Wednesday 30 December 2020

2020: My Unpredicted Year

I don’t do New Year Resolutions, but in recent years I’ve shared “things I’d quite like to do” in the twelve months ahead. (If you’d like to see what they were you can do so here: 2017 | 2018 | 2019. You can read how I got on here: 2017 | 2018 | 2019.)

I decided to try something different for 2020. Instead of sharing a list of things I’d like to do at the start of the year, I drew up a personal shortlist of predictions. Needless to say, I didn’t see the pandemic coming!

Rather than explore my wayward predictions, I’d like to share my personal experience of a year that defied foretelling. For each month I’ve chosen one photo, and one article Fran and I shared that month on our blog. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did bringing them together.


To get things rolling, I’ve chosen this photo of The Commissioner’s Quay Inn in Blyth. I was there at the start of the year with fellow blogger Aimee Wilson. We met twice more in January; once to mark her blog’s seventh anniversary, and once for a meal at Frankie and Benny’s restaurant in Newcastle. Sad to say, that branch of Frankie and Benny’s has now closed permanently, a victim of covid-19.

As my featured post for January, I’ve selected Every Day Essentials for the Successful Blogger, in which I share the tools I have with me wherever I go, to support my blogging and other writing.


My fondest memory from February is meeting one of my best friends at The Five Swans in Newcastle to celebrate her birthday. The pub was packed and noisy, but we had a table, good food, and a lot of fun. We planned to meet again in March for my birthday but those plans were dashed by the pandemic. That evening in the Five Swans was the last time I’d be in a busy social setting this year. I miss the noise and bustle of it.

I’ve chosen to feature Please Invite Me Out With You by Amy Cullis because it highlights the importance of human contact, inclusion, and presence. The imposition of covid restrictions here in the UK and world-wise has meant that collectively we’ve been much less able to meet in person with those we know and love.


The photo recalls one Saturday in March. I’d travelled into town to meet a friend for coffee. After we parted, I took myself to Stack, one of my favourite venues. It was still early and I had the place more or less to myself. I ordered a beer, and a veggie curry pie and chips. I didn't realise it at the time but that would be the last time I’d visit Stack — or see my friend in person — for many months. Covid restrictions, including the closing of hospitality venues, were announced in the UK on March 20.

The full impact of the pandemic may not be known for years, but in those first weeks we all struggled to make sense of what was happening. I was aware from the start how relatively privileged my situation was, not least because my job was safe and I was able to work from home. The guest article I’ve chosen to share — Coronavirus: Why “Stay Home” Is Not a Safe Option for Everyone — serves as a stark reminder that following the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” message was not equally feasible for all.


The photo shows a spread in my Passport Traveler’s Notebook at the start of lockdown. The holiday I’d booked in the English Lake District was cancelled because of covid. Instead, I spent two weeks at home, only going outside for groceries and permitted local walks for exercise. I missed the opportunity to meet with friends and visit the places I otherwise would have done, but as the days passed I settled into the new routine. It helped immensely that I could use technology to connect with friends near and far. My warmest memories are of sharing my walks and time in the garden with friends via video calls.

In A Postcard from My Lockdown Vacation I shared what was to be the first of three such staycations this year.


Socially distanced queuing outside the supermarket was one aspect of life under covid that fortunately didn't last too long. Queues are rare these days and much shorter than the one shown in this photo. Empty shelves and toilet paper shortages are also, hopefully, a thing of the past.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) was kindness and in 10 Ways I Was Kind to Myself This Week I shared some of the ways I was kind to myself at that time.


My daily walks for exercise gave me the opportunity to explore my neighbourhood, including the narrow strip of wilderness between a new housing development and the Ouseburn stream. It soon became a favourite haunt. As always, I took my beloved Passport Traveler’s Notebook along.

Inspired by these walks, I compiled a list of all the official Traveler’s Company notebooks, inserts and accessories I could find online.


Apart from being unable to see my friends, what I missed most during lockdown was visiting my favourite local coffee shop, Costa Coffee in Kingston Park. It reopened in July during my second two week staycation and I visited as often as I could until it was forced to close its doors again to sit-in customers later in the year.

My featured post for July is Beauty Everywhere: Engaging with the Natural World. I’m a city boy but one thing I have enjoyed this year is discovering the natural world of my garden and local area.


By August, shops and hospitality venues were open and we were being encouraged to use them, providing appropriate covid measures were followed. I went into Newcastle for the first time since March to meet a friend at our favourite coffee shop, Caffè Nero in St Mary’s Place. It was great to see her but it felt very strange to be walking the streets of my city again when so much had changed since I’d last been there.

During August, Fran and I were delighted to share a great guest post by fellow mental health blogger Peter McDonnell, Painting, Photography and Positive Mental Health.


Music has been really important to me this year. The tracks and artists I’ve listened to whilst working in the garden and on my walks have more than kept me entertained. They have kept me company, and become part of my covid experience.

In I’m on My Way: Thoughts Inspired by Ed Sheeran's “Castle on the Hill” I shared what this one song evoked for me. As I wrote, “This blog post has stirred a lot of memories and emotions. This is a deep dive, not just into my past but into the person I am now. It reminds me of what one of my friends told me the other day about therapy. How it’s not about fixing you, it’s about making connections between the gaps inside you.”


October brought the third of my covid staycations. I didn’t get to meet up with friends but I decided to treat myself to one day in Newcastle on my own. I got dressed up and visited Stack for the first time since March. It was especially meaningful as the seasonal Tipi bar was back again. I took my journal with me to record the moment. “I was at the door at 10am as they opened Stack and I’m the only person here in the Tipi. I have my pint of Maltsmiths, and some great music playing. [...] This place is VERY special to me, and it means the world to be here today — especially when new lockdown restrictions may mean no pubs etc open for some time.”

My featured post for October is Coffee and Scribbles: My Ten Favourite Writing Cafes, in which I shared some of the coffee shops and cafes that have played a role in my writing over the years.


November brought challenges at work and in my personal life, but also some successes and unlooked for rewards. The photo was taken on my evening walk on November 5, which is Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night) here in the UK. I didn’t see any bonfires but there were plenty of fireworks going off all around.

I’ve chosen to feature VRITRA: A Short Film on Mental Health, by Sachit Grover. Sachit contacted me on Twitter and I invited him to guest on our blog to introduce his film. Now available on Amazon Prime, Vritra is a moving tale with a message for us all.


The photo shows the biodiversity garden where I work. The area was fenced off through most of the year but the barriers came down at the start of December. I was on a video call with one of my best friends one day as I walked into work. As we approached the garden I got a sudden urge to have a go on the swing seats — so we did! It was a care-free moment in a year that has sometimes seemed short of such opportunities, and I treasure the memory.

Christmas under covid restrictions was never going to be the same, but it prompted me to look back over the years and explore What Christmas Means to Me. I concluded, “it’s fine if Christmas doesn’t all happen on December 25, or even in December at all. Christmas for me is less an event and more of a celebration of closeness and connection. In the same way that Fran celebrates her birthday month rather than just the day of her birth, we can celebrate Christmas 2020 during December and into the new year.”

Post of the Year

More than any other I’ve taken in 2020, this photo captures for me the essence of a year lived under covid restrictions. It shows the garden fence of a house not far from where I live. I passed it almost every day for months, when a local walk for exercise was the only permitted reason I had to leave the house, apart from trips to the store for groceries. I have photos of the mural taken at different times, as the family expanded on their orginal design. I spoke briefly with them twice, to commend their work and thank them for sharing such a positive and hope-full message.

For my final featured post I’ve chosen “Remember When?” — Building Shared Experience in Unprecedented Times. I wrote it in April when the immediate impact of covid was starting to sink in, but the full implications could scarcely be guessed. As Fran said at the time, “We are going through the pandemic together.” It closes with one prediction which holds strong as we come to the end of the year and look forward to whatever comes next:

There will be tears and pain when we look back on the pandemic of 2020. But there will also be joy and laughter, and the comfort that comes from surviving dark times in good company.


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