I will admit that 2015 was not the best year for me. It's not been the worst by any means; it's just been "difficult". I have nicknamed it "limbo year" as most of the time this year seems to be "in limbo" and "waiting". First of all, we moved. Yay! The bloke and I were living in my flat in Basingstoke, which was too small from day one, but was all I could afford. Now, we moved into a house and have more room and can do what we want to it without the restrictions that come with living in a flat, such as getting a kitten. Getting to this point took many months, and we did not know when we were likely to move until nearly two weeks before. Yikes! (It was also unplanned; I didn't go into 2015 thinking we were definately going to move.)
Cue Merlin. He's cute, but he can be a handful at times. He's a brown tabby Maine Coon. He has the classic tabby pattern (with black swirls on his sides) instead of the makerel (black stripes down the sides) pattern. I actually learned this year that there is more than one pattern of tabby cat.
The second item was that I had to move on to a new role at the beginning of the year. Besides the initial first three months, the contract became a rolling monthly contract with a lot of overtime on top. The rolling monthly contract made it impossible to plan anything in my life as I was not sure if I would have a contract by the time four weeks were up. I would not rush into a rolling monthly contract again, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can find a long-term contract.
What you read about the new contract is correct. I think I mentioned a week ago that due to company transitions and a screw-up caused by a large offshore IT outsourcing company, that my last work day is today (December 31). I was actually meant to be extended until the end of March 2016, but I only found out on the last day of my previous contract (30 November) that they'd messed it up. The IT offshore company wanted to charge the company I was contracted to a large mark-up on top of my rate. Due to a lot of hard work by the project manager (my boss), the contract was secured for the final three weeks of December (not including the four working days it took to sort the mess).
I do hope that 2016 is not another transition-year. I hope that it is more settled for me and enables new opportunities with the ability to settle and make the home into what I want for it. I hope that I am also able to meet up with friends and family and have a much-needed vacation (or three!) as I've not been able to this year, except for the odd day out in England.
To cut to the chase, here's a month-by-month review of my year this year.
January: January started uncertain for me as I'd been at my previous contract for two years and I was unsure about what was going to happen when it was up for renewal at the end of the month, and I was concerned about claiming expenses. In the end, the company decided to cut contractors, and I was one of those who were cut. They asked me to stay on one more month, and I actually got the next contract lined up immediately. Before I left, I decided to hit up some restaurants that I'd been wanting to try, such as Chicken Shop/Dirty Burger in Whitechapel and MEATMission.
The 'Year of the Bus' art charity sculptures were also all on display in one place in the Olympic Park that month, and the bloke and I headed over to see them. It was the first time we both went to the Olympic Park together since the day we visited during the Olympic games. In addition to viewing the sculptures, we also took the opportunity to visit the Orbit (Days Out: ArcelorMittal Orbit).
At the end of January, I had arranged a morning tour of the abandoned underground station known as Aldwych Station. Tours of this station are rare and popular, so I made sure that I secured the tickets the previous autumn when the London Transport Museum were arranging several tours over a few weeks. The underground station was not in operation for too long because it was too expensive to maintain and did not get much use. Today, it is primarily used in filming, and you may recognise the interior from television and films.
In the afternoon of the same day, I arranged a treat for afternoon tea. This was to coincide with a visit the Natural History and Science Museums, but they were packed with long queues as earlier in the week, the museums were in the news (it appears that they will be replacing the beloved dinosaur in the entrance of the History Museum with a whale skeleton). We ended up in the Victoria & Albert Museum instead and watched a few old films. I've always found the Crystal Palace fascinating, and there was a good documentary about it. We spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying Ampersand Hotel's Science Afternoon Tea. It came with chocolate dinosaurs (a tribute to the History Museum), a planet, a beaker of liquid, a volcano, and other science and history-related pastries.
February: During the month of February, I made the most of London before I had to leave. I visited the Spitalfields Textile Designs in Denis Severs' House during my lunch break one day. The designs were a beautiful snapshot of history of this part of London as it is known for its silk weaving. The house was also beautiful and boasted Oscar Wilde's mantle. I've been wanting to see inside the beautiful silk weaver houses for a long while. I would love to live in one as they are beautiful and spacious inside. I love the Georgian style of house the best.
I also saw the Spitalfields Great Pancake Race, which takes place in front of the office where I used to work, and I was lucky to see it as that was my last week at the company. The annual pancake race is held on Pancake Day. This year, it attracted a particularly large crowd due to it falling later than usual, warm, and during the week when schools were off. This was the third year in a row that I watched it. I love it. There are prizes for the fastest team and team with the most creative costumes.
The Walkie Talkie Tower (20 Fenchurch Street) and its beautiful sky garden also opened to the public earlier in the year, and I could have booked tickets for the first days that it was open to the public, but I reserved it to the day before Valentine's Day (a Friday) instead as I thought that it would be romantic to visit with the bloke for a drink and quick lunch. We both worked a short distance from the building, so it made sense to visit during lunch. The garden is worth visiting, and the views are amazing.
For Valentine's Day, I surprised the bloke by taking him to play crazy golf at Swingers Golf Club in Shoreditch. (Yes, I snickered at the name 'Swingers' too.) We were the first in the queue and managed to get two rounds of golf in in addition to eating delicious street food. I had Pizza Pilgrims. We also received a free glass of pink champagne as we visited on Valentine's Day. We had so much fun.
Toward the end of the month, I had to say my goodbyes to working in London and the team that I had worked with for the past two years. I found this very difficult as I really liked everyone in the team a lot, and (except for the long commutes), I enjoyed my time at the company. I also managed to explore and became very familiar with that part of London and keep updated on the street art scene.
However, after saying goodbye to one team at the end of one week, I said hello to another. I started a new role immediately and spent the next couple of weeks with part of the new team in Ashby de la Zouch, which took me into first week of March. Of course, I ended up enjoying this team that I worked in, but the company was going through a transition. From the first day, I was told that my bosses and all of the other staff were being made redundant at some point (no one knew when it would be, but it ended up being at the end of September) and the large IT offshore company would be taking their jobs. That's never a nice feeling, and they were all very good and knowledgable people. (I feel that companies should not do this to their staff, and I disagree that it will cut costs in the long term. I think a lot of us are under the same impression that this is a mistake.)
The majority of the contract was working from home, and I was happy that I could take a break from the draining long commutes. I also took the opportunity with this extra time and energy in order to look for a place in London or closer to London to avoid future long commutes. (At this point, I did not have any idea where to move to, but I discovered Ruislip in the spring and I concentrated my efforts there.)
March: While in Ashby de la Zouch at the beginning of the month, I visited Ashby de la Zouch castle. There was an audio guide that I used to learn about the castle. Climbing the remains of the tower was impressive, and I enjoyed going underground and underneath the castle where there is a tunnel from the kitchen to the courtyard. I actually did enjoy my two weeks in the office in Ashby de la Zouch and exploring (though very briefly) a new area.
I missed working in Basingstoke (where I lived). I moved to the city for a job in 2007, and I enjoyed visiting the shops at lunch with colleagues or alone. After that role was made redundant, I ended up commuting to London for work. I really loved being able to work in Basingstoke again, so I took advantage of the city. On one weekend, the bloke and I spent the day learning how to make a stained glass decoration, and cake and lunch was included. I absolutely loved doing this and I wanted to do it again. The classes take place from time to time at Proteus Creation Space. Basingstoke does have an arts scene (including a theatre and music venue), and I will disagree with anyone who puts the city down as I feel it gets unfair press.
During March, I also visited London to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' (from Wallace & Gromit) art sculpture charity trails. This year, the sculpture trail (made in conjunction with Aardman Animations) takes place in the city of London in the spring. A herd of new Shauns will be in Bristol over the summer.
At the end of the month, the bloke and I visited our first MINI-related event for the past few years as we've both been busy and working in London. In the past, I never managed to make it to the Brooklands MINI Day, even though it is just down the road from me. This is the first big MINI event of the year. We went inside a Concord, walked around the car and plane museums, and walked around the other visitors' MINIs. Some of the cars were parked on the old Brooklands race track, which is the oldest race track.
April: Easter was at the beginning of the month of April this year, and I'd arranged to have a short break in North Yorkshire. We stayed at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, which was made famous by Agatha Christie. This is the hotel she was staying at when she disappeared. I have not completed uploading and posting all of my photographs for the attractions that we visited in Yorkshire, but we went to some beautiful places that I will be posting at some point. There's a lot to see in that area of the country, and I will be posting about these places.
Our first day in Harrogate was rainy, but we enjoyed afternoon tea at Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate, which has been on my list for awhile now. I'm glad that I managed to reserve it for the afternoon on the first day of our visit. The tea room is very popular, and I love looking at the easter displays and giant Easter eggs in the shop window. I remember doing the same about ten Easters ago when a friend and I went to York and Harrogate, so it brings back fond memories.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens were one of the attractions that we visited in North Yorkshire. We visited on Easter Sunday afternoon, after a lunch at the pub/restaurant Guy Fawkes Arms. (The pub is named after its most famous resident.) We had a wonderful Easter Sunday meal, and this was my favourite meal of the year. I would love to go back as the food was that excellent, and I do find many restaurants/pubs to be mediocre anymore. The day was gorgeous with beautiful sunshine, and this was one of the best days out that I have had in a long while. We spent a few hours exploring the abbey ruins and walking the grounds. For some reason, I had some memory of this attraction as well, but I've never been here before (at least not in this life). That feeling of déjà vu and the memory of this perfect day will never leave me.
Later in the month, I dragged the bloke along as we went to try the W Fashion / Power Afternoon Tea at W Hotel in Leicester Square. This tea celebrates women in fashion and featured a nice selection of beautifully-designed pastries. Think Lady Gaga and the meat dress, Vivienne Westwood, and Chanel.
May: May was a busy month with work, and I put in a lot of overtime in the evenings, mornings, and weekends. As a result, I did not get out too much. I did enjoy a stroll around St. James' Park in London where I love to see the daffodils, and I also saw green parakeets. I love visiting this park every spring because I love the carpet of daffodils. They are one of my favourite flowers.
The most notable events in May took place toward the end of the month when I visited Sake No Hana to enjoy the Sakura Cherry Blossom. I had the traditional picnic lunch that the Japanese eat when they enjoy the beautiful blooms, and the seasonal alcoholic drink with the special sakura menu (Violet Risshun) was my favourite alcoholic cocktail of the year. The cocktail was served in two parts, symbolising the beginning of spring (tart) and the height of spring (sweet and floral).
At the end of the month, I went on the Guided Tour of Macarons and Mews, led by Yannick Pucci. I saw many beautiful London mews and tasted a few nice macarons. The tour was a nice and small one, and we were all around the same age with similar interests in history and London. I recommend his tours.
June: The month of June started off with a visit to Bubba Gump Shrimp and a trip to see Miss Saigon. The bloke was going to see the play with his work colleagues in the social club, and I had been told by a colleague earlier in the year that it was a brilliant play. I'd been wanting to visit Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant for awhile. Although it did not wow me, the restaurant was worth a visit to see memorabilia from the film Forrest Gump. The play Miss Saigon was a touching one, and I was sat next to a lady who knew members of the production team and was interesting to talk to.
June is also my birthday month, so I took the day off to go to Lymington in the New Forest. The day was partially-sunny but not very warm. We enjoyed the day and went on a treasure hunt around the village and the outskirts of the village. I bought the book for the treasure trail a few years ago. I love the New Forest, and it's been so long since I've been able to visit it. When we arrived back home in Basingstoke, we made a stop off at a tea room and had a birthday cupcake.
At the weekend, I'd booked brunch at Duck & Waffle. I've been wanting to visit Duck & Waffle for ages now and had to cancel previous reservations, including the previous week due to falling ill. Unfortunately, the weather on the weekend that we went was dreary. The weekend before (when I fell ill) was beautiful. Typical. I will need to go back. I absolutely loved the waffles, and this was my favourite brunch/breakfast of the year.
Another birthday treat was to see "War Horse" before it finished in London and dinner at "Vintage Salt", the pop-up restaurant on Selfridge's rooftop for the summer. We previously visited the restaurant when it was branded as the winter pop-up Le Chalet ski lodge, and I enjoyed the food. "Vintage Salt" was equally enjoyable, and the highlight was a dessert that resembled a hamburger. While the mechanism for "War Horse" was excellent, I was not impressed with the story.
Keeping with my promise to attend local events, I went to Basingstoke Festival Parade toward the end of June. It was a blast and combined music, fancy costume, dance, and food/drink. This marked the first event of many celebrating a summer of events in the calendar for Basingstoke. I went to a couple of other events and markets in the city.
The last event for the month was attending 'Star Wars' Secret Cinema Secret Cantina. We visited in the evening, attending the Formula E race at Battersea Park in the morning. The Secret Cantina was a bar/nightclub with 'Star Wars' characters and actors who had events for us to do. We wanted to check out the Cantina before going to the actual big event a few days later, which brings us to July.
July: On the 4th of July, a group of us went to 'Star Wars' Secret Cinema. We had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard (famous for the 'press for champagne' button), and this was my favourite meal in London. I recommend it and would like to visit again. We indulged in champagne and Prosecco. With a 'press for champagne' button, indulgence in champagne is a must.
Secret Cinema's "The Empire Strikes Back" was good fun, and we had a blast pretending we were rebels and living in the "Star Wars" universe. I really wanted to visit it again, but we just never got the opportunity.
The Overton Scarecrow Festival was one of the highlights of the summer for me. Overton is a village near Basingstoke, and they have a scarecrow festival every year or two. I had a good time on one of the warmest days of the summer walking around Overton and viewing the scarecrows. A lot of residents and businesses participated in creating their own scarecrows, and some of these were very creative.
That same weekend also marked Basingstoke's free live music event, Basingstoke Live. I could hear the music on Saturday afternoon after we returned from Overton and the last few acts sounded particularly good. However, I was feeling a little tired and decided to spend the full day there on Sunday instead of visiting on Saturday. Sunday was also a good day, but the music was more 'chilled'. In particular, I wanted to see Mungo Jerry perform on the Sunday as I recognised his music from the 1960s; he had a hit with 'In the Summertime'. I also got his autograph.
Toward the end of the month of July, I made a visit to Salisbury to see the charity art baron sculptures (The Baron's Charter), which celebrate 800 years of the Magna Carta. I love visiting Salisbury.
I worked a lot of overtime in July, so I decided to take a day off toward the end of the month in order to visit one of the open day tours of Lavender Fields near Alton in Hampshire. I've passed the lavender many times and always wanted to stop, so we had a tour at short notice. The weather was pouring with rain, but I still managed to get several beautiful photographs of the lavender and other wildflowers.
The week at the end of the month was particularly busy, and I had to go away for business. Just before I had to do so, I visited Bristol during Bristol Upfest and also used the time to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' charity art sculptures in Bristol. I managed to track them all down and had a wonderful time. The weather was perfect during the two days we spent walking over the city, but the day we walked around Bedminster to look at street art was very wet and rainy.
August: The month of August started with a bang as I'd returned from my business trip and had tickets with friends to go to Battle Proms at Highclere Castle. (For those who do not know, Highclere Castle is just down the road from Basingstoke and is the location where Downton Abbey is filmed.) We brought picnics, listened to music, watched horse displays and people in historic dress, and watched cannons and fireworks explode at dusk. I had a good time despite initial problems and rush due to my unfortunate friends getting stuck in bad traffic on the way. They only just turned up before the concert began, so we had a mad dash of inhaling food and drink so that we could enjoy the music.
The following weekend, we spent two days in Norwich to explore the city and track down Norwich's GoGoDragons art charity sculptures. Everyone in the city of Norwich supported the dragons, and we loved finding them and exploring the city in the process. Norwich is beautiful, and I was happy to visit it to see the charity art dragons. I was also amazed and happy at how popular these dragons were to the community over the summer.
In the middle of the month, we celebrated the bloke's birthday. We both had the day off and visited Old Wardour Castle, which was used in the film "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves". We had a dreary day for it, but the bloke told me that his birthday is always rainy.
We also went to Bournemouth one evening to Bournemouth Candlelight Nights. I went to university there and always remember the lower gardens and the candle light sculptures. After seeing the candles in jars (which kept breaking and exploding due to the heat), we had dinner before heading home back through the New Forest where we found a dark area and stopped off to look at the comets. There's no chance we'd have ever seen them in the town centre flat.
At the end of the month, I had to go away on business for two weeks. However, I was able to enjoy Amsterdam's SAIL event on the weekend in between. This is the largest maritime event in the world, and it is only held once every five years. Visitors can view the ships and climb onto the decks or below decks at certain times and days. We visited a tall ship, a working war ship, and a working submarine. I had a wonderful time viewing the ships and watching the fireworks. The weather was also perfect for it, and the ships covered such a large area and came from all over the world. Some of them were also historical. The oldest one dated from sometime in the 1700s. I would have loved to have gone onto other ships, but the event was a popular one and the queues were quite long.
After returning to the UK from Amsterdam, the last weekend in August was a very busy one. While in Amsterdam, I managed to successfully book tickets to Banksy's Dismaland in Weston-super-Mare. This was a major news story, and the event was very busy as anything relating to Banksy seems to draw crowds. The attraction was memorable, and I saw some good art installations.
On the Bank Holiday Monday, I had a reservation for the BB Bakery Bus Afternoon Tea tour. This was a Christmas gift, and I had to book over eight months in advance in order to get a seat on the top deck, and I decided to get the forward-facing seat. I did wonder if the day would be rainy as Bank Mondays typically are, but I remembered that last year's August Bank Holiday was pleasant. However, I was not lucky with the weather this time. Despite this, we did have a nice tour around west London. Getting decent photographs was next to impossible with the raindrops on the windows, though.
September: September was very busy from a work point of view as I put in a lot of overtime in order to finish the project. Socially, it was not as crazy as August was because I expected that we would be moving, so I kept the weekends free. In the middle of the month, we went with friends to Mattingley have a pub lunch and then to Silchester to walk around the ruins. I thoroughly enjoyed our little walk on the pleasant autumn day.
In the middle of the month, I had a week in Ashby de la Zouch in order to say my goodbyes to my colleagues who were being made redundant on 30 September. I really enjoyed working with them and the team that we had for a short time. I would not have minded working with the people in this team for a lot longer.
Toward the end of the month, the bloke booked tickets to see the Battle of Britain at 75 concert at Biggin Hill. We watched Spitfires and listened to music and memories from those who fought in the Battle of Britain. This was an event hosted by BBC Radio 2.
The big news for the month is that we learned in mid-September that the rest of the chain of buyers/sellers was ready for the house purchase to complete. We had been waiting to hear news about it for the past couple of months, so we felt relieved to actually have a date and a date that worked for us as it otherwise it would not have been possible for the bloke to take off work due to his colleague expecting a baby. The day finally did arrive. On the 30th of September, we picked up the keys to our house and moved in the next day (October 1). That brings us to October.
October: In October, I had to say goodbye to my flat in Basingstoke. I spent the first several days of the month cleaning, painting, and finishing the big move. Meanwhile, the bloke and I continued to get familiar with the new house and new area that we had moved to.
Our first outing of the month had been planned in advance for the middle of October, and this was to see the final race of British Touring Cars at Brands Hatch. We had race hospitality, and the food provided was excellent. Hospitality also included free drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) throughout the day, and we managed to get to the pits to get Jason Plato's autograph.
Later in the month, we indulged in Matthew Williamson AW15 Afternoon Tea at Balthazar in Covent Garden. As the title of this afternoon tea suggests, it celebrates the autumn and winter range of Matthew Williamson fashion.
At the end of the month, we went to see the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium, but we really went to see the Ohio State University Marching Band perform. Ohio is the state where I was born, and they have the best marching band who create moving imagery to music. This was the first American football game that I have ever been to.
November: November was fairly quiet, but we had a big milestone in the form of a ball of fluff. Merlin the Maine Coon came to live with us early in the month. He's gotten larger in the past couple of months from the little ball of fluff who travelled from North Yorkshire with hardly a peep in the back of the car. He's still incredibly cute.
Race of Champions was the first event we went to later in the month, and it was the coldest day of the year. I didn't really enjoy myself as I found it to be a lot of stopping and starting and waiting around. Of course, being very cold did not help. The event was held in the Olympic stadium, which is open to the elements, so it was very cold and a clear sky.
At the end of the month, we celebrated Thanksgiving lunch at Balthazar restaurant in Covent Garden. I love Thanksgiving as it marks the beginning of the Christmas season. On Thanksgiving, it is deemed acceptable to listen to Christmas music and get into the mood. After we ate our Thanksgiving meal, we had a long walk around London in order to see the Christmas lights. We also indulged in winter cocktails and a visit to the theatre to see "Sunny Afternoon", which was my favourite play of the year. One of the types of music that I have always enjoyed is the 1960s, and I really enjoy the music of the Kinks. "Sunny Afternoon" is a documentary musical for the band the Kinks.
The next day, I was still in the mood for the start of the Christmas season, and we spent the long weekend in Bath and Bristol. We explored the Bath Christmas Markets, which I have been to numerous times as I used to live there and always enjoyed going back to visit again. Despite living in Bath city, I never visited the Pump Rooms restaurant. We ended up having lunch here, but it was a bit disappointing.
December: December has not brought me the best news. I already mentioned my contract being messed up by the large IT offshore company. The result ended up with me sitting around and waiting for news that it was sorted. This did get sorted after a week for me to start on December 7 with the old process, but I was told that they could not extend beyond that. This means that I will have to find something in the new year. The job market is understandably quiet with everyone thinking about the holidays. I've said my goodbyes to colleagues, although most of them are away at the moment. I worked with some good people, and the company is going to have to go through more transitioning as they are also leaving the company.
Because of this sudden change in circumstance, I've not done much socially this month. My mind has been elsewhere and not on Christmas. The bloke had tickets to Christmas Carols at Southwark Cathedral to attend with his colleagues, and they had spare tickets due to drop-outs, so I also went along to that after work one evening. Before the concert, we had mulled wine and mince pies at Borough Market with views of the Shard lit up for the holidays.
What I was looking most forward to this month was to see 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens', so we went to the midnight showing at Shepherd's Bush on the release day in mid-December. We also saw it with friends a couple of days later and had a good meal at Big Easy BBQ and cocktails before seeing the film at the IMAX.
On the weekend before Christmas, I tried to get into the Christmas mood by having Winter Afternoon Tea at Chesterfield Mayfair. This did help initially.
Now that December has come to an end, I am just looking for the new year to begin so that I can look for my next role. This new year symbolises more than just an incremented number to me. I did not mean to end this on a downer, and I am not feeling down. I am feeling disappointed with the turn-out of the later part of this year. More importantly, I am feeling impatient for the new year to kick off. For that reason, I will leave with a couple inspiring quotations.
"This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change." - Taylor Swift
"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning." - T.S. Eliot
I hope that all of my readers have a great 2016, and Happy New Year!