Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Review of 2012

2012 was a ropey old year really in many ways! So let’s get the negatives out of the way quickly, in a couple of sentences! Ireland is still in bad shape. But it’s still not Haiti. I still have mortgage issues, financial issues and negative equity, but I’m still eating well! I’ve covered Ireland’s economic woes and some of my suggestions re same (plus content re my mortgage campaign) in my e-book, (www.notrunningaway.com) and in a recent blog about the Budget (http://www.notrunningaway.com/the-budget-and-beyond-a-view/ ), so I won’t rehash any of that here. However suffice to say that in this bankrupt little country (where we pay our leader considerably more than Barack Obama) we have not in any significant way challenged the inequalities, injustices and mounting poverty issues which face the country. We have a long way to to, green shoots or no..

But it IS great to see any green shoots (of recovery), and I am genuinely feeling positive for myself and for others about 2013. We’ll have to do most of it ourselves though. I’ve given up on governments (or banks, or any other branches of Official Ireland) to show much wit or innovation, or even any basic human consideration.

So, moving on from that, instead of my usual list-based review of the year (films, concerts, albums) I’m going to do it a little differently this year, and just touch (briefly!) on things I enjoyed and some (!) of the things I got up to during the year. The main reason being, in 2012 I went to very few films, plays and concerts, and bought very few albums.

But, there was lots of good stuff..

Firstly, I did quite a bit of running. Lots of regular IMRA mountain races and some longer distance races such as the Art O’Neill Challenge and the Mournes 7-7s, both of which went quite well, arm injury in the Mournes notwithstanding. The Art O’Neill is an incredible event (I reviewed it thoroughly on my blog at the time) and I must have forgotten all about the pain of the closing 10-20km last year (it’s a 55km overnight winter-time mountain ultra-marathon), as I seem to have entered it again! It’s on next week (11&12 Jan) and hopefully I’ve done enough training to get through it again. Aiming to beat last year’s 9.5 hours!

One other activity I’ve been trying recently is Bikram Yoga down at the Harold’s Cross studio (http://bikramyoga.ie/Welcome.html ), I’ve just done one month of it (introductory offer) and am already finding the benefits to be quite significant. It’s early days though, so I won’t go in to too much detail yet, but here’s a sample of benefits I’m feeling already – quicker recovery from long training runs, legs and knees considerably less creaky, better flexibility, better sleep, lower blood pressure, a little bit of weight loss and improved muscle tone, improved headaches and some quite remarkable overall post-class relaxation and general well-being! I’ll report back further on this in future blog entries.

Career wise, it’s been an interesting year. I won’t go in to much detail on this, but things are going in a good direction and I have some plans already in place for 2013 which I can’t wait to get stuck in to. Like many people in Ireland I’m working on making my way out of the mess of the economic collapse and my bad (!) timing in buying my first home (2006), but even more importantly, I’ve made a lot of progress at coping with the stress. Solutions have included – the support of friends and family, meditation/yoga, running, talking to people, and of course the support of one person in particular. She wouldn’t want me to name her, but 2012 would have meant very little without her!

Anyway, to the nuts and bolts of some of the things I enjoyed this year.

Sports wise, I very much enjoyed the Olympics – the sport, the tv coverage, and also the excellent opening ceremony. Nice to see our neighbours put on a good event, and lets not begrudge them all their medals (!), plus it was nice to see a few Irish medals as well. Earlier in the year Leinster won another big one in rugby and later Andy Murray got the major monkey off his back, Fionnuala Britton (who did an IMRA race this year!) winning cross country titles was great to see, but most of all I enjoyed seeing Rory McIlroy step up to the plate and become the greatest golfer in the world.

Of my few concerts this year, they were all contenders for my favourite. Topping the bill as joint winners though would be Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen, both in Dublin. I chose well, going to just one night of each artist’s run, getting a particularly excellent setlist at Bruce’s show on the Wednesday. (I have already reviewed these shows in detail earlier in the year, if you want to delve back). Leonard’s shows are as special as ever - there’ll come a day when we’ll look back very fondly at this short golden on-stage period for the aging bard, but for now we should just savour it. Bruce tours all the time of course and 2012 was just about the best form I’ve ever seen him in, him and the expanded E-Street Band. With more to come in 2013! I saw one excellent Dylan show in 2013 in the summer (thanks Jim!), but it was a pity he ignored his new album so much in the Fall. But news of a band shake-up may lead to more sprightly setlists (we hope!) in 2013. I also saw at least one very good Waterboys show and a solid Wilco set (both outdoors). Oh, and Tom Petty was great too, in the o2. Hidden gem of the year was a great little blues gig in JJs pub in Dublin just last Saturday night with unbelievably good quality musicianship by a band called the Gerry Hendrick Band featuring PJ Salmon. And only a tenner in! Surreal moment of the year was standing halfway back at the Waterboys (was too bloody loud up the front) and realising none other than Bruce Springsteen was standing a little bit to my right, in the middle of the crowd!

I saw hardly anything in the cinema, and most of what I did see was mainstream. I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m definitely going to see more films in 2013, LESS blockbusters, plus catch up on the good 'uns I missed last year, both on dvd AND on my ever-overflowing digital tv box! The Hobbit was much better than the reviews suggested – it was lovely to be plunged back in to Middle Earth again, with nice leisurely story-telling, excellent casting and special effects which are a notch-up from the Lord of the Rings. But, forget about this 54 frame rate lark (it made it look like a documentary) and forget 3D, this film looks WAY better in regular old 2D. Skyfall was the best Bond movie since, well the one before the last one, but Batman and Marvel’s Avengers were both a bit disappointing. John Carter was quite good, underrated. Shame was grim, The Help was excellent and A Dangerous Method was an interesting piece which didn't quite work. I saw one film in the French film festival, a great little nugget called Fermatt’s Room, which I think was not a 2012 release, though. I can only remember one other film this year, Woody Allen's To Rome With Love, which continues his slight return to form. So, a bad year for going to the cinema (I urgently want to catch up with highly recommended films like Amour and The Master), so I’m going to cheat slightly and name The Artist as my film of the year, given that in Ireland it was released in 2012 and I saw it sometime that January. Best film I saw all year, by a mile.

I only saw, jeez, one play?! Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance at the Gate theatre. Good fun. But not enough – next year I’d like to see more.

I didn’t buy a lot of albums either, but dipped in to many. And it was quite a good year. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan’s Tempest tops my list. One of his best latter-day albums, and a delight for the ears if you like pre-Rock American music played by experts and sung by what is still one of the most expressive voices (despite the ever increasing rasp) in the business. Other artists/albums I’ve enjoyed listening to this year included (and this is NOT a definitive list); Wrecking Ball (a career highlight from The Boss), Old Ideas (a grower of a late-addition to the Leonard canon), Neil Young (Americana was a dud, but the Crazy Horse album was a stormer), Natalie Duncan (it’s a good era for female singers, she’s the one who springs to mind the most, great voice and piano!), The Strypes, Alt-J, Hudson Taylor, Jack White, Dexys, Black Keys and Bill Fay. Paul McCartney had quite a good year, with some good live shows apparently, a great re-issue of his ‘Ram’ album, a surprisingly good and understated standards album, then veering dangerously in to ‘over-exposure territory’ at all those ‘big-moment’ summer concerts in London, but rescuing things in fine style with his ‘Nirvana-moment’ last month – check out the YouTube of him and Dave and Krist doing their new song, Cut me Some Slack, at the Concert for Sandy event. And speaking of the Fabs (weren’t we?!), I’m still reeling from (and enjoying) the mono and stereo CD box-sets of the entire Beatles catalogue back in 2009, plus funds were tight so I didn’t shell out 300 quid for the deluxe box of re-issued 2012 LP editions. I would be interested to hear them though, and see how they compare to my original Beatles vinyls and the remastered CDs.

It was a disappointing year for Art in Dublin, with nothing really happening in the National Gallery (half of it is still closed) other than a mindless attack by a lunatic on one of our Monets! And because I travelled so little, I saw very few exhibitions.

Some books I read included Keith Richard’s Life, The Mitfords – a Biography, more of PD James’ back catalogue and other crime/period novels, re-reads, plus other books about music, running, motivation etc. I’m working on curbing my addiction to newspapers and running/music magazine (!), AND I got a nice present of an e-reader for Christmas, so way more reading to come in 2013!

The art-form (?!) I partook of the most this year however was probably, ahem, TV. BUT, if you took the time to look, there was lots of quality and/or entertaining programmes to check out. I saw season one of Game of Thrones (incredible standard of TV fantasy drama), season two of Homeland (disappointing), season three of Downton Abbey (a slight improvement on season two, it’s still fun but not to be taken very seriously), lots of good music docs (and history docs etc) on the likes of Sky Arts and BBC4, Parades End (a bit ponderous, but overall a thought-provoking and enjoyable adaptation), Bletchley Circle, the Late Late Show (well, the episode I was on, that is..!) and Gran Hotel (lush, melodramatic but enjoyable Spanish period drama). Comedy wise, I’ve been checking out things like The Big Bang Theory (quite good), Modern Family, Happy Endings, and the preponderance of stand-up comedy now on TV. But, for my programme of the year, here it is - in the nick of time (note - given that I’ve not seen the 2012 season two of Game of Thrones yet, THAT programme doesn’t qualify) I’m plumping for a Victorian London cop drama which only started two days ago (first of 8 episodes) called Ripper Street. It's very good so far (be warned, it’s quite violent), and given that it was shot in Ireland, over here we have the extra pleasure of trying to spot the locations! I’ve also watched quite a bit of current affairs and news this year, and given the scandals at the BBC and even RTE, am taking what I see/hear with a bigger pinch of salt than usual – it’s been a tough year for people in Ireland, UK, US and Europe, and even worse elsewhere, so now more than ever we need good journalists, good reporting and good analysis. Let’s hope we get it in 2013.

My own main priorities for 2013 are career, health and making time to relax a bit more. Sports wise I need to firstly get through the Art O’Neill ultra, and then consider other challenges, perhaps the Wicklow Way Ultra in the Spring, with an adventure race or two (and/or a triathlon) in the summer, and more running, golf and yoga.

I’d like to thank everyone for their support this year, especially anyone who bought the book (!) and wish everyone the best for a better year to come. My sympathies to those who lost people last year, or who have bad health, traumas or recession-related problems, and congratulations to lots of people close to me who had happy events – it was a great year for weddings etc! Feel free to keep an eye on my websites and blogs for new developments and writing in 2013, and keep in touch.

Happy New Year!

www.notrunningaway.com (my book)
email cowleyken@gmail.com

copyright Ken Cowley 2012

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