The general consensus is that 2016 sucked. And it did. For so many reasons. To paraphrase the great Nelson Muntz, it sucked and blew. On top of the deaths of an alarmingly high number of cultural icons, humanity disappointed me on a global scale. Hatred, racism, xenophobia, ignorance, insularity and stupidity reigned supreme—and look set to do so for a long time to come. To wit: the people who voted for Britain to leave the EU will get their wishes—whatever the heck they were… eventually… maybe—and, come January, the United States has an unhinged narcissistic cyber-bully for a President. Worst of all, though, Joel Dommett didn’t win I’m A Celebrity, and, instead, a girl who’s famous for watching television is about to become a millionaire.
That said—and the existential nausea I feel every day notwithstanding—there’ve been some very good things happen this year, and I’ve experienced a palpable sense of joy on occasions too numerous to mention. Most of these moments have come about through my interactions with others—friends and family members, my colleagues, and the kids I teach. In July, I gave up full-time teaching (again) to focus on building a business private tutoring. By September I was fully booked, and now have to work seven days a week just to fit everyone in. That’s cool. The majority of my tutees are children I’ve previously taught, and the trust and faith their parents have put in me—not to mention the enthusiasm the kids themselves show—has been truly humbling. I still teach part-time at the same school, and I love it; I feel like I’m part of an incredible little community that helps and empowers young people in ways both big and small. Oh, and how those kids crack me up…
That said, one of the major benefits of not teaching full-time means I get to take holidays during term time. Taking full advantage of this, in September, I visited New York with my mum. I stayed with my friend, Mike—a pal from university, and, quite simply, one of the greatest human beings I know. I also got to meet another one of humanity’s heroes, the author D. Foy, whose novel, Patricide, is, hands down, my pick of the year as far as works of literature go. Hearing D. read from his book, one balmy October evening in Brooklyn (before going for cocktails with the lovely Juli Sproules) was the highlight, not just of my trip to NYC, but quite possibly the whole year.
Or was it? As I look back on 2016, I find there is an embarrassment of riches from which to choose as far as joy-inducing experiences are concerned. For me, the year began in a hotel room in Morzine, France, far too early, after a night drinking Woodford Reserve with my snowboarding buddies. I had a plane to catch later that morning, so I quickly packed my kit and headed to the airport. The flight was almost empty (on the morning of New Year’s Day? Who’d-a thunk it?), and yet I still found myself seated next to a sweet old Irish lady, who lived in Canada, but had been visiting her daughter in Geneva. We chatted a while, and after telling me her life story, she pointed to the book in my hands, and said, “What’s that you’re reading?” I smiled. “Erm, it’s a novel by the singer of a band called Every Time I Die,” I replied, expecting that to be the end of the conversation. But she wanted to know more…
“Well,” I said, “It’s about a punk-rock singer, and at first I thought it was all purely autobiographical, but, um, there’s a lot more to it… and, yeah, the guy can really write.”
“Mm. I think I’d quite like to read that myself,” she said, apparently quite serious.
“Really? Well, I’ve actually finished it. You can have this copy if you want—I spilt coffee on the front, but…”
“Never mind, that just gives it character.” And with that I handed over my copy of Scale, by Keith Buckley, to a woman in her late seventies.
For more on the books, music and films that made 2016 less sucky, click here.