Nick’s surprisingly action-packed 2021

29 Dec

My year began and ended in a similar way. At the end of 2020, flockdown rules were still in place, but I decided I’d still head up to London to see in 2021. I had actually bought tickets for the darts at Ally Pally, but these had been refunded as crowds were no longer allowed, but like I say, I thought, sod it, booked a hotel and had a jaunt to the big smoke (note, photos and footage of this night are stored on a phone that I need to get round to having repaired).

I had with me my trusty little ghetto blaster which I’d bought not long before. It’s a modern, bluetooth thing, with CD player and radio. The only thing is, it doesn’t actually go that loud. But anyway, I strolled around the mostly quiet streets around the central area of the city. Trafalgar Square itself was sealed off. I headed towards Buckingham Palace. There were a handful of people here. A couple of people jigged about a bit to the sounds coming from my handy device.

However, after not too much time, two armed policemen walked towards me, coming out from Buck House. They told me to turn the thing off, which of course I did, but I still asked the reason why I needed to do this. It was now that I was told something that straight away went into my Top 10 list of funny things people have said to me. Nothing to do with Corona restrictions, he said I had to turn it off because I was in a residential area! I mean, this sounded like the sort of rule that might apply in a council housing estate, not outside the home of her majesty. He did say I could play it in the parks on either side of the palace, so I headed off to one of them.

Here, I encountered a few people around a couple of benches, one with quite a tasty alcoholic concoction, and also a large firework he planned to let off at midnight. However, we were then approached by a gang of youths, and for just a brief moment, I felt slightly vulnerable, effectively on my own, in the middle of a park in London in the middle of the night, and I decided I’d move on. It wasn’t necessarily the best place to see the new year in anyway.

So I ended up at Leicester Square, where there was a smallish crowd of revellers. Here, bizarrely, even at a couple of minutes to midnight, police were saying that we should move on unless we were there for work purposes! This stipulation was mostly ignored…but although it was a bit of fun, there wasn’t really that much going on, so at about twenty minutes past midnight, I decided to just head back to my hotel.

The following day, the first of 2021, I decided I’d still drive to Ally Pally. Here, quite a few people were having a New Year’s Day stroll. I enquired about the possibility of getting inside the building – I think I might have possibly hoped to get the autograph of Stephen Bunting, who I’d bet on at 250/1 to win the tournament (he eventually narrowly lost to Gerwyn Price, the Welshman who went on to win the event, in the semi-final), but inevitably, there was not much chance of that happening.

So then for the next couple of months, flockdown restrictions remained in place. From what I remember, what was supposed to be a two week “firebreak flockdown” eventually turned into four months. I don’t remember too much about all this time to be honest.

I do remember it being quite a sad time. My sister-in-law’s mother died at the end of 2020, and the funeral was held at the start of 2021. Soon after, a close friend of mine, Jason, died, which was very upsetting, especially as it may have been preventable. I attended the funeral along with friends, Neil and Nigel, and afterwards we stood in the field next to the Cardiff City stadium, despite the rain lashing down, to drink to his memory. Someone else I knew, a regular at the Spoons on City Road, also passed on.

In defiance of flockdown rules, for a month or so, every Saturday, I would make a CD featuring various favourite tunes, and walk into the town centre with it playing on my ghetto blaster. Practically the only people I’d see would be food delivery people on bikes. Almost nobody else I met took any interest. When Jason died, I put together a CD of songs I thought he might like, or by bands I knew he was a fan of.

The only way we could watch football was on TV, but one evening, I decided I’d actually go down to the Cardiff Stadium on the night a match was to take place, just to have a nose around. The area surrounding the area looked like something out of a Zombie Apocalypse film. It really was a depressing site. I watched the game on my phone nearby, despite the freezing cold.

With the South Wales derby coming up, I decided to again flaunt flockdown rules and visit someone in Swansea who’d become my penpal over the previous few months, Rebecca Lowe. We visited the park on the site of the old Vetch field where I recited some football-related poems. Crazy to think that this relatively simple act would have been considered quite naughty at the time due to travel restrictions supposedly being in place.

I then decided I’d go on a little tour of grounds around the country, most of which I’d been to before, giving a little report outside the ground of memories I had from visiting each ground before (I also visited my ex girlfriend, Christina, who lives on the south coast during the trip). I put the videos of the reports up on TikTok. To some extent, all these little videos I was doing were intended to be a document of the time, and I’m fairly sure that people will look back and consider just how bizarre some of the restrictions in place were.

Some restrictions were finally lifted in England (before Wales) – you could go to a pub, but had to sit outdoors. I went to Bristol with a couple of friends a couple of times. In fact, here, people weren’t even bothering going to pubs, they were buying drinks from off licenses, as they’d probably become accustomed to, and then just sitting or standing around the Quayside area.

The very first indoor live event I went to was an audience with Alan McGee, which also included two live bands, which I went to with Naz and a friend of his at a small venue in London. I think partly because we got a bit drunk and were enjoying ourselves so much, I never got round to writing about that. But it was great to finally see proper live music again, even if it was from behind plastic screens between audience members and the stage (we all know the virus can’t travel sideways!!).

I think the promise of the vaccines being a solution meant that it appeared that governments were gradually coming to their senses, and so after a wait of a couple of months, when nothing was clear at all and with no promises on what we would be allowed to do, we gradually started learning about what things we might be able to do over the summer from any plans we may have made.

The two main things I was looking forward to, which I’d waited over a year for, were: the Euro 2020 (now 2021) tournament, which Wales would be featuring in, and Spike Island 2021 (which was supposed to have happened in 2020). It was becoming clear that going to both was after all going to be a possibility, so I at last had things to look forward to.

Once I had it clarified that I would not have to remain in a hotel in Azerbaijan on arrival due to my already having tickets, I decided after all to book a trip with the official Wales supporters’ club, Wonky Sheep. I had an absolutely fantastic time, report here.

In around another month’s time, with festivals finally being given the go ahead, I was off to Spike Island, thirty one years after the last time I’d been there, along with my younger brother, Ade. As I was reviewing the gig for Louderthanwar, I was upgraded to VIP tickets, which was good as we had an extra little area to chill out in, and avoided long queues for the bar. Not sure if I’d normally pay the extra for the upgrade – this was the first time I’d ever had VIP tickets – but I could see the benefits. The festival organisers had decided that they wouldn’t ask people to show proof of virus status/whatever, as legally they didn’t have to, and honestly, I would question why other festival organisers did insist on this. If 99% of people were probably going to go anyway, what real difference did it make? An incredible organisational hassle (I heard of some festivals that insisted you sent a video of yourself taking a test! Imagine having to go through all of them?!). It was a bit odd for my brother, understandably, as he went from a situation of having to wear full PPE each day in his role as physio, and change it for each person he saw, to being in a large crowd of party people, with not even a mask to be seen. But we did both have an absolutely fantastic time. – six months later I still have not taken off one of the event wristbands! It might have been covers’ bands, but still, all really, really good, and after all, three of the bands on the bill being represented – Oasis, The Smiths and The Stone Roses – are of course not currently together, so seeing a copycat version is the only option. Full report here.

I definitely had got the travel bug now that I was able to, and I also took myself off to Edinburgh to watch a T20 game between my country of birth, Zimbabwe and Scotland which was good fun. Report here.

I became good friends with my upstairs neighbour, Kavin, during 2021. We are both big sports fans. I also met his flat-mate, Kaz, who started going out with Craig Bellamy’s son, which was quite exciting! There is quite an amusing story about how they met, but I won’t embarrass them by going into that here. As far as I know, they’re still going strong. I am hoping to get my personal copy of The Blues Are Back in Town back with Mr Bellamy senior’s signature at some stage.

I had done a few reviews throughout the year for Louderthanwar – I had a few Frank Black albums sent on vinyl, one or two other things – but in fact, the Spike Island piece would be the last thing I had published with them. They had put me on the guestlist for the Wendy James band (formerly of Transvision Vamp) in Cardiff. Basically, I wasn’t impressed by the headliners (local support band, Telgate, I thought were great), and I said so. Louderthanwar decided this would upset the PR people that they get press passes from and decided to pull the piece. They also claimed they thought I was writing like “someone from the 1970s” because I used the word “sexy” once in the opening paragraph (despite the fact that I then searched and discovered over 300 articles on LTW that used this word). I mentioned that Wendy James had to quite a large extent used her image to sell records. I mean, surely this is not really in any doubt? It’s pretty blatant – she is depicted naked on one of her album covers. I was basically making light of it, and wouldn’t have done if it wasn’t such an obvious aspect of the performer’s persona. Any article or video about the band is filled with comments by men talking about Wendy James being their teenage fantasy – so in my view, to ignore this is to not properly cover what is an obviously well known thing. Well, anyway, I had not been in the good books of various editors from the site after a few drunken posts on the LTW writes’ page in previous months, so it was apparently decided that they no longer wanted me to write for them. I suppose I was a bit sad about this – I’d been writing for them, on an occasional basis for about five years, but I’d never got paid anything after all (this had been one of my gripes) – most writers for the site do so, apparently for the “likes”.

It did seem as if, after all the nonsense of the previous year or two, things were finally getting back to normal. Events were happening in a pretty normal way. The Heath pub was host to quite a good open mic night for a while, and I put on a little poetry and music event there called “Nick, Naz and a bit of Jazz, with Jack, Johnny and Mali Haf”. This went ok, although I didn’t quite get the numbers I might have hoped for. I went to a couple of poetry events Mike Jenkins put on, and right at the end of the year, Parthian had a nice day of events, including an excellent reading by Topher Mills, a big inspiration for me, right at the end of the year at Chapter.

Just after my birthday, I contracted the bloody virus. I may have caught it from my friend Naz, who had been unwell, but I’m not sure if he’d been tested. I must admit, I did feel quite unwell, although not that much more than flu symptoms; I didn’t lose my sense of taste and had no difficulty with breathing. But I was due to drive Naz down to Christina’s to pick up two of her cat’s kittens. Despite not feeling the best, I agreed I’d still drive. Once at Christina and her boyfriend, Tom’s flat, I basically just camped on a couch for a couple of days. Christina gave me a test to take which came up positive. Fortunately, both she and Tom, and it would appear, Naz, had already had it. Despite still feeling ill, I was able to drive Naz and the cats back to Cardiff, and then I basically just stayed in bed for a few days.

I still didn’t feel 100% but at the end of October, I went to a free party in the forest of Dean with a friend. That was a bit of a laugh, although we were absolutely soaked when we got back to the car, as it rained heavily from about 4am onwards. I must admit, I did feel a bit wary about the possibility of me passing on the virus to other people, even though it was a couple of weeks since I’d taken the test at Christina’s, which is something I never thought I would find myself thinking.

Once I’d more-or-less fully recovered, I remember going for a curry with Archie and his brother, and they both found it quite funny that I’d had the virus as they reckoned I’d said before that it didn’t exist! I must admit, it was quite funny. But I have to say, my position with regard to restrictions and rules that are completely ineffective or vastly disproportionate (in my view), has not changed, despite having now had the virus myself. I am still very sceptical of the motives of the authorities.

With Christmas coming up, I had another trip to London, this time to see my new fave band, Amyl and the Sniffers who earlier in the year had released their second album, Comfort to Me, to great acclaim. Another absolutely fantastic night this was. Report here.

My three heroes of the year were all women. These were:

1. Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers. Just such a good ambassador for the new upcoming punk scene, with a great punk attitude, but also looks like a great laugh, and always has a smile in interviews.

2. Vanessa Kade, professional poker player. I was lucky enough to meet Vanessa at a karaoke night when I was in Las Vegas in 2019, but she was not particularly famous at this stage. At the beginning of 2021, she courted controversy after she had quit being an ambassador for one site after misogynistic comments from one of the other people who worked for the same site. Within a few weeks of this, she won the Pokerstars 15th anniversary edition of their Sunday Millions tournament for $1.5million, beating a field of over 60,000 players. It was really exciting actually knowing, to an extent, the winner of such a prestigious event. I had even sent her a Christmas card at the end of 2020 after she’d posted a PO Box address on twitter asking for letters. I was slightly concerned that she wasn’t allowing herself time to properly celebrate her win – it seemed like she was just playing more and more poker – but I suppose what she does is up to her, and if she wants to treat the profession with seriousness, that’s her choice.

3. Fallon Sherrock, professional darts’ player. Fallon was making great strides towards the end of 2021. She also looks like she’s a lot of fun and doesn’t take things too seriously. But when it comes to the darts, it’s clear that she’s not to be taken at all lightly. Sadly, she faltered, as one of the first women ever in the tournament, in this year’s PDC tournament, but she’ll be back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes a lot further in the same event in the next few years.

In terms of my own poker achievements, it was a bit up and down. I had no stand-out big wins as I did in 2020. For a couple of months, I was regularly making a bit of extra spending money, perhaps a couple of hundred a week, playing Spin and Goes on Pokerstars, mostly at $10 and $25 stakes. I would say I had become a bit of an expert at this format, going from winning perhaps three or four out of ten a year ago (which could still return a profit), to regularly winning six or seven out of ten, which would definitely mean quite good profit. The only snag was, if I ever lost a couple in a row, I was becoming tempted to try higher stakes. Sometimes I’d win these, and all would be well, but if I lost a couple at higher stakes, I might start to panic, and lose a chunk. Even though I might be quite good at the Spin and Go format, I should really play more large tournaments, it’s just that they take up so much more time.

Once we were able to, I did play at local casino, Les Croupiers a few times. I played once or twice in a couple of local pubs. The Goliath, the UK’s biggest event in terms of entries was cancelled for a second year in a row. The World Series of Poker in America did however take place, in the Autumn, rather than the Summer as per tradition. Two British players, Jareth East and Jack Oliver made the final table of the main event, coming ninth for $1.1million and third for $3million respectively, which was quite exciting, and in fact, because he is from Christina’s hometown of Bournemouth, I got in touch with Jareth about possibly writing a book about the escapades of the two players, and he’s quite keen, so that’s something I might have to work on in 2022. Another ambition I have for 2022 is to do a bit of DJing.

Speaking of DJing, right at the end of 2021 came the story that Conservative party workers had held Christmas parties in 2020 when according to the rules of the time, they were not supposed to. This caused outrage amongst many, and a DJ called Jon Mancini set up a facebook page advertising a “Downing Street rave” for Christmas Eve 2021. This had over a million people sign up for it! In some ways, if he’d been serious about a pre-Christmas party actually taking place, he might have been better setting a date a week or two before, when the story was still in people’s minds, and also because, after all, many people have already made plans on Christmas Eve. He did however specify in a disclaimer that the event was not meant to be a “real event”, and that he was just poking fun at the government. I think he even got a bit panicky as the day neared, saying the police and even MI5 had been in touch, so he’d changed the day to the 28th, made it an online streaming event only, and had made it a fundraiser for Shelter.

Nonetheless, I was sure that some people at least would still turn up on the originally specified night of Christmas Eve, and as I’d done a good job of getting all my Christmas presents done early, had wrapped them all, and had nothing else planned for the night, once again, I made the trip up to one of my favourite places, London!

It rained the whole way up, and the whole time I was there. I had my ghetto blaster inside a black bag, and once parked up, took this on a short walk to Downing Street, along with umbrella, a bottle of prosecco, a bag with a couple of things and some cheese (this was in reference to the Tory party workers claiming the party had been a “cheese and wine meeting”).

As expected, there was a small gathering of maybe twenty or thirty people outside the gates at Downing Street. We chatted amongst ourselves. I was also wearing a vintage Kappa jumper which I’d bought as a Christmas present to myself, saying jokingly that I was there to represent the much under-reported Kappa variant. There was one guy who, with a friend, was interviewing a couple of the people there. I met a Millwall fan who I chatted with a bit. There were four police huddled under a canopy behind the gate – the rain was still lashing down – who mostly stayed silent, and then a few other police showed up. They were friendly enough, but they did ask us to turn the music off (one guy had quite a loud speaker inside a shopping trolley!) – this time it was because “we didn’t have permission from Westminster council”. To be honest, when he asked if I had permission, I might as well have said that in fact I did, because I think he’d have had difficulty in establishing right there and then that I didn’t.

But anyway, in the awful weather conditions, I don’t think anybody was especially keen on staying too much longer, especially as it was pretty unlikely, after a couple of hours, that more people would show up, so by about 9.30pm, I wondered off with the Millwall fan and his friends towards Victoria, back to the car and I was home by 1am on Christmas morning. One of these days, I’m certain there will be a big party in London – I’m fairly obsessed with the idea that it will happen around Christmas/new year time – but exactly when it will be, I’m not too sure.

So that, basically, is a summary of my year. My resistance to flockdown restrictions has, yes, continued, but honestly, for the most part, all I’ve really been doing is trying, despite all, to just enjoy myself. Wasn’t achieving happiness after all the quite simple philosophy of one of the world’s greatest ever philosophers, Plato? And speaking of Christmas, funnily enough, Plato too was the son of a virgin, I read somewhere recently. Don’t think a lot of people know that.