December 22, 2017 by Ray Morgan

Hands up who has said "Where has this year gone?" Yep - I've done it too. We can't help it. No matter what kind of year we've had, it's almost impossible not to reflect this time of year. If it's been a difficult one for you, I sincerely hope 2018 will be better. That's the good thing at least about Christmas and New Year - a chance for the universe to wipe the slate clean. I find it amazing how quickly Christmas comes around; one minute I was barbecuing allotment courgettes at a beach hut in the summer, all sun-warmed skin and cider with my pals, next thing I'm surrounded by red-and-gold wrapping paper listening to Phil Spector's Christmas album with a generous sherry.

For me personally, this year has been an interesting one because Jo and I bought our first home in lovely Leigh on Sea. I love that that's how we say it - "We've bought" - "Have you bought?" people asked. We've bought about three bricks' worth of a one-bed flat, hashtag mortgage, but it feels good. We spent a decade renting at the mercy of tight, net-curtain-loving landlords, but now we can paint walls, put pictures up, rip up the carpets if we want to (and BOY do we want to). People were incredibly kind when we moved in: so many houseplants, gifts, and visits. We completed at 3pm the day before we moved in, but there were already cards waiting on the mat for us from optimistic friends.

I'll never forget going to pick up the keys after work (a weirdly anticlimactic moment - the people I'd been hassling for 4 months just... handed them over) just the two of us, and taking fizz and chip shop chips to the empty flat, sitting on the floor and toasting to the new adventure.

This is the first time we've had our own garden. We grew potatoes and ate them for summer dinners. We actually used the tools that were bought as moving in presents. My goodness, I've hit 33 and I am reading those highly frequent Thompson and Morgan marketing emails on my lunchbreaks thinking I MUST HAVE A CORNUS FOR WINTER COLOUR! (I ordered three).

We left noisy neighbours behind and had 5 sweet months of quiet before some very argumentative people moved in the flat above us. They rowed and shouted at each other at 1am, 2am, 3am, then noisily went off to work at 5. Who can keep hours like that and only get Thatcher-levels of sleep? But 4 months later, on Saturday, they left, and we cracked open our final bottle of moving-in-present champers to a) celebrate them going and b) watch Strictly with a Timo's pizza delivery (omg, if you've not yet had a Timo's, what are you even doing?). It was bliss.We popped that cork and toasted to a hopefully quiet future. Pray for us. Shame Debbie didn't win btw, but that's a debate for another time.

I've got a mortgage now so I've gone out and drunk pints less, and stayed in and watched TV more. Woah, Handmaid's Tale! Blue Planet 2! I finally finished Mad Men! I cried fat salt tears over the sublime One Mississippi. I held my breath watching Orange is the New Black. I roared at Broad City and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I felt "meh" about Stranger Things (soz, everyone I know) and watched GLOW instead. I watched one of my favourite TV shows, Transparent, possibly for the last time thanks to uber-perv Jeffrey Tambor who didn't have the balls to say "Yep, I did it, I'm sorry". I hope they continue it without him; I'm not done with those navel-gazing, selfish, hilariously spoilt Pfeffermans just yet. We don't need you Jeffrey.

In culture in general, it's been a milestone year when it comes to the abuse stories. Thanks to Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and the thousands of others, we've finally had a conversation, started via social media, by women about harassment and abuse, and it has opened the floodgates. Kesha's 2017 song Praying actually directly addressed her manager routinely abusing her, and it's a rallying war-cry to strength and living her life after speaking out, despite him trying to crush her. That was a top 10 hit in the US. If you're not a pop fan, it doesn't matter, those lyrics are an incredible testament to anyone who has been oppressed and broken free. The fabulous women in my life have plenty of their own #MeToo stories every time we talk about this, and of course, I have them too. Whether it's catcalling in the street and being groped on public transport to experiences much, much worse, every one of these moments in a woman's life add up and we have to keep talking about it, not just because it's zeitgeisty. I hope this is the start of something positive where women are listened to, the men responsible say a real, proper sorry and never do it again (yes including you, Louis CK), and Matt Damon stops bloody talking.

Somehow, Ed Sheeran is still popular but there were some brilliant music releases in 2017 that weren't by him. Sampha, Laura Marling, Depeche Mode's return, Kendrick Lamar, Wolf Alice, Southend's own The Horrors, Four Tet, Girl Ray, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, aaaagh we've been so lucky! My turntable/Spotify runneth over.

In short, 2017 has been a ride. It's had its ups and downs, its highs and lows, and our little town has continued to be a source of great pride. From festivals and amazing events to new independents opening and thriving, I am excited to see what happens in Leigh in 2018. Will we regain our top spot as happiest town? Will The Grand become The Sugar Hut 2? Eek. Will the independents continue to ensure we're not an identikit British high street of dead-eyed chains? I bloody hope so. What I do know is, the estuary will keep on flowing and if you have one resolution may it be: go and look at the sea more. I promise you, no matter what kind of year you've had, that view can really heal.

Peace out, dear readers. Easy on the cheese over the next 10 days. I'll see you next year.


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