2015 was by turns gruelling and nourishing, and I feel like I’m leaving it as a palpably different person to the man who saw in the year with housemates and boardgames. Slightly late to the party this year, but here’s a run-down of some lingering fragments and mnemonic burrs. (As is the tradition.)
A collective decision to ban jazz drums from the house, having gone to see Birdman, which used such as a marker for points of psychological transition.
Seven months in India (non-continous), with all the confusion, culture shock, and homesickness that entails.
Picking around the perimeter of Kenilworth Castle in January’s frost, as part of a (wildly hungover) work retreat at a colleague’s childhood home. “And how do you know George?”
An unexpectedly compelling tour of Shoreham Port in the company of a phalanx of retirees, followed by accidentally stumbling onto an informal nudist beach, and, startled, falling down some scree.
The inside of my adopted pol‘s Jain temple, after being bundled in by the neighbourhood kids. An albatross of a winter jacket left (belatedly) in an Indian hotel.
A full-day walk from Greenwich to the Thames Barrier with confederates, co-conspirators, and a borrowed radio scanner.
The inexplicable death of a close friend from school, found next to his bicycle. A missed funeral, an inherited blazer, and a trip to the graveside the morning of a shared friend’s July wedding. Grief as a wave; mounting, cresting, then ebbing into numbness.
The slow assembly of the i360, Brighton’s ‘vertical pier’ (starting at the top, and working down).
Tibetan teens hanging out at a recently-constructed hilltop temple, claiming space by playing American chart hits from their phones.
Hallucinating that I was an enormous sentient spaceship named “after the historical Justin Pickard” (i.e. currently-existing me) having been reading Vernor Vinge immediately before falling prey to a particularly nasty bout of heatstroke, itself the result of an hour-long walk home after dark. The foul-tasting homebrew rehydration salts, pepper and lemon, that slowly ushered me back to health.
Freshly-laid asphalt in Ahmedabad and Mussoorie.
A Freddy Mercury shower curtain.
The experience of being sandwiched between an American historian and an Italian priest at dinner, while the shipping magnate across the table issues a full-throated defence of capital punishment.
A bicycle-powered horse-shaving device, part of an exhibition of ‘grassroots innovations’ on the cricket pitch of IIM-Ahmedabad, while raptors circled overhead.
The embodied shock that followed my unwitting glimpse of a burning skeleton while getting a sneaky behind-the-scenes tour of a local crematorium. A bucket of implants, pins, bolts, and hip replacements—clumsy weapons in our struggle with senescence.
The second season of The Leftovers, having (still) not seen the first. Pitch-perfect television.
A green Hindi textbook, roughly the size and weight of a breeze block.
Bats under a bridge in Yorkshire, outside a Jaipur dry-cleaners, sensed with a ‘bat detector’ in London’s Victoria Park.
Getting lost and dehydrated in Singapore’s Heartland, and again, later, while hiking on the Downs with housemates on the hottest day of the year—having failed in our search for a bench made by a carpenter friend.
Drinks in a sticky-floored pub with three quarters of 65daysofstatic, a lovely bunch of lads, and the first band I’ll admit to having seen live.
Te fig trees and eel ladders of Sheffield. My brother’s drones, various and plural. A profoundly unnerving shed.
A post-lunch group nap in the living room of an Indian family met while queuing to see a solar-powered plane.
Burgess Park in the autumn. A morning in Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society. The joys of having not contracted a persistent Indian strain of H1N1 swine flu.
Multiple reproduction Venus de Milos, a pharmaceutical wild goose chase, and two murdered lions (highlights from playing through the first ten cases of not-quite-a-boardgame Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective).
Just shy of four weeks at a language school housed in a 1900s church, overlooking a colonial-era hill station, on the outermost edge of the Tibetan Plateau.
A tour of the university town of Wageningen by two cat-owning, smart-grid-studying Dutch research students. A quarryman’s tour of the University of Exeter campus. A heritage walking tour of Ahmedabad.
A Juki sewing machine modded with a mains-powered outboard electric motor.
Staying up late on a Sunday night to watch the lunar eclipse on Brighton beach, with a hip-flask of gingerbread vodka and a bar of chocolate, flanked by night fishermen and drunk freshers from the local university singing Bonnie Tyler at the top of their lungs.
Three weddings (one as ‘bridesman’). Lightning storms over a Singaporean reservoir. A one-armed monkey.
The warm discomfort of animated comedy and treatise on depression, Bojack Horsesman.
A post-it note stuck to the kitchen clock: ‘Do not trust time.’
An impromptu comic song about fracking, as the musically-minded girlfriend of a Manchester geographer seized control of a pub piano at an Exeter open mic night.
An ontologically alarming couple of days in Haridwar, on the western bank of the Ganges. Hiking and camping in the Lake District with social practice theorists and Lancaster’s energy demand research unit. A near-Elysian early evening walk along the banks of the Exe.
Cold fish and chips in a friend’s North London pad after a connecting train broke down on the Dutch border, and I was forced to escape Belgium by plane.
Being ambushed by the Indian national anthem while wildly jet-lagged in a university auditorium before a lecture by India’s now-late former president (and rocket scientist), AJP Abdul Kalam.
Hiding in the garden of a friend and mentor after dark on Halloween, necking beers, as his teenage daughter hosted a party for friends and classmates from her Dutch international school.
The deranged but internally-rigorous logic of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster.
A post-it note stuck to a cake tin: ‘This cake is, frankly, disappointing.’
Lagana (to be attached), ‘perhaps the most idiomatic verb in Hindi.’
An Uttarakhandi-Lebanese American Thansgiving, where our sole Korean colleague stole the wind from our sails by expressing his thanks for “having completed his 21 months of compulsory military service.”
Chai in a moulded plastic chair in a mountain stream at Dehradun’s Robber’s Cave. A taxi drop-off in the middle of a neighbourhood cricket match.
A giant stone merlion. WhatsApp. House geckos. Tiffin. A monument-scale sextant.
‘No durians on the Metro.’
Two nights of state-sponsored glamping in the Gujarati desert. Havmor’s orange ice-cream. A motorbike trip to the pathology lab of Asia’s largest hospital.
The six museums of India’s Forest Research Institute (pathology, social forestry, silviculture, timber, non-wood forest products, entomology). Briefly mistaking an oversized model of a termite queen for the real thing, and freaking out.
Vannini and Taggart’s Off the Grid, a creative and improbably-readable ethnographic survey of off-grid living across Canada.
A trip to the Palace of Westminster to watch a colleague present our work, and the £30 bottle of wine to celebrate having done so.
A phone mislaid in one of a series of fields after drinking with Glaswegians at a friend’s wedding, a phone lifted from a trouser pocket on the Delhi Metro.
Original manuscripts from the codices of Leonardo da Vinci, in a climate-controlled Singaporean museum. A series of geographers’ dispatches from the 5th millennium. Sunrise at Surkanda Devi, just shy of 10,000 feet above sea level.
A pub chalk board: ‘Good news, the cloud is back.’