype Components – A collection of common and experimental components that are not yet part of the GOV.UK Design System
GOV.UK Prototype Rig – A re-imagined version of the GOV.UK Prototype Kit. Less relevant now since a team is working on the official kit again.
These were moved under the X-GOVUK banner alongside some other cross-government projects, hopefully making it easier for others to discover and contribute to them. I had fun designing the icon for this initiative.
I also continued working with GDS on the summary card proposal. After several years advocating for its inclusion, followed by several rounds of review and refinement, it’s really close to shipping. The summary card will be my first significant contribution to the GOV.UK Design System, which is exciting.
As mentioned, I wanted to spend the second half of the year working on Indiekit. It wasn’t long before I got distracted by my website and started rebuilding it using Lume, a Deno-based static site generator. A few blog posts are sitting in my draft folder detailing this choice and other aspects of the redesign; I’ll publish them at some point.
Anyway, in October, Space Karen shit the bed and flushed Twitter down the sink, igniting a renewed interest in the ‘Fediverse’ and IndieWeb. If ever there was a moment to launch Indiekit, this was it. I spent the remainder of the year getting the project into a less-than-embarrassing state before launching the first beta just before Christmas.
As hoped, the project got some attention, some sponsors, and several bugs were reported or fixed. I’m looking forward to launching 1.0.0 in the first half of 2023 and continuing to develop and evolve it. Maybe I’ll get around to launching my redesigned website, too. I haven’t forgotten about Bradshaw’s Guide either, but the side projects are piling up. Something’s gotta give.
Besides all the digital stuff, I crossed some home improvement tasks from my to-do list, some languishing since I first moved into my flat.
I replaced the windows, added a small patio space to the garden and carpeted the lounge. I also replaced the flooring in my kitchen with a more suitable design (one that doesn’t highlight the lack of straight walls), but only because part of the floor got water damaged and needed replacing – itself a six-month-long saga.
As the year reached its conclusion, I was finally happy with the state of my flat. And then somebody attempted to break in, while I was at home. Fortunately, they didn’t enter, and all I suffered was a broken window and something else to worry about.
I’m no culture-vulture; my tastes are mainstream, so you’ll not find a list of deep cuts or obscure electronica in this end-of-year review. Still, it was fun to watch live comedy again and enjoy a few trips to the cinema. Here are a few highlights:
The Beatles: Get back (January) – I’m not a massive fan of The Beatles, but I found this documentary to be endlessly fascinating, and given its length, weirdly relaxing.
Licorice Pizza (10 and 19 January) – So good I saw it twice. I also developed a crush on the Haim sisters so hard that my Apple Music Replay stats are truly embarrassing.
Stewart Lee: Snowflake/Tornado (25 February) – The constructed animosity Lee usually shows an audience was largely absent as he was visibly happy to be touring again. Everyone in the Brighton Dome was glad to be out, especially one audience member whose loud cackles were infectious.
Alan Partridge Live (8 May) – While this show had some standout moments (namely Martin Brennan the Irish farmer getting the better of Alan), it required suspending belief and contorting reality for the underlying narrative to make any sense. I may also have been overthinking it.
Eurovision Song Contest 2022 (14 May) – Possibly the last event enjoyed en masse on Twitter. The UK not only submitted a decent entry for once but came close to winning the damn thing. WHAT’S HAPPENING trending had me in stitches.
Paul McCartney at Glastonbury (25 June) – Including this as a highlight, if only to annoy my mum.
Brighton Comedy Garden (8 July) – David O’Doherty, Tim Key, Lou Sanders, Esther Manito and the audience all lived through lockdown, so seeing how each comedian interpreted the experience was both fascinating and painfully funny.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (25 November) – A spectacular yet suspiciously well-timed tale of an overconfident billionaire out of his depth. “I love disruption”.
Among the usual channels I watch on YouTube, I lived vicariously through Marcus Ungermanns’s videos documenting the development of his Lego city – the level of detail (including a Mafia narrative taking place across different buildings) is insane!
I only attended two conferences this year and found both disappointing. More of a reflection on me than the events: I don’t enjoy big crowds and sitting in one place for several hours makes me grumpy and overly critical (and also very sleepy). I wonder if attending a conference removed from my day job would be more fun?
Indeed, if there’s a theme for 2022, it would be my anxiety about being out again. At first, it simply felt strange as things started approaching normal, but later I felt more uncomfortable and self-concious (I managed just 5 minutes at Rob’s 50th birthday before choosing to leave).
I over-indexed on time spent in front of my computer, as evidenced by the aforementioned side projects and the number of contributions I made on GitHub (5936 in 2022 versus 3087 in 2021). This isn’t healthy, desirable or sustainable, but understandable given the previous year.
Time to get out more.
Nothing lasts forever.
Living for the weekday.
Finding a sanctuary but losing my voice.