So, that was 2008 then.

You wouldn’t know it from this burnt-out husk of a blog, but I’ve been blogging like crazy for months and months. But it’s all been on the village website, and that’s a very different form of blogging – and in terms of writing style, you’d scarcely even know that it was me doing it. It takes many hours of every week, it involves a lot of behind the scenes work, and I absolutely LOVE doing it – because the site has made a genuine, tangible, positive difference to village life. Never underestimate the motivational power of second-homer’s guilt!

(Although in truth, the village stopped feeling like our second home a long time ago.)

There are six of us on the village blog team – three full-time administrators and three part-time contributors – and we work remarkably well together, pooling our different skills, perspectives and areas of interest. As a result – and I didn’t see this coming twelve months ago, when we were trialling the site – the blog is updated several times a day, every day, almost without fail. Since we launched in late March, we’ve only had one day with no new posts at all, and between us we’ve already racked up a whopping 1191 posts in nine months. And people still think nothing happens in small villages? I think these people might have us confused with (shudder!) the suburbs.

Over the past month, our stats have been spiking to a surreal degree, for reasons already mentioned. Over 20,000 page views in December for a village with around 500 on the electoral roll isn’t normal, and it’s unlikely ever to be repeated. Of course, we’re all as pleased as Punch – but as a seasoned veteran of the medium, this is not altogether unfamiliar territory, and I’m aware of the attendant hubristic dangers. For that reason, I’m looking forward to a general calming down in the new year, and to a restoration of business as usual. We can’t be on the telly every week!

Without a doubt, launching and maintaining the village blog has been this year’s biggest personal achievement. Away from that, it’s been a year of constant gig-going, with dozens of reviews in the Evening Post to match (none of which have been written 100% sober, thanks to that lovely 6am copy deadline). I’ve learned to surf the wave of anxiety that washes over me on every walk home, and to embrace it as an integral part of the process. Which is all to the good, because I’ve historically never been much good at managing fear.

The same holds true for the artist interviews, which are in some ways another exercise in terror management – but I’ve enjoyed honing the skill of extracting the maximum possible amount of information from my subjects, within the confines of a 15-20 minute phone conversation. OK, so Liza and Jennifer were f**k-ups, even if the finished pieces made for entertaining reading – but I had a good run this year, with personal favourites including Gary Numan, Phil Oakey, Boy George and Vince Clarke (from the Eighties Survivors wing), and Martha Wainwright, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and Elbow’s Mark Potter (from the Contemporary Artistes wing). Oh, and Martha Reeves, who was completely charming and adorable, and left me more posthumously star-struck than any other artist (I floated about in a happy swoon for the rest of the day).

And then there was the day job, which chugged along nicely this year, credit crunches notwithstanding. In geographic terms, I work on my own (albeit in a friendly office), and I spend much of my working day in close contact with people whom I’ve never met in person. It’s a curious existence – but as with the artist interviews, I quite enjoy presenting an edited version of myself, and managing the image which I portray. Interestingly, both exercises feed into each other in terms of confidence building, and dealing with the unfamiliar (again, two historically weak areas).

Nevertheless, and despite being busier than ever before (whatever happened to that quaint concept known as “free time”?), there have been periods when 2008 has felt curiously static – particularly when contrasted with the event-packed rollercoaster that was 2006, for example. Looking back on it all now, I think I’m beginning to grasp what this year was really all about: consolidation, concentration, application, and the steady building of new skills. And that’s not such a bad way to spend a year, is it?

A Happy New Year to all my readers!

Update: I’ve listed some additional highlights of 2008 in the comments.

Mike’s albums of 2008.

Ah, what a list this is! From where I’m sitting, this has been a stunning year for albums, nudging me to conclude that 2008 has perhaps been this decade’s finest year for music.

(The one disappointment has been the lack of African music – but then I did rather take my off the ball in that regard, having Mali-ed myself out by the end of 2007.)

1. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

An album I rate from a genre I hate (middle-youth indie-lite mope-rock, to be precise). Piercingly honest, palpably heartfelt songs of love, loss, loneliness, friendship and second chances. Pitch-perfect performances, exquisitely produced. You owe it to yourselves to see them live. (But maybe not at Wembley Arena in March. I can’t see how the intimacy would scale up.)

2. Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel

Local boys done good (for once). Everything that the Klaxons promised, but didn’t deliver. Rowdy and screechy and all over the place. Am I supposed to be too old for this sort of thing?

3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

You have to be wary of albums which knock you out on the first listen, as this usually signifies a series of rapidly diminishing returns. And sure enough, I did reach a point over the summer where this felt somewhat played out. As it turned out, this was nothing that a couple of months of “laying down” couldn’t cure. An obvious pick, but the critical consensus got it right on this one.

4. Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too

Perfect travelling music: epic, expansive, atmospheric, with slow builds towards intensely pleasurable peaks. (I want to say “soundscapes”, but it’s such a wanky word.) Is this Cosmic Disco, Nu-Balearica, or both, or neither? It’s so hard to keep track of these things. Shades of Jean-Michel Jarre and Jan Hammer along the way, and I never thought I’d be mentioning them in a positive context.

5. Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair

Smart, sexy, moody New York neo-disco, from the ones who got away on the gig-going front. (Did they HAVE to come to town on the same night as Public Enemy?)

6. Portishead – Third

I have to be in a Certain Mood for it, stark bleakness not being my strongest aesthetic suit. Consequently, this is my least played album in the top ten. But when the mood is right, the effect is staggering. If I were but starker and bleaker, this would have topped the list.

7. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

I’ve had to vault the bar of their Springsteen-isms, and it’s a bar which prevented me from getting to grips with their earlier work – but there’s something new here (an expansiveness? an authority? an added depth and weight?) which keeps pulling me back, and a seemingly bottomless lyrical and conceptual richness which should keep me returning in weeks to come. In this context, Craig Finn’s comment that “hopefully on someone’s 75th listen, they get something that they didn’t get out of the 74th” is most reassuring. There’s no rush. Give it time.

8. Lone – Lemurian

Woozy, hazy, sun-bleached wonkiness from Nottingham’s king of the wow and the flutter. An imaginary soundtrack for the summer that never was.

9. Barry Adamson – Back To The Cat

Did I just say “imaginary soundtrack”? Perplexingly overlooked film noir magnificence.

10. Bellowhead – Matachin

English folk done in a big band style, by a veritable supergroup drawn from folk’s new breed (Spiers, Boden, the boys from Faustus). Jollier than its more Brechtian predecessor, and hence my feelgood album of choice for that crucial first beer on a Saturday evening.

11. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
12. Solange Knowles – Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams
13. Grace Jones – Hurricane
14. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir – Ten Thousand
15. Lau – Lau Live
16. The Dodos – Visiter
17. Geeneus – Volumes One
18. Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali
19. The P Brothers – The Gas
20. The Bug – The Zoo

21. Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim
22. Joan As Polce Woman – To Survive
23. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
24. Martha Wainwright – I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too
25. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
26. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
27. Neil Diamond – Home Before Dark
28. Paul Weller – 22 Dreams
29. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
30. Rokia Traoré – Tchamantché

31. Estelle – Shine
32. Lambchop – OH (Ohio)
33. Jamie Lidell – Jim
34. Benga – Diary of an Afro Warrior
35. The Breeders – Mountain Battles
36. Various / Fred Deakin – Nu Balearica
37. Mary Hampton – My Mother’s Children
38. Shearwater – Rook
39. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
40. Teddy Thompson – A Piece of What You Need

41. Drever, McCusker, Woomble – Before The Ruin
42. Faustus – Faustus
43. Kelley Polar – I Need You To Hold On While The Sky Is Falling
44. Camille – Music Hole
45. Various / Charles Webster – Defected presents Charles Webster
46. Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
47. System 7 – Phoenix
48. The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
49. Scooter – Jumping All Over The World
50. The Rascals – Rascalize

And what were your favourites? Do tell.

Mike’s tracks of 2008.

1. If I Were A Boy – Beyoncé
2. Blind – Hercules & Love Affair
3. The Bones Of You – Elbow
4. What’s It Gonna Be – H “Two” O ft Platnum
5. Happy House – The Juan MacLean

6. Magpies – Joan As Police Woman
7. A&E – Goldfrapp
8. American Boy – Estelle ft Kanye West
9. Time To Pretend – MGMT
10. Do You Mind (Crazy Cousinz House Mix) – Paleface ft Kyla

11. Focker – Late of the Pier
12. One Day Like This – Elbow
13. Williams’ Blood – Grace Jones
14. In The Air – Perempay ‘N’ Dee ft Katie Pearl
15. Entropy Reigns (In The Celestial City) – Kelley Polar
16. Bongo Jam – Crazy Cousinz ft Calista
17. Paper Planes – MIA
18. The Bears Are Coming – Late of the Pier
19. White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
20. Viva La Vida – Coldplay

21. Spotlight – Jennifer Hudson
22. As I – Geeneus ft Katy B
23. I Decided (Part 1) – Solange Knowles
24. That’s Not My Name – Ting Tings
25. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – Vampire Weekend
26. Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Beyoncé
27. Ready For The Floor – Hot Chip
28. Weather To Fly – Elbow
29. I’m Right Here (Perempay ‘N’ Dee remix) – DJ MA1 ft Sophia
30. Space And The Woods – Late of the Pier

31. Pretty Amazing Grace – Neil Diamond
32. A-Punk – Vampire Weekend
33. Sandcastle Disco – Solange Knowles
34. Ghosts – Laura Marling
35. Blue Ridge Mountains – Fleet Foxes
36. Broken – Late of the Pier
37. Falling Again – Wookie ft Ny
38. Swagga Like Us – Jay-Z & T.I. ft Kanye West & Lil Wayne
39. Sequestered In Memphis – The Hold Steady
40. Devil In A Blue Dress – Donaeo

41. Paris – Friendly Fires
42. Skinny Love – Bon Iver
43. Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend
44. Mercy – Duffy
45. Leviathan Bound – Shearwater
46. Veronica’s Veil – Fan Death
47. Love Lockdown – Kanye West
48. Green Light – John Legend ft Andre 3000
49. Bathroom Gurgle – Late of the Pier
50. Need U Bad – Jazmine Sullivan

51. Daddy’s Gone – Glasvegas
52. Divine – Sebastien Tellier
53. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady
54. He Doesn’t Know Why – Fleet Foxes
55. Time To Let Go – Perempay ‘N’ Dee ft Cleo Sol
56. Shut Up And Let Me Go – Ting Tings
57. African Warrior – Donaeo
58. Starlings – Elbow
59. The Devil Don’t Mind – littlelostdavid
60. In The Hospital – Friendly Fires

61. Wearing My Rolex – Wiley
62. Fools – The Dodos
63. Fuckaz – The Bug (ft The Spaceape)
64. Sabali – Amadou & Mariam
65. Human – The Killers
66. T.O.N.Y. – Solange Knowles
67. Great DJ – Ting Tings
68. Telephone – Erykah Badu
69. Sun Machine – The Shortwave Set
70. I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You – Black Kids
71. Jumping All Over The World – Scooter
72. Zero M2 – Benga
73. Gabryelle (D-Malice Refix) – DJ Technic
74. Waving Flags – British Sea Power
75. Put A Donk On It – Blackout Crew

Mike’s gigs of 2008.

1. Leonard Cohen – Manchester Opera House – June 19th (10)
2. Liza Minnelli – Royal Concert Hall – May 30th (10)
3. Elbow – Leicester De Montfort – October 16th (10)
4. Late Of The Pier, Fan Death – Chameleon Arts Café – November 30th (10)
5. Elbow – Rock City – April 14th (10)
6. White Denim – Bodega Social Club – July 7th (10)
7. The Dodos, Euros Childs – Bodega Social Club – September 14th (10)
8. Gary Numan (Replicas tour) – Rock City – March 5th (10)
9. Lou Reed (Berlin tour) – Royal Concert Hall – June 26th (10)
10. Gong – The Forum, London – June 15th (10)

11. Fleet Foxes, J.Tillman – Trent Uni – November 2nd (9)
12. Duran Duran, The Duke Spirit – Arena – July 6th (9)
13. British Sea Power, Make Model – Rescue Rooms – January 22nd (9)
14. The Breeders – Trent Uni – April 10th (9)
15. Girls Aloud, The Saturdays – Arena – May 20th (9)
16. Yazoo – Royal Concert Hall – June 11th (9)
17. Public Enemy – Rock City – May 28th (9)
18. Duffy – Bodega Social Club – March 7th (9)
19. Holy Fuck – Bodega Social Club – October 15th (9)
20. Glasvegas – Bodega Social Club – January 31st (9)

21. Lorna Luft: Songs My Mother Taught Me – Royal Concert Hall – February 11th (9)
22. Yazoo – Civic Hall Wolverhampton – June 12th (9)
23. The Hold Steady – Rock City – December 9th (9)
24. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Congregation – Bodega Social Club – August 13th (9)
25. Barry Adamson – Rescue Rooms – April 6th (8)
26. The Beat, Neville Staple – Rescue Rooms – March 6th (8)
27. Alison Moyet – Royal Concert Hall – January 23rd (8)
28. Laura Marling – Rescue Rooms – November 4th (8)
29. Show Of Hands with Miranda Sykes – Rescue Rooms – November 27th (8)
30. Nouvelle Vague, Gabriella Cilmi – Rescue Rooms – February 7th (8)

31. Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 (The Steel City Tour) – Royal Concert Hall – December 3rd (8)
32. Spiers & Boden – The Maze – September 15th (8)
33. The Temptations, YolanDa Brown – Royal Concert Hall – October 29th (8)
34. UK Eurovision Preview Party (Ani Lorak, Bucks Fizz, Sirusho, Nanne Grönvall, Laka, Maria Haukaas Storeng, Isis Gee, Morena) – The Scala, London – April 25th (8)
35. System 7 – Rescue Rooms – February 15th (8)
36. Faustus – Playhouse – September 11th (7)
37. Drive-By Truckers – Rescue Rooms – August 7th (7)
38. Vampire Weekend – Sheffield Academy – October 22nd (7)
39. Martha Wainwright, Angus & Julia Stone – Rock City – November 3rd (7)
40. CSS – Rescue Rooms – October 13th (7)

41. Joan As Police Woman – Rescue Rooms – December 10th (7)
42. Black Kids, Team Waterpolo – Rescue Rooms – July 2nd (6)
43. Y Not Festival (Whiskycats, The Rusticles, Esteban, The Moutown Project, The Fallout Theory, New Groove Formation, Max Raptor, Toufique Ali, Anthea Neads, Jackel) – Pikehall – August 1st (6)
44. Menomena – Rescue Rooms – February 28th (6)
45. The Twilight Sad – Bodega Social Club – March 25th (6)
46. Pete Burns – Nightingale Birmingham – April 5th (6)
47. The Rascals – Rescue Rooms – June 4th (6)
48. John Barrowman – Royal Concert Hall – April 9th (6)
49. Westlife, Hope – Arena – June 24th (6)
50. Laura Veirs – The Maze – February 12th (6)

51. The Ting Tings – Rock City – September 24th (6)
52. Here and Now Tour (Rick Astley, Bananarama, ABC, Paul Young, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Johnny Hates Jazz, Cutting Crew) – Arena – May 9th (6)
53. Heavy Trash, Powersolo – Bodega Social Club – September 30th (6)
54. Delays – Bodega Social Club – March 4th (5)
55. The Futureheads – Rescue Rooms – June 3rd (5)
56. The Orb – Rescue Rooms – May 15th (4)
57. Will Young – Royal Concert Hall – November 28th (4)
58. Seth Lakeman – Rescue Rooms – April 23rd (3)
59. Boy George – Royal Concert Hall – February 8th (3)
60. MGMT – Bodega Social Club – February 28th (2)
61. Seasick Steve – Rock City – October 9th (2)
62. Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong – Rescue Rooms – May 19th (1)
63. Dolly Parton – Arena – July 1st (1)

How to attract readers to a village blog in one easy lesson: Smut, Success and Celebrity.

So much for the “winding down gently before Xmas” pipedream, then.

Look, I thought there was an unwritten code that said: IF you’re one of the poor Buggins’ Turn saps left in the office during Holiday Fortnight then FEAR NOT, because it’s basically about providing Emergency Cover and no one will really care if you alternate between last minute shopping and pissing about on the Internet.

Evidently not. But since I’ve got half an hour to kill while waiting for something to happen on Ye Olde Heritage Mainframe, I thought I’d pop in to wish my remaining reader a Happy Holiday.

But if Work Time has been busy, then it it has been as nothing compared to Leisure Time – which for the past week has meant spending every available waking hour looking after the village blog. Three reasons for this:

1. We’re running an online Advent Calendar, which we’ve augmented with extra pay-per-view windows featuring various villagers in saucy Calendar Boy/Calendar Girl poses. To this end, K has stepped – all too easily, I might say – into the role of Smut Peddler In Chief, wielding his SLR lenses with lethal charm before a parade of willing lovelies. Meanwhile, we’ve been featured in the local paper, and I even gave a jolly interview to the mighty media force that is Ashbourne Community Radio last week.

Perhaps it’s a good job our vicar’s moving on in the new year, as our community’s slow slide into moral degeneracy becomes all the more apparent. But as we’re raising funds for the rebuild of our Memorial Hall, all moral qualms must rightfully be quelled for the greater good…

2. Ah yes, the Memorial Hall. Last week, we received the excellent news that our village has been awarded £500,000 of Big Lottery Fund money to assist with the rebuild – the largest such award in the country from the BLF’s Community Building Programme. Having vaulted that particular hurdle, there’s now the small matter of raising the remaining funds needed to make the architects’ plans a reality. And, er, K is on the Fund Raising Team. So, no pressure then.

3. Oh, and lest we should forget, there’s also the small matter of Tom Chambers from our village (or Strictly Our Tom as we now like to call him) winning this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday night. Down at the village pub, where the landlady had installed a giant widescreen telly for the season, we all went quite potty with delight – especially when Strictly Our Tom thanked us during his acceptance speech. Grown men were crying! Corks were popping! It were bloody brilliant!

And they say that nothing ever happens in small villages? I don’t think there’s ever been a week quite like it.

On a more personal front, there has been a particularly Exciting New Development in the past few days, but it’s still early days and I don’t want to jinx it by going public prematurely. Ooh, but I’m itching to spill. But I shan’t. God, this is the worst kind of blog post, isn’t it?

Time’s up. As you were. Happy Christmas.