Calendar years are funny things. Completely manufactured periods of time, where comparing the end of one to the start can be like looking at chalk and cheese and trying to find where the missing link is.
If you ask me, the craziest part about this year in particular is the juxtaposition between the start and the end. Most of the first half of 2022 was still pandemic-themed, masks on public transport, entry certificates for travel, mass testing, the dreaded red line ruining any plans you may have had for the next two weeks.
Even still, that first half of this year feels like a daydream now.
I’m lucky enough to live in Gibraltar, at the tip of the Mediterranean. Even though it’s small, and at this point I’ve explored most of what it has to offer (although I did take a boat out into the bay to watch the dolphins earlier this year) – Spain is on my doorstep to explore (when the border isn’t shut because of politics), as well as Morocco and Portugal being close enough to travel to without resorting to aeroplanes. I’ve indulged in all of these vices, getting to explore more of Andalusia than I could have ever imagined, including:
- Sierra Nevada – A mountainous ski resort and the highest point of continental Spain. I unfortunately didn’t get to ski, due to a knee injury (more on that later).
- Ronda – Home to an incredibly famous and beautiful cliffside bridge, which you’ve probably seen on your Windows sign-on screen. You know where it shows you a random photo and you’re like ‘Wow – I wonder where that is’. I guarantee Ronda was one of them.
- Estepona – A picturesque seaside town, where I got to take my Mum for her birthday. There are orange trees everywhere, so I blended in pretty well.
- San Roque – Where the Spaniards who used to live in Gibraltar were moved to after the Brits acquired the Rock over 300 years ago. Here, I watched the residents celebrate the Semana Santa, a religious ceremony that dates back to the 12th century.
- Seville – The capital of Andalusia. Contains the Plaza de España, the real life filming location of the City of Theed, Naboo in the Star Wars prequels. The pavilions built during the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 are another highlight.
- Granada – One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and home of the Alhambra, an ancient islamic citadel and palace.
- Málaga – Picasso’s home town. Got to watch my partner run her first half-marathon here and absolutely smash it. Incredibly proud, will hopefully join you on some soon (more on that later again).
There were a few more, such as Jerez, Conil, La Línea, Sierra Bermeja, but you get the idea. I’m hoping to explore a few more places next year, such as Córdoba and Cádiz, but we’ll see what the future brings.
Alongside these, me, my girlfriend and some friends drove up the coast and spent just shy of a week on the Algarve in Portugal – where we got to sea kayak into the Benagil Cave, and even bumped into a friend I’d made in Prague and joined him and his family on a catamaran day trip.
We also got the boat over to Morocco from Algeciras, joining RifCom on a volunteering expedition where, after hiking up Jebel Musa on day one – we assisted in redecorating a SEND school in Chefchaouen to be more suitable for children with learning difficulties, and assisted in running the annual football tournament in the Rif Mountains, alongside the Dental Mavericks and the Croissant-Rouge Marocain.
The competition brought together disadvantaged children from various villages to compete against each other in a five-a-side tournament. Each child was supplied a bespoke kit, boots, a water bottle, a medal, toothpaste and a toothbrush to keep for themselves. Whenever they weren’t playing a match, they were either enjoying the live music or learning about dental hygiene.
Not only that – there was snowmobiling across the Langjökull Glacier and swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, celebrating a stag do in Czechia, trying käsekrainer on a work trip to Austria, and making the trek over to Bratislava for the day where I had the most incredible pretzel dipped in pork fat. Slovakia – I’ll be back for another.
Alongside all of these adventures, 2022 also was a year to connect with home. Going back to the UK for 3 lovely weddings – my sister, my cousin and some of our closest friends (as well as another out here in Gib!). Even so, I got to see some new parts of England, such as Hebden Bridge and Leighton Buzzard, and rediscover some old gems like Howarth, Delamere and my old haunt, Chester.
Travel wise, 2022 has been the literal bees knees; both exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Long may it continue into 2023 – and with some adventures already planned for early next year, it’s gearing up to be just as exciting.
On one of those travels, Morocco specifically, I managed to aggravate an old knee injury – which ended up knocking me off my feet for nearly a week where I couldn’t walk. This was the catalyst for finally getting surgery to sort my problem for good. It’s been just over a month since the operation, and I’m walking, just about – but my word, has the recovery been painful. Squats can get f*cked at the best of times, nevermind when your knee screams at the idea of being bent. There are so many positives to take going forward though, despite the pain, with me hopefully being able to partake in sporting events again in the future – such as hopefully doing a marathon myself in 2024 after my recovery. Watch this space.
It’s impossible to see silver linings in some things however, and in August I was forced to say goodbye to my Grandad. Which has been one of the most crushing things I’ve ever had to deal with. He was a massive inspiration to me personally, and one of the biggest influences on my life. Not only was he instrumental in raising me, but I lived with him for a while a couple of years ago when I’d fallen on hard times, and he helped me through that period of my life massively. He was also the main inspiration for Ernest in The Toucan Man. I’ve not finished grieving for him yet, and his loss has altered my mindset going into the future, in ways that I can’t really comprehend yet. The world just feels a lot more empty without him in it.
On a lighter note, last month I released my second novel, Sputnik. A story about a young boy in the Soviet Union, living in City 40, one of the many secret cities that painted the landscape of unmapped Russia. This one, however, was the main living quarters for those who worked at the Mayak Nuclear Facility. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written, and completing it was an exhausting process over a year and a half in the making. After finally releasing it in November, it sold horribly. There’s a lot going on at the minute – from a literal war, to an economic collapse, to Greta Thurnberg giving Andrew Tate a Twitter ratio so bad he ended up in Romanian prison, so I’m not taking it personally – I just wish I’d have maybe sat on it awhile before releasing it into the world.
However, after publishing Sputnik, I think I’m gearing up for an extended break from the medium.
I think hobbies can consume you if you let them, we’re all geared to think that we find one thing we’re (hopefully) good at and we squeeze everything out of it until it’s bone dry, trying our best to generate income out of the things we create. I’ve felt a bit caught in this rat race over the last couple of years, the feeling that writing is my only hobby worth pursuing, and it’s starting to feel a bit claustrophobic – and starting to make me feel a bit two dimensional. Not to mention tying my own self-worth to the statistics that appear on my Amazon page, Goodreads and this very website.
Working outdoors while living in Hertfordshire, back in 2020/21, for twelve hours a day made coming home and sitting in my nook to write a refreshing experience, something drastically different to my working life that truly felt like it was my own. A break from the normal. Now, coming home from my copywriting job to do more writing just feels like an extension of a day at work, and the fun has drained.
This isn’t to say I’ll never write again, just that I’m going to take some time to pursue some other things. I’ve been meaning to get off social media for a while, but the urge to keep pushing my work out there has kept me online. I’d love to fully invest in learning Spanish, while I’m in this part of the world, read more books compared to writing them and maybe try something with music. I don’t know, but that’s the point really; 2023 is a chapter that hasn’t been written yet.
The world’s our oyster, but why stay looking at the same pearl when there’s so much other fun stuff to be doing that you’re not aware of yet.
So, Happy 2023 if you made it this far! I know it’s a long one – so thanks for sticking with me and my ramblings. Here’s to another year of peaks and troughs, of pursuing dreams and embracing surprises, and of making the most of the people you meet along the way. All the best, and I genuinely hope the new year brings everything you’re searching for, dear reader.