Ordinarily I’d eschew the “Parish Newsletter” format – however the simple fact is I’ve done bugger all in the way of blogging this year, and it’s certainly not been due to any lack of activity at this end! The dearth of electronic reportage has been, in part, brought on by my lack of available spare time – let it never be said that there’s any shortage of things to do in London!

Week in Scotland

We got the year off to a brilliant start with a holiday in one of the less popularly travelled parts of Scotland – the village of Carradale. A friend of mine has insisted for some years now that I use his cottage over on the Kintyre Peninsula, so in March we did that very thing! A week of idyllic relaxing, with a small amount of whisky-related activity thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t meant to be a whisky trip at all, however given our proximity to Campbeltown it seemed silly not to visit Springbank Distillery. And as we were only a few minutes’ drive from the ferry port at Kennacraig we thought we’d capitalize on the chance to pop across on the ferry to Islay (and see 5 distilleries there). Our route back to Glasgow took us to the Isle of Arran, and the distillery was open, so we had a look in there… and then when we found that our route from Glasgow around to Carradale took us past Auchentoshan and Glengoyne… well… we’re not made of stone!

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Hankywaving in Vermont

I’ve been a member of the Westminster Morris Men since 2004, and in all that time I’ve heard endless tales of the various international trips they’d done but I’d not yet had a chance to go on, and so I’ve always been a keen petitioner for a road trip. This year we were invited to the Marlboro Morris Ale in Vermont, and how could we say no to such an opportunity?

Travelling to the USA with a group of morris dancers presents its own logistical challenges, but I was pleasantly surprised that nobody managed to get detained or arrested in Customs, and soon enough we were hurtling along the wrong side of the road out of Boston towards the leafy green New England town of Brattleboro. The trip was definitely a cultural exchange, and from the word go the men seemed keen to embrace it head-on – for instance Andy decided that in tribute to being on the wrong side of the road, he’d try to get us from A to B by following the directions we’d printed out for getting back from B to A. Although the mistake was pointed out as we were amid learning that they don’t sell road maps in gas stations in the US any more (because everyone’s got SatNav now).

The Ale itself was a splendid event, bringing together a great assortment of great teams, and in my comparatively limited time dancing I’ve never been in the midst of such a true variety. Our tour teamed us up with Orion Sword (an extremely skilled longsword team who now choreograph their own dances to tunes they select, with a very distinctive and watchable style – including a dance to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”), and the Rock Creek Morris Women (a very friendly, welcoming & fun bunch, and handy & innovative dancers!), and in addition we met some other great teams at the event. Right from the off you could see there were huge variations in style between what we were doing & what they were doing, but such is the nature of a living tradition. The massed shows on each day gave the best of the weekend’s dancing, and the enthusiastic crowds whipped the dancers into energetic performances – it’s impossible to say who I enjoyed most, because each had its own merit to offer.

And, as you could imagine with a group so large, diverse, and eclectic, the post-dancing activity was brilliant too – plenty of folk singing (and bemused faces from the Westminster contingent as British folk songs were enthusiastically chanted in a variety of American accents), many-a spirited debate was held in the pub out the back of the hall, as well as team & scratch dancing in any area which had enough space to dance, we got trounced at an “Aunt Sally” tournament (a game which involves hurling sizeable lumps of wood around a field and is apparently an English predilection – though not one I’d ever seen before, and not one I displayed any sort of aptitude at), and as if by magic one of the teams sniffed out that I was a bit keen on whisky: whereupon I was invited to participate in a blind whisky tasting competition, scoring a fairly respectable 7 out of 12!

As we headed away exhausted from the weekend’s festivities we returned to Boston for a couple of days to recuperate and have a look around, and some of the teams we’d met at Marlboro rejoined us for another evening’s dancing, which was a splendid way to finish up!

Mitch, Rupert & I headed off during the day for a look about the USS Constitution, a famous retired warship in Boston Harbour. The day also played host to a memorable breakfast, and sampling of the odd local beer or 3. Whilst in town I was very lucky to have a chance to catch up with Spiro & Dianne, which doesn’t happen nearly often enough but I relish it when it does.

Maltstock

In September for the second time I made my way to Nijmegen in the Netherlands to the whisky festival known as Maltstock. This time rather than a rail-based sojourn, I teamed up with Ben & Cat from Master of Malt, Billy of Whisky Squad, and Joel of Caskstrength.net and we went on my first ever European road trip! We made it just in time for Billy to have missed the masterclass that he was meant to be presenting (for the second year running), but other than that slight ripple it was an utterly brilliant weekend with much fun and a thoroughly excellent crew. And, of course, loads of very interesting & diverse whisky. As well as meeting up again with the folk from last year, this year I got to meet a couple of people in person who I’ve only thus far known online (for example Gal from Israel, and the thoroughly decent chap known as Sjoerd De-Haan Kramer). And it’s always a buzz to get a chance to spend a bit more quality time with folks from home like Cat, Ben, Billy, Joel, Rocky, Simon, and the infamous Dr Sam Simmons.

2 Weeks in Australia

I was extremely honoured to be invited to the wedding of my mate Fi to her delightful other half Ben, which was to take place in Adelaide in November – so this year I managed to swing 2 weeks in Australia around that, and it was just perfect to be able to spend that time with friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Starting in Sydney (where I hadn’t been since about 1995) I stayed with Winnie & his family – sadly I’d been unable to make it across to their wedding in 2011, but I feel like we did a solid job of making up for lost time: Winnie’s the only person on the planet who, when he advises you that “we’ve just got to stop in and pick up a surprise” you can think “I bet we’re collecting a bouncy castle to take home” and find that you were right.

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As well as Winnie & Sami & the boys, I grabbed the opportunity to see Luca & Niall from the old Quest Computing days (doesn’t SEEM like that long ago!?), swung a surprise bonus catchup with Bronwyn (and some free booze and pizza – nice one!), and a couple of lazy brews & Rover reminiscing with Nat C and Alan J. Quite the dividend for a trip!

Next city in the whirlwind tour was Adelaide, and my distinct intention to not spend the whole trip cris-crossing the state in the car was at odds with my other desire to see as many people as possible and yet still allow some time to relax and spend time with my family. It worked out ok though, and whilst I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to it was wonderful (and quite humbling) to have as great a response as I did to the park bbq and pub night that I cobbled together. There’s a lot more kids running around Adelaide than I remember, and most of them appear to have spawned from my contemporaries. So that’s interesting to watch.

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I got to spend a bit more time with my little nephew as well, which was a bit of a buzz – initially I was a little worried about his casual disinterest in hanging out with Uncle Jason, but after we bonded over epic dancing to Gangnam Style and then me teaching him how to be a Nerf Sniper, I think I made my way back into his cool books.  Although thinking about it, I’m pretty sure last time I went home I had a moustache too, so he probably thinks I’m a weirdo now.

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The wedding was brilliant and a natural extension of the personalities of the people involved. Never seen a wedding dress with pockets before, although that’s not to say Fi got hitched in a pair of overalls. Admittedly, I didn’t know loads of the people there, but it was a treat to get to spend some time with the ones I did, and I even managed to sneak in a little midnight(ish) mission up to the Cargo Nets on the Challenge Hill course – having said that, my sense of direction asserted itself as you’d expect, and I reappeared about 3 hours later having fallen asleep on said cargo nets. Hey ho.

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Another highlight of my Adelaide trip was getting to spend a day brewing beer (and tasting, naturally) with Patrick and Alex – can’t say that I helped in any way other than stirring things occasionally and mopping up some of the extra beer that was lying about, but as we all get older & more grownup it’s rare to get a moment with your chums from days of yore to cherish.

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Charlie and Simon’s Wedding

Thought not involving epic travel, a very important event in this year was the wedding of Charlie and Simon in Bristol. Charlie’s was one of the first people I met when I moved to London back in 2004, and she’s been a really good mate (including housemate, and the catalyst to me meeting the ever-splendid Liz) ever since – so it was a joy to be a part of her wedding! A brilliant day, with a superlative soundtrack and an absolutely top-notch after party (you’d probably formally call it a reception).

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And it’s no surprise at all that Liz scrubbed up magnificently…

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Rob & Mags’ Wedding

We were delighted also to have been able to attend the wedding of our friends Rob & Mags this year too – Rob’s a chap who I met through a whisky tasting, and over the last couple of years have become good mates with. So it was a massive honour to be among the guests at his wedding to his awesome partner Mags – a beautiful day, a hootenanny of grand style, and it must be said: that was one hell of a stag weekend.

2012 hasn’t all been about travel & nuptials though – it’s delivered on quite a few other fronts as well:

Moustaches & mens’ health

IMAG0001For the 9th year in a row I got involved – once again, accidentally – in fundraising for Movember.  I mean, the intention was always to grow a ludicrous moustache, but I was planning to give everyone a break after last year’s onslaught.  Still, this year people were great about it and we proved the “long tail” theory, because with loads of small contributions my total managed to rack up to £422 this year – an excellent amount, for an excellent cause.

Fang installment

I was born missing a tooth. For some of my teen years I had braces, then a retainer plate with a fake tooth on it. Back in 2006 whilst in Shimla I had a replacement plate made up, because the one I had was getting pretty loose (and was prone to flying out if I sneezed without being particularly vigilant). But in late 2011 an opportunity came up for a more permanent solution, and so in May 2012 the implant work was complete, and for the first time in about 17 years I didn’t have a plastic thing wedged up against the roof of my mouth. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but it was a pretty big thing for me. My brother has the same type of tooth implant, although he wasn’t born a tooth short – his got smashed out by a seesaw at a birthday party when he was about 9… so I think I got the better end of the deal there.

Handing over loads of cash for a box made of bricks

Something which – by contrast to the tooth thing – was a big deal for me this year was that at the end of August Liz & I successfully purchased a flat in Bristol! 2012 was the year I became a joint-homeowner with my wonderful girlfriend. It’s rather magnificent (I think) – a 1900-built former Methodist Hall, in which we have a delightful 2 bedroom flat.

Being a homeowner’s come with a few abrupt lessons about getting things fixed (£300 on shower & plumbing this week), but already we’re finding it rewarding in terms of being able to set a place up how we like it, and theorise about what we’d like to do next. This will more than likely curtail some of my more extravagant travelling adventures & concerts/comedy tickets, but then that’s potentially not a bad thing.

And – most importantly – I’m extremely happy & excited to have bought a home with Liz.

UK Citizenship

Another significant event managed to sneak in on the 2012 ticket for me this year: being granted Citizenship of the United Kingdom. It’s been a lengthy process, with my first 3.5 years of ancestry visa, then a 5 year extension (about £600 and a 4 hour trip to Croydon later), then applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (another Croydon trip, passing the Life In The UK test, and another £850), and finally Citizenship (another £851, although this time I was able to apply in Camden Town Hall, and there was only a minor amount of faffing about with paperwork owing to an address change and a discrepancy over dates). So on the 19th of December the Mayor of Camden presented me with my naturalization certificate. So, I’m an official pom now.
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Whisky Squad

Last – and by no means least – the other main thing occupying my time this year has been our little whisky tasting club, Whisky Squad. Set up in April 2010, we celebrated our 2nd birthday this year and it’s still every bit as much fun as it ever has been – in fact, to make an attempt at keeping up with demand we’ve ramped up activity and have been running 2 tastings per month.

We even featured on the excellent Whisky Marketplace TV podcast – worth a watch if you’ve got a few spare moments…

In 2012 we held 28 tasting events which branched out into areas such as rum, Cognac, tequila, and sherry – as well as exploring all sorts of different facets of whisky (both Scotch whisky and from around the world). So far about 190 people (it’s probably more than that) have been part of one or more Whisky Squad sessions, and we’ve got sessions planned well out into 2013 so hopefully we’ll increase that number by a few this year – although we’ve got loads of regulars and one of the joys of doing what we do is getting to know the diverse crowd of whisky enthusiasts who come along (and, as mentioned previously, being invited to their weddings!).

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Tangenting off of Whisky Squad, a couple of the lads & I have been working on a whisky video podcast for a while now, called Village of the Drammed. We’ve continued that through 2012 and tightened up our production & format a bit (whilst still keeping it fairly informal), which has been great fun and created all sorts of interesting conversations & opportunities.

Anyway – that’s a fairly broad look at the significant events of 2012. It’s by no means all of them: I count myself extremely lucky to have opportunities to get to go see a huge array of bands, comedians and musicals, to have had the chance to attend an event at the London 2012 Olympics, to get to pop away for weekends all over the country, and to be visited frequently by friends from all over the world who are in town for a few days and want to catch up. And we’ve been enjoying life rather a lot, with some breathtaking food, wine, beer, whisky, and most importantly: company.

What next?

Well, who knows. We’ve got some exciting holidays penciled in which I’m looking forward to – the one strong falling down that this year had was that the time I spent out of the country was largely without Liz, and that’s something we’re going to remedy in 2013. There’s some great stuff in the pipeline relating to whisky, and lots of fun & possibility to explore generally.

Oh yeah. This should be fun.