Let’s rattle through these shall we?
- Single – I’m pretty poor at getting into new music, but I like to think that I get there in the end. My occasional listens to either 6Music or Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 2 tend to do the trick and top me up, and that was the case with Fleet Foxes’ Mykonos which I stumbled upon at the start of Adam & Joe one Saturday, and which was handily the first song they’d played that day and so instantly re-accessible via listen again for a week. Seven days later I was still humming it incessantly and so decided to buy their splendid album. Mykonos is a swooping, swooning piece of timeless folky-beauty that feels like it could have been written in any era but which fortunately for us was written in the current one, and hopefully the Fleet Foxes can build on their impressive start at give us more of the same in future.
- Album – Doves also got off to an impressive start in their career, but after a bit of a stumble with their patchy second album they returned to top form with 2004’s Some Cities and continued last year with Kingdom Of Rust. The title track was an early single and suggested that the new album would be Doves-by-numbers; certainly the boys aren’t exactly branching off in a different direction here, they’re staying comfortably in their comfort zone, but personally Doves-by-numbers suits me down to the ground. So many good songs that it’s hard to pick out individual highs, although if I had to pick one stand-out track it would be the stunning 10:03, one to turn up loud and which I would love to see them play live.
- Book – Tim Winton’s Breath, or breathe as I keep pronouncing it, was a book that Simon Mayo’s book panel were so effusive in praise of that I snapped it up the minute I saw the paperback version in the shops. It’s a very easy read, drawing you in from the first page as the narrator recounts a period in his teens when he and his mate, both of whom would spend their days engaged in risky stunts, are befriended by a local surfer, and the book follows the trio as they push their skills to the limit as they compete against the waves, themselves and each other. Friendship is severely tested by events, jealousies and the surfer Sando’s girlfriend, and throughout there is a tone that tells you it isn’t going to end with everyone happily sharing a beer together. While reading this book it owns you completely and the quality of the writing is simply wonderful; surfing, like skiing, is something I think of as being for other people, but Winton’s descriptions make you understand the exhilaration you must feel when catching a big wave. An exquisite work; the only problem is that it’s so good that I’m reluctant to give his other books a go as I fear I’ll be disappointed.
- Film – Bolt is a sort of animated anthropomorphic Truman Show where the eponymous dog believes he has super powers, when in fact he stars in a television programme about a hero dog. Cocooned in his fantasy world he breaks out when he thinks that his owner – and TV show co-star – is in danger, but once in the real world he gradually realises that things are not what they seem. In many ways it is a retread of some earlier Pixar themes; Bolt, like Buzz Lightyear, has to get accustomed to the fact that he is not what he had assumed he was, the cat Mittens knows what it is like to get left behind as children grow up, like Jesse in Toy Story 2, and so on. There are better animated films about but it’s all mildly diverting, and the only film I saw in the cinema last year. Hold on, though; wasn’t Bolt released in 2008? Oh bugger. But I think I only watched it in 2009. Does that count? I dunno. Oh forget it.
- Sport – I’ve already mentioned the First Ashes test at Cardiff, and I’ll stick with that for my sporting moment; a perfect example of Test Cricket, as tense a sporting occasion as I can imagine, and the antithesis of the supposedly more exciting Twenty20 as, on the fifth day, England’s last two batsmen, unconcerned with actually scoring runs, were instead hell-bent on just hanging on to their wickets as the final overs ticked away. Unforgettable, yet something that England seemed to be making a habit of in the recent tour of South Africa.
- TV – The funniest TV moment of the years has to have been on Noel’s HQ, with Noel Edmonds completely losing it on national television (albeit on a Sky 1 programme that no-one watches). It looks like an appalling show, one designed to take each spurious pile of cack from the tabloid agenda to make it appear that Britain is going to the dogs regardless of any real evidence, and to uncritically present such bollocks as fact in front of a baying mob. Specifically, on this clip Noel featured the story of an injured soldier who had been denied planning permission for his family to build a new adapted home for him on their land. There may be something in their complaint, although the local authority did say they were happy to speak with the family to try to resolve the problem; what really seemed to get Edmonds’ goat through was a council spokesman’s refusal to appear on Noel’s HQ because it was what he described as an “entertainment show”, a statement that drove Edmonds into a fit of apoplexy while the audience for this programme dedicated to keen investigative journalism booed and waved those massive foam hands in the air, just like we used to see on
World In Action and Weekend WorldGladiators and Robot Wars in their pomp. What an oaf. (For genuinely good television, I really enjoyed Red Riding, The Street and the Doctor Who special The Waters Of Mars.)
- Radio – I’ve never read John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, although I’ve always fancied it. So when Radio 4 adapted it for The Afternoon Play early in 2009 I decided to save myself the bother and to listen to its five parts. It was a brilliant and moving production; the always excellent Toby Jones was excellent as Owen and the typically dreadful Henry Goodman was excellent as the narrator John, as we entered the world of their peculiar friendship which endures despite an incident in which Owen hits a baseball which strikes and kills John’s mother, and which assists Owen in thinking that his life is part of some divine plan. Owen is also beset by a recurring dream in which he believes he knows the time and some of the circumstances of his own death, but not the where or why other than that it will be part of God’s plan. An ominous inevitability then hovers over the piece until the final act and the full picture is revealed, at which I shed some tears for a few minutes before packing my daughter in her pram and left to collect my son from school, drying my eyes as I did.
- Blog – Although I had read a few of his posts before, 2009 was the year I really began to read Anton Vowl’s Enemies Of Reason regularly. Anton specialises in taking some old toss from a newspaper and ripping it to shreds, exposing it for the duplicitous, disingenuous or outright deceitful load of nonsense that it is. It would be easy to criticise this as shooting fish in a barrel as we all know how bad the papers are, but Anton is a hugely likeable writer and finds endless variation in describing the papers’ failings, often finding just the right words in doing so. And it is all done with the most honourable of intentions; it doesn’t take much to show the Daily Mail up for the hateful rag it is, but Anton stresses how he doesn’t just hate the Mail, he would like it to thrive and be good, and seems genuinely sad that it isn’t, a magnanimous attitude which has affected my own views on our actually-existing media. He is also something of an evangelist for the idea that, while many journalists may often look down their noses at “mere bloggers”, in fact the best bloggers have nothing to learn from and much to teach their professional counterparts, and Anton himself is a great advert for that line of thought. Recently Anton stated he would be branching out a little more, covering issues other than the media’s decline, and that is certainly a journey I will follow him on.
- Castle – Although I’ve been to Falmouth a few times – munching on a pasty in The Waterman pub overlooking the harbour, estuary and St Mawes is a regular treat – we’d never been to Pendennis Castle, but we remedied it last summer. Our trip coincided with the August Bank Holiday and it was an exceptional event; just £20 bought our family entry to two jousts, a juggler, a performance of medieval music and the finest falconry display I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. Oh, and the small matter of having the run of Pendennis Castle itself, of course, with its many rooms and ramparts and staircases, all great fun for an inquisitive six- and two-year old and their aging dad lagging behind. Extraordinary value for money, so much so that we’ve decided to join English Heritage as a result (which, along with our existing membership of the National Trust means that there aren’t many old wrecks left in the country that we haven’t got covered, and I think we more or less own Stonehenge and its immediate vicinity outright).
Right, that’s that. I don’t think I’ll bother with this crap next year. But then I say that every year.