Who loves a good year-end list? I do! I’m never quite in the present, though, and I miss a lot of what goes on, so this list will be somewhat unconventional, as it features things that came out in previous years but I only got around to trying in 2012. At least it’s a change from the usual “best movies of 2012” format.
Most Enjoyable Black Hole of Free Time: Europa Universalis III
Released in January 2007, Europa Universalis III took a while to appear on my radar. I started hearing about it around the middle of 2010, bought it during the Christmas sales that year, and forgot to play it. It’s a notoriously complex game, see, and the few times I attempted to figure out what the hell was going on ended in me promptly giving up and resolving to learn it “someday”. It sat in my library until Summer 2012 when, in a curious fit of boredom and motivation, I finally committed myself to learning the rules. After about 15 hours, it started to make sense. I began to see the patterns in the Matrix. And I couldn’t look away. Days flew by. Who would’ve thought balancing budgets and poring over long lists of percentages in Renaissance Europe could be so fascinating? It might be intimidatingly complex to a newcomer, but that complexity is what makes the experience so unique and constantly surprising. In other words, it’s a game that takes so long to master that it’s nearly impossible to get truly bored, because you’re always learning.
What my time with Europa Universalis III taught me was that there are countless wonderful experiences out there if you’re willing to put aside instant gratification for long enough to appreciate them. It’s not perfect, and it’s not “user-friendly”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not utterly brilliant – only that it takes a while to get to grips with it. I think that’s a good life lesson for me.
Runner-up: The incomparable Dwarf Fortress, for much the same reasons.
Best Film I Watched This Year That I Won’t Be Watching Again: Half Nelson
Film isn’t a medium I can really describe in any meaningful way. I lack the language to do so. What I can say is that Half Nelson, released in 2006, affected me deeply, and I shan’t be watching it again any time soon for that reason. There was something heartbreaking and human about this film without relying on grandiose set pieces or overwrought drama. It refused to take a side, but never seemed indecisive, merely honest in its depiction of a good man whose life is slipping out of his control. As a resident of a country where drug addicts are most often referred to as ‘junkie fucks’, it was refreshing to watch a movie that neither demonized substance abuse nor painted it as some romantic quest of self-destruction.
I hope one day I’ll be able to explain what I found so breathtaking about this film. For some reason or other, it felt very personal and I was very emotional by the end. I don’t know. Give it a try. See if it has the same effect on you.
Runner-up: It’s not a film, but one scene in particular in the first season finale of Homeland had me absolutely rooted to the couch. I can’t remember the last time I was so completely absorbed by a tv show, and so completely exhausted by the end.
Best Five Hours Spent in Mortal Danger: Heather burning in Galloway
In one of my favourite Futurama episodes, the entire world is struck by what can only be described as a Stupid Ray. When an important message is thrown into a fire, Leela attempts to grab it, only to pull back in pain and say “Ow! Fire hot!”
This is how I felt during heather burning.
I’d been invited to burn heather by an old friend and recently-published author who takes delight in exposing a city boy to the world outside of the internet and coffee shops. When most of your experience of fire is at a safe distance on a cold November night, it’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be. In the barely-controlled environment of a dry summer hillside, it can be downright terrifying. Jokes fly at first, but before you know it, the fire’s spreading a little too quickly and you find yourself thrashing desperately at the inferno. The real fear sets in when you realise you’re almost surrounded by flames, and you literally can’t take the heat. Smoke is blinding you, you can’t breathe. Retreat is imperative, but the fire is remorseless and you are suddenly very aware just how powerless you are.
Fantastic experience. Often scary, and very hard work, but fantastic nonetheless.
Runner-up: I had a panic attack for the first time ever in December during which I was convinced I was having a heart attack. Not such a fantastic experience.
Most Delicious Cooking of the Year: Pork Wellington
I found this one on Good Eats and was more than pleasantly surprised by how well it worked. It’s like a monstrous and delicious sausage roll.
Get yourself some pork tenderloin fillet and half it lengthways. Flip one half around to make the size even throughout. Fill the gap with shredded dried apple. Roll out some puff pastry and spread a couple of tablespoons of wholegrain mustard on top. Sprinkle some fresh thyme on there. Now lay out some prosciutto, enough to wrap around the pork fillet, and use a rolling pin to knit the fat together. Grind some salt and pepper on there. Wrap the fillet in the sheet of prosciutto, then wrap it in the puff pastry. Bake in the oven at 190 degrees celsius for 25-30mins.
Both incredibly easy and tasty as hell.
Runner-up: learning to use a cast-iron skillet and oven combo to improve my burgers. The beef/pork mince combo helped too.
Biggest Disappointment: The Insider Festival
The Insider Festival had acquired a mythical status in the West End. It’s a cliché of any small event, but it was the atmosphere that made it. Lazy summer days in the country and a notable lack of pressure to enjoy yourself. Simply sit on the grass, soak up the sunshine, go for a dip in the river, check out some bands. An absolutely wonderful way to spend a weekend.
This year, having had such a great time in the first and third years of the festival, hopes were high. Unfortunately, a combination of pissing rain and chill completely ruined the entire festival for me. Instead of wandering around at your leisure, running into friends and exploring, the weekend became an exercise in running from cover-to-cover and only leaving for the most essential bands. Such a shame.
Runner-up: Forgetting to buy mince pies at Christmas.
Most Gratitude To: You
For reading, of course. If anything I’ve written over the past six months has entertained you or given you something to think about, even if only for a moment, I hope that I might provide that for you again in the coming year.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to another year.