Even with the issue of Covid-19 being scaled back (though far from eliminated), 2022 has been a tough year all around: the cost of living going up, the war in Ukraine, extreme weather, disruptive strikes, and the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. As far as my own life goes, I’m remembering to be grateful for what I have, and focussing on the things I have control over.
In terms of my running, 2022 has been a year with plenty of achievements. This year, I’ve run 32 parkruns (I’m planning to get one more in on New Year’s Eve), three 10Ks, and four half-marathons, including the Great North Run – and I’ve set new PBs in all three distances! (21:07 for the 5K, 44:12 for the 10K, and 1:43:39 for the half-marathon.) I’ve reached an overall milestone of 50 parkruns, and a total of 19 different parkrun events – again, with the intention of going to number 20 on New Year’s Eve.
It’s not all been about running at these events, though: I’ve really gotten into volunteering at parkrun, which I now try to do at least once a month. It’s a lot of fun: there are many different roles to try out, and unlike a lot of face-to-face roles I have previous experience of, just about everyone is happy to be there.
In May, I finally made it to Costa Rica, a wildlife-watching trip that was supposed to take place in 2020 but was delayed for obvious reasons. We went to several different places in the country, and compared to other tropical excursions I’ve been on, it was almost too easy to see wildlife: snakes (including Bothrops asper, which I was disappointed not to see in Guatemala), lizards, frogs, an American crocodile, parrots, toucans, coatis, peccaries, sloths, monkeys, and a tapir. I did have some issues with the trip, however: at some points, it was hard to snatch a moment of downtime or privacy, and I spent a lot of time waiting for other people to be ready as deadlines were almost never strictly adhered to. As brilliant as all the wildlife was, and as friendly as the other members of the group were, I just wasn’t suited to the other aspects – particularly as an autistic person – and it reinforced my desire to go on a solo holiday next year.
Later in the summer, I took some time to head down south for a brief staycation, as I’ve done the past two years. In London, I ran Bushy parkrun (Bushy Park is where parkrun first started, in 2004), visited Hampton Court and had a run along the Thames Embankment, but my biggest reason for going was to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. Just about everyone I’d spoken to who had been to this place recommended it, and they weren’t wrong; I think every Harry Potter fan should go at least once. Seeing all the familiar sets, props and costumes, as well as explanations of how scenes were filmed, was wonderful; easily the highlight was the magnificent scale model of Hogwarts at the end.
And there were a few other things too:
- After watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and then Pinocchio, on Disney Plus, I felt inspired by Rachel Wagner and Stanford Clark’s Talking Disney Classics podcast and thought, “Well, I might as well keep this going.” I ended up watching or re-watching every Disney Animation Studios film and producing a full ranking, which was a very enjoyable project.
- I’ve participated in a couple more podcast episodes with Rachel: one discussing Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, and one on my Disney animated ranking. I’m also due to appear on another podcast, Titanic Talkline, in an episode that should be coming out early next year; plus I assisted with research on an episode of Disaster Area focussed on Apollo 1.
- I wasn’t sure I would reach my Goodreads reading challenge target of 80 books, as I’ve had some slumps through the year – particularly when I was on holiday – but I just about managed it.
My Favourite Films of 2022
6. The Batman
Easily one of the better Batman films, certainly on par with Batman Begins. Robert Pattinson pulls off Batman beautifully and I look forward to seeing him expand on the role in future films.
This is technically a 2021 release but was only released in the UK this year. This film boasts absolutely gorgeous animation combined with a deeply emotional story that provides a unique and engaging Internet-based take on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, with a few homages to the Disney film thrown in.
4. Avatar: The Way of Water
Clearly James Cameron has a talent for making sequels better than the first film. The filmmakers were simply trying to make a satisfying, entertaining cinema experience, and that’s what it is. There’s an engaging family dynamic between the main characters, as well as great world building: the film makes full use of its aquatic environment, with fantastic visuals and the more peaceful scenes in the second act being very comforting.
3. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
With the same low-key, slice-of-life style as previous Richard Linklater films, this film paints an intimate picture of suburban life in 1960s Houston, combined with a boy’s fantasy of walking on the Moon that feels pretty familiar for someone like me who was a space nerd at a young age (albeit one who wasn’t around to watch the Apollo landings).
2. Everything Everywhere All at Once
This is a really brilliant film – it has a great, complex story, is extremely creative, and manages to both be crazy and make sense at the same time.
- Top Gun: Maverick
The sequel we didn’t know we needed; it exceeded my expectations, and is now the only film I’ve ever watched three times in the cinema. The story, the aerial sequences, the music, the performances of Tom Cruise and everyone around him – everything comes together into a practically perfect piece of entertainment.
Favourite Fiction Read in 2022
7. Titanic Voyage by Julie Bihn
I very much enjoyed this unique Titanic-themed story. It succeeded in drawing me in and making me wonder what was going to happen next; I liked the main character’s emotional journey; and I found the logistics involved in trying to change history interesting.
6. Super Powereds: Year 4 by Drew Hayes
A fantastic and satisfying conclusion to the Super Powereds series, with loose ends tied up, all of the characters getting their moment to shine, and a suitably epic climax.
5. Winter of the World by Ken Follett
Another great historical novel from Follett that, like the ones I’ve previously read, serves as much as a history lesson as a good story. With characters based in Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States, Follett is able to give a comprehensive rundown of the political forces driving events before, during and after World War II, while often having his characters directly witnessing important events like the attack on Pearl Harbour. The real horrors of the war, not least under the Nazi regime, are included in painful detail. Holding it all together are a number of well-woven plots with plenty of romantic drama.
4. The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
This is closer to a traditional story than the first two autobiographically-styled Vampire Chronicles books, though still not quite traditional, since a good chunk of it is backstory. I liked pretty much everything about it: from the delicious prose, to the fascinating cast of characters, to the exploration of the philosophy and psychology of vampires.
3. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
I liked this second book in the First Law series even more than the first one. War, questing, political intrigue, unlikely companions, stories of mysterious magic, and no thread less interesting than the others – this has got it all for a fantasy fan.
2. The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith
Like the previous Cormoran Strike novel, this one is long and takes its time, but I hardly minded: I enjoyed seeing what the characters were getting up to, and the complex, fascinating mystery exploring Internet trolls and a toxic entitled fandom.
- The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
I enjoyed this series even more than the original Percy Jackson series that came before it. There’s some brilliant world-building with the introduction of the Roman demigods and Camp Jupiter; and the mixture of third-person narrators keeps things fresh. Once the old and new characters come together, it makes for an engaging group dynamic where everybody gets their time to shine. And each book works very well as both its own adventure and as one chapter in the central story. I fully intend to keep going with Riordan’s other works.
Favourite Non-Fiction Read in 2022
(Honourable mentions: Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton; The Ghost Runner by Bill Jones; How To Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford)
10. The Snake Charmer by Jamie James
This book combines a biography of the herpetologist Joe Slowinski – culminating in a detailed account of the expedition to Burma where he received a fatal snakebite – with facts about snakes, and observations on scientists and what drives them. Both sides are very interesting: Slowinski was certainly a fascinating person, a deeply passionate scientist but with a reckless and even thoughtless side as well.
9. Beyond by Stephen Walker
This book is the story of the first manned space flight, Vostok 1, and everything leading up to it; from what I knew of the book before reading, I was expecting it to be focussed on Yuri Gagarin, but in fact it includes a lot from the American side of things too. It provides a lot of details I wasn’t previously aware of, delivered in an enthralling style; the author demonstrates that he dug very deep for his research.
8. Bitch: The Female of the Species by Lucy Cooke
A fascinating and enlightening biological book which details how female animals drive evolutionary change rather than simply existing to be fought over and mated with, as well as how biological sex actually defies easy categorisation; it certainly emphasises the fact that the natural world is a complicated place. At the same time, it reveals a lot about how many scientific “truths” actually result from conservative outlooks and bias toward ideas like male animals being more evolutionarily active. I really like Lucy Cooke’s writing style, which is emotionally engaging as well as informative.
7. Locked in Time by Dean Lomax
I find the inference of extinct animal behaviour from fossils to be one of the most interesting parts of palaeontology, so this is pretty much the perfect book, with a long list of fascinating fossils showing evidence of different behaviours, with descriptions of how those conclusions were reached. I really liked Dr Lomax’s writing style, engaging and informative without ever wasting words.
6. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Anyone who likes running should find something worthwhile in this short book. It contains a number of relatable observations about running, and food for thought about the inevitability of getting older and less physically fit; I particularly liked the author’s comparisons between running and novel writing.
5. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
This book is not only an interesting examination of how geography has historically shaped the development of the countries we recognise today, but for someone like me who has a limited understanding of global politics, it gives a useful basic guide of how things stand between different countries and where they are likely to go in the future.
4. Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster by Steven Biel
This is a really fascinating book that examines the Titanic disaster from a sociological perspective: from how the events were interpreted at the time from different standpoints such as religion and feminism, to how these perspectives have altered in the following decades. It definitely encourages more analysis of Titanic-related media, and thought about how much validity the themes and metaphors familiar to Titanic enthusiasts really have; ultimately, the bigger meaning of the Titanic disaster depends on who’s talking about it and stems from our need to attribute a meaning to everything.
3. Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker
This book about mathematical errors throughout history, in fields ranging from engineering to computer programming, also has a lot to teach about things like systems, the underlying operation of computers and why Excel shouldn’t really be used as a database – I found it extremely useful and thought-provoking.
2. Riding Rockets by Mike Mullane
Mike Mullane’s story of his time as a NASA astronaut has plenty to recommend it. Unlike most astronaut autobiographies, he gets into the ‘space stuff’ relatively quickly, covering most of his pre-NASA life at relevant points throughout rather than keeping it strictly chronological. This is also a lot cruder than the typical astronaut memoir – which is where a great deal of the humour comes from – and Mullane is brutally honest about such subjects as the deficiencies in NASA management or the chauvinist attitudes of himself and his fellow military astronauts. There are lots of interesting details about astronaut work and Space Shuttle missions, and some deeply affecting moments such as Mullane’s descriptions of viewing the Earth from space, and his friendship with Judy Resnik, who would die in the Challenger disaster.
- Falling to Earth by Al Worden
This is an excellent astronaut autobiography on multiple levels. On the one hand, it’s very frank: Al Worden is honest about his own shortcomings – such as with his family life – and has quite a few stories about the poor behaviour of people he worked with, though without naming and shaming. He goes into detail about the Apollo 15 postal cover scandal, and his anger and bitterness – at himself and others – about the whole thing are very clear. On the other hand, the parts of the book regarding space flight are more positive and beautifully delivered. I enjoyed the little details that Worden provides about Apollo 15 itself and the preparation for it – his background as an engineer certainly comes across in his style here – as well as his personal thoughts during the flight. He makes the job of a command module pilot, the Apollo crew member who didn’t get to walk on the Moon, sound much more appealing than it does at first glance.
My big resolution for next year is to run my first marathon, which I’ve already started training for. Beyond that, I’d like to do the Great North Run again if I can get in; I’m making plans for my next holiday; and I need to figure out how to apply the same resolution behind my running targets to my writing targets.
Here’s hoping for good things in 2023.