2023 in review

Winter

We started our year with a walk with the gang around Swanbourne Lake in Arundel. We were gloriously outnumbered by the kids who had fun, causing chaos in the pub afterwards.

Every year, when writing my annual review, I look back through old photos. I always need help remembering what happened during the first few months because very little actually does happen.

I wish I could say the same this year, but my mom (not content with a ten-in-a-million disease called Dermatomyositis) added cancer to the list. Despite being told that the lump in the neck was “nothing to worry about, just swollen lymph nodes,” she was diagnosed with Cancer a few weeks later.

We didn’t yet know what the treatment options would be; it was only later on Mom was told it was treatable and the plan was Radiotherapy with a possible operation later. I näively thought that, compared to chemo, radiotherapy was the easier option.

At home, the weather turned cold, and Musebrook Lake froze. Swans pirouetted on the surface in a dazzling display of confused water landings. This spell of cold weather lasted days. In contrast, 2023 was the hottest on record. We’re now on track for three degrees Celsius of warming, blowing past the two degrees maximum agreed upon by world leaders in Paris in 2015.

Roo was besotted with Harry, her new hamster, who we’d brought home on New Year’s Day. He was a gorgeous little man who would climb onto Roo’s hand whenever she opened his cage.

We had a few days at Centre Parcs in Woburn Forest. It’s magical in the winter, with fairy lights strewn through the trees and an open fire in the lodge.

Spring

Before her treatment began, my Mom and Dad spent a few days with us in our new home. We walked on the beach, ate ice cream, and had a lovely time. A seal spent a couple of days basking on Littlehampton beach as if to mark the occasion. He was moulting and looking a little sorry for himself. A local wildlife charity set up a cordon the day after he arrived. They told us that, even though he looked sedate, he could move surprisingly quickly on land and certainly outrun a human. Their bite is powerful, so I’m glad we didn’t get too close the day before.

Steve, Kamran and I walked from Littlehampton to Brighton Pier to raise money for Kam’s upcoming trip to Pakistan, where he worked with the brick kiln communities. Wearing waterproof trousers was a mistake. “Boil in the bag chicken” is probably the best description of what happened, and I endured a few days of firey undercarriage that even the most advanced cooling balm couldn’t salve.

In May, Roo turned eight. We had a party at home and hired an enclosed bouncy castle with a sound system and disco ball. Roo looked suddenly grown up in her party dress. It’s too quick for my liking. Hopefully, she’ll stay my little lady a while longer.

Summer

We were supposed to have a holiday with my Mom and Dad but settled for a hastily booked week in the New Forest. The holiday home smelled faintly of wet dogs, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the gorgeous forest. On our doorstep were magical walks with wild ponies and a crystal clear stream. We spent a happy half-hour skimming stones and jumping from one bank to the other.

Roo and I spent a day in London at the Natural History Museum. I thought we were sharing a moment marvelling at human evolution until I realised that Roo was taking a photo of herself picking a Neanderthal’s nose.

After our Pier-to-Pier walk, Steve and Toby decided to go one better and walk from Littlehampton to Eastbourne. “We’ll set off about 4 am,” said Steve. Kamran and I thought that was such a good idea that we met them in Brighton for Breakfast. The plan was to walk to Eastbourne Pier, but Kam and I walked a little over 30km before before the call of the pub was too strong. All credit to Steve and Toby, who clocked up an impressive 60 km, finally making it to the pier around 7 pm.

Kamran at the start of the Seven Sisters overlooking Cuckmere Haven.

We drove to Belgium to spend a week at Center Parcs De Vosserman on the Dutch border. It rained, but we had a glorious time. It’s the first time we’ve taken Rootwo abroad, and even though it was only a few hours from Calis, it felt like a real adventure.

My mom was mid-treatment by now, so we spent a few days with them. I enjoyed bonding with my Dad by helping him fix his shed roof. Silly, really, but I felt satisfaction from a job well done.

Autumn

Several years ago, Paul and I went bikepacking, wild camping and eating baked beans cooked on a Trangia. We’ve repeated the tip every September since every year, adding more luxury. This year, we walked the South Downs way, staying in hotels and enjoying fine wines.

Katie and Rootwo have birthdays within weeks of one another. Rootwo turned four; we partied at the local leisure centre on their giant bouncy castle assault course. Perfect for a boy with lots of energy.

It was Katie’s 40th, so I pulled out all the stops and organised a weekend of fun with family and friends. The significant gifts included an inflatable hot tub and a spa day at Ockenden Manor. Lush.

As the end of the year rocked up, finally, some good news about Mom. She’d been given the all-clear with no follow-up surgery required. Now, the hard work of recovery begins.

We spent Christmas in the Midlands with my parents, Katie’s family and a few old mates.