Best of the year lists are like locusts around this time. Everyone is counting and recounting what came before and what is just around the river bend for the twelve months ahead. There’s a human need to be definitive. I always feel like my year is a little softer around the edges, and it surprises me when I think back at things which seem farther away, or closer, even.
Instead of top tens and countdowns, here is my proposal. Choosing aspects that tell stories about my year, that let me reminisce fondly, and defined me in some ways but not exclusively. Many are left untold, at least for now. Here are jigsaw puzzle pieces of my particular 2013.
I remember being young and buying an album based on the songs I’d heard on the radio. The rule was three or four good singles made it worth your while. Then you would play it on repeat until it pretty much wore down. Sometimes just one song would grab me, and I’d take a risk. These days, with the luxury of millions of albums ready for instant download, I feel like I’ve mostly lost the patience.
I took James Blake‘s first album on it’s own merits, based on an intense love affair with his song The Wilhelm Scream. I don’t know much about him or what the critics say, all I know is he is a foppish-looking skinny English white boy who at turns sounds like someone dipped Sade in melted chocolate, and then the last man on Earth wandering heartbroken through dark moors.
His second album, Overgrown, kept me company through the commute between home and work, which depending on the train I dashed for could take as long as an hour and a half. It felt like I’d landed in London but still lived on the edge of the universe, and I couldn’t have picked a better soundtrack.
There were a lot of blockbusters in 2013, and the cinema was the place to be for immersive feats of grandeur. Between all the red capes and hammers though, a small, intense, rambling and brilliantly acted movie caught me by surprise.
John and I caught Prisoners almost by chance in a Madrid cinema, it was highly publicised on the streets in Spain but when we got back to the UK we barely saw a trace of it, or anyone who’d actually seen it. Starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, the trailers may try and convince you it’s about a missing little girl, but between tense and uncomfortable viewing, what you thought you were going in to see is something else entirely.
Beyond at least two jaw-dropping twists, the film plays on religious symbolism and ideology in a way that will discomfort and provoke you into thinking about it long after you’ve stumbled out of your seat and asked for directions to the nearest bar.
One of the things I love most about London is that there’s an obscene amount of places to eat and drink, so you really don’t have to visit the same place twice. One of my favourite things to do is find a seasoned Londoner and get them to take you somewhere you’ve never been before. Its meant evenings of hipster bars serving their own stonebaked pizza, Indian restaurants tucked away in Soho, and midnight servings of tea with condensed milk and Bengali sweets on Brick Lane.
Yet creatures of habit we are, and a particular quest for the best and cheapest dim sum in London has led me to many a place in Chinatown. Yet one stands out like no other. Forget pretense and décor, and be prepared to stand in the foyer for half an hour with a raffle ticket on a Sunday at lunchtime. New World in Chinatown is almost invisible from the crowds along Gerrard Street, but you can stuff your face with dim sum until late into the night, with all kinds of other Chinese dishes available too. I get particularly giddy about weekends, when the staff roll along trolleys at the speed of lightning and you get to pick what you like without having to wait for your food to arrive. What’s not to love?
A Work Of Art
One of my favourite walks through London is riding the tube to London Bridge, walking past Borough market, along the embankment, and taking a detour into the Tate Modern. I love that the galleries and museums in London are mostly free.
When I first moved to London, the city felt so big. Everyone was whizzing along at the speed of light and I felt like my life was going along with it. I found a room inside the industrial structure of the Tate that left me in a state of calm. I never expected an abstract piece of art to move me, but sitting on a bench and looking at Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals (Red On Maroon in particular) was exactly what I needed when my world was spinning just that little bit too quickly.
It always feels like a cheat to highlight something you experienced towards the end of the year, but as many good books as I have read in 2013, nothing was quite like The Night Circus. Erin Morgenstern‘s debut novel has been around for a couple of years, but I finally managed to pick it up off my “To Read” list in October and immersed into a world of duelling magicians, love affairs doomed from the very start, and a circus that opens at dusk and closes at dawn.
Beyond that, a story about defying expectations, following your dreams, and the destructive allure of power and immortality. Despite some of the book’s darker tones, I enjoyed reading this, appropriately at night, as a way to escape the stress of the day. I suggest you keep plenty of good chocolate to hand, the descriptions of food in the novel are particularly wonderful.