30 December 2021

Looking back on 2021

Last year I provided a small overview of 2020, and I expressed my hopes for 2021. And now we are a year later. How did my hopes turn out? And how has 2021 been?

What I wrote was: "So what now for 2021? I intend to become so good at voice control I pretty much don't have to use a mouse at all for the entire year. And I hope I will get vaccinated. And I hope everybody else does too! And I hope I will be back working full-time in no time. But that I will have the wisdom to not work myself an injury for an employer who might just as well turn around and decide they don't need me. And I hope I will get to see, and hug, the people again I wish I could have seen and hugged last year! Stay tuned…"

Most of that actually works out quite well. My mouse has seen very little action in 2021! And the situation is not an unqualified success, of course; after a long time of my RSI healing, it then went into reverse and got worse again. I am still in the process of trying to sort that. So my wish for 2021 is: that I manage to find the best possible technical solutions for my issues, and that I get rid of my RSI altogether.

Going back to work full-time worked out pretty much instantaneously. The problem with work was not how many hours per day I did it; the problem was how much my hands got to do. And I did learn how to work my computer pretty much entirely by voice. It's quite slow, but you can get almost everything done.

I also hoped I would get vaccinated, and boy did that work out. I don't think I expected to get three doses within the year!

My desire to not work myself into the ground was not an unmitigated success; my low point basically was the start of term, when I was already feeling on the brink of burnout. The combination of fieldwork, dissertation module and welcome week was quite heavy. And it is disheartening to already feel like you're burning the candle at both ends when it's only August! But this was an unusual situation. I should never again have the responsibility for both the fieldwork and welcome week, which happen back-to-back. And it will never again be the first year we run the fieldtrip on Anglesey.

And what about seeing and hugging people? Well, again not an unqualified success. I was again allowed to hug the people I actually got to see, but I only got to see people within Wales. I didn't make it to the Netherlands in the entire year! It has been close, but there has been no cigar. But the times you could only see people that lived within walking distance, and then only from a distance of 2 m; that time seems so far away now.

Time has the habit, though, of throwing things at you you didn't see coming. So apart from whether my expectations came through a not, what else happened this year?

One thing I knew that would happen was that we would start the new term with two colleagues fewer: Suzie and Adel left. I am glad to say I am still seeing Suzie, lockdown and baby permitting!

One thing I totally didn't see coming was that in February, I got a cat. And it's been amazing! She does complicate going away, but going away wasn't a very 2021 thing to do anyway. And having a silly creature tearing through your house and scampering through your garden and sleeping by your side is great. I was a bit grumpy when Guy told me, when he handed me the cat, that I would fall in love with her and never give her back, as I like to think I make such decisions myself, but he was totally right. As I write this, it has obviously already almost been a year that she's lived here. Time flies!

I also did some quite needed work on the house and the garden. When I bought the house I realised that one thing that really needed doing was a bit of work on the extension. Some of the wood needed repair, and all of it needed an urgent paint job. And this spring I got around to it. And after years of focusing on the downstairs garden, and allowing the upstairs garden to still be a bit of a jungle, I pulled out infeasible amounts of brambles and buddleia, and turned it into something resembling a garden. I have been enjoying that ever since!

I have also been forced to change my habits and think about my own interaction with carbon emissions. My boiler broke three times in a row, so I really need to think about a replacement. And I want that replacement to be as environmentally friendly as feasible. And it having broken gave me the habit of having my showers cold. As I write this I still have that habit!

Something that might reach into the future was that I started liaising with Adult Education Wales. I had fired off an application letter in the distant past when redundancy was looming over me, and now they suddenly got in touch. 2022 will be the year this collaboration will take solid form!

Spring and summer also brought sadness. When the ban on seeing people in your garden was lifted I immediately invited Martin and Fran down. It turned out Fran was ill and couldn't really come over to my place, so I went up the hill instead. And that would happen more often. Fran didn't get better. I wish we could have hung out more before she fell ill. She died in summer and she is sorely missed.

Life is full of contrasts, and the highlight of the year was also in summer. My friend Kate had been talking about wanting to do the Slate Trail, and I had subtly enquired if maybe I could join. And she was up for that. So in late July we hoisted our backpacks on our backs and we were off. We tried to cram it in too little time, and we really pushed ourselves to the limit, but it was a beautiful trip and Kate was a great hiking mate. And the fact that we covered ludicrous distances per day makes for good stories afterwards!

In late summer I also decided to stand for (membership) secretary of the cave rescue team. A mail had gone around from the previous secretary, who was the only female in the committee and one of the few females in the entire team, saying she was stepping down. And after my rather unpleasant experiences with misogyny in the underground community, I decided the team really needed significant female input, so even though I was already buckling under the strain of my day job, I stepped forward. And now I am more involved in the team than I ever was.

The end of summer brought a lot of work; I always have a fair amount of work on the dissertation module in summer, and I am also organising Welcome Week. And just before Welcome Week we have our third year fieldtrip. This year would be a lot more work than normal; we had to now do this trip in North Wales, so we were back at square one. And due to Martin being off work I was asked to organise it. That involves a lot of herding cats! And jumping through bureaucratic hoops. It wasn't organised in a particularly perfectionist way, but there was a fieldtrip. And a lot of work has now been done that doesn't need to be done next year. And hopefully, next year the pandemic will be getting in the way to a lesser extent. And Welcome Week was a bit of a struggle too, but I have seen the feedback from the freshers, and considering circumstances we were clearly doing quite a good job.

Then in September, term started again. As I had been busy with almost exclusively to dissertations, Welcome Week and the fieldtrip, I was not very prepared, and I struggled a bit to keep up. But I got there. And we're going back to seeing students face-to-face! It was good to seeing them again, although I can confirm it is not the same if they are all wearing masks. It is really difficult to get to know their names and faces if the only thing you see is pieces of cloth with two eyes looking over the top. And I wasn't quite sure how the logistics would work, but it turned out it was quite doable to just commute to campus by bike, and if there were gaps between contact hours, find a quiet corner and do some work on my laptop.

Autumn and winter did seem to involve a bit of a reversal in time. I had spent years on a trajectory of more sport, earlier days, and less alcohol. I'm not suggesting I became a health freak, but I was quite going with the health-conscious times. But my tightening connection with Mart, Sue, Dean and Tom reconnected me with the concept of midnight, and of several alcoholic consumptions on one day. It has been really good to be accepted in this crew. I've been having great times with them!

And now it is almost 2022. So what do I hope and expect for the New Year? I do hope the pandemic will become less intrusive. I hoped that last year, but well, I will have to just hope it again. I also hope that at the end of the year, will be RSI-free. Another one I was already hoping last year! I hope that my interaction with Adult Education Wales goes well and leads to more things in the future. I hope I'll manage to find a replacement for my elderly boiler that is as environmentally-friendly as possible, and that I will get it installed. I'm not sure I should consider relying on it another winter. And I hope I will find another opportunity to go for a long hike with Kate, and that I will have loads of good times with the usual suspects. Watch this space to find out how this all pans out, and what curveballs life throws at me in 2022!

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