Happy days

Thinking back over this past year, it sort of feels like an awfully long week. It lacked the grand sweep of a full year and felt, in short, rather inconsequential. Not a single moment of it was spent at an airport, for instance, which is a first for any year I can remember. I tend to recall the previous year and will often say to Anthony, ‘Guess what we were doing this time last year!’ He never can, so I’ll tell him it’s been a year since we landed in London or walked up a particular mountain in Switzerland or whatever and we’ll both say gosh, is it really a year, and then get on with whatever we were doing. Looking back and remembering happy days stands me in good stead when the present is a bit blah. Picking over memories of our wonderful trip to South America at the end of 2019 nourished me for the whole of 2020.


The problem is that there wasn’t an awful lot to chew over in 2021, when the biggest thing that happened the previous year was getting to know all the local streets of the suburb, having redirected my daily walk away from the oceanside path in a bid to avoid people and possible contagion. It really doesn’t have the same ring saying, ‘Hey, guess where we were this time last year? That’s right, discovering how many cul-de-sacs there are in our suburb!’

Which, I suppose, is life’s little way of telling me to focus on the present. Thankfully, we moved to the country this year so that has certainly occupied my present state of mind, especially the constant contact with nature, of which I have blogged a bit this year. A change is a good as a holiday, just as they say.

So I do have many good things to look back on in 2021, even if I may not have explored Greenland or lolled by the Loire, as might have been planned. There is much to be grateful for – staying healthy, having lovely friends, remaining solvent. And now I come to think of it, there are many other things that have made these peculiar times so much better.


Listening to more music. So often I listen to the same old things but I get a real kick out of delving into work I’m not familiar with. At the moment I’m going through the complete symphonies of Vaughan Williams and there’s not a dud among them. Number 6 is my current fave. Ralph knew how to write a chord that really resonates through your soul.

David Sedaris. I thought I’d probably read enough of him by now but then out came his most recent collection of diary entries, A Carnival of Snackery, and I’m hooked again by the mind of a man who relishes the silly things of life, just as I do. He has the knack of writing the perfect turn of phrase that makes you laugh out loud, and I think that’s simply a wonderful thing to be able to do. It’s been the most enjoyable read of the year for me (although starting the year with ‘Middlemarch’ was a surprising pleasure).

Continuing to write for radio. Producing tiny nuggets of design history for ABC Radio National’s Blueprint programme continues to feel pretty special. Sometimes I worry about not knowing what to write next but then, up they pop, little ideas or questions that suddenly I need to explore. Add to that a production team and a presenter who are simply lovely to work with and I feel grateful beyond measure. This year I have learned to record the pieces on my little recorder in a makeshift studio set up on the bed, under a duvet draped over a towel rack. Nearly always,  just as I’m coming to the end of a piece, there’ll be a commotion outside – a duel between kamikaze magpies at the window, the screeching calls of a flock of black cockatoos passing overhead, the sudden racket of farm machinery nearby… Take a breath and Take Two.

Discovering that Mutti tinned tomatoes really are the best. And squishing a few anchovies alongside the garlic in the warming oil really makes a gorgeous tomato sauce

Witnessing the delight Anthony takes in having so much garden to play with. Among so many other things, he’s planted an avenue of magnolias, a row of crab apples, and umpteen rose bushes that are now beginning to show their appreciation. It helps that we’ve had good rain but every day is an adventure, seeing what is flowering or is putting on a growth spurt. The gratitude of a plant placed in the right place is lovely to behold.

I have become addicted to Marketplace. Always there’s something in there to make me laugh – not just the absurdly hopeful ads for things no one in their right mind would actually pay for but mainly the misspellings that give an entirely different meaning. There used to be a weekly cartoon in the Guardian by Graham Rawle called Lost Consonants which illustrated how something quite ordinary was transformed through the loss of a single consonant. Like a ruddy-faced country gentleman wearing a twee jacket, which is quite different from a tweed jacket. And pity the child with leaning difficulties. These Marketplace mishaps are in a similar vein. These are a few that made me smile this year.

  • Spar bath (perfect for sniping)
  • Harm chair (dare you to sit in it?)
  • Chester draws (does he?)
  • Tall cher (especially in her… see next)
  • High heals (or shaving cuts)
  • Shabby sheik (when the oil well’s run dry)
  • Lather sofa (disappointingly damp)
  • White weather lounge (somewhat ephemeral)
  • Vintage cat iron (for getting a nice crease in your pet’s fur)
  • Curse control (absolutely essential while driving in city traffic with young children)
  • Privet use only (popular in British suburbs)
  • Pure bread kelpie (a doughy kind of dog)

I’ll end by saying that I’m especially grateful to those who read and even follow this blog. Whatever insanity the coming year might bring, there’s always something to be grateful for, and always something that will make us laugh.

What were you grateful for in 2021?

Categories: Australia, Design, Icons, memoir, Other, radio, Travel, WritingTags: , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thank you for the breath of fresh air. Happy 2022!

  2. I adore those Marketplace mishaps! Would love a pure bread dog. My two favourite things combined: carbs and canines!

    I’m grateful to 2021 for pushing me out of my old life, even if I haven’t yet landed in my new one. Adventure awaits!

    • Might go a bit soggy in the rain, of course… It’s such a great feeling to feel yourself moved in a different direction, and probably better if you don’t know where exactly you’re heading. Means there’s even more potential. Happy travelling!

  3. I am grateful for a great many things this year, especially the continued health and happiness of my family. But also for the little things I enjoy each day, like this post. 😊 Although you started by saying you had done little to look back on, you offered up quite a lot in a few lines. That tip on making a quick sauce with Mutti tomatoes is one. And you reminded me to pick up a copy of David Sedaris’s latest tome. Now that’s something I look forward to in 2022!

  4. Grateful for my self sown tomatoes. Looking forward to tomato jam @ pickles

  5. Loved this one xxxx

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  6. Colin I have been such a fan of yours since last century when you spoke so eloquently describing the Art Deco Carillon Bathurst War Memorial to be awarded the ABC Comfort Zone Competition Prize. Remembering Alan Saunders and later the beginning of your acclaimed Icon Series which continue to inspire so many devotees.With grateful thanks from Linley Vellacott.

    • That is so kind of you, Linley. Although I must correct you – unless my memory is playing tricks – that I didn’t speak about the Carillon, although I did have several pieces on the programme. I remember how Alan’s office was piled high with books, a sign of his curiosity and intelligence. I’m so glad you enjoy the Icon series – every year I think that must surely be that but no, on we go – so many stories to tell! Thank you so much for letting me know – I really appreciate it.

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