11th wedding anniversary

An AI-generated image of a four tier wedding cake made out of steel.

Today marks 11 years since Christine and I got married, on the 4th May 2013 in York. This apparently makes it our ‘steel’ wedding anniversary, hence the AI-generated image of a steel wedding cake that accompanies this blog post.

We don’t have any major plans to celebrate this year; for our tenth anniversary last year, we had a nice lunchtime meal at Engine Social Dining. Also, I turn 40 this month and so we’ll be celebrating that instead.

We are aware that May 4th is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you…) and whilst our wedding wasn’t specifically Star Wars themed, Christine did come down the aisle to a string arrangement of the Imperial March.

Looking back at my blog archives, I posted the day before and day after the wedding in 2013. I wrote a mere two sentences in 2014, and then didn’t really write anything more until our fourth anniversary in 2017. I may or may not have written anything in 2018 for our fifth anniversary, but if I did, it’s not in the Web Archive. And whilst I had resumed blogging again by the time of our tenth anniversary last year, I didn’t write about it at the time.

Christine and I are still happily married, and we try to take the time to keep making our relationship work. Here’s to at least another eleven happy years.

Baking our own bread

An AI generated image of a bread machine made out of clay

For the past year or so, we’ve had a Panasonic bread machine that we’ve used to bake our own bread. We eat bread most weekdays – usually, I have home-made sandwiches for lunch, and Christine makes her own sandwiches at least a few days every week. Whilst we weren’t quite so far down our ultra processed food avoidance journey when we bought the machine, baking our own bread seemed like a good way to stay healthy.

We’ve used the bread machine 2-3 times every week since then. Most of the time, we use it for basic loaves. These just contain contain yeast, flour, butter, sugar, salt and water, or olive oil instead of the butter and sugar. But I’m also partial to a couple of slices of toasted fruit loaf when I start work, and so we use the bread machine for this too. It’s the basic recipe but with raisins added (the machine has a hopper to add ingredients) and a tablespoon each of ground sweet cinnamon (cassia bark) and mixed spice in with the dough mix.

What I like most about the bread machine is that you can ‘set it and forget it’. Most recipes just require you to add the ingredients to the mixing bowl, close the lid, and then it’ll do its thing. When the timer goes, you should have a freshly baked loaf waiting for you. The proving, mixing and baking is all done for you by the machine automatically. You can set a time delay as well, so that you can add the ingredients on an evening and wake up to a loaf the following morning. Most bread recipes take around four hours, but you can bake a ‘rapid’ loaf in about two hours if you double the yeast.

Fancy bread

The bread machine manual comes with plenty of recipes to try, and the internet isn’t short of suggestions either.

If we have time, we’ll make a multi-seeded loaf, which adds sesame and poppy seeds to the dough at the start, and then pumpkin, sunflower and linseeds in the hopper. Sometimes we also make a milk loaf, where you swap out the water for milk.

More recently, I’ve tried a tomato loaf. For this, you swap about half of the water for tomato juice and add some chopped up sun-dried tomatoes. However, you have to add the tomatoes to the dough manually and so it’s not a ‘set it and forget it’ recipe, even if the bread does taste really nice.

The machine also good for proving pizza dough. Indeed, the machine has several dough-only modes where you can take the dough out and cook it in a conventional oven. You can also use it to make cakes, but we’ve not tried that yet.

In future, I may try making soda bread (here’s a sample recipe that I found), which is common in Ireland and swaps the yeast for baking soda and uses buttermilk. I’d also like to try making Guinness bread, again continuing with the Irish theme.

Things to bear in mind

We have had a few mishaps though. Previously, I’ve forgotten to put in the little paddle in the bread pan which mixes the dough. This resulted in a pile of mixture that’s baked on top and raw at the bottom. On more than one occasion, I’ve forgotten to add any water, and ended up with some nice-smelling sand. And one time, the dough rose too quickly during baking and then collapsed, resulting in a dense, inverted loaf.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that home-made bread does go stale more quickly than shop-bought bread. After about three days, any leftover bread is usually only suitable for toast. Of course, you can freeze bread to keep it fresh.

Christine bought the bread maker and so I’m not sure how much it cost, but similar models seem to sell for £180-£200 on Amazon (sponsored link). It’s therefore quite the investment, although you may find that the ingredients are cheaper than buying a good loaf from a shop. Also, the ingredients keep well, so you can buy in bulk. For baking, the bread machine uses less energy than a conventional oven, as it’s heating a smaller space.

I really like having access to freshly-baked bread, and it tastes so much nicer than shop-bought loaves.

Back from London

An LNER Azuma train at York station, due to depart to London King's Cross station

We’re back from our trip to London. We got there a bit later than planned, due to action short of a strike by the drivers’ union ASLEF resulting in our planned train from Leeds to London being cancelled. This wasn’t ideal, as it meant we didn’t arrive until 10pm; however, we made it, and had an enjoyable trip.

I’ll post separately about the specific places that we went to over the next week or so. We had also planned to visit the Horniman Museum, as the gallery containing its famous over-stuffed walrus closed this week for two years, but we couldn’t quite fit it in. As usual, Ianvisits was invaluable for finding out about special exhibitions and served as inspiration for a few of our visits.

We managed a couple of trips on the new Elizabeth Line; it was partially open on our last trip to London in 2022 but we didn’t need to use it then. The stations are impressive and I appreciated the greater accessibility, but I couldn’t help but feel that the trains themselves already look a little tired. It may be the use of grey interior panels; they felt a little dark and not as bright internally as other new trains elsewhere. It’s good to see it being well-used despite being opened for less than two years.

We normally manage one trip to London each year – we missed 2020 for obvious reasons, but also didn’t manage to go last year either. We may have a shorter visit later this year, but with journeys taking 3 hours each way and the costs, it’s not something that we can do on a whim.

Leaping towards London

An AI-generated image of a woman on a horse leaping through a portal that says 'February 29'

It’s the 29th February today!

Well, actually, I’m writing this on Saturday 24th. I tend to write blog posts in bulk at the weekends, and then schedule them to go live every other day over the week. In any case, I’m unlikely to have time to write much today, as this morning I’m at work and then we’re off to London tonight for a long weekend.

But as the opportunity to publish a blog post on the 29th only comes around once every four years, here you go. And I missed 2020 as I wasn’t blogging then. Had I been, I’d have probably said something about the-then looming pandemic. Ironically, I wrote this on the 29th February 2016:

Maybe something interesting will happen on this day in 2020, but you’ll have to wait another four years to find out, I’m afraid.

I suppose it’s a case of being careful what you wish for. You can also see what I wrote in 2012 (being ill), 2008 (heading to Scarborough for the weekend), and 2004 (not a lot).

I’ll write more about our trip to London once it has actually happened.

What to do if you find a bat

A photo of the common pipistrelle bat that we found on the floor of our cellar

On Friday, I found a bat on the floor of our cellar. There’s a photo of it above.

This was a problem. Bats are well-known for being mammals that can fly, and when they’re not flying, they hang upside down to rest. A ‘grounded’ bat lying on the floor is not a sign of a healthy bat.

A quick search led me to the ‘Help! I’ve found a bat‘ page on the Bat Conservation Trust web site. I gave the National Bat Helpline a call, and contained the bat in a shoebox with a small dish of water until a volunteer could arrive to rescue it.

Although it took a while, a lovely volunteer came on Friday evening to collect the bat and take it to a place of safety, where it could be fed and then (hopefully) be released back into the wild. By this time, my wife and eight-year-old got to see the bat, which was nice as my wife loves bats. And it’ll be an interesting story to tell at school this week.

We also found out that it was a male common pipistrelle bat, one of the more common UK bat species. Whilst the IUCN considers them to be ‘least concern’, all bat species in the UK are protected by law. Hopefully, the little guy will get better now that he’s being looked after, and we’ve donated some money to the charity.

However, we’re still not sure how the little bat got into our cellar in the first place. Though the cellar was partly open to the elements as recently as the end of 2022, we’ve since had a new window fitted and a hole fitted in, partly due to a couple of other furry rodents getting in. I suppose it could have been down there all that time and had finally run out of insects to eat. At least he’s in a better place now.

What ChatGPT thinks about Omar’s

On Monday, I wrote about Omar’s Balti House in Bradford. But before publishing it, I also asked ChatGPT the following:

Write a 300 word blog post about Omar’s Balti House in Bradford, West Yorkshire

So, here’s what it came up with:

Nestled in the heart of Bradford, West Yorkshire, Omar’s Balti House stands as a culinary gem, offering a delightful journey through the rich tapestry of flavors that define Balti cuisine. This renowned restaurant has earned its stripes as a go-to destination for locals and visitors alike, seeking an authentic taste of Pakistani and Kashmiri culinary traditions.

As you step into Omar’s Balti House, the warm ambiance immediately envelops you, setting the stage for a memorable dining experience. The restaurant’s commitment to authenticity is evident not only in its decor but, more importantly, in the carefully crafted menu. From aromatic biryanis to sizzling kebabs, each dish showcases the expertise of the chefs in delivering a true taste of the region.

One standout feature of Omar’s Balti House is its namesake dish—the Balti. Served in a distinctive, wok-like bowl, the Balti is a symphony of flavors, combining tender meats or vegetables with a medley of spices. The result is a harmonious blend that captures the essence of Pakistani and Kashmiri cuisine. Whether you’re a spice enthusiast or prefer milder flavors, Omar’s caters to all taste preferences, ensuring a culinary journey that suits every palate.

The commitment to quality extends beyond the kitchen, with Omar’s Balti House sourcing the finest local ingredients to create dishes that are not only delicious but also reflective of the restaurant’s dedication to supporting the community. The menu evolves with the seasons, ensuring that patrons can savor the freshest produce while enjoying a diverse range of dishes.

In addition to its culinary prowess, Omar’s Balti House prides itself on providing exceptional service. The attentive staff adds a personal touch to the dining experience, making guests feel not only welcome but also part of the extended Omar’s family.

For those seeking a taste of authenticity in Bradford, West Yorkshire, Omar’s Balti House emerges as a must-visit destination. With its rich tapestry of flavors, warm ambiance, and commitment to quality, this restaurant stands as a testament to the vibrant culinary heritage of Pakistan and Kashmir.

I have an interest in AI, and especially large language models like ChatGPT and their impact on my industry, higher education. We are seeing students using AI tools to write assessments, and even their personal statements for their university applications. And I think the above text is a good example of how AI is at the uncanny valley stage – it looks okay on first glance, but a more detailed critique highlights its flaws.

Firstly, I wouldn’t describe this as a ‘blog post’, even though this is what I asked ChatGPT to write. It reads more like a puff piece that you would read in some marketing to promote a town or city as a place to live or invest in.

It talks quite a bit about the balti dishes that the food is served on, although that could be because I mentioned ‘balti’ in the writing prompt. A major issue with AI is that they’re not always able to explain why they’ve done something. But it doesn’t mention the enormous naan breads anywhere – which, arguably, is what Omar’s is best known for.

And there are some things it has plain made up. The menu does not ‘evolve with the seasons’. Indeed, the menu doesn’t really evolve at all; whilst it has been reprinted a few times and the prices have gone up over the years, many of the dishes that are on there were ones that were available 20+ years ago. Also, I’m not sure about the ‘local ingredients’ either.

This all feeds into my concerns about the thousands of web pages currently filling up our search engines with AI-written content. How much of it has actually been proof-read, and is accurate?

In education, AI generated content is an issue for two reasons. One, it’s cheating, in the same way that plagiarism and essay mills are – it’s just that you’re using something written by a computer rather than another person. But there’s a quality issue too. I specialise in doctoral level admissions, and much of what current AI language models generate just isn’t at that level. You tend to get vague lists of things with few references (and sometimes these are made up), and if you ask it for a longer essay then it’ll probably start repeating itself. I’m sure if I’d asked for, say, 600 words on Omar’s balti house, it would have run out of unique things to say and just repeat the same statements in another way.

Most universities are now very much aware of both the opportunities and the threats that such AI models present; Turnitin, used by many universities, can now indicate whether an assignment has been written using AI as well as detecting plagiarism. There are simpler tools available online, such as AI Detector, where you can copy and paste a short piece of text. Indeed, when I put ChatGPT’s text above in there, it said that there was a ‘relatively high’ chance that it was written by AI.

I’m sure these language models will improve over time, and will overcome their current shortcomings. At which point, we may struggle to work out what has been written by a human and what was hallucinated by a computer. We’re certainly not there yet, and I don’t know how long it’ll take to get there, or whether it’ll be like driverless cars which seem to be perpetually ten years away. I hope this blog post serves as an explanation of why I won’t be farming out my blog post writing to AI any time soon.

Finally February

The Drake Hotline Bling meme where Drake is showing his hand to January but happy with February.

Good grief, that was a long January. As I remarked to my wife earlier this week, it felt like the Januariest January that ever Januaried. I don’t think I’ve been so relieved that it’s finally February.

It’s also a special February, seeing as it’s a leap year and so we get 29 days.

I’ve been appreciating the earlier dawns – it’s starting to get light about half seven in the morning now, which makes getting up each day a little easier. I’m lucky that I don’t have seasonal-affective disorder, and quite like the early evenings on the run up to Christmas. But it’s also nice for it to start getting lighter too. And the winter flowers – crocuses and snowdrops – are starting to make their appearance. It might not be properly spring again but there’s a few green shoots here and there.

Happy New Year!

An AI-generated illustration of a family watching new year's eve fireworks

Welcome to 2024! I hope you had a good new year’s eve if you chose to celebrate – we didn’t stay up, as my wife Christine is working today. As very few places are open on New Year’s Day, I’ll be having a quiet day with our eight-year-old.

I’m hoping 2024 will be a good year for us. It’ll be a longer year if nothing else, as it’s a leap year. The 29th February falls midweek, so I’ll most likely be working that day.

I’m off work this week, as our eight-year-old isn’t back at school until next week. I have a few tentative plans for things to do. This month will also mark 22 years since I started blogging. Later in January, we’re planning another friends-from-university meet-up, although we haven’t quite worked out where it’ll be.

In the spring, we’re looking to have a weekend in London. We normally visit London at least once each year, but didn’t manage to do so in 2023. There’s a teaching training day that would allow a long weekend for all three of us so we’re hoping to take advantage of that. At present, we can’t book train travel on LNER at weekends, presumably due to upcoming engineering work, but as soon as the tickets become available we’ll get something booked. Tentative plans include the newly-reopened Young V&A and the Cartoon Museum.

In March, we’ll be at Sci-Fi Weekender XV in Great Yarmouth again. It’s the 15th anniversary year, and we’ve been going since 2018. The numbering is a bit out due to, well, the event.

In May, I turn 40. I’m not sure yet how I want to mark this occasion.

As usual, we will be going on a summer holiday with my parents, although with my Dad still recovering, we won’t be going to France this year. Instead, we’ve booked a week in Northumberland – a part of England that I’ve not visited much. Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to visit Beamish as well.

Towards the end of the year, my Dad will turn 80, so depending on his health, we’ll look to organise something nice for him.

I still have at least 20 potential blog post ideas to write, and so I’ll aim to carry on posting something new every other day throughout the year.

I hope 2024 is a good year for you too, and wish you all a happy new year.

2023: a year in review

The Lovell Space Telescope which we visited at Jodrell Bank in June 2023.

So, it’s the last day of 2023, and so it’s time for a review of the year. Here’s my review of 2022.

January

The main event to happen for us in January was getting our solar panels installed. Nearly a year later, and they have saved us around £850 so far, both by reducing our energy usage from the grid, and income from selling our excess electricity back to our energy supplier. This means that it’ll take about 11 years to get a return on our investment, although we’re on track to pay off the cost sooner than that – hopefully late in 2024.

January isn’t very conducive to days out, being a cold month with short days, but we did fit in a visit to one of the large Chinese supermarkets in Manchester. Except it was the week before Chinese New Year and it was packed. January is also my blogiversary month and so my blog turned 21-ish years old.

February

Dunham Massey Stables

We had a day out at Dunham Massey, one of the National Trust properties within an hour’s drive of home. It’s actually a good place to go to at this time of year, as it has a Winter Garden with plenty of flowering irises and snowdrops.

On a different weekend, but in a similar part of the country, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Quite a bit of the museum is currently shut for renovations, but we enjoyed the Turn It Up exhibition (which is now at the Science Museum in London). One tip – if you’re driving from the east of Manchester, you can park for free at Hollinwood tram stop, and then take the Metrolink direct to Deansgate-Castlefield. Our (then) seven-year-old was fascinated by the tram, as it leaves the old railway line formation to travel across Manchester’s city centre streets like a bus – we don’t yet have anything like that here in West Yorkshire.

We made yet another trip across the Pennines to Manchester, to visit the newly-reopened Manchester Museum, at the University of Manchester. It’s expanded a bit since our last visit, with new temporary and permanent exhibitions. However, the previously-excellent café now only serves vegetarian food (or it did when we went) which is a shame when you have a child who only wants to eat a ham sandwich. Thankfully, there are other eateries nearby – I recommend the Navarro Lounge.

On the blog, I posted my adventures with Homebridge, in a blog post that liberally quotes from Linkin’ Park’s ‘In The End’.

March

Otter at Martin Mere

Somewhere that we’d been meaning to visit for some time was Martin Mere, and we finally got around to visiting in March this year. It’s primarily a sanctuary for wild wetland birds, but they also have some Asian small-clawed otters, flamingoes and other birds that live there. Part of the site was closed due to avian flu when we visited so we’ll aim to go back sometime soon.

March also means a trip down to Great Yarmouth for Sci-Fi Weekender, which was great as always. We got to meet Nina Wadia, who found fame in the pioneering 90s sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, and more recently had a minor role in Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. We’ll be back in 2024.

Closer to home, we went to Hardcastle Crags, a National Trust property overlooking Hebden Bridge. As well as the woodland walk, there’s a mill which is now a café and visitor centre. It’s off-grid, so all its electricity is generated from solar panels and a hydroelectric turbine, and it has composting toilets as it’s not connected to the sewerage system. There’s also a lot of information about how they are incorporating natural flood defences like leaky dams to prevent the sorts of flooding the area experienced on Boxing Day in 2015.

Meanwhile, I bought a free-standing CarPlay screen for my car and blogged about it.

April

Manor Heath Park Jungle Experience and Walled Garden

As my existing iPhone 8 was showing signs of age, I got myself an iPhone 13 Mini. I particularly like its wide angle lens mode which lets me take photos like this one of Manor Heath Park in Halifax, which I can’t currently do on my DSLR.

We spent the Easter weekend in York with my parents, and so we fitted in visits to Murton Park (incorporating the Yorkshire Museum of Farming and the Derwent Valley Light Railway) and the York Castle Museum. Later in the month, we had a get-together with friends from university to go to Tropical World, and we ended the month with an afternoon at Thwaite Watermill.

I also re-started regular blood donations. My last successful donation had been before the pandemic; I’ve since been back a couple of times and will be going again some time in January.

My wife also started swimming lessons, with the same company that teaches our child. At present, she has a half hour one-to-one session each week and is making good progress. Unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to learn properly as a child.

May

Alpacas

May the 4th is our wedding anniversary (yes, we know – Christine came down the aisle to the Imperial March). And the 4th May 2023 marked our tenth wedding anniversary. We’re still very much in love with each other and we celebrated with a quiet lunchtime meal at the Engine Social in Sowerby Bridge. May is also my birthday month, and I turned 39 this year.

We also had a trip to Cannon Hall Farm at the start of the month – it’s somewhere we go to at least once a year as there’s plenty for young kids to do. New for 2023 was the nocturnal animal house.

We made the first of three trips in 2023 to RHS Garden Bridgewater, north of Manchester, having bought an annual RHS membership with Tesco Clubcard points. It’s a lovely place to visit, with some formal gardens mixed with woodland and an excellent play area.

It was also around this time that Christine got a diagnosis of sleep apnea, and started using a CPAP machine. Her health and wellbeing has improved massively as a result. If you, or someone you know, is a heavy snorer, it may be worth you/them speaking to a GP to get a referral for a sleep assessment.

June

The Lovell Space Telescope which we visited at Jodrell Bank in June 2023.

Across the Pennines again for a trip to Heaton Park, one of the largest public parks in northern England. There’s a lake, some excellent playgrounds, some animals and gardens, and often a visiting funfair.

We also made a brief visit to RHS Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, including a meal at Betty’s. Indeed, we’ve visited all but one of the Betty’s locations now – we just need to go to the one in Northallerton next.

I last visited Jodrell Bank with my parents, probably in the 1990s, so it was nice to go back again. Much has changed since, but it’s still a working observatory and as such it’s a ‘radio quiet’ zone where you must switch off your mobile phone.

July

Futuroscope

July is when we usually set off on holiday, and this year we stayed at a campsite to the south of Tours in France, in the Loire valley. On the way down, we called at RHS Wisley, the first and largest of the RHS gardens, and stayed a night at the Brooklands Hotel at the historic racetrack in Surrey.

Some of the places we visited included:

  • Parc des Mini Chateaux – like a model village, but all of the models are of castles (châteaux) in the Loire valley.
  • Grand Aquarium de Touraine – an aquarium, always good for a wet day.
  • Château du Clos Lucé – Leonardo da Vinci spent some time here and several of his inventions have been recreated in the castle and the gardens, both of which are great.
  • Château d’Ussé – allegedly the inspiration for the story of Sleeping Beauty, and includes a walk with rooms set up to tell each part of the story.
  • Château du Riveau – a castle and gardens which has only (relatively) recently opened to the public. It’s very whimsical, with some amusing sculptures in the garden and bizarre taxidermy.

We also had two bigger days out. Another place that I haven’t visited since the 1990s was Futuroscope, a theme park full of futuristic architecture and lots of different cinemas showing 3D and 4D films where the seating moves. As we went in late July, we didn’t stay for the evening show as dusk was way after our bedtimes, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The second big day out was to Zooparc Beauval, one of the world’s biggest and best zoos. We’ve been before, in 2018, so we focussed on the new areas that weren’t open last time, and then our favourites. It’s one of the few zoos in the world to have Giant Pandas, and has had some success with breeding them too with a couple of youngsters there when we visited.

August

Boomboxes at the Leeds City Museum

We started the month in France, but only just as we arrived back in the UK on the 3rd. We called in at the Hotel Chocolat Factory Shop near Northampton on the way back.

One of our friends from university turned 30 (yes, there’s a bit of an age gap between us and some of our friends) and so we had an afternoon at the Leeds City Museum. Yes, the above photo of boomboxes is a museum exhibit, because you’re old.

August is always a super busy month for me, as I work in university admissions, but we briefly called in at the Piece Hall in Halifax for Calderdale Pride 2023. And over the bank holiday weekend, we went to Chatsworth. We didn’t go inside the house, but we explored some parts of the gardens that we hadn’t been to before, and the farm is always worth a visit.

September

A red panda at Chester Zoo

Back at Christmas 2021, we received some gift vouchers for Chester Zoo, and with the validity running we found a free weekend to go. A large part of the zoo is being redeveloped at present, but we got to see the new flamingo enclosure, and my favourite red pandas were awake for once.

We also had a morning at the Askham Bryan Wildlife Park near York, although this was partly to kill time whilst we waited for hospital visiting times to start. My dad ended up spending over two months in hospital this year with a number of health issues, probably brought on by Weil’s Disease. He’s on the mend, although he’s still building up strength in his legs having been off his feet for so long.

Due to Dad’s health issues, we had a subdued celebration for my wife’s 40th birthday, but we did have a lovely meal at Tattu in Leeds.

October

With the nights drawing in, there were fewer days out, but I did restart blogging again after another six month hiatus. I also joined Bluesky, which is now my second-favourite social network after Mastodon. If I know you and you want a Bluesky invite, let me know.

I also spent some time upgrading the server that this blog runs on, and got started with Home Assistant.

November

In November, I rolled out the new theme (current at time of writing) and wrote several more blog posts about Home Assistant. Maybe home automation is going to be my mid-life crisis?

Again, no days out in November, but my Dad made it home from hospital and so we went to York to visit him. We also changed to a new internet service provider at home.

December

And so to this month. As my family is a little spread out, with some of us in Yorkshire and others in Oxfordshire, my cousin normally hosts a pre-Christmas meal in mid-December. However, it’s her turn to get a new kitchen and it wasn’t ready in time, so ended up hosting a meal for nine people at short notice. We managed it; Christine cooked cassoulet with some duck legs that were cooked using the sous-vide method for 36 hours in our Instant Pot.

Although I started wearing hearing aids in October 2022, it took me until this month to blog about it.

And there we have it – 2023. For us, it was a good year on the whole, with some mixed news on the health front. See you in 2024.

My favourite things of 2023

Covers for books I read in 2023, including These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany and Third Eye by Felicia Day

There’s only 32 hours of 2023 remaining in my timezone, so it’s time to review the things I’ve consumed this year and pick out my favourite content.

Note: all links below marked with a * are Amazon referral links, and so I receive a small amount of commission from any purchases. But please feel free to buy these from a local, independent tax-paying shop, or borrow them from your local library, as I did with several of these recommendations.

Favourite book of 2023

So far I’ve read 95 books this year, although to be fair, quite a few of these were bedtime stories for our eight-year-old. Those aside, my favourite book was ‘These Impossible Things’ by Salma El-Wardany*. It tells the story of three young British Asian women, who are navigating the divide between family and cultural expectations, and life as a young person in the UK in the 21st century. It’s very well-written, with very relatable characters. This is El-Wardany’s debut novel and so I’m interested to see what comes next.

Honourable mentions: There were a few books that I awarded five stars to on Goodreads this year:

Favourite film of 2023

We haven’t been able to watch many films this year, and those that we have seen at the cinema have tended to be child-friendly films. We’re also behind on Marvel films and haven’t seen any in a couple of years. Of those that we have seen, probably my favourite was the Barbie movie, which was just hilarious all the way through. We saw it a few weeks after it came out and there were several of us laughing out loud in the cinema.

Honourable mentions: Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Amongst Thieves* was fun, and it was good to see Hugh Grant playing an antagonist for once. And it was nice to finally see a sequel to Chicken Run – I had the first film on VHS, which gives you an idea of how long ago since that came out, and meant I’ve had to explain to our eight-year-old what a ‘VHS’ is.

It’s also worth noting that we are planning to see Wonka tomorrow.

Favourite TV show of the year

Again, we’ve not had much time to watch TV this year. When you work full-time in a different city to where you live, and have a child who has school and homework and weekend activities, there’s not a lot of time to keep up with TV. Of the shows that I have seen bits of, The Repair Shop has filled that niche of being interesting, comforting and educational.

Favourite audio series of the year

Okay, so I basically created this category so that I could tell you about Felicia Day’s ‘Third Eye’*. It’s an Audible exclusive, and is more akin to a radio play rather than an audiobook. But, it has a narrator in the form of Neil Gaiman and is split into chapters. Felicia Day wrote the script for TV several years ago, and although no TV channels picked it up, it’s become a very good audio series with Day playing the lead character. London Hughes, Alan Tudyk and Wil Wheaton provide some of the other voices.

So – these are the things that I have watched, read and listened to in 2023. Next year, I’m hoping to catch up with the Marvel films we’ve missed (especially now that the pace of release has slowed down) and continue to read more things. Maybe I’ll manage 100 books across the year this time?