Cast your mind back through

Cast your mind back through the year. What were your highs, lows and in betweens? In the news, it’s been a year of war and madness in Iraq, scandal and squabbling over dodgy dossiers, strange men with messiah complexes starving themselves in glass boxes, and sporting shock and awe.

For me it was the beginning of a new job, one that has had me flying all over the place. I’ve learned why coincidence isn’t a coincidence in the sweltering heat of Spain, visited an internet enabled bus in the Isle of Man, met people who freeze heads for a living in California and hobnobbed with world leaders in a basement just off the Edgware Road.

I’ve been dealing with ideas and problems that make your brain hurt, working on all kinds of issues from mobile phones to community development, energy regulation to schools policy and more. As well as three reports (Virtual Vice, London Calling and The Long Game), I’ve found myself writing articles for austere journals, obscure websites and trendy magazines. And I’ve drunk more coffee than is good for me.

But it hasn’t been all work, work, work. There’s been time to move house and fit in a few holidays too. I’ve read books lying in the heather overlooking a loch near Glen Coe, hung out in ubercool Toronto, swum in warm Lake Ontario and sat by a log fire in Wales drinking Earl Grey tea.

And I’ve had more culture than a vulture could handle. 2003 was the year Spirited Away, my favourite movie of the year, got six stars out of five in one review. It saw Blur put out an album — Think Tank — to commemorate my move to Demos with artist of the moment, Banksy, providing the cover design. It was the year the Office came to an end with the two Christmas specials that made you squirm in your chair until all that vile, hilarious energy within ‘the chilled out entertainer’ was finally spent. It was the year JM Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for literature and took his habit of sly, witty, confusing acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies to the very top. It was the year I discovered the Arcola theatre just near my house, which is developing a reputation as one of the best small theatres in the land — not bad for a few chairs in a draughty warehouse. And then Mad World went to Christmas number one, which seemed about right.

I leave you with the moments from 2003 that I think will last. The first was the stirrings of something truly alive in the protests against the war, the hundreds of thousands of people marching then gathering in Hyde Park, and really something different about the protest when George Bush came for his photo-op with the lady in the blue dress and her corgis. I think a new group of people may be realising that leaving the running of the planet to a few men in suits and cowboy boots might not be such a good idea.

The other is England winning the world cup. One drop, one kick, the ball bobbling through the wind and rain, flying between the posts and it was done. Now, I’m not a rugby fan but was strangely moved by overgrown men, bruised and bloodied, overwhelmed by their achievements. It certainly seemed like a better way of channelling aggression than invading other countries.

One of my favourite websites

One of my favourite websites is the Nobel Museum. If ever you’re feeling short of inspiration I heartily recommend a visit especially having a browse through the lectures given by laureates.

A few weeks ago JM Coetzee gave his wry, sly, confusing acceptance speech for the prize for literature. Another literature favourite of mine is Saul Bellow’s from 1976 but the scientists have made some wonderful ones too — the big names are all there but there’s something about the occasion that brings out the best in nearly everyone.

I remember going to the museum that was set up for the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the prizes in Stockholm a couple of years ago. I seem to remember spending most of the day in there — partly because it was -12 Celsius outside but mainly because it was just fascinating. Like the website there was information on everybody who’d ever won as well as stuff on all the places that had produced them. Unfortunately some of the best films at the museum aren’t available online.

Another thing I love about the site (the same was true for the museum) is the wonderful level of detail available — for instance here’s the menu for the banquet when Saul Bellow won the prize. I can taste that Château Lacaussade 1970 right now.