So, the end of another year. While I’m not a huge fan of celebrating New Year’s Eve – people do tend to go over the top in making rash life-changing promises, while others get quite maudlin – I do find it useful to look back over the year and reflect on what I’ve really enjoyed about it.
The rest? It gets filed under “useful life experiences” and I do my best to move on. A fresh start and all that.
For me, 2014 was a superb year. It wasn’t a daily walk in the park, but I had some superb experiences, made some tough decisions and survived some challenging situations – knowing more about myself and others.
I left my job, set up a new business and (so far) made a go of it. I finally got over my knee surgery and completed another half-marathon. And just days ago, I secured a place in the 2015 London Marathon!
Just like I did last year, in no particular order, these are my standout “2014 things” that I’d like to share. And in doing so, I know I’m missing out lots of equally important things, probably offending many in the process!
Book of the Year
This is a tough one for me. So I’ll begin this by immediately breaking my own rules and highlight two books I’ve enjoyed more than any others this year. The first is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. It covers two of my favourite themes: creativity and the comics industry.
Set just as comics were taking off prior to World War II, it tells the stories of two cousins who write and draw their own characters and make it big as creators. It covers their experiences in life, love, dealing with loss and living through the war. You don’t have to love comics to enjoy this book, but I’ll admit the references to real world artists and writers were fun.
Chabon created some amazing characters in this book. It was so absorbing, I was genuinely sad to finish the book as I just wanted to see how their stories panned out.
The second book I’ll highlight is The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s a really absorbing story of how an astronaut survives a disaster during a manned landing on Mars and has to attempt survival until he can be rescued. There is a lot of physics, maths and chemistry in the first couple of chapters. I’ll admit I found it a little challenging at first, but it’s worth getting through these and into the narrative.
It’s being made into a film, so if it sounds interesting, I’d recommend reading the book first. They’ll inevitably have to cut lots of the content to make it palatable to a general audience.
Movie of the Year
A few months ago, if you’d have asked me to choose my favourite film of 2014, I would have screamed “Captain America: Winter Soldier” from the rooftops. I loved every minute of it. And I’ve watched it three times this year.
I know people who don’t even enjoy comics or know who Captain America is who enjoyed this. Think of it as the Bourne Ultimatum with super-powers. And Nazis.
However…the Marvel went and released what seems to be their sleeper hit for 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy. Wow. Just wow. It had everything: spectacular special effects, space battles, improbable action scenes and really likeable characters. Not to mention some very laugh-out-loud moments.
The film’s writers had their work cut out for them – the origins of the Guardians of the Galaxy are complex and, to be honest, a bit impenetrable to the non-reader. But I think they did an excellent job of bringing the characters together into a pretty cohesive story, setting them up perfectly for the planned sequel.
Superheroes aside, I really, really enjoyed Interstellar – well worth the numb backside after sitting in the cinema for well over three hours.
Comic of the Year
This really has been the year of the super-complex crossover in comics-land. I’m pretty much a Marvel-only reader, but have dipped my toe into the Image universe when something has been overwhelmingly recommended.
But for all the cosmic battles, identity-switching and grand reveals, my favourite comic of the year has once again been Marvel’s Hawkeye. To be fair, I’ve been flagging this as a must read almost from the beginning of the series.
The creative team have focused on a non-super-powered individual whose personal life is a bit of a shambles. He hasn’t got the money and charm of Tony Stark, the healing abilities of Wolverine or the clear unambiguous morales of Captain America.
But Clint Barton – the Hawkeye of the title – is all the more interesting for it.
Living in a pretty shambolic apartment, his life centres on pizza, an adopted mutt of a dog, helping out his neighbours and battling Eastern European organised crime. All with a bow and arrow. While getting the living crap beaten out of him on a regular basis.
I think, in light of all the epic and cosmic stories Marvel is telling right now, his humanity and (relative) realism made him a more interesting character. That and the stellar art and dialogue provided by the very excellent David Aja and Matt Fraction.
Other honourable mentions go to “Sex Criminals” (which, despite the title, is really hilarious), the new reboot of “Fantastic Four” and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ever-excellent “Captain Marvel”. The latter is being made into a film, so get on board now so you understand it all when it hits the cinema.
Trip of the Year
No surprises here: it’s our trip to Japan in September. It. Was. Epic. Every day spent in Japan was a delight, regardless of the city we were in. I learned a ton, ate more than two tons and took in more visual beauty than I’m used to.
Highlights on the trip were seeing the monkeys, visiting an onsen spa and eating the best sushi I’ve ever had in my life.
Two weeks spent across Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo was simply not enough. I’ll definitely be back. I loved the fact that almost everything is different to London: the food, the language, the nightlife, the etiquette.
If I could bring anything back from Japan and implant it here in London it would be the Japanese ability to board planes quickly and quietly and the whole concept of the onsen.
Really. I’ll pay serious money to access hot springs and a clean sauna experience. If it can be combined with Japanese manners, then all the better. Although, I’d prefer not to be stared at quite so much. I’m going to put it down to the hairy chest and not think about it too much…
App of the Year
Across all of my very many gadgets, one app has stood out both in terms of how much I’ve used it and how much I’ve enjoyed it. It’s not overly complex, but does what it does very well. It’s Pocket Casts from Shift Jelly.
Simply put, it’s the podcast player that Apple’s own podcasts app should be. It has a wonderful interface, syncs across devices automatically and now, you can access your podcasts via any web browser. It’s worth every penny of the £2.49 app fee, I guarantee it.
Other excellent apps I’ve relied on this year have been ToDoist and Evernote. Both will help you get more done and relieve that nagging doubt that you may have forgotten something. Evernote is basically my external brain and the place anything I may need to use and/or remember in the future is stored. Well worth paying for a premium account for both of them, but they both have a very powerful free version you can use to get a taster.
Gadget of the Year
Again, this probably won’t surprise anyone who has already read about my Apple-related excitement while in Japan, but my gadget of the year is the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s the iPhone I’ve always wanted: massive capacity, massive screen, but light and slim.
It’s definitely not for everyone, I agree. I’ve had friends and family (and strangers on the tube) stare at the size of it in incredulity due to its size. It’s most definitely a phablet, not a mini mobile phone.
But the screen size makes it possible to read longer selections of text comfortably and even watch video (video podcasts, as opposed to feature-length movies…I’m not a masochist!).
There have been moments when I’d briefly wished I’d bought the iPhone 6, rather than its larger brother. Especially when wearing skinny jeans.
It’s not a phone you can easily pocket. But it’s so much more than a phone, and I carry a bag anyway, so it’s not a deal-breaker for me.
Second favourite would probably be my 27″ iMac, all because of its beautiful, magnificent screen. It makes working from my home office an absolute joy.
So what about 2015?
I’m looking forward to plenty more travel. I have personal trips to Paris and Reykjavik already in the calendar. I’m hoping to make it back to Miami at some point. And there are business trips to both Singapore and Malaysia confirmed.
I’m hoping Apple don’t launch any more sexy gadgets that I’ll “need” as soon as they’re released. But I am looking forward to seeing what they do with photo management next year, in terms of a replacement for iPhoto.
I have a list of films I’m excited to see, including the new Avengers movie and the Star Wars sequel. I’m going to hope Avengers: Age of Ultron is as good as the first one and that Star Wars helps me forget the car crash that was the prequels. Yes. All of them.
I have one hell of a reading list to work through. “Work” makes it sound hard, and it isn’t. I love reading and I love my Kindle. It helps me read multiple books concurrently, without having to cart them around with me in a bag. You can really get lost in a book when reading a Kindle. And the new Kindle Voyage is a delight.
Outside of my own “circle of influence”, I’m hoping 2015 will have a lot less terrible, terrible news. There have been days where I’ve quite frankly turned off all news sources, just to avoid hearing about any more disasters, genocide and inhumanity.
I’m hoping the countdown to the UK 2015 General Election isn’t as painful and soul-destroying as recent political campaigning has been and that we can have a sensible national debate about the country’s direction – instead of apportioning blame.
Most of all, I’m hoping 2015 will be as fun, surprising, exciting and varied as 2014.
How about you?