Don’t make direct eye contact…

…with 2022. No sudden movements or loud noises, in case we spook it. Shhhhh, tiptoe gently into January, please.

This blog was going to be a reflection of the year, using our family Jar of Happiness as an aide memoire, like I wrote last year. But we’ve been pretty remiss with the jar since the start of the autumn so that’s not possible. Despite the fact that 2021 felt like the longest year ever, this will be the shortest round up and you’ll be pleased to note that most of it is in picture format.



A surprising number of things brought me happiness this year. Pre-summer, when we were still under Covid-house arrest because of my vulnerable wife, lots of this happiness was food based! We had a meal dropped off by a private chef, a local curry chef and a baker have both delivered to our door (dangerous discoveries), our neighbour has kept us stocked up on cake (which she bakes but doesn’t eat herself) and we’ve even had fun doing a few online cook-a-longs.

Date night (homecooked) to formally mark 1 year locked up together, back in March 2021

One of the best things about this year, compared to 2020, has been our ability to actually see friends and family. Sure, it basically has to be outdoors no matter the weather but it has been such a joy to see actual faces and not just through ZoomTeamsMessengerSkypeHangoutsFacetimeWhatsapp. I’ve been hanging out online and studying with the best group of people since September 2020: The PhD Forum. Being able to meet many of them in person this year has been magical. We’ve also been blessed with the opening of The Crate Café in Bosham (check them out here), which has meant we can meet up with local friends and family in an outdoor space with food, coffee, heaters and shelter.

Our dear Maggie also turned 13. Despite scaring us back in March with rapidly declining health, she’s bounced back and made it to another Christmas.

Cake from dog bakery before anyone complains I’m feeding her sugar



Achievements wise, a few not too shabby things have happened this year. I’ve finished the data collection aspect of my PhD so now it’s all in my hands to finish 🤢. I managed to pick up some work at the University, doing GTA (graduate teaching assistant) bits – and I’ve secured some work for 2022 in terms of marking and RA stuff (research assistant).

I built several Lego sets this year, completed a paint by numbers and a diamond art doodah, and learned how to make sushi.

The biggest accomplishment of the year, if you speak to my wife, is probably my creation of The Wonky Bar: our at home pub complete with a cinema-style entertainment space.

We also got a new car – sounds fancy but it was a downsizing situation to save money. We managed to do a lot of the DIY projects we’d been putting off… and then promptly sold our house! It was on the market for 9 days and had 9 viewings before it was snapped up.

My reading challenge this year, set on Goodreads, was 36 books – I was aiming for an average of three a month. Managed to just nip over the line with 40 and there have been some crackers.



This human…

Find someone who looks at you like Helen looks at hot chocolate

To clarify, I don’t mean my wife is ugly just that the ugliest thing to happen this year was in relation to her. Her asthma tried to take her from me back in July/August. An 8 day hospital stay, resuscitation, new meds and treatment plan, and 6 months of recuperation mean she’s still here. But, bloody hell, that was close.

We also said goodbye to Pinch, the last of our cat tribe. She was 14, dinky and incredibly opinionated. The house is definitely a lot quieter without her.

Other ugly things: I turned 40. FORTY?! Although, as it happened mid-pandemic and I couldn’t see anyone, I’ve grandly declared that I’m going to remain 39 until it’s safe to party. I also had a kidney stone removed just days before, so spent my birthday enjoying a series of infections, alarming reactions to medications and a very slow recovery. Multiple courses of antibiotics basically meant the universe gifted me my first ever experience of thrush, just in time for my 40th birthday. Joy.


I can’t end a blog post on the topic of thrush so, instead, there’s lots on the horizon for 2022. I should be turning 40 again and celebrating by popping across to Northern Ireland for a PhD Forum / postponed birthday get-together. I should be getting my other kidney stone removed at some point. We should be moving house. I should be completing the PhD 🤢 and maybe even popping up to Sheffield before I submit. Note the choice of modal verbs… two years into plague living, I think I’ve got the hang of avoiding firm plans.

Bye, 2020. Shut the door on your way out…

Can you imagine reading a story in 2019 with the plotline of 2020? Implausible premise. Farfetched narrative. Unbelievable characters. Do not recommend.

Back in January, as has been tradition for a couple of years, we started our Happiness Jar. Despite my bout of protracted illness in early spring (not Covid, I’ve since had an antibody test to confirm) and the ensuing shitshow that was 2020, we maintained the Jar. Even though we joked that there would be nothing to fill it, the Jar was stuffed.

The nature of the entries definitely changed after March!

For posterity’s sake, I’m noting down some examples from the Jar, organised by month.


When we didn’t know.

  • Andrey (excellent lad I tutored) got a Grade 4 in his GCSE English resit.
  • Helen (wife) started a new job – and was all excited for the year ahead. HA HA HA.
  • I suppose I should mention my MA graduation and prize (flicks hair).
  • My chums, Soo and Luke2 (yes, there are two of them and, yes, they are married), saved graduation. They stepped up when Edith got sick and couldn’t go to kennels. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the pomp and ceremony. (Cut to camera, dramatic voiceover: it wouldn’t be their last favour of 2020…)
  • Connor started his Japanese lessons, whilst looking forward to using what he learned when travelling in April. Ha. Ha. Ha.
  • I went to a Qualitative Research Symposium at Bath University and heard Virginia Braun speak (and fan-girled her on Twitter).
The Badass Bibliophiles


When I made life decisions which I wouldn’t have made in hindsight!

  • My last day working at Brinsbury College so that I could focus on my PhD. Lots of lovely farewells and gifts.
  • Mum-in-law and Pa-in-law visited and we made them sit outside at a café in arctic conditions so that we could also take the puppy. (Cut to camera, dramatic voiceover: little did they know this would be excellent training for 2020 living and the last time they would see one another face-to-face that year).
  • Helen dazzled at a formal event in a red dress. An actual dress!
  • “A Monster Calls” at the Chichester Festival Theatre with Connor and other young people.
Please note: I prepared a hot water bottle for them.


The boundary month which straddled normal life and the start of lockdown.

  • Several cinema visits (remember the cinema?): “The Hunt,” “Emma,” “Military Wives” and “Onward.”
  • Helen hosted a private box, for work, at “The Mountbatten Festival of Music.”
  • Luke2 came into the house for food, laughter and games.
  • I hosted the March book club meeting at my Aunty’s house with lots of baking; obviously, these have moved onto Zoom now and also involve very little book talk!
  • Edith and I went to the wrong puppy class and ended up in a session with astrophysics level dogs… whilst we bumbled our way through basic obedience in the corner, feeling inadequate.
  • Lockdown happened and Connor discovered how to use the jet-wash, promptly using it on everything in the garden.
  • Food became quite* important as Helen was shielding, we couldn’t get out and supermarket looting panic buying had started: we celebrated when Tesco delivered everything in our basket; friends dropped bits at our front door; we planted a herb garden; Connor started baking bread, cookies and breakfast treats; Helen was smug that she had started a Brexit box of basics in the garage, like pasta and flour, that saw us through the darkest days! We’re very grateful to Soo, Will C, Will L, Luke2 and Jo Jarrett who have continuously ensured we can eat and wipe our arses (Health and safety voiceover: not at the same time).

* very, very, very

Our last outing, before lockdown, was to the garden centre…


The month when we tried our hardest to keep ourselves entertained… as the year progressed, the novelty wore thin.

  • We turned our kitchen into a Mission Impossible style laser system to annoy Connor when he first stumbled to the bathroom in the morning.
  • The Easter Egg Hunt we created for Connor took him over an hour.
  • Edith undertook an online tricks course (with human help)… which was basically about keeping Connor occupied.
  • Zoom quizzes. Remember them? (Dramatic voiceover: whatever 2021 brings, let us not resort to Zoom quizzes. Ever. Again).
  • We had the first BBQ of the year. It was a little cold and for reasons we still don’t understand, Connor served it in a bowl.
  • Connor and I relearned the cup song and also did it with random items from around the house. Not sure Helen enjoyed this.
  • You know those American Chefclub videos? They usually feature odd tins of liquid “cheese.” Anyway, we recreated their spaghetti carbonara bake thingy which features an entire Camembert in the middle. Helen and Connor ended up eating it for several days as it was huge.
  • We painted stones: you can tell things were getting dull.
  • I baked for the dogs. This may have been the point at which I started to mentally disintegrate. It was around this time we started making what-have-we-got-in-the-house cocktails, as well.


Yup, the novelty had worn off as you can tell from the few Jar entries. Connor and I were working to deadlines. Well, I was…

  • Helen let me give her an undercut – totally down with the kids.
  • I set up my second work from home space with a new desk. And a sign that was designed (but failed) to keep Helen and Connor away from me whilst I was working.
  • I joined in with the Harry-Potter-Downton-Abbey crossover quiz with Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter – organised to raise funds for Marie Curie.
This lighting masks the grey.


Because Helen has been shielding this whole time, we stayed in our own lockdown even as the country was “let out” again.

  • We started doing dog paddock walks again with Helen joining us as her daily exercise.
  • We discovered the Costa drivethru had opened in Chichester and promptly became known as the-ladies-who-brought-their-own-straws-and-wore-masks-when-ordering-and-who-slathered-everything-in-antibac-gel.
  • My birthday went on for a few days: Connor and Helen created me a Harry Potter Den, I started my obsession with Lego and we did a virtual escape room with Emma and Rob. Discovering Lego as an adult is expensive and perhaps not the best way to spend my student loan.
  • Dylan, my epic 10 year old student, made such great progress over the year. The height of which came when he wrote a book review (read it here) which was then celebrated by Bella Swift (the author) and Cressida Cowell (absolute legend) in Twitterverse! He even ended up with some free books gifted to him by fans online.
  • Helen and I started doing date nights – we didn’t leave the house but we did make full use of the Harry Potter den whilst it was up in the garage. (Romantic voiceover: activities included eating food, playing board games, watching TV and generally hiding from the teenager.)
The Castle was my second ever Lego build… 6020 pieces.


This was the month when we made Connor take over the running of the household. We were working; he was furloughed and had completed his college course. Many, many things went wrong but this post is only about the Jar of Happiness… so we shouldn’t mention the DIY errors, erratic Tesco orders or cooking disasters.

  • I was bemoaning that we couldn’t get a good afternoon tea because I am gluten free… which was clearly considered a rallying cry by my friends. We enjoyed an afternoon tea delivered by the Millstream Hotel, courtesy of the Clays (for my birthday in June); a stealthy front door drop with a scones mix, jam, tea and clotted cream by Stella and Naomi; and a full blown afternoon tea by post from Emma Sweeney (surname needed as I have three lovely Emmas). I remember July as the month where I practically ate cake once a day.
  • Helen’s workplace (The National Museum of the Royal Navy) received their emergency Grant In Aid from the Government. After four months of wondering whether or not she would lose the job she only started in January (whilst supporting my full time PhD and Connor), this came as a massive relief. Aunty Emma-Jayne (see, another Emma!) and Uncle Kevin-the-pourer surprised her by sending a delivery of cider.
  • In July, I had to start my confirmation process for the first year of the PhD. This was a presentation. I’m really grateful to Dr Emma Fields (see, yet another Emma!) and Natty for listening to me practise the presentation via Zoom and asking me preparatory questions.


The month when we’d all had enough but didn’t realise how good we had it… because at least we could sit in the garden. The winter lockdowns, just around the corner, were not as forgiving.

  • Part of the confirmation review process is submitting a 20,000 word mini-thesis covering everything you’ve done so far: intro, background, aims, literature review, methodology and so on. I made my deadline and managed to stay under the wordcount. By five words.
  • We celebrated both of Luke2 birthdays (about two weeks apart) in the garden. Many metres apart.
  • Connor discovered he’d achieved triple Distinction Star – and also had confirmation of his university place and complicated finance.
  • Helen earned her own salary. It’s a fundraiser thing – it’s expected that each year you should fundraise at least as much as you earn and then some. The fact she’d achieved this in 8 months and during a pandemic is impressive.
  • As the result of a webinar, I discovered the Writer’s HQ and Virtual Writing Retreat which completely changed the way I work. I’ve blogged about them here.
  • With everything confirmed, Connor started online university shopping and packing (Irritated voiceover: it wasn’t until Connor had moved out that Helen and Jo discovered the chaos in the loft or the 87651 discarded cardboard boxes).


A month of changes.

  • Connor moved out. Hahaha. That’s not the Happy Thing, honest. He got to Uni… something we weren’t all convinced was going to happen, not least because of the pandemic.
  • With his permission, we turned his bedroom into a proper office space. It can also function as a bedroom when/if he wants to come back.
  • We built a daybed as part of the office renovation and Edith has decided it’s hers.
  • On the 23rd September, I discovered and joined the PhD Forum. Basically, I live there now. (Check it out on Twitter @PhDForum or here). Helen has pointed out that since joining PhD Forum I have got more work done and drunk more alcohol. Honestly, who would have thought you could make actual friends during a pandemic and without seeing any of them in person? I’m so grateful to them all for supporting / entertaining / motivating me. Sometimes simultaneously.
  • The final part of my confirmation review was the dreaded defence, which turned out not to be dreadful at all. I’m very grateful to Dr Emma Fields (friend), Dr Iain Hall (brother-in-law), Dr Paul Hanna (the brother of one of the Lukes!), Dr Briony Birdi (supervisor) and Dr Kate Dommett (supervisor) for helping me to prepare so thoroughly.
  • After 6 months apart, we visited The Flying Foot* to see Aunty Emma-Jayne, Uncle Kevin-the-pourer, Holly and Dave. I had my first, masked cuddle with baby Rose.

* The outdoor pub that Kevin has built – open sides and big enough to spread out by several metres in all directions. Man is a genius.


The first month of the pandemic on our own.

  • We celebrated 20 years together and 14 years married. (Weary voiceover: yes, Helen yet again cracked the “joke” about getting less for murder).
  • We got tickets to see Billie Eilish in concert, obviously virtually. Then realised how old that made us because we preferred watching it in PJs, on our sofa with tea and popcorn. Rock on.
  • I completed the ethics application for the first stage of my data collection and got the go ahead really quickly because it was “exemplary.” (Smug).
  • More food related adventures: I figured out how to make poutine and it was gooooood (although very bad for you).
  • I got to see my Nana, briefly. The absolute highlight of my year. She is the best person I know.
  • The brilliant Jo Jarrett moved back to Bosham so we got to have coffee and cake in the garden. Jo also popped to Ikea and surprised me with a mattress (needed for the daybed). I honestly have the best friends.
  • We managed to squeeze in a few garden socialisings before the weather and pandemic turned. Lots of layers needed, with the chimnea and jacket potatoes. Edith met Nelly – the newest puppy in the family.


Still a pandemic. Another lockdown and something to do with tiers. By this point, we realised we weren’t wholly paying attention to the rules because we just don’t go out, nor do we go into anyone’s houses or in any shops.

  • Off you f*ck, Trump.
  • Thank you to Lewis and Ross for doing our electrics and providing light!
  • I treated Helen to a virtual evening with Tom Kerridge and a copy of his book – basically, it’s a stealthy gift for myself as I benefit from her cooking his recipes.
  • Poor Helen. All she wanted was a pint in the pub. But, pandemic… so I recreated it for her in the garage. It wasn’t perfect but she was happy.
  • We hung out online with Natty and Chris, doing another escape room.
  • I managed to get my data collection off the ground and I’m so grateful to my friends, family and PhD Forum fiends for being my pilot testers and giving me brilliantly critical feedback.
  • We redecorated the dining room. For all the people who aren’t coming over?! And it is accidentally grey (not calico) because we used a tin of paint without noticing my Pa-in-law’s label on the side.
  • We celebrated Jamie’s birthday in style: timing a Deliveroo, doing an online escape room and surprising her with friends and family (virtually) so we could all play the most twisted drawing game. Lots of rib-aching laughter.


The month when we have been punished daily with Facebook reminders of seeing (and touching) family and friends.

  • Data collection stage 1 is completed, so I have all that lovely analysis waiting for me in the New Year. I’m grateful to the 70+ people who took part all across West Sussex.
  • We saw three shows, all from the daybed or sofa. “A Christmas Carol” at the Old Vic was glorious. Then, through The Show Must Go On (see here), we enjoyed “Kinky Boots” and “Dick Whittington.”
  • Helen convinced me to watch “The Mandalorian” and I have to agree it was very good.
  • In contrast, I convinced Helen to watch her first ever Hallmark Christmas film or, as she calls them, shit Christmas movie. (“Operation Christmas Drop” on Netflix.)
  • We did another escape room online as a date night and a boxed one on Christmas Day. (Black Mirror style voiceover: they enjoy the satisfaction of getting out because they live in fear that they will never get out again… Escape rooms have become the new escapism. It’s all very meta.)
  • We had a second visit to The Flying Foot which has enjoyed a massive extension. Edith met the giant dogs and no one got eaten.
  • I cut myself a fringe. Why not?
  • Our epic brother-in-law defended his thesis and became Dr Iain Hall.
  • Jo Jarrett baked and secretly delivered gluten free mince pies.
  • Helen enjoyed a big work success in the days leading up to Christmas. I am not allowed to mention it but all will be revealed in 2021.
  • Cheese.
  • We had ordered M&S Christmas food imagining there would be four of us here for a few days. So we had enough Christmas food for approximately 8 people. Thank you Luke2 for the delivery service.

There you have it. Not like our 2019 mix of movies at the cinema, live events, a disproportionate number of things with the lovely Dr Emma Fields, outings, human contact and eating out; nevertheless, some moments to cherish.

I refuse to say Happy New Year aloud as it seems inauspicious. But I’m sure most people will join me in telling 2020 to go fuckity-bye-bye.