The Good, the Bad … and the Weird of 2017

It’s that time of year when all self-obsessed (sorry, self-respecting) blogger types post their own personal summaries of the year, as though they’re at the centre of the known universe or something.

Working on that same basis, here’s mine.

Note that these things are my own personal favourites, and some of the things (i.e. the books) aren’t even from 2017. What a swizz!

Best Travel Experiences of 2017

I like watching the cars go round and round, and in 2017 I went with my sister to see that happen at Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix.

Unlike in other countries, where fans tend to cheer most for their home driver, in Italy it’s all about the red of Ferrari. Monza is somewhere that has long fascinated me for its history, but also for the passion of the fans who go more than a little crazy, especially if one or both of their cars do well.

Watch the section on Monza from 1: Life on the Limit (27m58s in) to see what I mean.

For this reason, we deliberately chose seats near the start / finish line so that we could run onto the track at the end with all the tifosi (fans). The highest-placed Ferrari was Sebastian Vettel, who finished 3rd, giving the fans some celebration, at least.

At the end of the race, we all climbed the barriers, and hustled our way through the wire fence and poured onto the track. It was a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone who likes… um… experiences. Let’s just say that you haven’t lived unto you’ve run along under a massive, rippling Ferrari flag* and leave it at that.

*I can’t prove this scientifically.

Another standout travel experience was staying in a Landmark Trust property in Scotland, at the invitation of some family members (thanks, some family members!).

The Landmark Trust is a charity that takes on historic British buildings, renovates them, and makes them available as self-catering holiday homes. To put that in more concrete terms, it means that you can stay in all sorts of amazing historic places at (relatively) affordable prices. So if you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a gatehouse / train station / water tower / lighthouse / gothic temple, then here’s your chance.

Landmark Trust - Ascog House - ButeYour chance to experience the thrill of separate hot and cold taps

The place we stayed in was Ascog House on the Isle of Bute, off the west coast of Scotland. The short days of winter meant we spent more time playing card games and discussing the best strategy for a roaring fire (caveat: it must stay within the bounds of the fireplace) than out exploring, but it was still time very well spent.

Taking the ferry over was fun, too.

There are around 200 properties to choose from, as well as a few ‘on the continent’, as we Brits weirdly call mainland Europe.

Strangest experience of 2017

So here’s a thing.

A routine chest x-ray I had revealed an underlying problem – that put me in a Polish hospital for TWO MONTHS. That’s two months of Polish hospital food (see photo) … two months of translational issues (almost no one spoke English) … and two months of metaphorical tunnel-digging (it would have been more than just metaphorical had I been on the ground floor).

They thought I might be contagious (I wasn’t) so they had to keep me in.

I have many weaknesses in life, but I do at least have the strength of very quickly finding (or even creating) positives when I find myself in a difficult situation. Something just clicks inside me that says ‘Right, how can we make this a good thing instead of a bad thing?’

The answer in this case was to take my computer in with me and use it to get some focused work done. As a result, I managed to edit two books while I was in there, on of which is my forthcoming mini-guide to Poland (should be out in the next month or so). Though the sight of a patient doing something other than loll about in bed or go for a smoke did seem to confuse the staff for a while.

Not that I found many positives in some of the weird food that was dished up.

Following in the great tradition of hospital food all over the world …

Anyway, I’m out now, I’m fit and healthy, I got lots of work done, and I got to see something most people never do: infirm people feeding wild boar from a hospital balcony.

My favourite Music of 2017

My favourite album of the year would have to be Painted Ruins by Grizzly Bear. I could talk about the layered vocals and so on, but I’ll spare you the pretentious twaddle and say instead that there’s just something about Grizzly Bear’s music that gives me a sense of fernweh (German word meaning ‘longing for far-off places’) more strongly than almost any other band I know.

(Wait, was that pretentious twaddle?)

The album isn’t flawless. There are a few mis-steps – specifically a couple of songs that momentarily go in directions that I personally find a bit cheesy – but it’s still a really good collection of songs.

The best live experience of the year for me was Radiohead. I’ve been following them on and off since about 1993, and I’ve been wanting to see them live for years, but have been put off by the difficulty in getting tickets (not to mention that I’m crap at planning anything more than about 7 minutes in advance). But then I heard they were playing Open’er festival in Gdynia, Poland, and thought it was about time.

It’s hard for me to judge objectively how good they were. They were certainly one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, and I got serious goosebumps on a number of occasions. But then I like their music, and I was pretty close to the front. Others that were further back in the (huge) crowd told me that they weren’t so impressed – the fact that the video screens showed a somewhat abstract montage of them playing, rather than the typical band-on-stage-playing-songs kind of setup probably made it particularly hard for them to feel like they were part of what was going on.

Anyway, I spent the next two weeks feeling the need to play their albums again and again, even though I’d listened most of their stuff to death already.

Open’er wasn’t the only festival I went to in 2017 – another was Tauron Nowa Muzyka in my former hangout of Katowice, held in the city’s new Strefa Kultura (Cultural Zone). Tauron is a great festival if you like electronic music of the more offbeat (and less thump-thump-thump) variety.

Best Books I read in 2017

My favourite non-fiction book of the year was probably Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein.

This is a book on behavioural economics from 2012 that has come to prominence again in 2017 after Thaler won the Nobel Prize for Economics. It’s a fascinating read, and reminds me quite a bit of Persuasion by Cialdini in that it is useful both if you’re the person trying to influence people, or the person who wants to understand when they’re being influenced.

I think my favourite fiction book (or rather series of books) was something that almost everyone has read. For many years I was one of the ‘resistance’ – the band of survivors who, by hiding in tunnels, had managed to avoid assimilation into the world of people-that-have-read-Harry-Potter.

During my time in hospital, I decided that enough was enough and milled my way through the lot. The thing that stood out – apart from the slightly grating need to constantly vary the quotative verb (i.e. ‘said’ becomes ‘squealed’, ‘growled’ etc), which I presume is due to the age range of the intended audience – was how well structured they were. Like really well structured. It’s very reassuring to know that you’re in the hands of someone capable. I can see why so many people like them.

So if you’re one of the 0.1% that hasn’t read them yet, maybe it’s time to come out of the tunnel.

(Join us … come to us …)

I finally watched the first film, too. That was crap though.

So that was my 2017. How was yours? Where did you go, what did you experience, and how many weird hospital meals did you eat?


  1. Excellent read, as always amigo. The hospital food looked entertaining, sorry to hear you’ve been crook, good to heat you’re better.
    Best get started on my blog…
    Feliz año nuevo 🙂

    • Neil

      Cheers Johnny! The hospital food was just one wonderful surprise after another – it was a great shame to have to eat it. No really – it was a great shame to have to eat it. Looking forward to reading your own offerings amigo 🙂

      (Johnny blogs about life in Lima and bikes at

  2. Dorothy

    I really enjoyed reading about your experiences in 2017 Neil. I particularly like that fact that you can turn a negative into a positive, something I really need to learn and concentrate on! Pleased to hear you had such a great time in Scotland. I went to the Isle of Bute in my youth, gosh it must be about 50 years ago!!!!! Wonderful scenery of course – I love Scotland. Did you know that my mum was from Dunoon, ‘just over the water’ from Bute? Re your hospital stay, what was that pink stuff on the plate?! Looks like melted blancmange! Great to hear you’re now fit and well and I look forward to reading more from you soon. Always very interesting.

    • Neil

      Hi Dorothy, great to hear from you 🙂 I didn’t know that about your Mum. Lovely part of the world. The pink stuff turned out to blueberries in cream. Which is still no less strange. It tasted better than it looked, but then that’s a fairly low barrier 🙂 Anyway, Happy New Year!

  3. Marilyn

    szczęśliwego Nowego Roku !

    Great to hear your news from 2017 and glad you are feeling better, that hospital food must have done the trick. Love the taps too.

    • Neil

      Hi Marilyn – Happy New Year to you, too! I think when people get better in hospital it’s generally despite the food rather than because of it 😉 All the best

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