2020 Review

The Millennial approach to a Christmas newsletter.

This is my 2020 retrospective, inspired by Martin. Coronavirus has meant that Catherine and I have been working from home full-time since March, and that's the last you'll hear about it.


Horticulture

We were lucky to secure a local allotment half-plot shortly after moving to the outskirts of Bristol at the end of last year, in time to dig over and start sowing.

Our perpetual spinach experiment was a raging success. We sowed a whole pack of 250 seeds, and had to start giving it away once it was in full flow during the summer. Next year we'll stagger it more, and rotate the older plants for compost. There were strong showings for onions and potatoes too, in fact we're still eating our harvests and have plenty of spuds in cold storage. For both of these, previous years' bulbs and tubers showed their faces where our dig-over wasn't thorough enough.

Carrots, parsnips, celery and bell peppers weren't successful, likely because our timing was off, and we weren't prepared to do enough pest control while they were most vulnerable. We took home a couple of meals' worth of petit pois, but again, most of the plants were donated to the slugs.

Back at home, we grew tomatoes, spring onions, and "Thai dragon" chilli peppers, all of which produced in ample quantities. By the end of autumn, our tomato tally had reached 215, from 10 plants in a single hanging basket. Many more have ripened since, but these have been left for the wildlife.

Next year, we plan to be more organised with an allotment schedule, and start more veg in pots at home before planting them out; this should give them a better chance of survival. I'd like to try a more hands-off "no dig" approach to allotment gardening, but it's yet to be seen how practical this is in a shared space where neighbours might not appreciate the proliferation of weeds. We've been kindly donated several blackcurrant bushes, which we planted out at the end of the summer: these are looking healthy and I hope to see fruits on them next summer.

Spinach and potatoes before and after explosion, and tomato tumblers. Not pictured: failed carrots.

Literature

Continuing the green-fingered theme, the most influential book that I read this year was Wilding by Isabelle Tree. The story of an intensive farm turned over to nature, it's a cause for optimism in an increasingly bleak world, which I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend.

Similarly stimulating was The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes, an inspiring call to arms about the injustices faced by the English at the hands of the English. Part exciting diary of excursions by the author and part history book, it covers everything from the slave trade embraced by English landowners to the migrant camp in Calais. I would encourage everyone to find both of these at their local bookshop.

As for fiction, I've read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series (for the first time), inspired by the new BBC TV adaptation; now reading the Book of Dust follow-up trilogy. Not much to say here, they're great fantasy books that have something for all ages.

Toys

I wasn't using my motorbike (a 2012 Kawasaki ER6n) so I sold it. It was incredibly fun to ride but I didn't like riding in the winter, and with no commute, it felt pointless to hang on to it. The bike was a Cat D write-off in a previous life; cosmetically damaged in a crash to the point that the insurance company didn't want to pay the repair cost. Annoyingly I found that out the hard way, after an ebay buyer ran an HPI check and demanded a cancellation. After relisting, it went for ~£500 less than expected, not the end of the world.

Lockdown has also inspired purchases of an acoustic guitar, VR headset, and racing wheel (thank you gumtree). Teaching myself to play the guitar—with the capable assistance of Justin Sandercoe—has been an amazing experience, and something that I plan to continue. Having proficiency with the violin from my childhood has certainly helped here, although I expect I'll look for professional lessons once I hit a skill ceiling.

RIP. Now lives in Lincolnshire. The fella drove it all the way back from Bristol in one go.

Videography

Last year I set out on the indomitable task of recording and editing a replica of the Taskmaster TV show with a group of friends from work; I acted the part of Alex Horne, organised tasks and filmed the contestants' attempts. In October, however, I suffered a disk failure. My gung-ho attitude of using a relatively new disk and backing up only the project files proved to be insufficient, and I turned to Lazarus Data Recovery after James and I did our best to recover the data ourselves (the disk was in pretty bad shape). Lazarus couldn't get it all back but I now have enough footage to get a decent set of videos completed. Expensive life lesson over, time to crack on.

Food

Since 2018, I've been severely restricting the amount of meat in my diet, going full pescatarian at home. This year, inspired perhaps by the "Pasture for Life" approach promoted in Isabella Tree's Wilding book, I've started reopening the possibilities of including more meat. Goat turns out to be an excellent option for sustainability-conscious meat eaters, as the goat meat sold in the UK predominantly comes from the dairy industry, and is otherwise a waste product. I bought 3 kilos of assorted cuts, which are delicious, although adult goat chops and larger cuts require slower cooking than what you may be accustomed to: treat it the same as mutton in that regard.

Next projects

I have a couple of ideas to keep myself occupied in the new year, other than working at the allotment and finishing off a series of Taskmaster videos. For one, I've always fancied installing a couple of outdoor IP cameras and setting up my own NVR software. The building site next door has been broken into a couple of times in 2020, and the first thing the police ask is "do you have any CCTV"?

During my recent work on fraud monitoring and countermeasures, I've been gaining more experience with call routing software, following SIP traces and doing back-and-forth investigations with carriers and VoIP providers. I'm fairly interested in setting up Asterisk on a Raspberry Pi at home and familiarising myself with it. My current idea is to port our landline number, start screening unknown numbers, and reroute family calls to our individual mobiles. Yet to be seen whether that becomes a reality.

Who knows, I might even fix and update the map on the front page of this blog. And if you're waiting for part 2 of DIY Kitchen, I doubt there will ever be a separate post—there simply wasn't enough to write about. I'll keep the Part 1 title unchanged for my own amusement.


That's all for this year, Merry Christmas.

—James
24 December 2020