A quiet New Year's Eve at home led me into 2014, during the first week of which I exercised my performance-watching skills, seeing Priscilla - Queen of the Desert on stage at the Theatre Royal and then The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, both very enjoyable.
Later in the month, I spent a fantastic long weekend at Wilmington Priory with Sid, Cathy and Ed, and Julia and Mike. Staying in the old priory itself was fantastic and we had plenty of walks, table tennis in a freezing cold haunted room, a séance (!), evenings round the fire and a delicious dinner at The Giant's Rest. Great company and gorgeous surroundings.
And on the final evening of the month, Cathy and I braved torrential rain and a mini-hurricane to go for a Groupon meal deal at The Beachview Greek restaurant on the seafront (I see from the current website that it's now a Spanish restaurant!) Can't go wrong with a few stuffed vine leaves, if you ask me.
My birthday rolled around, as they are wont to do. This year it coincided with the monthly Treason Show, so after a few drinks at the labyrinthine pub The Bee's Mouth and some delicious food at Iydea, we were off to The Brunswick for a couple of hours of hilarity. I spent the next couple of days down at my mum's and she treated me to a delicious birthday meal at Kali Mirchi, And as if I hadn't eaten enough, I was then back at The Giant's Rest in Wilmington for lunch with my dad and stepmum!
Mid-February saw me fulfil a dream - I went, with Ange, to see Derren Brown on stage. Of course, I'm not allowed to give anything away but suffice to say, it was bleedin' marvellous!
A clear night later in the month found Dade and me at Woods Mill for a group astronomy evening. Almost as if it had been planned, just as we were all talking about differentiating between planes and satellites, the International Space Station flew over. There were incredible binoculars and telescopes there for us to gaze through which, as always, made my brain hurt when looking at and thinking about infinity!
My mum came down to stay for a couple of days just after her birthday. We had a wander through town and a drink before heading to Archipelago's for a glorious meal and rather too much wine. The wine was what made us think it was a really good idea to go for a walk along the seafront in a howling gale and the rapidly arriving torrential rain. Oops! The following morning we headed to Carat's for a much-needed brunch before mum headed back home.
Early March found me and Cathy at The Freemasons for our first ever French pub quiz, courtesy of the lovely Carole Jacquet of The Language Guru. It was an interesting experience - I'm not sure how much French we spoke or learnt but it was a good evening and we've been back several times since (and have even roped Ed and Sid in!)
Cathy and I went on a tour of Brighton Dome early one Sunday morning. There's something a little eerie about an empty theatre and we got to nose around the dressing rooms (and see a secret tunnel) but unfortunately we weren't able to go onto the stage because it was being set up for a show.
Later in the month, I accompanied Cathy on a long-awaited return trip to Etoile de Mer (see this blog post).
No sooner were we back from France than it was time for Cathy's birthday celebrations - drinks at Paris House and more delicious food at Archipelago's.
A week later, with Cathy, Sid, Ange and Carol, I enjoyed two hours of karaoke at Lucky Voice, where you get a private booth so that you and your friends can belt out/wail/warble/scream to your heart's content without upsetting anyone! We'd set up our playlist in advance so we didn't waste time choosing songs. The glitterball-lit two hours sped by in a whirlwind of weird and wonderful songs, accompanied by the tambourine they leave in the room and rather a lot of air guitar!
Two days later, Julia and I ran the Dr Hadwen Trust stall at Vegfest Brighton. It was a tiring but very rewarding day - we were both surprised at how few people had heard of the charity, given the general demographic of attendees. So we were happy to be spreading the word about its fantastic (and cruelty-free) work.
The month started fairly quietly (Cathy having gone to work abroad by this point and of course no social events happen when she's away ... ahem, Cathy, you'll need to skip to July in order to remain certain of that fact!).
Sid and I had a giggle-filled early evening on the pétanque piste on Hove seafront. Who knew so much laughter could be induced by throwing six heavy metal balls at a small wooden one?
The lovely Kim popped over from Spain to her old home town and I spent a fine afternoon and evening bar-hopping with her and some of her oldest friends.
A fine day was spent with my mum and my aunt at Monkey World, where they both still have an adopted rescued ape. For me, though, the highlight here is always the lemur enclosure because the animals choose to get so close to you!
Early May saw Dade, my friend and flatmate, turn 40 (yup, sorry, it's out there!) and knowing how rubbish men are at treating themselves to anything nice, I whisked him off to deepest Dorset for a couple of days on the Jurassic Coast, a trip to Corfe Castle, some messing around at Durdle Door and a very large bottle of champagne!
By now, it was time for the second foreign sojourn of the year so it was off to southern Spain with Sid for a week's R&R. If you haven't fallen asleep by now, and missed it the first time, you can read about that here.
Later in the month, Dade managed to secure some free tickets to The Ladyboys of Bangkok show (thanks to his marvellous promotional photos of them) - very entertaining, some serious talent and I still find it hard to believe that most of them are male.
A quiet start to the month led up to Sid's birthday celebrations, including a splendid meal out with friends, brunch at Iydea, a day on the beach (yes, we had a decent summer!) and nibbles and fizz on the roof terrace.
Later in the month, we were still enjoying good weather so Cathy and I joined Sid on her roof terrace again for a BBQ (and some jousting with halloumi kebabs!)
INTERVAL! Yes, we're halfway through the year. Go get a cup of tea and a biscuit!
The month started with another trip to Paris House and an evening at Archipelago's to celebrate Cathy's return from her 3-month stint abroad. And very lovely to have her back it was too.
A sunny Saturday afternoon found me heading to Kent to celebrate the engagement of my gorgeous cousin Joe to the wonderful Leanne. It was a lovely day, tables groaning with delicious food and the fun of using the actual bar they have in their garden shed (which is bigger than my flat, I would like to point out). Most of my family made it so it was good to meet Leanne's family too (and warn them that she was marrying into a bunch of nutters).
Sid and I went to the Queens Park Royal Spa to see a performance of Macbeth by the wonderful outdoor Shakespeare company, Illyria. And later in the month, we went to a show by the amazing octogenarian raconteuse, Lynn Ruth Miller. For reasons which now escape me, some of the show entailed her throwing Tena Lady pads around the audience. If you get a chance to see her live, take it!
In mid-July I took a rare trip to London for a reunion of the staff I used to work with at Waterloo International (god, that was a long time ago). It was 10 years since the closure of the office. I met Malcolm early evening and we lined our stomachs at Wahaca near London Bridge, before heading to The Stage Door at Waterloo. We were a bit late to the party though as it turned out the majority of attendees had got there at midday so were long gone. But it was good to catch up with those who were still there! Real blasts from the past.
For my birthday, I had received a voucher for a cookery course from Titbits Catering so in the middle of July I walked round to a flat not far from mine, and joined five other people learning how to make a delicious three-course vegan meal (in the tiniest kitchen I've ever seen!)
The following evening, Cathy, Ed and I joined a local group for a Glow-worm Hunt at Steyning Downland Scheme. We learned plenty - they're not worms, it's only the females who glow, they only glow when they're trying to attract a mate and they don't eat! Hunting across a vast expanse of hillside in the dark looking for that tiny pinprick of light really is like looking for a needle in a haystack but ... we found some! I had the proud pleasure of spotting one really well hidden in the grass which, upon inspection, turned out to be the smallest/youngest one the walk leader had ever seen.
Another sunny Sunday was spent firstly at a BBQ on The Level with Richi (the tallest man I've ever met) and some of his friends and family, and then at Pebbles on the Port with Cathy, Ed and Cathy's nephews watching the splendid Abba tribute band and enjoying cold beers and late afternoon sunshine.
Early August saw my mum and I heading to the depths of Kent to help an ex-relative (!) celebrate his 60th birthday. The 100 or so guests enjoyed gorgeous food, never-ending drinks, croquet, pétanque and lots of socialising in the huge garden of the even huger house. I'm sure, one day, it'll be featured in magazines.
The following day I had a rare opportunity to see my Norfolk-based cousins (normally only encountered at weddings and funerals) when they came down to visit their mum who lives round the corner from mine. I do love the fact that it doesn't matter how long it is between meet-ups, our family members just slip into lovely comfortable chat and nonsense as if we had seen each other only yesterday.
Yet another sunny Sunday (are we sure this is the UK?) found me and Cathy heading off very early in the morning to the Isle of Wight for the Jack Up The 80s music festival. It was a marathon journey there and back in one day but well worth it. Dr and the Medics were an absolute revelation - the hit of the day!
A mid-August evening was the opportunity for me and Cathy to go hunting for more glow-worms - this time, it was glow-worms, bats and meteors we were looking for. We had roaring success with the bats, even more glow-worms than the previous trip but sadly, due to cloud cover, no meteors.
Our vocal cords were feeling unappreciated, so we organised another karaoke bash, this time preceded by divine food at the Curry Leaf Cafe. A few songs made a reappearance but mostly we found new tunes to massacre!
Cathy and I went to the Duke of York's to see a Belgian film (in French) - Two Days, One Night. It's a very good film, see it if you get the chance.
How best to follow a really nice sunny summer in the UK? Head back to southern Spain for another week of beaching, reading, lazing, eating and drinking. Sid and I had enjoyed our trip in May so much that we went back to the same little town, though staying in a different property this time. Our lovely little whitewashed house, Avda 222, was surrounded by bougainvillea and had an enormous (and very hot) roof terrace. If we thought we'd been lazy in May, we outdid ourselves this time. We drove to a few little local villages and went caving, but for most of the week, we worked our way round the multiple coves and beaches, sunbathing, swimming and reading. A properly relaxing week!
Carol's birthday was celebrated with a tasty meal at Macara's in Hove, an interesting evening given that I only knew 3 of the 12 people at the table!
The following night, Sid and I went to one of those random things that always make me think "Only in Brighton!" Or in this case, in Shoreham. After a delicious meal at Tosca, we headed to one of the houseboats on the river, Verda, to listen to The Shakespeare Heptet - a bizarre group of musicians who put Shakespeare sonnets to music. They're very talented and it was a weird and wonderful evening, only slightly tainted by the rather eccentric owner of the houseboat stopping the gig halfway through the second half to try to clear a space for dancing, even though it was quite clear that he was the only person interested in dancing!
And the night after that, Dade and I went to The Greys pub to see Porchlight Smoker play. I'd spotted the listing and booked without really knowing anything about them but my dad told me he'd seen them before and that they were fantastic. He wasn't wrong. It was a rip-roaring, foot-stomping evening of whoopiness (you might recognise a version of those words on their website. I posted a review and they asked if they could use my words for their tagline!)
Early autumn brought about another evening of nature with a MeetUp group someone I know runs - School of the Wild. This was only their third get-together but it was well worth going to. It was called a "Bat and Owl Prowl" and although we did hear/see a few bats, the owls were the stars. We headed deep into the woods at Stanmer Park and the leader played owl calls over her iPod speakers, drawing two or three owls to the vicinity. Standing in the pitch dark, listening to their calls getting closer and closer was eerie but very exciting, and the sudden sight of one swooping out of a nearby tree and zooming straight over our heads was wonderful. I truly could have stayed there all night!
Later in the month, I joined Ange, Sid, Catherine and Lois for food at the Curry Leaf Café again, followed by a gig by Caro Emerald. It had been postponed from the previous March so it had been a long time coming! If I'm honest, I wasn't particularly excited about it - I knew one song by her, and liked it, but after booking the tickets I'd heard more of her music and it wasn't really my cup of tea. Still, I had been looking forward to an evening out with friends so I went - and enjoyed it. Not enough to go again but enough to be up and dancing by the encore.
Two days later, I joined Sid at Union Music, a tiny country music store in Lewes for one of their occasional free gigs. This was by Ward Thomas, Home Counties-raised twins who have absolutely found their niche as a country music duo. The shop holds about 35 people, crammed around the racks of CDs and albums, and surrounded by the instruments hung on the walls, and the two girls and their backing singer/guitarist/percussionist were simply standing in the window area at the end of the shop. They played about 6 songs over half an hour (it was free!) and they blew our socks off. Their lyrics are really clever and the harmonies are beautiful. Another recommendation - see them if you get the chance.
On a less cheerful note, October also saw the funeral of my great-uncle Brian, the last remaining member of my grandfather's generation of the family. I was very glad to have had one last chance to see him a couple of months earlier at the care home he had moved into. Even at his advanced age and clearly having serious medical issues, he was still eloquent, erudite and quite cheeky at that visit.
An afterthought - I spent October sober. I realise that makes me sound like a complete lush but basically, I simply decided not to have an alcoholic drink for the whole month. I felt a lot better for it too!
The main event of this month was my four-day trip to Istanbul to visit Cathy during her posting. She was on her 4th posting abroad and this was the first time that practicalities had allowed me to organise a visit. I'd heard wonderful things about it in the past but had never been - not even to Turkey. Having got over the panic of discovering I needed to get my passport renewed just three weeks before my trip (it came back in time), I packed my bag to go to a country I'd never been to before. That doesn't happen very often. I should have got around to writing the blog about that trip by now but I haven't - however, I still plan to so all I'll say now is that I fell totally and completely in love with the city within the first couple of hours. Cathy was a marvellous host and it was great to have someone who knew where to go and what to do. We tried to do things she hadn't done with her other visitors so that she didn't have to keep duplicating excursions - on the Monday, I had the day alone anyway because she was at work, so on that day I did the things she'd done already. If I go back, I will happily spend a lot of the time crossing the Bosphorus on the little ferry over to the Asian side and just wandering through the foodstall-lined streets.
I spent most of the second half of the month down with the unpleasant winter lurgy so my social activities were somewhat depleted!
Having shaken off the nastiness, the obvious thing to do was go to a ceilidh! It was organised by another MeetUp group, The Rant. I'd been to one ceilidh before, nearly two decades ago and I'd enjoyed it but you never know with these things. I needn't have worried - Cathy and I headed in, got our mulled wine and mince pie (it was the Xmas get-together, after all) and joined in. They're a really friendly bunch, there's no pretensions or frustration with the beginners, and we had a real laugh. I think a return visit is on the cards soon.
The following day, Cathy and I joined a walk and lunch organised by a Sussex Wildlife Trust sub-group. We met our walking companions at The Black Horse, Findon, and set off on a walk to Cissbury Ring. It was a nice, easy dawdle, ending with great views over Sussex - hills and sea. I had a long chat with the organiser while we were walking - he completes and compiles the hardest cryptic crossword in the country (The Listener in The Times on Saturday) and he was trying to explain the thinking behind the clues. I'm a fairly good cryptic crossword solver but he lost me pretty fast! We wended our way back to the pub where the group had a tasty meal, completed a cryptic quiz and embarrassed ourselves on the skittle alley. The people were very friendly and welcoming to us newcomers and we plan to go on some of their other monthly walks in the coming year.
That evening, we had a nostalgia trip, along with Carol, seeing Madness at the Brighton Centre. I'd seen them a few times before and they never disappoint. There was much singing along and even some pogo-ing.
A chilly Wednesday evening found our same little group, plus Ange and Ann, hitting the Theatre Royal for the stage show of The Full Monty. It was really good fun, well staged, well acted, funny in the right places, sad in the others and with all the "bits" you'd expect (sort of)!
Cathy's annual Christmas get-together was my next social engagement. As always, it was a marvellous evening of chat, laughter, nibbles, drink and, more importantly, sprout racing - and a new addition this year - penguin racing. There were even some genuinely funny (and new) cracker jokes - unheard of! The evening always provides that proper festive feeling that's needed a couple of weeks before Christmas.
Our work Christmas do went ahead a few days later with cocktails at Misty's followed by food at Modelo Lounge. Sadly, the Lounge didn't live up to expectations for which I take some responsibility. I had been to the Alcampo Lounge near my flat and enjoyed really good food and ambience, and also visited the Santo Lounge in Southampton, which is why I recommended the Modelo Lounge for the Xmas do. The food was surprisingly disappointing - not awful, just nothing-y. Still, the vast quantities of wine seemed to help temper our disappointment and we still had a splendid evening!
Four days before the big day, I was invited to my stepsister's house for a Xmas get-together with my stepfamily. Jane had really challenged herself - 16 of us for lunch in a living/dining room you would swear could hold maybe 10. Doors were taken off hinges, tables were built in the spaces left once people had taken their seats and Jane and Alan dished up a delicious full Christmas dinner, all ready at the same time and all hot! I have no idea how they did it. It was a lovely afternoon of food, chat, new people, fizz and silly hats!
The Christmas social whirl continued that evening with mulled wine and nibbles at Sid's with Cathy. Another lovely evening full of wine, cheese and crackers! You may have noticed a pattern to December!
Once I'd finally finished work at 4pm, Dade and I had a sneaky Christmas Eve drink at The Jolly Poacher down the road and then had a very quiet, chilled Christmas Day at the flat. Silly Christmas films and present opening was followed, eventually, by a gigantic roast dinner, leading into a lazy evening of more TV and Baileys. It was the first time I had spent an entire Christmas Day in my own home for about 30 years, I think!
On Boxing Day morning, I headed to my mum's and from there we went to my aunt's for Christmas Day #2, with my uncle's two kids and their other halves. It was a very convivial meal, followed by an impromptu party which came about simply because lots of their friends started popping round to say hello and then stayed! It was a lot of fun - very loud, very funny and very sociable.
The 29th brought me, Cathy, Sid, Carol and Kim to dinner at the Curry Leaf Café and then The Treason Show End of the Year Show. This has become a staple of our Christmas/New Year entertainment - it's a two-hour roundup of the best sketches from the monthly Treason Show from the preceding 12 months. It's always hilarious and this year didn't disappoint. At times, we were crying and clutching our sides. They're a disgracefully talented bunch and I'm looking forward to seeing them at their new venue, The Rialto Theatre.
And finally (you'll be pleased to know!) we reach New Year's Eve. A surprisingly busy day at work was followed by a lovely evening at Sid's. We ate far too much food, drank less than expected, chatted about anything and everything, sneakily watched other people's fireworks from the roof terrace, and ditched Jools Holland to watch Adam Lambert and Queen. If you've never heard of Adam Lambert, you're not alone. I hadn't a clue who he was until last night but the remaining members of Queen have, quite rightly, seen something in him that has allowed him to take on that hallowed position once held by Freddie Mercury. The obligatory countdown led to Big Ben bonging in the New Year and a quite startling firework display over The Thames. Cheers and good wishes were passed in person and online before Jools Holland finally got a look in with the rest of his Hootenanny to take us through till the early hours of the morning.
Throughout 2014, Cathy and I continued to work on Write Me A Murder plots, receiving some really positive feedback from several groups. There have also been walks in various pretty parts of Sussex, others in Hampshire, sunny and blowy walks on the seafront, duvet days, TV series marathons, and a fairly human proportion of love, laughter, tears and nonsense!
So thank you to everyone involved in my 2014 for making it the year it was!