2017: The best bits

2017: The best bits

Looking back over my year, I have to say it’s been a pretty good one – despite the apocalyptic headlines dominating the news and doing their best to get me down! Here are some of my highlights:

Books of the year

This year I did a reading challenge called the Empty Shelf Challenge. The idea is that you empty a bookshelf and over the year it fills with all the books you’ve read, giving you an instant visual record of your year’s reading. Unfortunately so many of the books I read were either borrowed from friends or the library, or lent to friends after they saw my reviews, that the shelf still looks somewhat depleted!

I actually read 38 books, one-up on last year, which is satisfying (though Facebook has just informed me that in 2015 I read 39 books, so that’s the one to beat!). My absolute standout, hands-down favourites of the year were all biographical in one way or another. They were (in the order in which I read them):

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. A hilariously brilliant romp of a story about the invention of the first computer and what might have happened if the world had been a weirder place (along with footnotes indicating the true facts that gave the author some of these ideas, as in the picture – click to enlarge).

Drawn from Memory by Ernest H Shepard. Shepard was the illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh books, and this delightful memoir of a year in his childhood is illustrated in his familiar style. It also includes a couple of the drawings he did that year, preserved for posterity by his father. He was unbelievably talented – this one was drawn when he was seven – SEVEN!

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I gave this 8 out of 5 on my personal scale. Totally stunningly brilliant book! In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the hype, Hamilton is a new musical by Lin Manuel Miranda. It took Broadway by storm in 2015 and has recently opened in London. The book combines the complete lyrics with Miranda’s notes (think ‘Director’s commentary’ on a DVD – the page pictured gives a good example of the range of comments he makes) and a series of chapters/articles about the development of the project and some of the people behind it. I had listened to the original cast recording a few times before reading this, and already loved it, but then listened again song-by-song while following along with the lyrics, and was blown away by just how intricately crafted the whole thing is. This guy is an actual genius. I can’t wait to see it on stage (9th Jan – just 9 more sleeps…SQUEE!).

Other books I gave top marks for were:

A Man Called Ove Fredrik Backman
Those who wait Tanya Marlow
A Monster Calls Patrick Ness
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens

To read the full list, with scores and mini reviews, click here.

Plays/shows/films of the year

I’m very fortunate, living in London, to not only have access to a huge number of events on stages and screens large and small, but often to get tickets at ridiculously reduced prices, often through ‘seat-filling’ agencies who work with smaller theatres to get people into the audience for lesser-known shows. So when I tell you I’ve seen 31 plays/shows this year, be assured I’m not spending £30-£50 per ticket. One or two were that price, but I rarely pay more than £20, and usually more like £5.

So that disclaimer in place, here are my standout shows and films of 2017, again in order of viewing:

A Monster Calls (Odeon Covent Garden) Stunning, fantastic film exploring a mum dying of cancer, and the power of truth. I left the cinema and went straight to Foyles to buy the book.
Amadeus (The National) Outstanding. Really brilliant play with wonderful staging. It’s coming back in Jan 2018 – get a ticket if you possibly can.
Lion (Odeon Covent Garden) Brilliant. Terribly sad, but great story. And the child actor was superb – and gorgeous. Watch with tissues.
Hidden Figures (Odeon Covent Garden) Great true story of the black female mathematicians who were instrumental in the US space programme in the 1960s.
Nell Gwynn (Globe) Great fun. Better chemistry between the characters than the West End version that I saw last year.
The Braille Legacy (Charing Cross theatre) Really good musical about Louis Braille. Made me cry.
Sing-along-a Grease (Clapham Grand) Brilliant night out with friends
42nd Street (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) Fabulous – a good, clean, proper old fashioned musical with huge cast and fantastic tap routines
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella (Sadler’s Wells) Wonderful reimagining of the classic fairy tale, set in 1940s London. Highlights were Cinders’ dance with the mannequin and the hospital sequence.

Life events

I didn’t spend my entire life reading and going to the theatre! So here are some highlights from how else I spent my time:

Ten years a Londoner

This summer I realised I had lived in London for a whole decade. To celebrate I did ten of my favourite Londony things:

1 Random wandering with camera and podcasts (£0)
2 Deck chair in St James’s Park (£2.60)
3 Random memorable London events (‘I was there…’) – Big Ben chiming for final time before 4 year renovation (£0)
4 National portrait gallery lates drawing (£0)
5 Ceroc – first day as a Taxi Dancer (volunteer helper) (£0)
6 Open House London volunteering – inside and behind the scenes of amazing buildings (£0)
7 Breadline cafe (£6.45)
8 Theatre (queue for day seats)(£19 including programme)
9 Hatchards’ Christmas customer evening (£0)
10 Take a bus to see where it goes. Number 205 from Paddington to Bow Church (£3, because I got off for one stop at Whitechapel)

Total: £31.05

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many of my favourite things are free or very inexpensive. Even when you include travel costs it averaged out at less than £6 per event, and could have been much cheaper if I’d walked instead of taking the bus sometimes, or taken the bus instead of the tube. Click on the image above to view all my 10-year escapade pictures on Facebook.

Lovely Life Group (and church)

I have so loved being part of Grace London this year. I have loved the teaching and the fellowship. I’ve felt loved, needed, wanted, challenged, inspired, encouraged and useful. I’ve enjoyed the serving teams I’ve been on, the services and meetings I’ve attended, the friendships I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve been given. One of the biggest joys has been my Life Group (some of whom are pictured above, in the Tate Modern on a social we had one weekend). It has been such fun getting to know these lovely people, sharing meals together, studying the Bible together, praying and doing life together.

Sadly the group has got so big that we need to multiply in January, so I will be leading one half of it with a guy called Ben. I’ll really miss the other half of the group, and particularly the leaders, Jen and Jeremy, who have been brilliant friends and such an encouragement. Of course I’ll still see them at church, but it’s not the same as sharing a meal in their home week after week.

I’m looking forward to stepping into a new area of responsibility and hope Ben and I can do a good job of leading and caring for our group.

Writing retreat

This year I finally finished writing the first draft of my book! When I reached the half way point I had a party to celebrate, and Mum and Dad gave me some money to go on a writing retreat to finish the second half. I found the most beautiful place, run by someone who does all the (delicious) cooking and chores and – importantly – doesn’t make you go to workshops or seminars, but just lets you write. I broke the back of the second half while I was there (during the summer heat wave), and managed to get the rest finished by September.

I sent off a book proposal to a publisher who has shown some interest, and have been working on the first round of edits. In 2018 I want to finish the first edit (so it is fit for human consumption) and send it round to a select group of friends to read it through and suggest changes, point out where it is unclear etc. And hopefully this will be the year of the book contract!

Looking forward

These aren’t really New Year’s Resolutions so much as plans/goals. On the principle that ‘what gets measured gets done’ here are a few things I will be measuring in 2018:

– Read 40 books, including all four of the ‘Little Women’ series by Louisa May Alcott (I’ve read Little Women and Good Wives, but never made it through Jo’s Boys or even started Little Men)

– Lose weight and do more exercise – since the one will be facilitated by the other, I’ll lump them both together. I got a pedometer for Christmas, which will help with the motivation (and measuring) for the latter

– Do 11 new Londony things to celebrate 11 years in London

– Lead a Life Group

– Finish first edit of book and send to a group of readers

This has ended up being a mammoth post, and has taken me all day to write! There’s so much more I could have included. I am incredibly blessed, and am so thankful for God’s provision for me in so many ways over the year. I’m looking forward to what 2018 may bring and hope you are too.

2 Comments On This Topic
  1. Ann
    on Dec 31st at 6:51 pm

    wow, don’t know how you fit work into all of that!!

  2. Gbolahan Mogaji
    on Jan 1st at 10:49 am

    Hey JP, it’s been a while I commented but I remain an ardent fan of your blog! I must say you’ve got to hook me up with the theatre tickets, I’m so out of touch.


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