Goodbye 2016! Hello 2017

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I had such high hopes for 2016. I really did. At the end of it, I feel a bitter disappointment for the year that could have been and that nearly was a great year. It was very nearly the best year in a while. Let's go back to the beginning. The year 2016 started with uncertainty from the previous year as my contract came to an end. Soon after New Year's Day, the pieces started to fall together so well. I received my next role quickly and loved it as it allowed me to use a mixture of my skills to create an awesome application; I was working with some really good people too. Unfortunately, the uncontrollable Fates started to sprinkle their farts (which I will call the nasty people, politicians, etc.) around from the middle of the year. In the end, 2016 really turned out to be a stinker. It started out with a lost purpose, but that quickly turned into an awesome party, and that ended in a bad hangover with too many difficult people (though I'd like to call them something else) leaving a big stink and spoiling the great that there was. The end of the year saw some positivity and fresher air, but it was too little too late to redeem itself.  


I will cut to the chase now and and review the year.

January: On New Year's Day, the bloke and I went on The Seven Noses of Soho on New Year's Day walk. It was a Christmas gift for me and something that I had been wanting to do for a few years. Unfortunately, not many of the pubs were open for business as in previous years, but I imagine that there will be for next year's tour to drink away the year. We saw the noses and had a good walk around; it's a good tour. We also had a bit of bad news at the beginning of the year in that singer David Bowie died; I went to Brixton for the first time and saw the street art mural by JimmyC a few days after it happened.

Seven Noses of Soho

This month also brought two light shows to London: Lumiere London 2016 and Winter Lights @ Canary Wharf. I was lucky to go to both during the time that I had off before starting my new role. Both light shows were amazing and contained interactive and creative pieces. Lumiere London 2016 was held over four evenings, drew huge crowds, and contained some fantastic pieces; that cold January evening will remain in my mind for a long while.

Lumiere London

Last, but not least, I started my new role in the middle of the month and was able to use a mixture of skills to create an awesome application. I was the first developer on it, so I built the groundwork and first application, which was refined and built upon over the months. On the skills side, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I liked my initial colleagues. The location was perfect for me as well as it was not too far from where I live.

February: February was a busy month. I still did not get to see the parade for Chinese New Year in London, but I did get to go to one of London's best restaurants, Yauatcha, to eat dinner and to celebrate the 'Year of the Monkey'. This was one of the best meals I've had this year, and I loved the cute 'Year of the Monkey'-themed macaroons.

Yauatcha macaroons

During Chinese New Year, I also caught up with two good friends, one of which is Chinese, to continue the celebrations by visiting the Magical Lantern Festival @ Chiswick House. The Chinese lanterns were in the shapes of animals, cultural scenes/myths and symbols, dragons, pagodas, and the Zodiac. We had such a good evening seeing the illuminations; the only downside is that part of the trail had been blocked off due to "safety" reasons because of a storm a few days prior to our visit. Half the way through, we drank delicious hot chocolates to keep warm and loved wandering around the trail taking photographs and enjoying each others' company. 

Magic Lantern Festival at Chiswick House

Valentine's Day was a pretty big one this year as I was lucky enough to have booked tickets for Valentine's Day in the 'Harry Potter' Great Hall @ Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Dinner was held in Hogwarts' Great Hall, and then we were given a couple of hours to explore the studio to see some of the newer exhibits that were not there when we visited a few years ago. We enjoyed drinks and Butterbeer while wandering around. Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year, so we had our 'Harry Potter' dining experience booked the day before because we did not want to be out late on Sunday as we had work the next day.

Dining in the Great Hall - 'Harry Potter'

On Valentine's Day itself, I surprised the bloke with tickets for a trip on London's Cable Car, also known as (Emirates Air Line). I pre-booked the Valentine's Day experience, and this included a glass of Prosecco and a small box of chocolates that we shared during our round-trip. My camera battery died just as we were about to board the cable car (I did have a spare but no time to change it), so getting decent photographs ended up proving to be troublesome while holding onto a glass of fizz and using my mobile phone. The trip itself was very quick; I wish they had slowed it down more, but the crowds were long for those who had not booked.

London's Cable Car Valentine's Day

March: One of the most memorable and important days for me this year happened to me in early March. After living in the UK for over twelve years, I finally received my British citizenship. I started the citizenship process last September as I had some interest in working in Europe. Early March was the date of the ceremony, which I had to attend in Basingstoke, Hampshire. I had to attend there because the process had started when I was living in Basingstoke, even though we had informed them that I was moving.

British citizenship in Hampshire

On the weekend, a couple of days after the citizenship ceremony, I met up with a small group of friends. We met up for a Sunday roast at the Waterwitch Pub in Odiham (near Basingstoke in Hampshire), and after that, some of us went on a walk along the canal to Odiham Castle. This was the first proper spring day, and we had a lovely walk along the canal chatting with friends and seeing the ruins of this castle.

Odiham Castle

April: April marked 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, and quite a few events were put on to celebrate the life of the bard. In March, I went to Shakespeare Son et Lumiere projections onto the Guildhall. Later in the month, I went to Antic Disposition's "Henry V" play, which was held at Middle Temple. However, the main event held over the anniversary weekend in April was Shakespeare's 'The Complete Walk' in London. This event consisted of a trail of more nearly 40 videos set up with 10-15 minute segments of different plays recorded by a range of actors and celebrities. The screens were arranged in a trail along the South Bank, starting from St. Thomas' Hospital and ending at City Hall by Tower Bridge. I completed the trail in a day, but the weather was freezing with intermittent rain.

Shakespeare's The Complete Walk

The month was also a big one in terms of street art with the paint jam Endangered13 at Mile End to raise awareness for endangered species. I visited on both days over the weekend to catch up on the progress: Endangered13 Day 1 and Endangered13 Day 2

Vintage car at Spitalfields, London

May: In May, we got to explore a local attraction for the first time since moving. We went to Ruislip Lido and Ruislip Lido Railway for its annual open day. This was the first sweltering day of the year, and this brought the crowds out to the lido. We took the train and wandered around the lake before having Sunday lunch and going home to do some work on the house. We just had the windows replaced, and we needed to do some work while the scaffolding was up.

Ruislip Lido

In May, I also crossed something off my London bucket list: the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. I have been wanting to visit for a few years, but never really got around to doing it until this year. We visited it on its last day and had an early start in order to avoid the crowds. I loved the displays, but I wish we could have looked at the seller exhibits for longer to get ideas for our garden. The next day, we had the Chelsea Flower Show Afternoon Tea @ The Dorchester, which was sadly booked up at the event itself. A couple of memorable displays were the 'LG Smart Garden' (pictured below) and the red poppies in front of the Royal Chelsea Hospital.

Chelsea Flower Show

June: This was the month that things felt like they had started to go downhill. The weather was not great this month, and I was feeling tired after the past couple of months as I had been working very hard. I loved what I was doing at work as I was able to use a mixture of my skills, but things changed when some difficult/challenging people joined, and I had to put in more work because they were inexperienced/junior and some did not have a great work ethic. It is amazing how adding the wrong people to a project and not managing it (I did highlight to management the issues because it was making me and others unhappy) can really screw up morale. I loved the team before, and I even considered going permanent there only just weeks before. The situation would continue to get worse because management did not take action.

At the beginning of the month of June, I found myself spending a weekend in Birmingham. The bloke had an event to go to that weekend, so I decided to explore the city while he was at his event. Less than a week before, I had some work done on one of my teeth, but the dentist could not finish it properly as they did not have the correct equipment and gave me a temporary filling. The temporary filling came out within a week, and this exposed the nerve. I was in agony for the majority of the day in Birmingham. The bloke finished his event earlier than he expected and did not have to go back to the event on Sunday, so instead of spending our second day in Birmingham, we returned home. I was in a lot of pain and just could not find the energy to sight-see. On the first day, I also ended up fixing issues, answering questions, and helping colleagues at work on my laptop at the hotel instead of enjoying my time and having a weekend 'free' from work for once.

Birmingham canal

June is also my birthday month, so I had "Hello Kitty" Afternoon Tea at Cutter & Squidge. However, the experience was a nightmare, and that is putting it politely. The service was poor as they got the order wrong three times and forgot about us. The food was not as great as I had expected it should be; a couple of the items were good, but the rest were uninspiring. This is a shame as I've previously enjoyed my visit to this cafe. On top of that, the problems and lack of service meant that we only just received our food and had to rush it into our stomachs. Afternoon tea sittings are in two hour slots, and we only received our order half an hour before our slot was up. We had to rush because I'd booked my next reservation to factor in this slot and travel time, so we had no time to spare. 

'Hello Kitty' Afternoon Tea at Cutter & Squidge

The next reservation was to play the courses at the Brick Lane pop-up mini-golf, Junkyard Golf. There are three courses made out of bits salvaged from junkyards, and we played all three. The place was virtually empty, so we had it to ourselves. While it was fun, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Half the way home, I realised that we left the leftovers from the afternoon tea at the golf course, and I had to go back to collect it. What a trying day!

Junkyard Golf

Because my birthday day did not go well, I suggested that we go out the day after. We visited Ludgershall CastleOld Sarum (Wiltshire, England), and Christchurch Castle & Norman House. This was a better day.

Ludgershall Castle

On the same weekend, London was celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday. This is her state birthday as her official birthday is actually in April. I went to central London on the Sunday to see what was going on for the Queen's birthday. The weather was still not great, but I still had a long wander around London to see how people were celebrating and to get photographs to document the event. I also had the special Queen's 90th-themed afternoon tea at St. Ermin's. This special afternoon tea should have been held in the garden, but the weather was wet. 

Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday

At the end of the month, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a move known as "Brexit". I covered this in my post here: That Was An Interesting Month.... June was not a nice month, and this event brought out the worst in people. People at work were cruel, and I saw/heard about others being disrespectful and intolerant. The cruelty happened on both sides. My opinion about some people changed because of how they were responding and their lack of professionalism, particularly as they made a point of not bringing up certain subjects in the past, which I found hypocritical. I dislike conflict and just wish that everyone would get along. Educated discussions are absolutely fine, and I love a good debate, but what I was witnessing was disrespect, intolerance, and unprofessionalism.

July: Leaving June behind now, the month of July (and the next two months) brought a lot of overtime and hard work; I spent a lot of my own time at work or working more than the hours that I was contracted to do. The amount of overtime after July actually got even more silly, and as a key developer, I was working 9-day weeks on average in order to complete the project in the tight deadline. (And yes, we would make the deadline due to our hard work.)

Work aside, the later part of July brought a few events that are worthy of a mention. The first was 'Star Wars' Celebration 2016, which was held in London this year. Readers may remember that I am a big 'Star Wars' fan. This event was very popular and crowded. I did not get to see everything that I wanted to; however, the most memorable and most unexpected was seeing Mark Hamill. It was the closing time for the event, and he had finished his day signing autographs and started to talk to a small crowd, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Mark Hamill at 'Star Wars' Celebration 2016

After a very wet summer, July finally brought the summer weather. We went to have lunch with friends at The Fisherman's Rest and had a walk around Titchfield Abbey, which was shut during a previous visit due to storm damage. We walked around the abbey to get photographs, and one of our friends ended up parking his classic car in front of it so that we could get some good photographs. Afterwards, we headed to the garden centre next door, and I ended up buying a couple of large plants that required a bit of effort in order to fit into my MINI.

Titchfield Abbey

Toward the end of the month, it was time to see the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child". I was fortunate enough to book my tickets in October last year, and these were for the final practice shows before 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' officially opened to the public. The bloke and I saw both parts of the play on the same day, and this took up the whole day. We were both really impressed with the story and production of the play and recommend it.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'

On the last weekend of the month, the bloke and I spent the day in Lincoln. Some of the poppies that were on display at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate the soldiers who died in the Great War were now on display at Lincoln Castle (Poppies at Lincoln Castle). We did not spend long here, but I thought that Lincoln was an attractive historical city. The only problem was that I wasn't able to fully enjoy it because I kept thinking of all the work that I had to do, which also meant that we could not stay long.


August: At the beginning of the month of August, I decided to take one weekend day off from all of the overtime that I was doing in order to walk the Zany Zebras Charity Trail in Southampton. I met up with a friend, and we walked the trail together. We had nice weather for it. This was a great way to catch up, and the day ended up being another one of my favourite days out this year.

Zany Zebras in Southampton

On the following weekend, the bloke and I went with a group of friends and family to clueQuest to escape Plan52 Escape Room in London. I got the bloke's brother a Christmas gift to go to this escape room in March, and we returned with an additional two friends to complete one of the other rooms. We had a fun day with ice cream at Ruby Violet, the escape room, a walk along the canal near King's Cross, and dinner before heading back home.

clueQuest ecape room

Another fond memory was visiting the newly-opened Camden KERB street food market shortly after it opened. I had been putting in so much overtime, but I decided to leave work on time on one day in order to visit the market as Camden and its food market gets too busy during the weekends. I was impressed at the quality and variety of food on offer and really enjoyed my visit, even though I went on my own. The weather was perfect, and the food was so good. I am craving the halloumi fries.

KERB Camden

September: September marked 350 years since the Great Fire of London (1666). To remember, the city of London arranged special art installations, events and walks. A wooden replica of London's 1666 skyline was created by an artist, and this was burned on a barge on the Thames. The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral had flames projected onto it, and another art installation featured toppling dominoes that followed the route of the fire. Free Great Fire of London walks also took place in the days leading up to the anniversary of the fire, and the Museum of London are currently exhibiting Fire!Fire!. However, my favourite of the events for the Great Fire of London was the Fire Garden in front of Tate South Bank, which was an art installation of metal frames, movement and fire. I went to this at the beginning of the month.

'Fire Garden' with St. Paul's

The bloke and I also had afternoon tea at the Chesterfield Mayfair, which I'd arranged months ago. The afternoon tea was themed for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and we managed to get tickets to see the play of the same name in the afternoon.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Chesterfield, Mayfair

At the end of the month, the bloke and I had a long weekend away planned, which was a Christmas gift. We stayed in Oakham in Rutland, which is England's smallest county. We went to a couple of castles first, including Newark and Bolingbroke, before staying in Oakham (where there is another castle). One of the main attractions is Rutland Water, which we went to the following day. Luckily, we had lovely weather on that day, but the previous day (where we saw the castles) was dreary. Of course, our weekend away would have to be the one where we had rain; the weather had been gorgeous previously.

Rutland Water

October: After months of hard work, the overtime was meant to cease at the beginning of the month, but I still needed to do some in order to complete the final hurdle. One of my favourite colleagues who started at the same time as I did left the team, and I just continued to work hard. By the second week, things were calmer, but I was keeping busy by ploughing through the remaining work. The weekend of the 8th of October was the first one where I finally felt that I could relax. All of us had just been told that we would be extended, so I was feeling happy to have some down time and feeling positive that issues would be resolved. This weekend was also the first one that felt properly like autumn. I went into London to Hyde Park to see the event that was taking place to mark the anniversary of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. A camp of actors and participators were set up giving demonstrations about various topics relevant to this period of history. I remember this day well because I was feeling happy and not stressed; I was able to not think so much about work. 

1066 Battle of Hastings - pottery making demonstration

After seeing what I could see at Hyde Park with the Battle of Hastings event, I headed over to Shepherd Market to see Neon Legacy, a series of neon signs that were installed for a few days. These were created by the person responsible for "God's Own Junkyard" who created many signs for Soho and films, such as Blade Runner. Although only a few signs were on display, I really liked a few of these, including the one below.

Neon Legacy

A couple of days after that weekend, I was told that they would not be renewing all contractors, so my free time was then spent on starting to search for a new role before the market slowed down for the holidays instead of having some time to relax a little bit and reclaim my life from all of the overtime I had been doing. That weekend, I had previously planned a trip to Newcastle in order to sight-see and see the Great North Snowdogs. My heart was not really into the trip because my mind was focused on other things.

Tyne, Newcastle

November: I mentioned seeing the Great North Snowdogs in October. In November, the bloke and I drove down to Brighton in order to see Snowdogs by the Sea. We had beautiful weather, which was great due to the walking that we had to do. We did not get to see all of the snowdogs in Brighton because we ran out of time, but we saw most of them. I had never really been to Brighton before to browse much, but I loved what I saw and wished that we had more time to browse.

Snowdogs by the Sea

Early in the month, I left my old role and started my new one. I'm now back at a previous client in east London, so I am now able to keep on track the changes in street art. I am working with nice people, and that makes a big difference. I've also loved seeing the people that I'd worked with previously too.

Thanksgiving Day at The Jones Family Project

At the end of the month, we did not take Thanksgiving Day off this year as I had just started a new role. Instead, we had Thanksgiving Day dinner at The Jones Family Project, which is located in Shoreditch. The food was very good. We also had our Festive Dinner on a Sunday at lunch time at The Coy Carp in Harefield. We enjoyed this as well, and the restaurant gave us a Christmas card as we were their first visitors for the Festive Menu.

Festive Meal at The Coy Carp

December: The month of December brought some much-needed relaxation, friends, family, and additional changes. Building work on the house started, which has been a long time in coming. We moved at the beginning of October last year, and we had not even unpacked because we were waiting on the work to be done. I will be making updates in the new year about the progress. Early in the month, I visited London in order to see London's Christmas lights, and I look forward to seeing them every year.

London's Christmas lights on Regent Street

Also, the bloke and I went to the USA for the holidays. We got to catch up with friends and family and visit local attractions. The first attraction that we went to was the Ohio Amish Country Cookie Tour of Inns, which involved visiting twelve different hotels for a tour and a cookie. 

Ohio Amish Country Tour of Inns

We also went to Cambridge, Ohio to see the Dickens Victorian Village figures and the Courthouse Light Show. There's also many shops, a bakery, and a restaurant here; we spent the day wandering around the glass shops and antique shops. 

Dickens Victorian Village

Later in the month, we had two day trips. First, we went to Clifton Mill, near Dayton, Ohio. We ate at the mill's restaurant and visited a dairy down the road for ice cream before we returned to the mill at dusk to see the beautiful lights covering the mill and grounds. It was really beautiful to see. We also visited Oglebay Park near Wheeling, West Virginia to see their Festival of Lights. 

Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill

I spent Christmas with my family, and the world had more shock celebrity deaths. I'm just looking forward to the new year now, and I do hope that it is a much better one. I hope that all of my readers have a great 2017, and Happy New Year!

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