2017, a year in photo review

2017 has been a cracking year for me. Lots of travel, lots of places to go and things to see. I’ve been sat here on New Year’s Eve Eve reviewing some of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. And here’s a sample and a reminder. Where I have written about the experience I have added a handy link.

You can find all of these photos on my Instagram. If you’re not yet following; get to it: alsmith77x

 

January: Lindesfarne (I wrote about this!) and The Cleveland Way.


February: Brimham Rocks, Glasgow and London (I wrote about this!).

 

 


April: Auschwitz. (I wrote about this!).


June: Manchester One Love Concert.

July: Kielder Water, Devon, Bamburgh Castle.

 


 


August: Crete.


September: Portugal (I wrote about this!), Bolton Abbey (I wrote about this too!).


 


October: Berlin (I wrote about this!), High Force.

 

November: London.


December: Kielder and Hadrian’s Wall, Whitby.


 


If you made it to the end, reward yourself with a beer. Happy New Year! See you in 2018. 

On the telly.

I’ve been on the telly a few times due to work. Interceptors, Reported Missing, just a couple of real tv shows where I’ve popped up; usually against my will. Fairly certain I’ve been on the news once or twice too; again as a result of the job that I do.

But those ‘appearances’ were nothing compared to what happened in November 2017. But to understand the story we have to go back further. On 22nd May 2017 a homemade bomb was detonated at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester by an Islamist terrorist. Twenty three people were killed and 500 injured. Innocents, children, people enjoying a music concert. Slaughtered in the name of a vile ideology.

In June 2017 a benefit concert was held and I was asked to go and assist at the venue along with my colleagues. One of the enduring images from the concert was that of the Dancing Policeman. An ordinary British bobby who captured the hearts of millions by dancing with a group of kids; survivors of the original concert attack. That man is someone I’ve worked closely with for the last four years. He’s never sought the limelight and always just wanted to do the best he could.

In October 2017 he was approached by ITV and asked if he – and some willing colleagues – would be willing to take part in a TV Christmas special called A Night For The Emergency Services. Would he, and ten of his colleagues be willing to travel to London in order to perform live on stage with dance troupe Diversity?

Of course! So the deal was done. In November we travelled to London and spent two days practicing a routine at ITV Studios. It was hard work. None of us dancers and few of us any natural rhythm. On the Sunday night; exhausted and in front of a live audience and TV cameras we performed the routine for a final time. The entire experience a blur. This was not what we were used to.

A Night For The Emergency Services aired last night at 9pm on ITV1. The feedback has been mostly positive. “Well done for doing it, but you can’t dance for toffee.”

As true as that may be, this is an experience which will stick with all of us who took part for a long time. And it ticked a box for me; I was on the telly.

Berlin

Berlin, October 2017. It’s a city which still captures the imagination of historians, involved as it was in World War II, The Third Reich, and the Holocaust. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz as part of a weekend in Krakow. I wrote about that back in April. It seemed natural to add Berlin to the destinations of interest. If Auschwitz stands as a memorial to the end of Jewish struggle in Europe, Berlin is certainly the epicentre of that struggle’s beginning.

We jetted in on a Friday afternoon and made our way to our hotel at Alexanderplatz, right in the centre of the city. Directly opposite our hotel is the famous Fernsehturm (TV Tower). We never got the chance to go up the tower, but our hotel had a viewing platform some 150 metres up affording beautiful views of the city. Everything seems so different when viewed from above.

Our first night was really a finding your feet exercise, and we spent too much time getting about from Alexanderplatz to Potsdamer Platz (and back again) looking for the famous Berlin nightlife. Eventually we ended up in a surreal re-used industrial area of bars and clubs, and got to sample the Berlin club scene. I’m no clubber and definitely felt like a fish out of water in a warehouse/garage frequented by kids in scruffs and noise which, to those with younger ears, must pass for music. We didn’t last long in this strange venue, and soon retired to find a currywurst and a taxi back to the hotel.

Saturday we started early and tackled the main tourist areas of Berlin. The Reichstag, Bradenburg Gate, Berlin Wall. Before being drawn to the Spy Museum and finally the Topography of Terror, the old Gestapo Headquarters. Berlin seems like a city in a permanent state of apology; A city of honest, pragmatic apology. “I feel I must apologise for the conduct of my nation in the war,” to borrow from Harry Enfield’s Jurgen. You didn’t have to travel far to happen upon some monument to the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s against any number of different people’s. There was no shame in these tributes and exhibits. They said quite clearly, “it happened, we accept it happened, we don’t want to forget it, but we’re sorry.”

And everywhere pieces of the Berlin Wall stand. Some in place where they stood from first erection, others moved and replanted in parks and on lawns, others tucked against the sides of buildings, each a testament to one of the darkest times in modern European history, a divided Germany. It’s this division which gives Berlin it’s flavour. it doesn’t feel like a modern western european city. It’s edges are rough, it’s shadows are eerie. The influences of the east and of communism still lay over the city. It’s not with any sense of foreboding, but rather lends a further dimension to it’s urban areas. It just felt dark. I wish I could phrase the feeling Berlin caused adequately, but it’s perhaps something to be experienced rather than read about. Like describing the feeling of concrete; words do not do justice. You have to run your fingertips over the surface and feel it for yourself.

Saturday night, all cultured out, we searched for some nightlife more in keeping with our middle-aged minds and bodies. Our taxi driver recommended a club to us called ‘Matrix Club’ and it didn’t disappoint. The one thing that sticks with me is how safe it felt. We were searched and ID’d on the way in, and the place was rammed from roof to floor with people young and old, groups, couples, individual guys looking for action. There was cages where dancers impressed with hot bodies and athletic movements. Despite all that, despite the size, the people, the music, the lack of light, it just felt safe. We partied until 4am. And it was only the threat of losing Sunday to hangovers and sleep that we eventually left that place and headed back to our hotel.

Sunday can be summed up quite simply as The Jewish Museum. A tribute to the history of Jews in Europe, and a commemoration to the victims of the Final Solution. Set across multiple levels and in multiple buildings, the museum is designed to expose you – psychologically rather then physically – to the fate of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War. I want to impress upon you the importance of this place. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy. It’s designed to make you think but you’re never too sure how it wants you to think, and perhaps each person’s experience of the museum will be different. We were there for several hours, immersed in history; The journey through the time-line of Europe’s Jews providing an insight into what happened in the 20th century. Jewish persecution began hundreds of years previously.

I wrote of Auschwitz:

“I believe that everyone should visit Auschwitz at some point in their lives. It needs to be a lesson that everyone is made aware of so that we do all we can to ensure such horrors never happen again.”

And this applies to Berlin, and the museum too. Go to the city, feel it, don’t just see it. And go to the Jewish museum. Understand why we, collectively as the human race, allowed such horrors and travesties to occur. With the emergence of the Far Right, and the rise of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn in Greece and any number of other extremist parties and personalities, it’s vitally important we do not forget. That’s the only way to prevent it from happening again.

The feels

I haven’t written anything in a long time. I’ve been dealing, successfully it seems, with the demise of another relationship. It’s an old story, a familiar story. Meet someone, avoid the feels, freak out when she’s not as successful at avoidance as you, finish it. And repeat ad infinitum ad nauseum. Someone once said it’s the most selfish thing to cause someone to love you with no intention of loving them back; but that it not the case here. I didn’t enter into this relationship with the intention of anything. She loved me, I didn’t love her back. That is not her fault and it was not mine intention. For a long time I believed that I didn’t want to love, or was incapable of loving. That was perhaps my defence mechanism for dealing with the loss of Clare. I was hurt and it was through no fault other than fate. Some things are not meant to be. Sometimes, and it’s an awful, tragic thing, people die. And it doesn’t matter how much you love them. It doesn’t matter how much you want them to live; life, fate, death means that it not going to happen. Such a loss is devastating. It’s life changing in many respects. No-one understands unless they have been through the same situation and even then an individual journey through loss and grief is an individual’s journey and, except in rare circumstances, is not shared. Putting yourself back together after such an experience is a brutal, debilitating affair. It’s an illness. And like any mental illness the scars cannot be seen but they are there.

So the relationship ended. I didn’t love her. She loved me. And, ironically, it was her love that finally pushed me away. I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t accept. I couldn’t go through with being loved by her and not loving her back. That was not fair. Someone who is capable of loving someone should be with someone who is capable of loving them back, not with someone who won’t catch The Feels.

As I deal with the fallout from the relationship, as I watch from the sidelines as someone attempts to rationalise something which I struggle to rationalise – even though it is happening in my head. As I read that they would ‘rather catch ebola than catch feelings again’, as I see them struggle to come to terms with a decision they had no part in making and decide that they should always and forever be alone; I reach the conclusion that I don’t want that. I don’t want ebola, I want feels. I don’t want to be alone, I want to be with someone. I don’t want to protect my heart, I want to risk everything for love. I don’t want to hide away, I want to expose myself to the risk of heartbreak, to the risk of rejection. Because it’s only when you risk your life you are truly alive. And only by putting your heart on the line will you ever find love.

I want that.