I was in Hull in April and managed to see an excellent exhibition of rail paintings. Painting power: The art of Terence Cuneo was being exhibited at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library. For many years Terence Cuneo was the go-to guy for paintings of the UK’s railways, and his paintings remain an evocative depiction of rail during the war and in the years that followed. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I can’t remember going to the cinema this year.
Most of my film watching has been done via Netflix. And the kinds of films I’ve been watching have been of the off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter high school romance variety. An early highlight was The Kissing Booth, a film that only tangentially relied upon the eponymous kissing booth for the purposes of the plot. But the stand-out highlight has to be To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which has rightly become an instant classic of the genre. Never has a hand in the back pocket meant so much.
Again, Netflix is my sole source of television. That means I’ve missed out on some of the BBC’s natural history, drama and comedy (for now). I suspect, though, that Netflix is making most of the kind of stuff I want to watch – trashy teen drama and oddball comedy.
First things first… Riverdale. Words cannot describe how enthralled I am by Riverdale. It is completely bonkers yet somehow keeps getting better. Den of Geek attempt to give it serious write-ups each week, but have recently conceded that it’s the show’s madness that makes it so compelling to watch: “it struck us that Riverdale has transcended guilty pleasure status and become bona fide great television.” I totally agree.
Drama-ish things I’ve enjoyed include Stranger Things and On My Block. Sitcoms I’ve enjoyed include The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, One Day at a Time, and Kim’s Convenience.
A recent highlight in the “made for children but I love it anyway” genre is Prince of Peoria, which has also just put out Christmas special that is suitable fabulous.
I heard Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in concert. It might be “a bit Classic FM,” as my companion said that evening. But I don’t care. It’s artful, uplifting, bombastic – and, I’d argue, the crowning achievement of Western civilisation. It was preceded by Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, which is possibly the second greatest achievement in Western civilisation, making the best double-billing I could imagine.
I also heard St Matthew Passion in concert, performed by the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Sadly my German is not quite up to scratch, so I found the whole thing just mildly tedious. (By the interval I was having diabolical thoughts: “just hurry up and crucify him already!”) All things considered, though, it was a helpful way to prepare for Easter.
Only one album caught my ear this year: Cher’s covers of Abba’s greatest hits. It’s fantastic.
In place of other music, here are four Christmas albums that I’ve unashamedly got on repeat at the moment.
- Christmas | Live from Phoenix by for KING & COUNTRY. Go on, seriously, treat yourself to the most amazing Little Drummer Boy you’ve ever heard.
- That’s Christmas to Me by Pentatonix. Their Mary Did you Know is genuinely very good.
- We Have a Saviour by Hillsong Worship. I know, I know, I should hate it. But I love it. The standout song is Born Is The King (It’s Christmas).
- The Advent of Christmas by Matt Maher. It’s mellow yet upbeat; familiar yet fresh. I’m in love with Glory (Let There Be Peace).
My theatrical highlight of the year was, without a doubt, seeing Bring It On: The Musical. Before there was Hamilton, there was Bring It On: The Musical – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lowbrow show about cheerleaders.
It was everything you’d expect it to be: schmaltzy, silly, and thoroughly entertaining. I’ve been hooked on the soundtrack since.
(Listen up, this is how it’s gonna go: the finale is a number about how the real victory is friendship. That’s just about the measure of the thing.)
I watched Le Tour de France and was very pleased to see Geraint Thomas win. I’ve got a lot of respect for someone who has spent a decade riding to serve his teammates but who, given the chance to win, made the most of it.
I didn’t watch (or play) any other sport this year.
I’ve had a slow year with fiction. I have appreciated the range and depth of the books published by Peirene Press, to which this year I finally took out a subscription.
The non-fiction book I most enjoyed this year was How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. Through a generous use of examples, Clark shows what makes good, concise writing. My takeaway is that “Brevity comes from selection and not compression” [Donald Murray].
In Christian literature, I’ve been helped enormously by Michael Card’s Biblical Imagination series of devotional commentaries on the Gospels. I’ve begun digging into GK Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology, which is fantastic. Almost permanently open on by desk, though, is Beale and DA Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament – I don’t know how I lived without it.