Looking back, 2013 times

Another year has passed and thus it is time for the obligatory end of year round-up blogpost. 2013 began with an optimistic blogpost about the start of the new year and the end of my project to count up things I had done for the first time.

This post contained a commitment to Project 365 – the taking of one photo a day – which should have been an easy task, given that barely a day goes by without my taking a photo. But a combination of illness (not leaving the house for 3 days isn’t conducive to photography) and forgetfulness meant that it didn’t last past March. However, an unexpected development of 2013 was my commitment to the 0-5km running app, meaning that between February and May I learnt to run 5km – which has since evolved into a fairly regular running habit and an Instagram hashtag of #photographyontherun. It’s amazing what you pass while running…

Photography on the run 2013Before you ask, I’ve got very good at jogging on the spot while taking photos. It basically came about because the RunKeeper app allows you to save photos to your runs, so why not keep track of where you’re running? 

Several of the year’s highlights came with their own form of ID or pass. Obviously, the first thing one does when given one of these is take a photo of it. (Especially as you never know whether you’ll get to keep them at the end of your visit.)

Passes

That would be Matryoshka Haus’ meeting at Apple; my glorious evening at Facebook; the Ask DEC event at BT Tower; writing for the Church Times at Greenbelt; and being interviewed by 8 different local BBC stations. Effectively, have a pass, have a highlight of your year.

This time last year, I already knew I’d be heading to Africa for the very first time – on a trip to Uganda with Tearfund in February/March. Without a doubt, it’s a trip that will never be forgotten. Lately, I’ve been having to re-tell some of the stories of our time there, as part of the promotion for Tearfund’s 2014 bloggers’ trip to Cambodia. (You have until Jan 5th to enter, get writing!) Apparently, this time 12 months ago, I expressed a hope of a return trip to Texas. It didn’t happen, but luckily, Texas came to London in the form of the first-ever Matryoshka Haus Learning Lab. And then a plan became concocted that saw me make a debut visit to San Francisco in September. Combined with a Chateau Duffy trip and a return to Merville, and all-in-all, this year’s travel hasn’t been too shabby!

Travel 2013

The other main highlight of 2013 would be the people I got to share it with. As I rather soppily wrote back in October, I am lucky to have some incredibly long-standing and fabulous friends – but they are not the only ones. The Matryoshka Haus folk have played a big part in the year, as have Vicar School chums, but most excitingly, there have been plenty of new friends too!

Friends 2013

Finally, while traipsing through the blog’s 2013 archive, I couldn’t resist compiling a list of 2013 Firsts. Even though I’ve not been keeping track of them throughout the year, it’s amazing what I can remember just with a few prompts. I found so many that I’ve had to create a separate post for them. I guess it will always be a really positive way of reflecting upon the things that have been achieved in a single year!

Oh, and my happiest moment in the whole of 2013? Don’t judge me, but it would probably be this:

Murray wins Wimbledon

Celebrating 2014 on a desert island

Sadly not this kind of desert island:

Tongan beachThough strictly speaking, this isn’t a deserted island, but you get the idea… 

Most Brits will be familiar with the concept of ‘desert island discs’ – stranded on a desert island, you miraculously have access to eight of your favourite tracks and the means with which to play them. (Plus the Bible, complete works of Shakespeare, a book of your own choosing and a self-defined ‘luxury’.) It’s a quintessential piece of British radio programming, in fact it’s the longest running programme on Radio 4, about to celebrate its 72nd birthday at the end of this month. [More fascinating facts about the show can be found on its Wikipedia page.]

Thanks to having friends who come up with brilliant ideas, I found myself spending NYE (a night which I have a strong dislike of) embroiled in a ten person desert island discs – possibly my most middle class evening, ever. The rules were simple, but hard. Choose three of your favourite pieces of music and have a story to share about each of them.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I’d choose. Not because I think appearing on the show is a realistic future opportunity, more that it’s the kind of thing you start contemplating when you listen to the DID podcast on a weekly basis. Getting a list of 8 pieces seems nigh on impossible. Faced with cutting this down further to just 3 seemed to be downright cruel.

However, I came up with a system – they needed to be tracks that I liked and that had good stories attached to them, which helped slightly. After all, there were going to be several people at dinner who I’d never met before, so I needed to look like I had a modicum of sense in my musical taste too. [There was every possibility that my choices would be outdone by the resident 2 year old’s taste in music.] I eventually decided that there would be one classical (this particular piece was always a given), something from a musical and something else. That ‘something else’ was not decided upon until the moment I dutifully gave my choices to our host for the evening’s Spotify playlist.

Obviously, this kind of evening only works with a smaller number of people. 30 tracks is perfectly doable over dinner and isn’t too many stories to hear. The playlist was divided into three rounds, each beginning with the DID theme tune (these people know how to do things in style), and each matching a course of the meal. By round three and dessert, there was a contest to see if people could guess whose choice was whose, based on the idea that we’d now know a little bit more about our fellow guests’ musical tastes. All in all, it was a jolly good way to welcome in a new year – and a dinner party concept that I highly recommend.

And my choices? Well, all-in-all, I think they were good ones and reflective of me and my eclectic taste…

1. Adagio from Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor played by Jacqueline du Pre.
Easiest choice. Elgar’s one of my all-time favourite composers; I rather wish I’d taken up the cello (although it is rather bulky); and listening to this in packed tube carriages is hands down the best way of disappearing into tranquility.

2. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
In my list of 8 DID tracks, I’d originally had Etta James’ At Last, but felt that Ella singing Cole Porter was more representative of family car journeys and my long-standing love of Ella’s tones. The fact that my Dad was playing this album when he picked me up from Dublin last week helped secure its choice.

3. La Vie Boheme, the cast of Rent.
There were so many musicals to choose from. If this had been 8 songs and no dinner party, Defying Gravity from Wicked would have been a prime contender. I also dithered with choosing One Day More from Les Mis instead, as both are brilliant examples of ensemble songs mid-way through a musical. In fact, of the two, One Day More is definitely better, but La Vie Boheme holds a special place in my heart. Firstly, it’s a very wordy and oh so slightly inappropriate song – and I know the words to the whole thing, which I consider to be something of an achievement. Secondly, in 2007 while on board a coach somewhere in a Palestinian desert, I had a competition with one of the leaders of our international conference as to who could sing the most of it without forgetting the words. Thirdly, watching Rent (and practising what we liked to call ‘the lesbian love duet’) was a key feature of a previous NYE with an old friend.

Happy new year!

2014 Big Ben

It’s not a ‘selfie’…

…it’s ‘doing a Liz’.

The other week’s heartfelt description of some of my amazing friends resulted in a trip down blog memory lane. [It also resulted in more shares than almost any other blogpost; two references to lizclutterbuck.com in wedding speeches; and making a record number of people cry. I aim to please…] In re-reading previous GWA (Girls’ Weekend Away) posts, I realised the point at which I began to be mocked for taking self-portraits and when the phrase “doing a Liz” came into common parlance amongst my circles of friends. (I love that Jenni also spotted this.)

Doing a Liz

This was in 2008. By 2010, my friends were borrowing my camera in order to their own “doing a Liz” at Greenbelt. When making new friends, this habit soon became known by the same name – only the other week a Matryoshka Haus friend shared a link to some extreme self-portraits with me, suggesting I needed to put some more work into my habit.

But alas, the term is not known globally. Instead, this practice has taken up a word first used on Flickr in 2004 and this year, its rise to attention has been meteoric – 2013 has been dubbed ‘the year of the selfie’.

Last year, #selfie wasn’t even in the top 100 hashtags on Instagram, since January, its use has grown 200%. When you put together all the top selfie-related hashtags on Instagram, there are over 40million photos. That’s a lot of faces. In the world of celebrity, Miley Cyrus has posted more than any other celebrity on Twitter. [Does this mean I’m comparing myself with Miley Cyrus, oh dear…] To top off the year, the word has also entered the OED – the demarcation that it is an official word.

This summer, I noticed that the selfie had become a negative mark of society, used by speakers at Christian conferences to decry the ‘me, me, me’ culture of today’s society. Are we more interested in ourselves than our relationship with God? With other people?

Last Sunday, The Observer featured a piece on Instagram and selfies, arguing that it’s a place where we think we’re showing how good our life is, when really, the cracks we’re trying to hide can be observed:

“We’re not fools, us humans. We can read a picture of you thumbs-upping with an elaborate cocktail as both a document of a glamorous night and a telegram to all acquaintances alerting us to how absolutely, completely fine you are and not thinking about your ex at all. Not at all. Fine.”

She may have had a point. However, it’s not going to change my own habit. It’s been a while since I last selfied in a public arena. I know for a fact that the last time I did a Liz on Twitter was in California – to show how hot, sweaty & proud I was after breaking my running PB on a gorgeous beach. My last Instagrammed one was the day I won tickets for The Book of Mormon. I think you’ll agree, my self-portrait habit is very much under control…

I wouldn’t say the selfie was the epitome of society’s destruction, but I’m terribly glad that ‘doing a Liz’ didn’t catch on with more than a handful of people!

STOP PRESS!
Literally 2 minutes after I pressed publish, ‘selfies at funerals’ came to my attention. This madness MUST STOP! Can we cease all references to ‘doing a Liz’ in the context of selfies now, and instead leave it to its other uses (carrying things around in one’s bra and being an independent traveller, depending upon who you speak to)?

A testament of friendship

I’m a big believer in friendship – as I think most people are (or at least ought to be). In particular, I’m a big fan of friendships that survive the kind of things that can cause a relationship to fade. You know, like moving continents, or simply growing up.

What I personally feel is phenomenal is that I have one group of friends who have exceeded expectations in terms of how friendships are meant to develop. We got off to an unusual start in that we met as teenagers, but never lived in the same location as each other. Instead, we were in each other’s company for just three days at intervals of months (sometimes years) when we gathered to perform as part of a youth choir & orchestra.

2005 styleOne such musical gathering – a black tie/evening dress affair in 2005.

Given that this was the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, we lacked most of the common commodities of 21st century friendship – I didn’t have an email address until 1999, my mobile era began in 2000 and Facebook wasn’t a thing in our world till 2006. Years ago when moving house, I found cards and letters that Jenni (my most longstanding friend of this group) had sent me while I was in 6th form – good luck cards for exams, congratulations for results and even cards for no particular reason. Letters. Do you remember them?

2006 Style Ah, attractive polo shirt uniforms. Rather glad to see the back of those! 

It’s now been 16 years since I first became friends with some of these people – that’s over half my life. I still communicate with at least one of them (via text, phone, Facebook or Twitter) pretty much every day. This year we’ve hung out in London; celebrated a wedding on the hottest day of the year; hunted for Gromits in Bristol; had a second go at Zoo Lates; spent a weekend in Brighton as a group of hens; and this Saturday, we get to celebrate a second wedding. And it’s a special wedding, because we’ve know the groom ‘in the same way’ as we know the bride (to quote the bride on her hen weekend – it’s not that dodgy, we met them both through the choir).

Feb 2013February 2013, in London (obviously). [Credit: Kilvert Photography]

Gill's Hen, Sept 2013The Gillvert Hen weekend. [Kilvert Photography, even though she’s in the photo.]

GWA 1, 2007The very first weekend away, back in 2007.

In July, as we lined up for photos with the bride, I was struck by how much our friendships have withstood. For a start, we never get to see each other as often as we’d like to. This year we’ve managed quite a lot of gatherings, but that’s largely thanks to two weddings. When we got too old for our ‘youth’ adventures, we might have drifted apart, not having any musical reason to gather together – but 6 years ago we made a brilliant decision to hold regular weekends away. (These days we’re slightly less ambitious, with outings rather than weekends.) This week’s wedding is wedding number 6 that we’ve all (or mostly) attended. There are now two babies (or one baby & one toddler) in the mix. Does that stop us? Heck no!

Mr and Mrs HoyosThe toddler was eating at this point, so her parents left her with someone responsible. There are key people missing too…

That photo is a true testament of friendship – as will the ones taken on Saturday. Yes, there will be some people missing – but that’s not because we’ve deliberately cast them aside! People’s lives ebb and flow in different ways, but I think it’s impressive that in this day and age, a group of ten or eleven girls consistently make the effort to meet together. We may now be grown women of c.30 years old, but I think we’ll always refer to each other as ‘girls’…

Mr and Mrs HoyosThis & above also Kilvert Photography.

…mainly so we can do silly things, like gathering up all the leftover champagne from wedding toasts and drinking it out of teacups.

Here’s to Gill, Robin and the Barvert wedding! May it be another in a long line of weddings we all get to go to together!

No picnics. No mini muffins. And never Adele…

Boundaries. It can be a bit of an obsession in Christian circles, particularly with regard to men, women, friendships and relationships. Essentially, this post is part 6 of my Eternal Problem series – but I thought I’d give it a rather more interesting title.

A few weeks ago, current favourite sitcom New Girl featured a scene in which one male character outlined to another the things a guy could and could not do for a female friend. Not familiar with New Girl?  (Why wouldn’t you be? It’s all kinds of awesome!) Three guys (Winston, Schmidt & Nick) and one girl (Jess) share an apartment; the guys learn all sorts of things from their quirky female flatmate; one guy (Nick) and the girl have something of a will they/won’t they friendship; and it’s very, very funny.

New Girl titlesI basically want to be Jess. Or Zooey Deschanel. Or a hybrid of both…

The scene in question takes place when Winston confronts Nick about his friendship with Jess, which appears to be rather more complicated than it ought to be. Winston basically creates a list of ok and not ok things to do with or for a friend who happens to be a girl:

It’s because you don’t have boundaries! 
As a friend, you can lift a heavy object, but you cannot drive her to the airport.
You can hold the elevator, but only if you see her coming down the hall saying “hey man, can you hold the elevator?”.
No picnics. No mini muffins. 
And never Adele. Never Adele.
Most importantly, you will not help her build that dresser. It’s furniture that implies that one day you will share it with her. And that’s not going to happen.

It sounds ridiculous, but are such rules necessary in our relationships with others? Is it reasonable to expect people to respect or initiate boundaries? Are Christians (especially) over-obsessed with the idea of boundaries, particularly in male/female friendships?

If boundaries help to prevent us from getting hurt, then they’re a good thing. If they stop us from ever drawing close to people we should be close too, they’re a bad thing. But I think that there can be a happy balance between the two.

Personally, I know that there are friendships in which I should have applied the picnic boundary early on – perhaps I wouldn’t then have found myself having to specify boundaries several years later, when trying to move on from a complicated friendship. (You can laugh with me, but you’re not to laugh at me – or encourage others to do so…”) Then again, I think of the male friend who helped me build my bed a few years ago, and know that it didn’t mess with either of our heads!

Asking the question “is this helpful?” in a situation in which you know that there are feelings or complications is definitely sensible – on the part of both parties. Of course, it’s also hard to say no when you really want to be spending time with someone. Who wouldn’t want to have a picnic on a sunny day with a nice person? Or to help someone out with their newly purchased Ikea flatpacks? Or to listen to Adele… (Maybe not!)

Talking over the New Girl plot with a friend, we realised that this was possibly the only time we’ve seen the concept of boundaries feature in a TV show. There’s a long history of ‘will they/won’t they’ plots throughout TV history, but I’m virtually certain that this conversation has never happened before. A quick look at some of the obvious subjects would suggest this:

  • Ross & Rachel in Friends – Joey warns Ross about the “Friends zone” but boundaries were invisible! (To everyone in that rather incestuous friendship group, actually.)
  • Joey & Dawson in Dawson’s Creek – Much theorising about relationships and teenage angst takes place, but boundaries never crop up. Again, things might have worked out better for all concerned if they had.
  • Lorelai & Luke in Gilmore Girls – Lorelai just doesn’t do boundaries!

There are many, many other examples, but these were the first that came to mind. In fact, as our conversation progressed, I pondered the fact that I always root for these relationships to work out. Just the other week, I was re-watching the end of Gilmore Girls season 4 – the episode in which Lorelai & Luke finally get together. I first watched it on a train and found myself clapping when they kissed. Commenting on Twitter that “Would you just stand still!” are the best words Amy Palladino ever wrote, I received several replies from people who felt the same as me. For four seasons we’d been rooting for that relationship to happen. In TV, will they/won’t they friendships always end positively, at least for a while – Rachel got off the plane; Dawson eventually slept with Joey; Luke kissed Lorelai – you never have a situation in which it doesn’t work and they have to come up with a set of boundaries in order to move on.

TV gives us unrealistic expectations that the same will be true of our own ‘will they/won’t they’ scenarios, which sucks.

It dawned on me that I always root for these TV relationships to work out because it hasn’t (yet?) worked out in my own will they/won’t they scenarios. Luke was always my favourite of Lorelai’s boyfriends, because they were just meant to be together. Ever since New Girl began, I’ve had a thing about Nick – yes, he’s a bit of a loser and rather depressed but there’s a part of me that finds those to be endearing qualities in a man. Plus, he clearly cares for Jess and was doing things that ticked all the boxes I’d want a man to tick in my life – picnics, furniture building, mini-muffins and heavy object lifting…

Then Winston dropped the boundaries bombshell. TV finally got real.

Nick & Jess

I’ve no idea what happens next with Nick and Jess (I know the second series is nearly over in the US, but I like to avoid spoilers). I suspect they’ll get together, at least for a while. I hope it doesn’t end badly because my romantic sensibilities couldn’t handle it.

Boundaries. They can be a total reality check, but I think that’s why we need them.