I started the New Year in Romford, Essex, where I had seen the end of 2005 and welcomed the promise of 2006 with friends. This was the year when I would be 30 and not long into 2006 I was experiencing what in retrospect, was a crisis of sorts. Mainly wondering what had I achieved with my life to date and not really knowing where I was going and seemingly stuck in a rut. January for me is the cruellest month anyway with its short days and long nights, hardly helping to alleviate the general sense of malaise I felt at the beginning of 2006.
The year didn’t start too brightly with an appointment at the hospital on the 3rd for an ECG, which I had put off from October 2005. When I say put off, what I really mean is that I ‘conveniently’ forgot the date of the original appointment and by the time a new one had been arranged, it was January. I am not sure what I was so worried about – the ECG itself is quick and painless although the results did show a slight heart abnormality. Nothing serious although it still worries me from time to time.
The first weekend of 2006 found me in Essex again, this time with friends in Southend. This was just the boost I needed, getting to see my friends and having a laugh.
Normally the start of the year isn’t a great time for films and it’s rare that I get to the cinema, unless it’s to see a pre-Christmas release that I haven’t seen over the Christmas/New Year holiday. However, the film I did see at the end of January had an unexpectedly powerful and long-lasting effect on me. Brokeback Mountain was a film that I’d read very little about, I am not even sure why I went to see it. On the face of it, this is not my sort of film at all! Quite unexpectedly it was a film that connected with me at the time and I was drawn into the characters of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist and their tortured and ultimately doomed love affair. I think perhaps more than anything I was drawn to the despondency and resignation of Ennis, which at the time so mirrored my own feelings. I empathised with Ennis’ struggle to discover meaning and purpose to his life and moreover his struggle to find himself. I saw Brokeback Mountain at the cinema three times and each time I found something different in the story and each time it felt more raw and powerful. Rarely, if ever before, has a film got me like that.
The end of January saw me off on one my three bargain (and fairly epic) train journeys around the UK. This was courtesy of The Daily Mail, who were running a token-collect promotion, to get cheap tickets with a number of train companies. My first trip took me to Cardiff and my first proper visit to Wales. I can tentatively claim an earlier trip into Wales on a train from Chester to Wolverhampton (in 2004 I think) which briefly crossed the border, stopping at Wrexham General. Cardiff was impressive and I very much liked the city, making visits to Cardiff Castle and the National Museum & Gallery. I was surprised at how compact the city centre was although I didn’t have enough time to explore and do everything I wanted. As a taster of Wales it was very positive and encourages me to go back again and venture a bit further next time. Still MK to Cardiff and back in a day is quite far enough!
February was a busy month for going to the cinema. Not only did I see Brokeback Mountain twice more, I also saw The New World and Munich. The former was very much under-rated and seemed to only be on at the local Cineworld for about a week before it disappeared. I liked its style of broken narrative, long, wistful shots of nature and just moments of breathing in the beauty and wonder of the flora and fauna. James Horner’s score added to the feeling that this was a long dream-sequence, a sort of very pleasant high for a couple of hours! Munich by contrast was a much darker piece and I admit that I found at times, it very difficult to watch. I am particularly squeamish when it comes to violence and the film’s tense direction, added to my unease.
Another of my aforementioned epic day trips took me to Plymouth a couple of days before my birthday. I remember the trip there quite vividly as I was hung over and feeling rather sorry for myself from the night before, when we’d gone to the pub after work, ostensibly to celebrate my 30th. What was only going to be a couple of drinks took me many pints later to closing time! However, a pasty (which was my breakfast) at Paddington did the trick, no doubt soaking up all that excess alcohol and giving me a much needed perk to get through the day!
The train journey to Plymouth is my favourite, especially once into Devon and speeding along the sea wall between Teignmouth and Dawlish before the line turns inland, skirting the edge of Dartmoor, which that morning had a fine dusting of snow. Plymouth itself is one of my favourite cities; it has similarities to my home town of Portsmouth and my current home of Milton Keynes. Like Portsmouth, Plymouth is a naval city and its heritage is steeped in the sea. Surely everyone knows the famous story of Drake finishing a game of bowls on the Hoe as the Spanish Armada approached? Plymouth’s similarity to Milton Keynes can be seen in the design of the city centre, with its wide boulevard’s and regular, angular shaped buildings. The centre of Plymouth (like Portsmouth) was extensively damaged in World War II but unlike Portsmouth, they made a rather better job of the post-war rebuilding work or at least I think so. In consequence, Plymouth is a fine modern city with much to offer, even a day-tripper like me. It is a place that has many happy memories as we had a couple of enjoyable family holidays there when I was still living with my parents. Its one of those places that whenever I visit, I have this feeling of having come ‘home.’
March was a busy month – saw two films at the pictures – Good Night and Good Luck and V for Vendetta. The latter was not a happy day. I met with Joe after work on the Saturday for the trip to Birmingham to see the film at the Electric Cinema, a fine establishment and the oldest cinema in Britain apparently. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling well and as soon as the film finished I made my excuses to Joe and Derek and headed home. I remember that Saturday being a particularly cold one with a chilling wind. Not untypical weather for Birmingham, which always seems to be cold and windy whenever I am there! I spent most of the next day and the following week in bed with about the worst dose of flu I can ever remember.
The weekend before I had been home to Portsmouth and on the Sunday made the journey down to Devon (again!), this time to Honiton for the Exe-Wing Fundraisers Star Wars Day. This was the third (if I recall correctly) one of these events I had attended.
The end of March was time for my third and final journey with a Daily Mail bargain rail ticket, this time to York. I love York, not least because it is home to the National Railway Museum, an irresistible treat for a train buff like me! York, like Plymouth is somewhere I have spent many happy hours and a couple of short breaks and a place that I like to return too at least once every other year. I would go more often but the travelling and cost are normally prohibitive.
So that brings me to the end of my look back at the first three months of 2006…