For a few folks, the time after Christmas is kind of anticlimactic. Many friends of mine here in London aren’t doing much for New Year’s Eve, and the realisation of funds spent during the festive season is already starting to bite pretty much everyone in the ass.
I’m probably a little unusual in that I love New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It goes back to growing up in Japan and seeing the Japanese meeting with family and friends on their way to the local temples, dressed in their finest clothes and giving gifts of money and edible treats like candy, mochi and chocolate. For the Japanese, the New Year period (1-3 January) is THE holiday, with many businesses shut during that time–like how businesses in the UK are shut on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I grew up in mainland Japan near Yokohama from 1989-1992, which is roughly the tail end of the Japanese economic bubble, so folks really splashed out for their New Year’s celebrations back then. Houses were cleaned and old stuff was replaced with new stuff, which led to a treasure trove of gently-used items one could scavenge from the gomi piles, although I’m not sure how well this applies to present-day Japan now that its economy has gone through quite a beating. You can read more about Japanese New Year here.
Grown up exposed to this sort of celebration welcoming the new year, as well as all the Filipino new year’s superstitions my mother impressed upon me, it’s hard for me to treat New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as just another regular couple of days. I’ve even worked on Christmas Day in order to have New Year’s off. Despite my usual shades of pessimism, something about the promise of a new year makes me hopeful that this year will be better somehow. Hopeful that I won’t keep making the same mistakes, hopeful that I’ll eventually fumble into where I need to be. I tend to make resolutions throughout the year–although many tend to be ones I make often and can’t seem to stick with. Still, we can learn a lot from failure. As the famous quote from Samuel Beckett goes: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
A little while ago, I made a resolution of sorts to use and appreciate what I have and to try not to dwell too much on what I don’t have. This is quite a simple thing, really, but really it can involve a lot of change as it can be applicable to a lot of aspects of one’s life and, hopefully, make one acknowledge and be grateful for the things one has. It could be tangible things, like making dinner out of the ingredients you already have in your cupboard rather than eating out or ordering take-away, or reading books you already own but haven’t read rather than buying more books (a common problem of mine!). It could mean not looking at clothes on the racks of a shop or the new releases on a record label’s website.
The resolve to appreciate and cultivate what one already has can also be immaterial. When my partner and I broke up fairly recently, I reached out to friends, not only for comfort and commiserations during a difficult time, but also because I’m stupidly lucky to have really amazing friends who are awesome fun to hang out with and now I had more time to do so. I met up with them in pubs, went with them to gallery exhibits and markets, had a friend lead me to the Holy Land of bubble tea (thanks, Elsie!), and Skyped and iMessaged pals who were too far away for a drink (hey, Miriam and Melanie!).
On Halloween, I travelled to Ireland to hang out with friends over pints of Guinness, tasty vintage cocktails and cups of tea and coffee–and a few bottles from their growing microbrewing scene. It was great seeing friends I hadn’t seen in years and seeing what interesting things they were all up to, particularly the activism for women’s rights one of my friends is involved with and hearing about the feminist punk band her friend is in.
Time spent on one’s own is also a treat, particularly when living in a city so conducive to introspective wandering and exploration. I’ve had some very excellent walks in the past few months in Stepney-Shadwell–Whitechapel, London Bridge-Bermondsey and Shoreditch–Haggerston–Columbia Road, as well as out of London in Manchester–Salford and Newcastle. If I had to have a proper New Year’s resolution, it’ll be: more walks! Even if it’s a walk with a few stops in mind, you never know what you might see on the way.
Blessed with nice weather on Christmas Day, I stepped out of my friend’s flat in Shadwell, where I was looking after her cat, set my headphones to play the festive carols of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and wandered around the East End towards the Thames. From there, I walked along the river (scowling at luxury flat developments, as you do), discovered Alderman Stairs leading straight into the Thames (as pictured at the start of the post), passed Tower Bridge and The Tower of London, then back up skirting the City, looping past Aldgate and then to Whitechapel for Christmas curry at Tayyabs (win!).
It was a fine walk, indeed. If you have a favourite London area to walk around, or a suggested walk that takes one through a few different places in the city, please by all means suggest them in the comments.
Walking throughout London and getting to know a corner of it, particularly a part you’ve never explored before or don’t check in with that often, is a way of appreciating what you have if you live in this city. All too often I find myself in my very Hackney-based bubble–the spaces of work and home and the small areas in-between and surrounding both. As spaces go, it’s not a bad space to be in all things considered, as it encompasses some damn fine pubs, fruit & veg shops and cafés. But it’s useful to have an excuse to go out of the area, even if it’s only so far as Islington or Bethnal Green.
We all have our bubbles–whether they’re bubbles of psychogeographical constructs or bubbles we create of our selves or our relationships with others, in work or through other activities we partake in. They’re not necessarily bad, these bubbles of habit we live in, but it doesn’t hurt to push the boat out every now and then. There are many ways of stepping out of the bubble, or at least pushing its boundaries: meet new folks, rekindle a friendship that might be lagging, order something different off the menu from your usual dish, attend a march or rally, learn a new skill or revisit an old one to try and improve it, change your attitude towards something, listen to some new music, plan a trip to somewhere you’ve never been, read a new book, cook a new recipe, visit a new café or pub, go to a lecture, attend a course, wear a new colour, read good news for a change.
In exploring more outside of our bubbles, not only can we appreciate what we have and where we are, but also, perhaps, our possibilities. It’s easy to think that our possibilities are limited, and yes, some of us are hindered more than others due to social background, finances, emotional struggles, family issues, physical or mental disabilities, cultural differences or what-have-you. But we all have possibilities of some kind, big and small, individually and collectively, no matter who we are.
Let’s explore those possibilities, and make sure we’ve got some interesting ones.
Happy New Year to all of you! I hope all of you have a very wonderful ending for 2014 and a fine start to 2015.
For those of you with Spotify, I did a geeky thing and made a 2014 playlist. Feel free to listen to it if you like, and if you think I missed out on anything (as I’m sure I have), share your recommendations below.