Counting Stars

More than a few reasons to be thankful for 2014


We’re always prompted to look forward to the coming year, which can’t be done without looking back. I was delivered my own dose of nostalgia recently when Interrail sent me a gift for touring around Europe on their pass last summer. I was expecting maybe an artistic illustration of my travels or some poetry detailing the finer points on my journey, but sadly no. It was a USB stick. A blank USB stick. With a train on it. And a card. Once I overcame the disappointment, it got me thinking. Then I thought some more. And I considered that maybe 2014 wasn’t the awful year I’d been pretending it was.

Admittedly, it had been a little hard for me over the last few months. Work was scarce and there had been a few false starts with self-employment. Naturally, I started lamenting my fate as a sheltered, clothed and hungerless human being. “Why, God, why have you delivered me into this life full of ample opportunity, good friends and loyal family?! Damn you!” I cursed the heavens and so forth.

That was until this USB, (that looked weirdly like an eraser) prompted me to mentally retrace the last 52 weeks. There had been some good, some bad and plenty awkward, but mostly I remembered times where I’d somehow landed on my feet. I prefer not to use the word luck. But as I started to look back I found I couldn’t fault 2014 for its share of good fortune.

ONE

This time last year I was halfway through my taught Masters and preparing to leave home for the Spring Term in Paris. Despite having searched for months for accommodation I was certifiably homeless when my departure date came around. On top of that I was one of the first from my university to make the trip. Just one of my friends had taken up residence with his girlfriend in the south of the city. It turned out they had just enough space for me to lay my hat in their modest kitchen-diner. I collected dust for several days, living off bâtonnets de poisson and sweating over finding a place on a modest budget, with our first deadline due in a week. I knew I couldn’t write a word until I was out of his dreads (which he subsequently cut — presumably so nobody else could climb aboard) and into my own abode. Of the hundreds I contacted in increasingly formal yet panicked French, only one offered me a room. The payoff? Not only was it situated in the most modern district the city has to offer, but this foyer de communauté Christian (for the religious and secular alike) was a halfway house between a boarding school for 20-somethings and a halls of residents. Meaning that as the world’s most appalling cook with a mandatory requirement for my own independence I was served two meals a day, but with the freedom to come and go as I pleased. As soon as my suitcase was dropped on the dusty tiled floor of my room I punched out my 2000 words and submitted my assignment just in time.

TWO

Later that month I got an invite through the post. It was to my friend’s wedding. As I love very much in the 21st Century I already knew that I was invited but it was nice to get the official tissue. He’s is a great guy, one of the most sincere gentlemen I know, but the smug so-and-so had moved to California where any bad weather can simply be resolved with the swipe of an app. On top of that he met the girl of his dreams in the first six months and wanted us — his best mates — to be his groomsmen in on the big day in April. It was to be the stag do-hangover-wedding of a lifetime. But there was a problem. Our mutual friend, a fellow groomsman and full-time funny guy had taken so long to book his flight that the price had gone up to eye-watering levels. Of course my girlfriend and I could’ve travelled without them, but it wouldn’t have been the same and, as we got to discover, a lot lamer without the Bumblebee yellow Chevrolet Camero he was renting. We were holding on for a miracle, and we got it. With two months to go until our flights out, his fiancé, who works at a top London department store, won an internal competition to sell the most denim wear from a certain high end designer. As the winner she received an all-expenses paid flight to Los Angeles for two and was put up in the designer’s beachfront Malibu mansion for two weeks. The same two weeks. Our trip went along as planned and as you know, what happens in Vegas on an all-Brits stag do, stays in Vegas.

Lying Down in Downtown

THREE

Speaking of which March, was a month where I found myself counting more than just my lucky stars, but due to legal reasons I’m not permitted to talk about it. I assure you, however, no huge media conglomerates were (seriously) harmed in the making of the great year.

FOUR

During my time in Paris I wanted to reach out and explore more of the continent. Thus far, a weekend in Amsterdam, a couple days in Faro, a few hours in Madrid was the sum total of my European endeavours, so I bought myself a nifty little Interrail pass. On my return from sunny California I had just a few days before my 30-day solo tour. My pass was delivered and my path was mapped out, so you can imagine I was more than pissed when a certain family situation forced me to stay. I called up, cancelled my pass and rebooked it for exactly two weeks later, losing out on the original sale offer that’d caught my attention. When I finally took off, I was pacified by the thought that I was a lot more prepared than a fortnight ago, but little did I know, this delay would prove much more virtuous. Plans for my first night in Paris were thwarted when my so-called friends dared to be pre-occupied with their upcoming assignment, missing an opportunity to throw me a welcome back party (and subsequently being forced to put me up for the night). I never forgave them. I turned to drink to solve my problems, and it did. At the pub in Sacre Coeur I made the acquaintance of a fine English gent who just so happened to be in town for a conference. The real coincidence? He’d arrived a day early and had been booked into two double rooms at a nearby hotel. You can bet I took it gladly.

FIVE

The next day I was down in Marseille I booked myself into the most shabby and suspect hostel where the owner’s attempts at furnishing the place with aggressive warnings could only be met with confusion and mockery. It was here amidst the minefield of A4-sized struggles with syntax that I met two Americans who told me they’d just come from the Cannes Film Festival. Bearing in mind I was ignorant to any global calendar events happening before I left, I was starting to see the silver lining of my last minute date shift. I caught the next train west to Cannes with the voice of a friend in my ear saying ‘you won’t find anywhere to stay it’ll be way too expensive, but go ahead.’ I did go ahead, and the place I found was more than a step up from the hostile accommodation I’d just come from. Twin room, en suite, mod cons, 10 minutes walk from the strip with a view from the skylight that was to die for. Combien? £30 a night. Don’t hate the player, hate the room. I spent three days strolling along the sea front, eating and drinking low key, watching classic movies on the beach and soaking in an atmosphere that radiated with the simple warmth and happiness of people coming together to have the best times of their lives.

SIX

Some of those people were a handful of students from Montpellier. It was those students who told me “Some of us are going to Monaco tomorrow.” My response: “What for?” “For the Grand Prix, of course.” Of course. That’s how I ended up in Monte-Carlo the very next day with my head spinning and my ears ringing from the sound of 1000 bhp engine ripping through the street beside me. I climbed what felt like a small mountain that overlooked the race track, only to be stopped by a guard who politely told me that the balcony of the hilltop was for ticket holders only. Given that things had gone so very well up to this point I took it in my stride and figured that I was due a reality check. Which made me all the more confused when she quickly ushered me through to let me catch the last few laps of the race.

SEVEN

After the race hoards of exhilarated F1 fanatics made their way from the stands, off the hillside and into town. Music pumped from a pop-up DJ booth in the city centre, and after cutting a few shapes with the rest of the jolly holidayers I became a bit of a sensation in the Monaco post-Prix and pre-party movement. I got talking to a few people; people who had actually planned to be in town and hadn’t just stumbled upon this global event by accident. This is how met a fellow Londoner who ultimately became my drinking buddy for the evening. He’d just so happened to book a last minute flight out and purchased a ticket for way above the recommended retail price. It was he who took me up to Monaco Square; the most glorious and gobsmacking display of filthy rich excess, and it was he and his passively assertive and penetrating ways that got us acquainted with the millionaires and the hotel staff and the doormen to the most exclusive club on the final night of the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. It was he who got us into VIP where a young South Londoner caught a glimpse of the highest of high lives and literally partied until sun up. Best of all, it was done on the stringiest of shoestring budgets. I made my way to Milan the next day, knowing I’d just had the best night of my life.

EIGHT

Milan to Munich, Munich to Berlin, Berlin to Malmo to Stockholm to Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Maastricht, Leuven, Brussels, Antwerp and Gent I had a phenomenal time. My entire trip passed without incident despite taking my very uninsured iPad, iPhone and brand new Macbook. Stupid? Yes? Successful? Also, yes. But fate wasn’t done with me yet.

NINE

When I returned home I sent off my Interrail pass as they’d requested — complete with annotations, stampings and detailed map of mon voyage magnifique — and started on my dissertation. This didn’t come without it’s own set of problems, though mostly of a psychological nature, such as wishing death upon everyone from my tutors (for setting the work), myself (for actively seeking it), my friends (for not understanding) and the birds outside (for being free). However, when it came to crunch time I wrestled it into submission with a whopping 10 minutes to spare. The elation was real. I wanted to move, I wanted to dance, I wanted to go out and buy a new pocket square. But before I did I thought it best to double check that it been delivered. WAIT A MINUTE. My email had been rejected by the server, and if there’s one thing I know it’s that the boards dealing with extremely mitigating circumstances don’t care much for server stories. With one severely dry mouth, a pair of sweaty but steady palms and just five minutes left on the clock my eyes darted left and right searching for the source of this sabotage. I send again. Swooooosh. Another failed response. 4 minutes to go. I check the send from address, damning the finance department for threatening to suspend my university email for outstanding fees. Could that be it? Or maybe the file’s too big? Blue wire or red wire… Finally, I spot the error in the recipients address and let out a wimpering sigh as another minute updates on the clock. My brow’s furrowed and I’m ageing by the second. Two-finger tap. copy, paste, PASTE DAMMIT, and — send! Where’s my swoosh? Where the hell is my swoosh??!! Swoooooshhh….. One minute left on the clock. I collapse onto my laptop with my sweaty brow pasted to the keyboard. ERGH! — my Macbook’s response to my embrace of exhilaration.

TEN

Last but by no means least you remember the lucky couple that joined me in California? The guys who enjoyed a heavenly two-week stay in Malibu? Did I mention they were to be married that same year? Did I also mention that it was I who introduced them only 18 months prior. The story goes a little like this; boy has friends. Friends’ families are very traditional and in a bit of a flap about their children getting married. Boy knows this. Boy tricks girl into Nandos with boy and his friend. Nandos turns into Nandos part II. Which turns into dinner without the boy. And so on. All the family cheer the boy and the kingdom is saved. So having orchestrated the meeting of two souls from different walks of life and created one happy couple, I was not only groomsman for a second time but named guest of honour at their beautifully chaotic wedding of over 400 and brought to the stage with a special thank you from the newlyweds. When the day was done I couldn’t have been happier for them.

To top it all off, in November of last year I graduated from my Masters, and it turned out all the brain haemorrhaging was worthwhile. My family brought together from all over to celebrate and congratulate. It seemed like the perfect movie-style ending to a year packed with so many blessings that I wouldn’t dare ask for more.

These are some of the most fortunate elements of last year, and heaped together like this they give a sense of why I should smile even in the worst of times. The reasons for listing them like this isn’t for me to show off (much), but to remind myself and others that when we really give it some thought we have plenty to be thankful for. I suspect that everyone’s had their own Monaco or brush-with-death dissertation that they’ve overcome. I’m hoping this will remind us all to look 2015 square in the eyes and instead of dreading what’s to come, challenge it to top the last 12 months. Because as we all know appreciation is the only way to achieve long lasting happiness.


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