Saturday 16 September 2023

My 2022 10Q answers

Every year since 2010, I've taken part in 10Q, a Jewish-inspired process of self-reflection.

Here are my answers from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. These are my answers from 2022:

Day 1:

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

My answer:

Although COVID-19 is still circulating, since around May or June this year, things have returned to normal. No more restrictions. No more face coverings. I'm also much more relaxed about it. One of the tipping points was actually that Fran caught it, a week before we were due to go to Wales on our annual holiday to celebrate my birthday, and then I got it (presumably from her). I was testing negative the whole time until the morning we were due to travel. We drifted in limbo for most of that week. But, eventually, when I'd passed the 5-day mark for self-isolation, we decided to drive to Wales to spend at least a few days with my brother, Richard, and his girlfriend, Zoe. I didn't hug them when we met and kept my distance for the first day or so, and then relaxed into it a bit more.

Since then, it has been nice to return to normal: to be able to go out without having a face covering; to go into shops and restaurants without pausing to put on the face covering and desanitize my hands. The media also stopped covering it; the government stopped holding press conferences; the statistics agencies stopped tallying up infections and deaths.

I wondered at the time if our then-prime minister, Boris Johnson, was rushing forward the end of restrictions to cause a distraction from the partygate scandal. Stories kept trickling out of the parties that were going on in 10 Downing Street during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, parties that the PM claimed he didn't know about or didn't attend or didn't realize were parties and not work events. What eventually ended his reign was another Tory MP groping two men at a private members' club.

I've been much more engaged in the news this year - particularly during the first few weeks of the Tory leadership contest. I'm often intrigued by these moments of transition in public life; and then disappointed by their outcomes.

But, yeah, I guess we're through the worst of the pandemic. It took 2+ years. Life hasn't returned to what it was before because I left my job. I'm freelance, working from home. Furlough during the first three months of the pandemic disrupted my habit of working, that I still haven't really got back. In some ways, I'm grateful for it because I'm earning enough to get by and only have to work 2-4 hours a day. Yes, I'm using some of my savings from time to time because I don't invoice regularly and I'm adjusting to new habits of putting money aside for tax and pension, still finding a system that works for me and keeps a comfortable cashflow.

But I'm grateful that my family survived. Relieved that the fear has mostly gone. Now we're seeing the long-term effects that increased public spending and numerous lockdowns have had on the economy and the morale of the workforce. It feels like everything in the UK is breaking down. Because I'm reading the news more, I think it is affecting me a bit. People are worried about the cost of living, about higher energy prices, inflation around 9.9%; about a government that has decided to cut taxes that mostly benefit the rich. I think it might be time to take another break from the news and only get a trickle that comes through Fran and my occasional ventures on to social media.

I've definitely broken my Facebook habit. I hardly ever go on there. I don't have the app on my phone. I also don't have Instagram and Twitter. Over the last few weeks (partly due to finding like-minded opinions over the death of the Queen), I've spent more time on Twitter, but only over the browser, not through the app. I don't want to lose too much time over that. I will try to read more instead.

I have continued to read a lot and listen to audiobooks. I read (listened to) The Communist Manifesto this year. That, along with the striking unions, and reading books like Culture and Imperialism, Midnight's Children, and The Moor's Last Sigh have made me think a lot more about colonialism and the negative impact of the British empire and how unfair the capitalist system is. I've really enjoyed listening to Mick Lynch, the leader of the RMT union, talk simply and powerfully about fair pay and conditions. Enough is enough. Am I ready for revolution? If you read enough in the Guardian and on Twitter, it does make you realize how angry people are with the state of the world and the environment. I do wonder if there could be a mass uprising. Or maybe people could just vote the fuckers out. What Liz Truss is doing now is hopefully going to make it easier for Labour and the other progressive parties to campaign against them at the next general election.

I've been daydreaming about moving further north, perhaps to Scotland, to escape the rising temperatures and get away from all these English people. Fran found the 40ÂșC heat this summer hard to cope with. I look around and wonder who is voting for the Tories. Are these the people I want to be living with? I think of all the twats I met through rugby, all the built-up resentment of my Scottishness against the arrogance of the English rugby team and their supporters.

I hated all the obsequious public grieving that went on during the 10+ days of national mourning after the death of the Queen. It finally ended last Monday with her funeral. It was insane. I respect people's right to behave how they want, but I did wonder how much it was manipulated by the media - particularly the BBC, which I normally respect and admire. I avoided the blanket coverage. I want to form my own opinions, not be told how to feel. I'm also cynical about how the Queen just has the best PR. We only saw a very edited and mediated view of what she was like.

As you can tell, I'm feeling a bit low and angry at the world at the moment. Perhaps it's just the return to autumn, darker days, a heartless government, too much Twitter and news, not enough sunlight. I can create my own little world with Fran and only consume things that make me feel better. But I think I always find this time of year difficult. That's why it's such a good time to sit down and reflect. But I do feel that familiar melancholy and ache of sadness that can't really be explained; a painful look back at who I used to be and who I am now. Don't worry. I'm sure I'll be fine. It's just a phase. This, too, shall pass.

Day 2:

Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year?

My answer:

I'm proud at the amount I'm managing to read. I started reading more at the beginning of 2021 and the habit has stuck. Listening to audiobooks and having an Audible subscription really helps. When I was revising for my English Finals in 2004, I started keeping a list of books I wanted to read after Finals. I had read a handful of these, but this year I've started to work my way through it. If I don't finish it this year, I should be able to finish it next year. I'm more than halfway through it. There are 38 items on the list and I've got 15 left, but some of these are multiple books by the same author, so it's really 17 out of 45 left. It will feel great to get through it, finally (it's only taken 20 years!). Although there's one book on it that I'm not sure is socially acceptable to read. Fran has certainly expressed her concerns about it: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. I've managed to find a free download of it online. There's an awkward dilemma for publishers about what to do with the money from sales of the book and I suppose it's not widely available to buy. There's a part of me that still wants to read it. I don't think it will convert me to Nazism or to sympathize more with Hitler. I'm just curious to see what it's actually like. I've read that it's a tough read and not very well written. Maybe that will the symbolic, unread book on my list.

When I finish that list, the next task will be to read through the backlog of books I'm looking at now on the shelf in my study. These are usually birthday and Christmas presents; plus the unread books on my Kindle. I feel a bit bad that people have thought I'd like a book and then I haven't even read it. I always want people to read the books I give them straight away. There are unhad conversations. Will that pile ever diminish? The next thing after that would be the virtual shelf of books I want to read on Goodreads. It's wonderful that there will always be more books that I want to read. But I am a completist, so it's also nice to work my way through some of these lists. It's very satisfying and motivating, seeing these books stack up.

In 2021, I read 62 books. This year, I set a target of 52 (one book a week), and I've already read 50 with 3 more in progress. I've got a secret target of wanting to read more than I did last year. We'll see how I get on with that. I do seem to slow down in the autumn due to the NFL season with more late nights and more podcasts to listen to instead of audiobooks.

What do I wish I had done differently? There's always a part of me that feels guilty for not doing more work. I'm still earning enough as a freelance to pay my way, but my projects do take longer than they need to. I'm not always (I'm usually not) motivated to work full days. I'm lucky if I can do 4 hours. But then I'm also very lucky that I don't have to work full-time. When I fill in online forms, I've been putting that I'm self-employed and work part-time because I really can't call what I'm doing full-time work.

What else am I proud of? Reading back through last year's answers, we've done a lot of stuff to the house that I said we'd wanted to achieve: put up pictures; built shelves in the rainwater harvesting cupboard; the garage and garden shed shelves have survived a winter without going mouldy, so all that painting I did last summer was not in vain! I've sorted out the cables on my study desk and on Fran's, so that they're all neatly organized and tucked away. Fran's study is also a lot more organized and less cluttered than it was. We've also got a lot more house plants and we're taking better care of them. We have put the house to rights. We call it Project Nice.

I'm also proud that I've lost a bit of weight again. The healthcare assistant mentioned I might want to try the 5:2 fast diet (intermittent fasting) when I went for my annual check-up in June. I lost a good bit of weight doing the 12-week NHS weight loss plan back in 2020, but I slowly put it back on again by relaxing my eating habits. I've lost 5.8kg in three months by fasting two days a week. I started doing Mondays and Thursdays; now I'm doing Tuesdays and Thursdays. On those fast days, I only eat 600 calories. It tends to be more manageable if I skip breakfast and then have lunch after midday. It's not as hard as I thought it might be. I want to see how far I can go before my weight hits a natural plateau. Somewhere around 80-85kg would be good. I'm currently 91.8kg. If I hit that target weight, I can go down to one fast day a week to maintain it long-term.

Day 3:

Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

My answer:

A few things spring to mind. Fran's dad, Tom, was in hospital for 10 days earlier this month. He hadn't been feeling well for a few weeks. I'd noticed he wasn't on good form when trying to talk him through how to get BritBox on his TV. He didn't seem as sharp as he normally is and was struggling to follow basic technical instructions. He was also in pain when kneeling on the floor in front of the TV. Eventually, after a few visits to his GP, Ros (Fran's mum), took him to A&E in Salisbury. They kept him in a ward for a few days, waiting for a specialist to drain some fluid from his abdomen. It's all a bit of blur, but on a Thursday things escalated. He seems to have a tumour in his bowel: a T4 tumour, which means it has penetrated through the outer wall. For a few days we thought this might be stage 4 cancer (the most advanced stage, when the cancer has spread to other organs, such as the lungs and liver); but then that was retracted. Perhaps a misunderstanding of T4 vs stage 4. Anyway, it's pretty serious. But Tom's health improved as the drain did its work. We went to see him on a Sunday afternoon and took Aunty Flop with us (his sister). It was quite a jolly gathering, at times. We took him outside in a wheelchair to get some fresh air and sunshine. He was quite distressed by one of the other men on his ward. He kept his voice to a whisper because he didn't want to give him ammunition or attract attention.

Fran was quite upset when we were first told about the cancer. But she seems to be coping with it. I'm also saddened by it. Maybe it's a contributor to my general malaise at the moment. But the good news is that Tom's back home, where he so desperately wanted to be: away from the hospital. It's not a very restful place on the ward. He wasn't sleeping well and desperately wanted some headphones to listen to music to block out the noise. I remember that the noise was a major discomfort for Sandy after his kidney transplant.

We're a bit in limbo at the moment. I think the main aim is to drain the fluid from his abdomen. He will then eventually get a colonoscopy to assess the situation. No doubt he's in for a raft of hospital and doctor's appointments.

I guess it will make me cherish the time I have with him even more - if our Thursday phone calls resume. I'm reading Coasting by Jonathan Raban, which he recommended to me, so that I can discuss it with him. I don't know how much longer he will be with us. We're also going to visit next weekend. For both of our parents, the number of times we've still got to see them is probably in the low dozens. For Tom it might be less than that: single digits? It's weird to think about it that way.

Another milestone, on the near horizon, is my brother, Richard, is getting married to Zoe next month. We're all going up to Dornoch in the far north of Scotland for 5 days. My sister, Laura, is the celebrant, so that will be really special. All six of us will be together again. It's been a while since that happened. When was it? 2013, 2014? In Bristol, after 2012, because I was wearing an Olympic Ceremonies T-shirt in the photo.

I'm really looking forward to going swimming with Laura and Richard. We talked about this during lockdown: how it would be great to all meet up and go swimming together in the sea. That's finally going to happen. Gregory is also going to brave the long journey, about a year after he started dialysis. He went to a friend's wedding in (I think) Northumberland a few weeks ago and had a great time. It proved to himself that he could venture further away from his dialysis. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work. I think he just misses a treatment and then has to catch up when he gets back.

Another milestone is that Moira and Sandy have ordered an electric car! They're getting the new version of the car we have: a Kia Niro EV. It should be with them in 3-4 months. Their Audi diesel was starting to be too expensive to run with numerous repairs and faults. I'm delighted that they've made the switch. I think we managed to persuade Sandy that he could go fully electric and not get a hybrid. Moira was already onboard.

We are also thinking about our next car. We've got less than 11 months left on the lease. We've done some test drives already: VW ID.3, Tesla Model 3, Kia Niro EV and Kia EV6. I need to think more about the costs. I think this time we might buy it via PCP rather than get a lease. It was too hard to predict our mileage on the lease. We've driven it about half of what we predicted and are therefore overpaying somewhat. By this time next year we will have made the decision and we may even have our new car.

Day 4:

Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

My answer:

The Queen died recently. To be honest, I didn't care. She was an old woman. I could see she was frail. I think parts of the UK went bonkers for 10 days. Companies thought they had to show their sorrow with black banners on websites and weird pictures of the Queen on digital billboards - as if we're living in a Communist country. Her image was everywhere. I tried to avoid the coverage as much as possible - especially the BBC. I didn't like how they covered Diana's death. There was just way too much. They were telling people how to feel, how to react. I don't think there was much perspective. Lots of other people were dying all over the world - in Pakistan after the floods, for example. But who was thinking of them?

I respect people's right to freedom of expression. They can grieve how they want. But in this social media and internet age, it's all so self-conscious. It made me more angry and dislike the monarchy even more. It's so pompous and self-important. It wastes so much money and time.

This whole experience has made me more republican. I didn't have a personal relationship with the Queen. So many people claimed that they did. It's kind of brain-washing. She simply had the best PR. We never saw anything about her that we weren't supposed to see.

And all this talk of the Commonwealth. It's the British Empire. We shouldn't be celebrating it. We should be ashamed and apologize.

Wow! I guess I feel quite angry about this. I was relieved to find similar dissenting voices on Twitter. It was quite comforting.

I hate it when people think they can speak on behalf of everyone. You don't speak for me.

And then all the coverage of people queuing up to see the Queen lying in state. People were doing it just so that they'd have stories to tell, social media posts to share. It was a bandwagon.

It's the perfect formula for me to be contrarian and go the other way.

I don't like how it's making me sound, either.

So it wasn't the event itself that affected me; it was all the media coverage about it. You couldn't escape it. It felt like lots of things were put on hold; like people had lost their minds about what was really important.

Another constant story this year has been the increase in the cost of living - particularly energy bills. We haven't been hit too badly so far because we have a fixed electricity tariff until November 2023; and our heating and hot water bill can only be increased once a year in May. Our heating comes from burning gas at the district heating plant, so I'm assuming the cost will go up next year. Again, the constant media coverage causes a lot of anxiety. I could see the effect it had on Fran. I wonder how much I would have noticed without the media. We've probably spent slightly less on food recently because I'm trying to eat better, fewer processed foods, crisps, snacks. I don't really pay attention to individual prices. Maybe I should.

I don't think I'm usually this cross. Maybe it's just the time of year and you've caught me on a bad day. Am I irritable? I haven't eaten yet today. It's 12:52 on a fast day and I'm going to make myself some lunch after I finish this.

The high gas prices are in part caused by the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia. I hope it encourages governments to seek alternative, greener sources of energy and to reform the energy markets so that the cost of electricity isn't determined by the price of gas. Why should you pay higher costs for green energy just because gas is more expensive?

Day 5:

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

My answer:

At the beginning of December last year, Fran and I went to see the Manic Street Preachers at Wembley Arena. I realized that most of the gigs we go to are for bands I like. We rarely went to gigs at Fran's behest. I quite liked the Manics when I was younger. I inherited a CD of Everything Must Go, was given one of their earlier albums (Generation Terrorists) as a Christmas present by my brother, Richard, and bought This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours with my paper round money. But they haven't been a regular part of my music life since then. I saw them warm up for Paul McCartney at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2010 but I was a full rugby pitch away from the stage and don't remember being blown away by the experience.

So this was really Fran's treat. The Manics were one of her favourite bands as a teenager. She knows most of the lyrics. And so, it turns out, did most of the people at this gig. I think they started with "Motorcycle Emptiness". We were standing directly in front of the stage in the centre of the auditorium. To our front and right was a man in a white shirt. He had shoulder-length dirty blond hair, tattoos, rings, jewellery; slightly balding. BUT HE WAS HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE! Pointing his fingers in the air, singing along at the top of his lungs. The whole crowd was immediately into it. We call him White Shirt Guy and I'm tearing up as I think of him now, remembering how that sound of thousands of people all singing together, celebrating a lost youth, revisiting past selves, yearning for something lost and then, surprisingly, refound, all of us together, in the dark, some (like me), in face coverings, in the weirdly soulless place that Wembley and environs have become, still withered by successive lockdowns from the pandemic, not fully comfortable being in crowds again, amongst germs and warm breath, spilled beer, sweat, and heavy winter jackets. Oh what an experience! I felt alive, truly alive, for the duration of that song. I didn't know the lyrics myself; I knew the song. It was the reason Richard had bought me that album. But it was never on heavy rotation for me. But in that moment, I loved being a part of something so huge, seeing people delight and cry and lose themselves in that crowd, loving the band and the band loving us back. You. You love us! What a wonderful, natural, spellbinding high. To peak with the very first song, to be taken by surprise at the sheer joy and emotion of it, to feel connected to people, total strangers, for the first time in nearly two years. It was a release, a coming-together, the sort of thing you go to gigs for but maybe only feel one time in ten, twenty, thirty gigs. It makes all the ho-hummery worthwhile. I'd been to see Public Service Broadcasting twice recently, including the warm-up act on that night, hoping to achieve that same high that I felt watching them at the New Theatre in Oxford; or at most (let's be honest) Stornoway gigs. But I didn't get it from PSB in Aylesbury or that night in Wembley. I'd fantasized about it when listening to their brilliant album Bright Magic, hoping to feel that rush of emotion and inner heat and tears welling up. But I got it instead from the Manics for that one, blissful 6-minute song. The love in the room was palpable. The humanity, the mass, the strangers, the voices in unison, shouting out the lyrics, feeling them in their bones, the band radiating back all that love.

That, to me, is a spiritual experience, something I can only hope to feel every year but don't always achieve. These moments are what we live for: moments of connection and joy and love and togetherness. I'm grateful for it every time I can get it.

Day 6:

Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

My answer:

I'd like to weigh 85kg or less - preferably 80kg. I'm currently 91.6kg. I think I mentioned this in a previous answer, but I discussed my weight gain with a healthcare assistant during my annual check-up and she recommended trying the 5:2 fast diet to help lose weight and keep it off. I'd had success in 2020 with the 12-week NHS weight loss plan, which was basically just counting calories and recording my exercise. I found it motivating at the time, but counting calories wasn't sustainable. It has created some positive habits, including measuring portions more carefully and being more mindful about what I'm eating. But I nevertheless put on weight after I relaxed a bit more and went back to old habits. I think the main culprits for me are salty snacks and sweet things like chocolate, cakes and sweets; and toast and butter - comfort foods, which I crave when I'm feeling tired and low. We've tried not to have as many in the house recently and that has helped. I felt a bit chubby, but I'm feeling better now.

It's important to me because staying at a healthier weight will help my long-term health - particularly my polycystic kidney disease. I don't want to end up like Gregory, on dialysis three times a week; or like Sandy, with a kidney transplant. That may happen to me someday, but I want to delay it for as long as possible. Being lighter will also make cycling easier. I also feel better in my skin and can fit into my two newer pairs of jeans.

If I hit my target weight of 80kg, I can then probably only fast one day a week to maintain that weight. The fast days aren't that difficult, but I do look forward to the normal days when I can enjoy my food a bit more. I mean, the food can taste great on fast days - particularly greens with soy sauce, garlic and lemon juice.

I'd also like to restore my savings by this time next year: have £10,000 tucked away in Premium Bonds and try not to touch it; and have enough in my Zopa savings account to cover any months when I haven't invoiced freelance work. Ideally, I'd like to have around £20,000 in savings, in total - including money put aside for my tax bills. I'm changing my habits slightly by putting away 15% towards my pension and 20% towards my tax bill. I didn't do this before. I'm also saving £500 a month into a regular savings account. I might not be able to afford that anymore - given the pension and tax pots. Maybe that's why I've had to dip into my Premium Bonds recently. But I did have a few expensive months with Fran's birthday and our holiday to Antibes. I also wasn't invoicing regularly for my freelance work, which inevitably means I have to use my savings.

I'd also love to have got Crest Nicholson, our builder, to fix the rainwater harvesting system, which hasn't been working for most of the three years we've been living here. They also need to fix a problem with the cladding, which has been delayed, they say, because of a shortage of scaffolding. Those are the last two big faults with our house. I know we're past the 2 years where Crest Nicholson are supposed to be liable, but these are two issues that they knew about and didn't resolve within the two years.

Ah, by this time next year, I'd also like to have finished reading through my list of books to read after Finals. I think I also mentioned that in a previous answer. I will feel a tremendous sense of achievement if I can do that. It then frees me up to read through my backlog of other books that I've bought or that have been given to me, which I keep on a shelf here in my study. There will always be books I want to read; but I also shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, when I bought these books, I wanted to read them, too! I need to read things when the mood is right, but it's also fun to rediscover what it was that made me buy the book in the first place.

I get a real sense of satisfaction when working my way through longer tasks in stages. I am motivated by ticking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter. It feels like progress. Although it creates a sense of anticipation, of work in progress, of the unfinished, of restlessness, it also gives me a goal to aim for, to keep me reading and working towards something. I find that very rewarding. It will give me a sense of pride. It will also draw a line under that stage of my life so that I can move on from it.

I guess by this time next year we will also have a new car. I think we're getting closer to making a decision on that. I've been thinking that it's probably best to live within our means as much as possible and just get the newer version of the Kia Niro EV - the new version of the car we have now. If we can keep the monthly payments similar to what they are now, then it will be affordable. We expect our heating and electricity bills may go up next year; and our mortgage may be more expensive when we come off the fixed rate in August 2024. We will probably switch to a new fixed rate deal - ideally for 5 years or so. I like having that stability, and I know Fran does, too.

Day 7:

How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

My answer:

I don't know about this one. The first thing that comes to mind is about work. I'd like to have better work habits; to feel less guilty about work. I have lots of days where I don't settle down and just get things done. But would that really make my life better? I might earn a bit more. But would the house jobs get on top of me?

My life is OK at the moment. There are times when I feel a bit low, when it feels as if there's not much to look forward to. But then I reflect on how things are now and I realize that life is pretty good. There's nothing that I dread doing. Work is OK. I get enough to keep me busy and pay the bills. I don't have to work particularly hard. I'm not stressed. I look forward to my evenings with Fran. I have the freedom and the time to watch the NFL, which is my favourite hobby at this time of year. We've got the prospect of a nice Christmas at home. We're also planning to go to Wales again the week before Christmas to start the wind-down process.

I've actually made some good improvements to my life this year that I'm quite proud of. I've improved my sleeping habits by doing the Sleepio course. We regularly start going to bed around 21:45, which involves doing the dishes and getting ready for bed. I'm typically in bed and reading by around 23:00 or 23:30. I wake up regularly at 06:45 on weekdays and 08:00 at weekends (and on Mondays during the football season). It has felt a bit harder since the start of the NFL season with the darker days and late nights on Sundays.

I've also lost a bit of weight, which I've written about already.

It's not that I'm saying my life is perfect or that there's nothing to improve, but I'm on the whole pretty satisfied and content at the moment.

I have been a bit lax with keeping up my friendships now that lockdown has eased. I still have regular calls with Pav and Jenny. But I still haven't arranged to see Neal Carrier and Joe Wass. We had plans earlier in the year but they got cancelled for one reason or another and I haven't been motivated enough to re-arrange them.

I don't really go out to see friends very much. I don't feel like I miss it or need it very much, but I think being more sociable might be good for my mood.

I can't really think of any good advice or counsel that I've received in the past year. I had been having my regular calls with Tom (Fran's dad) every Thursday until he got ill recently. That helps me reflect on my life regularly because I have to account for what I'm doing with my time.

I find that using a pomodoro timer can help me get started on work and stay focused. I'm quite informal and unstructured and try to stay on top of my inbox. Sometimes that does mean that longer-term projects languish a bit because I don't schedule them in or set deadlines. But that's one of the reasons I got tired of work in the first place.

Day 8:

Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in the coming year?

My answer:

Yeah, there's quite a lot. I've got a few Philip Larkin books queued up to read, including some of his prose and the biography by Andrew Motion, and his novel, A Girl in Winter. There's also a radio series about him by Simon Armitage.

Then there's my revived interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. I'd like to read some more Hemingway and read the book I got about some of his physical objects: one of the books I bought at Shakespeare & Company in Paris on our minimoon. I'd also like to read a biography about Hemingway. And Fran has recommended a couple of books about the women in his life.

There are also a couple of books about the 1920s: Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation and Up in the Old Hotel. That second one is on my list of books to read after Finals, so I should get round to it within the next year if I stick to my plan.

I've turned left a bit this year, reading The Communist Manifesto and Culture and Imperialism, plus Salman Rushdie, which make me think more about fairness in society and the legacy of empire and colonialism. There are a few other books on my list that will feed into that, including The Cancer Stage of Capitalism.

We had also been obsessed with Berlin. We were going to make that our next holiday, but then Fran decided she wanted a beach holiday more, so we prioritized that and went to the French Riviera at the end of the summer instead. But I would like to go back to Berlin and immerse myself in the wall and the culture and history surrounding it. It's fascinating. There's also the Holocaust memorial, which I've been wanting to see and experience for a while, ever since I saw it on TV.

I'd also like to spend some more quality time with Fran's dad, Tom, and resume our weekly phone calls. He probably has bowel cancer, so I don't know how much longer he will be with us and what his quality of life will be like, but I want to make the most of the time he has left to give. We're going to see them this weekend.

Day 9:

What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

My answer:

I don't really know what I'm afraid of these days. There are times when I shy away from difficult conversations because I don't want to upset or offend the other person. But these are usually never as bad as I think they might be.

I guess there's a part of me that's afraid of sacking clients that I don't enjoy working with. There's a risk that I won't be able to replace the work, or I'll be burning bridges. But I've found that there's plenty of work out there and it seems to come to find me.

I'm not particularly afraid about money at the moment, but I do notice when I haven't invoiced for a month or two and my savings look a bit more depleted. The way to overcome it is just to invoice my freelance clients more regularly - ideally every month at the same time. But it doesn't always feel worth it for a few hundred pounds. It also reveals that I haven't done that much for them recently.

There's also a part of me that's afraid of getting a proper full-time job. I'm not sure if fear is the right emotion. I don't know if I'm capable (or willing) to work full-time. I don't know if I have the patience for office culture. I certainly don't miss my old job. I love the freedom. At one time, I had a fear about leaving that job. I wasn't 100% sure that I could survive as a freelancer, but the last two years have proved I can and that there's lots of work out there for me.

Do I want to sack any of my clients? Maybe. There's a couple that come to mind. But one of them has been a steady source of income and it might be foolish to cut off that support. That's what I mean by fear.

If we do notice the cost of living increase with higher heating and hot water bills, higher electricity bills, and higher car and mortgage payments, we do have wiggle room. We have deliberately not over-stretched ourselves. And I'm really glad that we have been prudent. We can also save slightly less and stop over-paying on the mortgage if we need a bit more disposable income. Cutting back doesn't have to make life more miserable. On the contrary, I remember that life was still quite happy when we had to economize as a family when I was younger. There's no point being afraid and worrying about something that may not come to pass. Sure, we can make plans for what we can do if money does get tight, but getting stressed about it now isn't going to do any good.

So I'd like to make sure that my savings are replenished by this time next year and still put money aside for my pension and tax bills. I may need to stop the regular saver. But it makes sense, if we can afford it, to overpay on the mortgage, because that's a good way to save on the interest; and it's also decreasing the amount we will have to borrow if we re-mortgage at the end of our 5-year fixed term in August 2024.

Day 10:

When September 2023 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

My answer:

I think I'll realize that I was in quite a good place. I'll feel pleased that I set myself some goals on reading through my list of books to read after Finals and that I've finally achieved that goal; and that I'm also at, or close to, my target weight. I'll also feel financially secure, despite the rough times in the wider economy.

I think I'll also realize that life has largely returned back to normal. We've had 5 months or so of normal life now, post-pandemic; and I hope that will continue. Normal being my new normal of working from home as a freelancer. I can't imagine I'd have a full-time job next year - but that's always an option if I need a steady, regular, dependable income.

I don't think I need any massive changes in my life. Similar to the house, we're now largely settled. There are a few outstanding improvements - what we call Project Nice - but, on the whole, life and the house are good. Things are in order. There are no major pain points. Yesterday, the rainwater harvesting system even started to work again properly for the first time in months! I think that's a good sign.

I'll appreciate setting myself some goals. They keep me motivated and give me something to aim towards. I'm doing it for my future self, reading this in a year's time and being thankful that I stuck to it.

I'll realize that I'm in a stable and enjoyable chapter of my life, where there are no grand themes and anxieties as there have been in past years. There's no recurring, boring theme - apart from the usual guilt about not working enough, procrastinating and not getting things done.

I also wonder where Fran will be. Will she have left her job and joined me as a freelancer? Will she be in a happy and stable place? If she's working from home, will I miss the solitude? It was fine during the pandemic when we were both home together much of the time. It would be nice to see her more relaxed about work. But going freelance can have its own anxieties due to the lack of regular and predictable income. I hope she's able to adapt to that and earn enough to make her life comfortable and worry-free.

Day 11:

What are your predictions for the coming year?

My answer:

Personal economy improves with more work.