I started this blog in 2014, and I don’t think I’ve had a month when I didn’t post something in all that time — except for March 2022.
Last month, the dreaded Spicy Cough finally caught up with me, and I was stuck alone in my room for seven days. I’d managed to avoid getting it when the kids did in early February, but in mid-March COVID finally got its claws into me. How I got it I will never know: I’m double vaxxed plus boosted, I’d worn a mask everywhere I went, and I’d hardly been anywhere.
I didn’t think COVID had affected me too badly until I started to recover. Only then did I realise how crook I’d been, and as a result I am so grateful to be back doing normal things like working and shopping and exercising. I can run up the (many) stairs to our rental without puffing again. I can walk to the beach and back without having to rest halfway. Most importantly, after being contained in a small space and not being able to see the rest of my family for an entire week, I can truly appreciate living life to the full.
And I guess that brings me to the second part of my musings today: the tragic and untimely death of Taylor Hawkins, a man who appeared to live life to the full every day.
I have joked often, and publicly, that Taylor Hawkins is my spirit animal.
I never met him, of course, was not likely to, and now never will.
But in life, Taylor seemed to be sunshine personified, imbued with incredible energy and creativity, and ever ready to smile, laugh and have copious quantities of fun.
What’s not to like about all or any of those things, or to aspire to emulate them?
And who says it’s not possible to grieve, in some way or another, for someone you never met?
Not being especially well versed in such matters, I am now wondering whether I need to choose a new spirit animal for myself — but I’m guessing Taylor himself would say: no way.
In which the Thrify Fictionista abandons her usual carefully considered annual Top 5 posts and crams all her thoughts about the things she has read, watched and listened to during 2021into one hot mess of a post entirely appropriate for the year that was…
Folks, I am so grateful for the gift of literacy. To be able to read — and hence escape between the pages of a book — is one of my life’s true delights, a pleasure that has only been heightened by being part of a protracted historical event. So, as of now, I’m putting on my positive pants and dismissing any further mentions of that pesky Pandemic in this post, and presenting to you in an order as yet unknown to me with the things I loved most this year. Books, TV shows, movies, songs and various bits of ephemera that caught my attention, held it, and made me feel. Because FEELING is what it’s all about, my friends.
I’m going to kick things off by recommending Craig Silvey’s book Honeybee, which just so happened to be the first book I read in 2021. It’s brilliant. So much so, I wondered whether I would read anything as good for the rest of the year (spoiler alert — I did, so please read on). Honeybee made me laugh, cry, shake my fist in both rage and triumph. I absolutely loved it, and reckon you should get a copy for yourself. Pronto.
Another summer holiday read I thoroughly enjoyed was Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. In addition to having a cracking storyline following the main protagonist, Kerry Salter, and generations of her First Nations family, this story is dramatic and darkly comic. I may have found it even more engaging because the country where the tale is set (despite focusing on a fictional town called Durrongo) reminded me strongly of a part of northern NSW where I spent a lot of summers during my childhood.
Shortly after reading these, I got stuck into watching Narcos on Netflix. I was very late to the party, I know, but after watching Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian I was keen to see what he could do without a helmet on and was not disappointed. Wagner Moura did a brilliant job of portraying Pablo Escobar and (being a non-Spanish speaker) I was not troubled by the fact that he apparently wasn’t so great at nailing the Medellín accent. Watching Narcos was an edge-of-your-seat ride combining politics, risky and highly illegal business, insurgents, excess and corruption, ever-present danger, families and cartels, the Colombian jungle, and a few blokes who were trying to stop the whole cocaine trade in its tracks, and I loved it.
By the time Lockdown rolled around again (I think it was the third one for us — the one that went for 17 weeks?), our whole family was looking for something to escape into, and when we weren’t snort-laughing watching back episodes of Travel Guides, which we also watched to take in scenery of anywhere but our own backyard, we got right into The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney Plus. This was a show the entire family enjoyed, and the fact that a new episode dropped only once a week gave Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop a taste of what life was like for The Bloke and I when we were kids in the days before streaming services. We’re all looking forward to Season Two!
Speaking of second seasons, we also used up quite a few tissues earlier in the year watching Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds on ABC iView, which also prompted Marvel Girl to develop an app for older Australians with some of her classmates for a Praxis project at school. The entire family loved the show and The Bloke and I were really proud when Marvel Girl and her mates took out the top gong for the project it inspired.
During lockdown I also embarked up on a Couch to 5km project that was curtailed only by us having to pack up and move house, but heading out on a run gave me the opportunity to listen to tunes. Not surprisingly, the music I’ve been listening to this year has been far more gentle than I would normally go for. I got into things like:
Running Red Lights by the Avalanches, Rivers Cuomo, Pink Siifu
Balenciaga by New West
Strange Girl by Laura Marling
Smile by Valerie June
Move by Flight Facilities, DRAMA
I also delved back into some oldies but goodies like The Wallflowers’ One Headlight, Funkadelic’s Can You Get to That and U2’s I Will Follow. Troubled times call for familiar favourites.
On the reading front, I got through those seventeen long weeks with the help of Hilary Mantel and hertruly remarkable trilogy of Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies (both of which I re-read) and The Mirror and the Light. I am in awe of Mantel’s writing: sometimes her words were so beautifully, perfectly chosen that I would have to mark my place in whichever of the gorgeous hardbacks I was currently reading with the jewel-toned ribbon bound into the cover and simply close my eyes. Then I would go back and read the passage again and sigh (often quite audibly), and would then find myself hoping that one day I, too, will be able to write so succintly, so eloquently, so precisely, and also to elicit such feeling. Because — as I said earlier — it’s all about the FEELING, folks.
I had a similar reaction to reading Ed Ayres’ book Whole Notes, which is truly and utterly a MUST READ for any music lover. Unusually for me, I have embarked upon a second reading of this volume, which is part “call to instruments” and part memoir of becoming a trans man aged 50 (better late than never, as Ed says). Same goes for the brilliant Trent Dalton’s book Love Stories — but as any regular readers of this blog will know, the Thrifty Fictionista is a massive fan of Dalton’s work and it did not come as a surprise to me that I found myself wanting to stretch Love Stories out for as looooooong as I could, trying to make it last — it was that good.
What else did I enjoy this year? I binged all three seasons of Medici on SBS On Demand and found myself going down various Florentine themed rabbitholes on the interwebs for quite some time afterwards. Filmwise, I got a bit of a kick out of the 2020 movie Rose Island (or, in the original Italian, L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose), and I also enjoyed Hugh Grant in The Gentlemen.
The Bloke and I decided it was high time we introduced the kids to Daniel Craig’s Bond movies, and so far we’ve watched Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. I suspect Spectre will be on the menu soon (if my offspring are not devouring more episodes of Gilmore Girls, which they have recently discovered and have many questions about — including what a video store was — thereby making The Bloke and I feel somewhat antiquated, if not ancient). We also made the kids watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which looks massively dated but the jokes still hold up, for the most part. I tried to get them into watching Lupin (which I loved) but it only piqued the interest of the Paris-loving Marvel Girl, and failed to grab Miss Malaprop. That said, we all thoroughly enjoyed Hawkeye.
There are a couple of other things I don’t think I could have got through 2021 without — like watching episodies of 30 Rock on Stan, because sometimes all you really need is 20 minutes of madness and mayhem from Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey to lift your spirits. In a year where internet shopping has taken on a life of its own, I am still eyeing off a T shirt reading “Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks” in honour of Jenna Maroney’s alma mater, but I ended up settling for a 3 pack of Silent Theory T shirts instead (the Lucy style is great and the quality is top notch, in case you’re asking). Another internet purchase I loved? A drink bottle from Target that has the hours of the day printed down the side so I know where my water intake should be up to when. But I digress…
What else? What else did the Thrifty Fictionista love? Well, towards the end of the year I got right into reading Dave Grohl’s book The Storyteller, which inspired our New Year’s Eve feast of Kentucky Fried Chicken and French Champagne. And I finished up the year reading Hannah Kent’s Devotion, Sarah Winman’s Still Life, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and Anne Enright’s Actress — all of which were great, and made for a solid finish to a rather troublesome year.
And so, friends, here endeth the Thrifty Fictionista’s cultural ramblings through the year that was. I would love to hear what you watched, listened to and read during the past year than made it more bearable for you and yours. I hope you find some solace or joy in what I enjoyed.
I’m writing this not so long after summarising my December Delights, the posting of which was delayed by the desolation I felt when the beautiful place in which I live went back into lockdown. As time has passed I am learning, yet again, to sit tight without a fight, and to remind myself – as some insightful wag commented – that people from the Northern Beaches have been practicing their whole livesnot to leave the Northern Beaches. I am prompted, yet again, to recall how boundlessly fortunate we are to live here: residents of vibrant yet peaceful neighbourhoods, surrounded by abundant natural beauty, and bordered by the mighty Pacific Ocean in all its majesty.
And as I’ve willed myself to turn my attention to delight, I’ve found – as I have consistently observed throughout this yearlong process of observing the delightful – that actively choosing to look for things which inspire wonder and bring me joy, however fleeting, brings me greater contentment and inner peace.
It’s not an unexpected discovery.
But it’s still an insight I will carry with me into the new year, along with a (sometimes ironic) appreciation that even before I had any inkling how 2020 would unfold, I chose to follow and notice delight in all its forms during this year, the most unusual in which I’ve ever had the privilege to live.
I’m also not surprised to see that the majority of the delights I have selected as my Top Five for the year relate back to my First Principles, which I articulated many years ago now in a post I called The Wellspring: words, music and food. To these, I would now add the recognition of delight, in all its forms.
And so, without further ado, here are my most precious delights of 2020…
Looking back over my year of delights, I notice that there are not many things that have made my list…unless of course they are foodstuffs, such as Chocolate Croissants and Oysters (and yes, those capitals are entirely necessary). But I have to admit there is one thing, one object of considerable bulk and immense importance, that has made its way into my life this year and which did, upon arrival, and has in all the intervening time since, brought me enormous joy and satisfaction.
It’s my new refrigerator.
His name is Fillipé, and he is our brand new sleek stainless steel fridge. I had been wanting him for a very long time, and now that he is here I love everything about him: that the fridge compartment is on top and the freezer drawers are at the bottom, that on the inside he is well lit and glass shelved and spacious, that he is oh so quiet…the list goes on. Opening Fillipé’s door is always a pleasure…it’s like opening a chocolate box, except my fridge is usually full of fruit and vegetables, and glass bottles standing in gleaming rows, and – well, it’s easy to wax lyrical over something so ordinary when you have a friend like Fillipé Fridge, the most delightful appliance I have ever owned.
Being Alcohol Free
At the time of writing this post, I will have gone without alcohol for almost an entire year. I kicked off 2020 with a desire to do things differently, and one of the items highest on my list was to reset my relationship with alcohol. You see, I’m a finisher: if a wine bottle is open, I’m highly likely to see it as my civic duty to ensure it’s finished by the end of the evening. This was true even if I was at home alone, enjoying a quiet glass of vino by myself once the kids had gone to bed. Or even before they’d gone to bed. And so, on 1 January 2020, I resolved not to touch a drop of the demon drink and to see how long I lasted.
Well folks, I’ve lasted far, far longer than I thought I would – ALL YEAR! And along the way I discovered, much more swiftly than I ever thought possible, that I really didn’t need alcohol in my life at all. I’m perfectly happy without it, and feel very comfortable with my decision to eliminate it from my life in 2020. I am also learning to accept other people’s reactions when I say I’d prefer not to have a drink – many and varied as these have been.
I’ve stuck to my decision, feel ever so much better for it (mentally and physically), and that in itself has been a true delight.
Receiving a Negative COVID Test Result
Speaking of being free of things, I would have to say that in 2020 one of the greatest delights you can ever receive is the SMS alerting you to the fact that your most recent COVID test is negative. Given that I am writing this post during a lockdown and waited four hours the other day to get tested (along with eleventy-million other people on the Northern Beaches), I can tell you that receiving the negative result which allows you to venture back out of doors – the wonder, the delight! – is a truly magical thing. You could probably have seen my frenzied fist pump from space.
I should also add that I am also beyond grateful to live in a part of the world where we have excellent access to free of charge testing (Sydneysiders have done over 300,000 tests in the past week – go us!), and that New South Wales also has amazing health workers and contact tracers who go above and beyond to stop the spread of the insidious virus that has turned the world upside down this year.
Cillian Murphy’s Limited Edition
It’s no secret that I am a Cillian Murphy fan – the man is pure class. But in this instance it’s not his brilliant acting that has brought me delight, or his many and varied reading recommendations, but his love of music. Every so often, BBC Radio 6 asks Cillian to guest DJ – whether it’s filling in for Guy Garvey when Elbow goes on tour or, more recently, when they’ve asked him do a Midnight-2am shift that he prerecords from his basement in Dublin and shares with the rest of the world — and when he does, the results are impressive.
The music Murphy includes in his playlists is a truly eclectic mix, but that suits me down to the ground. In addition to bringing spoken word pieces and music new and old to my ears, I’ve been surprised to hear him throw in bits and pieces I listen to often and had (possibly mistakenly?!) thought were obscure – from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space to instrumental tracks like Sophie Hutchings’ Tail Lights and so very many more. Murphy’s musical knowledge is encyclopaedic and I’m always utterly delighted when his playlists pop up on the airwaves.
Sunshine Over Sea
I love living close to the ocean. We are saltwater people around here, folks who revel in the many splendours of the sea. Some of us need to immerse ourselves in it, others are content to sit and look at it, but many of us need to at least catch a glimpse of it as we go about our daily whirl.
One of the delights I have savoured most this year has been driving around a particular bend near where I live, following the road as it curves upward until – at the crest of the hill, not less – the ocean appears and stretches before me in all its glory, all the way to the horizon. Often, at the time of day when I make this journey, the road I’m travelling appears to merge with a vibrant path of sunshine lighting up the surface of the sea. Would that I could keep driving onto that golden road instead of sticking to the tarmac beneath my wheels!
On one particularly memorable drive during this unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) year, I happened to be listening to Gang of Youths’ song The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows as I made my morning drive. The music begins quietly enough, but it built to a crescendo just as I drove that curving road and crested the hill, exploding into its chorus as the sunlit ocean overwhelmed my view:
‘Cause not everything means something, honey So say the unsayable Say the most human of things And if everything is temporary I will bear the unbearable Terrible triteness of being…
It’s a memory I will cherish, and one that reminds me – almost every time I turn up that hill – that if everything is temporary (and I genuinely suspect it is), then welcoming and noticing delights may well be our best way of anchoring ourselves in the present, of bearing the unbearable, of making sense of this strange thing we call life.
We all have different ways of making sense of our place and time on this planet, and I thought it fitting to end this post by including a photo capturing the same view I just described that was taken by a friend of mine, whose photography has also brought me delight this year. I asked to share this particular picture because it depicts the glimmering beginnings of the road the sun paints across the sea each day, the one I would love to keep driving onto…but if you check out his Instagram page @frank_see_fotos you can lose yourself in a wealth of images, each one more beautiful than the last. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend Boxing Day.