I’ve never been particularly good at getting these finished on time, but I don’t think that devalues the exercise. In fact, in some ways I find it easier to look back on the past year once we’ve had some time to settle into the new one. Most people seem to be able to state whether twenty-seventeen was good or bad, but mine doesn’t fit into those kind of categories. It was pretty mixed, with some phenomenal highs and some tricky lows. As a result, I’ve been trying to figure out how to go about measuring the last twelve months.
One of the reasons this post is late is because I don’t know how to write these book-ending sections. The year itself is easy to measure through the moments I’ve illustrated below: my journeys to Budapest and California; the start of my third year at university; the student paper editions; the books and the essays; the meanders through my favourite places in the country. But summing up those things into something concise is anything but simple. I think I’ve laughed more this year than I can ever remember, but the last twelve months have been full of challenges, and the causes of both of those things converge surprisingly often; twenty-seventeen was simultaneously “good” and “bad”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Maybe that’s just it, though: the fun parts don’t run parallel with the difficult parts – instead, they’re often one and the same, or connected in some way. And maybe twenty-seventeen is hard to pin down because the year’s process was one of learning to find the fun in the challenge, or the positive in the outcome. It wasn’t just good and bad at the same time; it was good in part because of the bad. And the moments that were hard to weather were all the more worth it, and all the more important, as a result.
On New Year’s Day we go to watch Moana. We might all be in our twenties, but this film will come to represent something important and special to my sister and me. After our annual Twelfth Night celebrations I make my way back to York and work overnight on an essay due the next day focused on the single word as. Most mornings I walk to the gym, frost crackling underfoot in time to the heavy basslines in my ears. Jess, Becca and I watch a livestream of the RSC’s Tempest in town, and we see our first snowfall in York. There’s a week of incessant fog, and not just outside; a slight, inexplicable sadness settles in me for a short time, but now I know it will pass. I counteract it with work, watching post-war Italian films for my favourite module of the year, and by taking walks around the city on Sundays. At the art gallery on Residents’ Weekend I find out I can get a York Museums Trust card for free as a student which lets me explore some of the city’s best venues at no cost, so I meander through the collection every few weeks, finding and returning to my favourites.
G comes for his first visit of the year, and we spend a weekend exploring more of Yorkshire. I find a pretty circular walk through the countryside around Helmsley, and we drive to Hull when it rains to check out The Deep aquarium; afterwards we drop in on our friend Sophie for a catch-up. On the way back we spot signs to a pretty town and, in our customary manner, take a detour to check it out. The town is Beverley, and we wander through its pretty streets at dusk before stumbling upon its impressive Minster, making plans as we leave to return next time. A couple of weeks later Mum visits, and the next morning we drive to Haworth in the Dales to see the Parsonage where the Bronte family lived; I have a seminar that afternoon, and on the way back we workshop the Coleridge and Wordsworth poems I’ve been asked to prepare. She takes me home for a weekend where, with Dad, we visit old churches along the coast and discovering a lovely cafe which will become a family favourite. When I get back to York Jess, Becca and I plan to have a ‘quick catch-up over coffee’, and end up drinking prosecco in Harrogate. One night, late, I book on to a trip to Budapest with the University’s Literature Society.
Spring starts to make itself known with our celebrating Jess’s birthday. G drives up again; we walk through a gentle Dalby Forest and have afternoon tea in Beverley, exploring the Minster and other parts of the town. On his last day we drive back to Hull and meet our friends Sophie, Josh and Heather for another wander around The Deep followed by fish and chips. Back in normality, I’m partially responsible for an entire supplement devoted to covering London Fashion Week for my student paper, and it’s stressing me out. The thought creeps through me that I might be falling out of love with this whole journalism thing. Term ends; I write on dismemberment and bodily autonomy in Frankenstein, go on a shopping spree, and the next day board a bus and a plane to Hungary.
I fall in love with Budapest immediately. Spring is in full bloom here; it’s warmer than we anticipated, and we spend our days eating the best food and touring both sides of the Danube. My fellow tripgoers aren’t my usual friendship group, but they welcome me with open arms and I never once feel out of place in the way I have become accustomed to over the years. We visit the zoo, and the Szechenyi Baths, and the Basilica, and climb the so-called mountain for the best views on our final day. At night we check out the ruin bars, sing karaoke, and see the city from the river while trying out the country’s famously strong spirit, Palinka. There’s something special about this city, and it will stay with me.
I head home for Easter and practically sight-read my way through a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony with the Norfolk County Youth Orchestra at an alumni reunion concert. The next day I turn twenty-one. Mum has bought me a ring. G and I spend a day around the coast and go for a meal with my parents in the evening. At the weekend we go to Colchester Zoo and feed giraffes. We’re like kids; I don’t take any pictures. I read Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in two days while G works on his car; it’s one of those books that everyone should read. Before long it’s back to York in time for spring. The Roses tournament against Lancaster takes place over a weekend, and Jess, Franky and I watch half of the opening basketball game on a huge screen on the side of Central Hall.
Term kicks off; I annotate my copy of King Lear to within an inch of its life. In my first film screening of term for my Italian module I get a notification that Theresa May will be making an announcement that morning; we’re watching Pasolini’s Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St Matthew), and as Jesus carries the cross to the cite of Crucifixion my phone tells me that a General Election has been called. I decide I need a break, so buy a train ticket and take myself to Knaresborough. I’ve wanted to visit for a while, and the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race is passing through, so I explore the town with its stunning viaduct and watch the cyclists fly past. Shortly before they arrive a kid, wobbly on a shiny new bike, cycles down the road past the crowd; he gets a bigger cheer than the professionals will a few minutes later.
G comes to visit and we visit a bitterly cold Whitby and the extraordinary Brimham Rocks; it feels as though we’ve wandered into the Lord of the Rings set. Jeremy Corbyn is touring the country and making a stop in York, so Micah and I go to watch; we’re waiting in the square trying to work out where he’ll be standing when a suited young man asks us if we fancy doing him a favour. We end up holding up For the Many, Not the Few placards right behind the stage with a diverse group of mostly young people. There’s a photographer next to me with a Leica, and when I see The Guardian front page the next day I realise it must be his photograph on the cover; he was Sean Smith, one of my most admired photojournalists, and I didn’t know to thank him for his work.
It’s exam season. These are the last I’ll ever take, and I’m hoping to do pretty well, but one evening I leave my housemates revising and head out into town for possibly the most belated Christmas meal in history with my Nouse team. I’m getting ready to leave the paper behind, but it’s a sweet evening catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones that bit better before we part ways. I spend days walking the city and the walls with my camera, and sit my exams. The following week I write an essay on windows, reflection and liminality in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. I write into the very late early hours, typing my final sentence just as the dawn chorus breaks out. I should go to bed, but instead I re-dress, pack my camera and my tripod, and walk up Kimberlow Hill.
We celebrate Micah’s birthday in the garden on one of the hottest days of the year, and then I take three sweltering trains home. G and I check out the vintage fair at Gressenhall and get the kayaks out for the first time this year, and then we drive to the Broads to celebrate Dom’s birthday with his family and our friend Billie. We eat at the Ingham Swan, a special favourite of mine, not knowing that it will burn to the ground come September. Back at the house we drink gin and talk violins and boats. It’s G’s birthday too, but I can’t stay because of the newspaper, so we go for a meal and I promise him a surprise when I next see him.
June’s a patchwork whirlwind. On the first day Jess, Becca and I dress as best we can for LitSoc’s Greek Mythology themed summer ball and after that it doesn’t really stop until the very last week. Days are split between the library preparing for our final assessment of the year and talking over coffee and cinnamon buns in my new favourite cafe. I’m up all night ill the night before our King Lear presentation; our topic is tears, and I’m in so much pain I can’t help but laugh at the irony. It goes okay, but I have to miss most of the final newspaper production week of the year. Jess has an end-of-party, there are goodbye-and-thank-you Nouse drinks as we wave off our final-years, and one night, very late, I book a plane ticket to California.
I’m out most evenings working the University’s Festival of Ideas. I welcome speakers and audience members to venues, check tickets and answer questions, and listen to all sorts of amazing talks. My absolute highlight is when Michael Rosen comes to visit; I grew up with his stories. I stand by while he signs books after his talk, marvelling at the family who have driven down from Scotland to see him only to get stuck in so much traffic that they missed the event itself. But the kids got their book signed, and their picture. He has to wait for his car once the audience has gone, and we talk politics and education for fifteen minutes; I get my picture too.
On the 8th Micah and I walk down to the nearby school to vote for Rachael Maskell. I get home from work that evening thinking about the polls: I’m not staying up, I repeat to myself. When I open the door Micah sprints down the corridor shouting “HUNG PARLIAMENT!”. Maybe just a couple of hours… I think. I go to bed at half past eight the next morning, far more jubilant than I thought I’d be, though not as overjoyed as some assume. An agreement with the DUP is hardly a welcome prospect.
After all of this, second year ends a little quietly. People drift home. Jess and I write our third-year bucket lists over lunch in All Bar One. G appears, and I show him a picture of a shepherd’s hut at the foot of a fell near Grasmere: we’re heading back to the Lakes. We walk half of the Ullswater Way, from Aira Force around the lake all the way to Pooley Bridge, where we take the steamer back across. As we chug through the water a military jet storms its way over the lake; they have special dispensation to fly low here on occasion, and for the split second it’s above our heads we feel as though we could have reached out and touched it. The next day we leave our shepherd’s hut, itself situated on a gorgeous farm which seems straight out of one of my childhood picture books, pick up some Grasmere gingerbread, and drive back to York for a few days.
I’m back home, but not for long. We pick strawberries, G and I visit Blakeney, and once again I spend a week working with kids and ponies. My sister’s photographs are featured in The Guardian. The next weekend I’m on a train back to York; I’m working a residential course which shows sixth-formers what uni could be like for them. It’s exhausting, full of academic and social sessions, but it’s one of the best weeks of the year. My team are incredible, as are my students, and I hope I get to do it all again next year.
There’s no time to stop, though. I’ve all of two days at home before I’m back on the road or, rather, the air: all of a sudden I find myself alone on an eleven-hour flight to San Francisco. The last time I flew long-haul I was three years old, and I’ve never taken a plane alone, but I’ve found a new kind of internal security. I feel like I might need it. We spend a couple of days exploring Berkeley and Oakland, and then venture a bit further – to Marin to see our relatives, into San Francisco for a whistle-stop walking tour, and all the way out to Muir Woods using every type of public transport imaginable.
I’ve started to settle into California a little, though crossing roads still gets me in a muddle and, though I try one morning, I can’t leave the house alone. Most evenings we make food and watch Disney, but we pack plenty in during the daytime. I meet Rosa’s j-school colleagues and tutors and come to a few conclusions. One day we take Amtrak across to Davis, where she first fell in love with California, but my very favourite trip is to Land’s End, where we breathe sea air, watch a trawler pass below the Golden Gate Bridge, and dip our toes into the Pacific. I’m sad to leave, but she’s coming home with me; we watch films together on the plane. By amazing coincidence Jess is on the same flight back, but jetlag makes catching up on our respective holidays pretty impossible.
We’re all home. We spend days on the coast, or at Houghton, or just together. Mum and I take a trip to Woodbridge for a new shoulder rest for my violin and end up touring some of Suffolk’s most beautiful villages, finally ending up in Lavenham. I meet up with Jess and Becca in Cambridge for a day, and we take a trip around our favourite spots on the Norfolk coast later in the month. G’s family are away in New Zealand so I join him house-sitting at the weekend, walking the dog and reading Moby-Dick for the new term while he works on the car. On the hot bank holiday weekend we sped a beautiful day in Aldeburgh, and all of a sudden summer seems to be over.
There’s a lot of reading. An hour in the morning; another before dinner; a bit before bed. Moby-Dick has drawn me in, picked me up and swirled me around, and when I finish it won’t leave me. My classmates think I’m mad, but I’m already planning my essay. Before long I’m back to York, a week early to work on my final newspaper edition. Over the summer I’ve accepted that the career path I’ve been planning for isn’t right for me, and started work on what I really want, so I’m a little hesitant about being back in the office. We’re putting together our twenty-page supplement for this year’s freshers alongside a standard edition and although it’s stressful, it’s pretty endless fun. I’m glad to be spending late nights singing to Disney and Oasis, and even happier that I’m enjoying myself.
We finish up the paper during Freshers’ Week, with a break in the middle spent getting as many people to sign up to join during Freshers’ Fair. It’s a long, busy day, so when it’s over and Jess brings us an entire free Domino’s pizza she was given by their rep we’re pretty overjoyed. She and I walk up to the Glasshouse and get cocktails at five-pm. A couple of weeks later it’s election night, which is an emotional but not unhappy evening. Becca comes to say goodbye; the office is where our friendship first sparked even though she left at the end of last year, and I’m so touched that she’s there. We celebrate her birthday towards the end of the month.
I take an early trip home, where things aren’t entirely right. Jess, Becca and Franky take me to Betty’s for the first time (apparently it’s a crime I’ve not been yet), and we go to plays at the Drama Barn, including Jess’s own. I have my first dissertation meeting which leaves me feeling pretty small and stuck, but I’m really enjoying my classes. G comes to visit and we discover Bolton Abbey. Otherwise most of my time is spent at home; it’s not taken long to settle into the new rhythms and routines of our three new housemates, and we’ve all gelled together remarkably quickly thanks to nights in watching Fast and Furious and Community, and the odd night out too.
I’ve bought Advent calendars for everyone in the house, and we start the countdown to our House Christmas on the 25th. There’s a field trip to the Castle Museum for my fashion module where we get to look at and handle garments and artefacts from the eighteenth century, and I pop home for another weekend for Dad’s birthday and to make the Christmas pudding. In York I work when I can, at home or in Waterstones or, once, Starbucks. There is night after night of long late conversation, sometimes difficult, always precious. I manage a coffee catch-up every so often, but I’m not being a good enough friend.
The Christmas markets arrive in York and we decorate the house. The day before House Christmas I put together little gift bags for everyone in place of stockings, pick up my Secret Santa gift for Sarah, and go pottery-painting for Franky’s birthday. On the day itself, I help Micah in the kitchen, basting our turkey crown every half hour, until we all gather for food followed by gifts and card games. And a lot of wine. It’s a late night, and the best day of term. The next day Greg and I freeze watching Joe play American football, and warm up at home watching another match. I’m meant to be essay-writing.
No, I’m really meant to be essay writing, but now there’s snow, and lots of it. Micah and I lay on my bed next to my wall-long window and watch it swirl towards us. That evening Greg and I drive to the Minster for a carol service hosted by the city’s two universities’ Christian Unions. When we leave it’s snowing again, and York’s backstreets are Dickensian. The ticket machines at the car parks are broken so we don’t pay a penny, and when I get home Emily offers me half of her cakeaway. She works on her essay in my room until three-am; I think I’m up until five.
I submit my essay with an hour to spare. It’s on Melville’s whirlpools, or vortices as I have come to call them. When I was planning it my tutor told me that all I had to do was ‘say something new about Moby-Dick‘. I’m not sure if I’ve done that yet; we’ll have to wait and see.
Term’s over. We get an extortionate amount of pizza and watch The Matrix, and Mum stays for a weekend to Christmas shop and see Castle Howard before taking me home. G and I quietly celebrate four years together with a film and food and, the next day, possibly the best sandwiches we’ve ever eaten at The Old Bank, a favourite of ours. There are festive traditions to adhere to, like my trip to Holt with Dad to get food for the holiday, and helping Mum decorate the house. She’s not done with term, so I go into school with her and start work on my next essay, enjoying her teachers’ end-of-term gathering and singalong in the staff room. We go to a candlelit concert for New Routes, a charity supporting refugees living in Norwich, and listen to Moussa, who learned to play his rababa as a child while tending cattle in the Sudanese mountains, sing about being “far away”.
My sister is home, and we spend days with Mum shopping in the city preparing for Christmas. One night Jamie and I attempt to catch up on four years of missed conversations over drinks on a rooftop over the city. Christmas arrives quietly and happily, and on Boxing Day we go for afternoon tea at the Assembly House. My grandmother visits from the US. I’ve an essay due in the second week of January, but rather than work on it I meander through Norwich, sometimes alone, sometimes not, finding parts I’ve never seen before, or seeing the familiar differently. We spend New Year’s Eve with G’s family and then drink champagne at his place at midnight, glad to be here and home.
Twenty-seventeen, I think, was a year of making decisions. Some were last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, you’ll-regret-this-if-you-don’t resolutions; others crept up on me, so much so that I hadn’t realised there’d been a decision until after I’d made it. But more than anything, I’m leaving twenty-seventeen in the knowledge that the majority of choices I made were good ones. And we can learn from those as well as the not-so-good ones. Twenty-eighteen is undoubtedly going to follow suit; it will bring dissertation stress, post-grad life, and working out the next steps towards the life I want to build. All I can hope is that the last twelve months have helped to prepare me for the ones ahead; we’ll just have to see this time next year.