2023: the eyes have it

Well I think it is safe to say that it has been quite a 2023. I’m feeling pretty wiped out as we approach the festive break and - as is quite usual this time of year - been feeling a bit low with the shorter, darker days. But on reflection there have been some pretty great highlights along the way as well.

So the bad news first. My sarcoidosis has got worse this year. In April I started having trouble with my vision resulting in the first of almost twenty trips to hospital over the course of the year. A series of bleeds in the eye due to inflammation left me with limited sight in my left eye. A prolonged period of heavy steroids and two bouts of laser surgery later the issue remains and I await the outcome of conversations about potentially moving onto immune suppressants in the new year. Similarly the impact of sarcoidosis on my lungs has worsened and whilst my lung function tests have been pretty stable the inflammation has continued making me short of breath and fatigued on a daily basis.

The main impact of this has been reduced capacity to work. Spending any kind of time on screens has been incredibly hard as is any prolonged wearing of glasses. I’m extremely grateful of the support from my business partner Matt and our employees as I continue to work less hours.

It’s hard not to be emotionally affected by all this. In my late 40s it feels like my mind and my body have had a divorce and I am stuck with a malfunctioning body that does not want to pull in the right direction. I cannot do what I have trained myself to do over the past twenty years and even the things I find a lot of joy in - such as dog walks - can be difficult. I’m also finding driving hard so huge apologies to Peta who is now doing the majority of chauffeuring for the Henley brood!

But it has not all been doom and gloom. 2023 has also been a year filled with love, laughter and music with friends and family. In April new horizons were opened up for me and the boys with the award of German citizenship through my grandmother, a German refugee who came to England in 1935 fleeing persecution from Nazi Germany. I feel extremely fortunate that for us at least there an outlet from the horrific stupidity of the Brexit referendum and it has been wonderful to once more feel European.

February saw the first of a number of gigs throughout the year. Me and Peta saw the fantastic Welsh balladeer Gareth Bonello at an intimate gig in Frome and I took my son to see the ridiculously effervescent Henry Rollins on his postponed Good To See You tour in Bath. In September Peta and I went with friends to the Forwards Festival on Clifton Downs in Bristol, some highlights (aside from the wonderful company) including Leftfield, Goldie and Gabriels. And finally in November I at long last got to see a bucket list band of mine, Queens of the Stone Age at the O2 arena in London. Thanks Peta for the tickets and Pete for the company!

It was a good year for travel. We had a lush week in Brighton in the summer (coinciding with Gay Pride) housesitting for friends. I think Gethin has found his spiritual home! And in September I went to Hamburg with friends for a weekend enjoying the sunshine, beverages and hospitality of this beautiful German city. Then in October I was lucky to be able to travel to Barcelona with work for a three day conference to catch the last rays of summer.

It was a good year for drawing. Due to eye problems and steroids and the resulting time spent avoiding screens was able to throw quite a lot of energy into drawing but sadly not my ongoing comic project telling the story of my great-grandfather. I think I just needed a mental break from working on something bigger. However, I was humbled to be invited to talk about the project for the LDC group in London earlier in the year and it was great to return to Thought Bubble in Harrogate with a table in November. Sales were terrible but the crowd was lovely and well worth a visit, even if the journey took several hours! I also got a chance to promote my graphic novel collaboration with Michael Rosen in my home town Frome when he visited earlier in the summer. It was great to do some signings and sketching with Michael and finally I got my first fan-mail this year for the Michael Rosen book. Thanks Archer!

I was chuffed to have been invited to contribute to an exhibition in Frome of local illustrators calling for contributions on the theme of “Folk”. It was a lovely opportunity to put my new found/rediscovered love of doodling to something useful and the exhibition is on until the 4th January.

Finally was humbled to be asked my thoughts on creativity by friend Rich McCoy which you can read here.

November was a happy sad time as the family got together to say good bye to my grandfather Don. Don had died (at the impressive age of 102) back in 2000 just before Covid. He had wanted his body to be donated to medical research and education so we finally got his remains back and met in Harlow; the town he helped to establish with my grandmother, Sonia in the 1940s and 50s. I was incredibly close to Don and was with him when died so it was really nice to at last say goodbye, capped off by some wonderful songs from local folk singer Moose Rosser.

Finally I cannot finish without mentioning a true highlight of the year which was the tenth anniversary of Mud. Although it has been a tough year for me personally with work I am so incredibly proud of Matt and our team for making it this far and producing such fantastic work. I am in awe of the standard of websites we continue to delivery and am proud to consider everyone at Mud great friends.

So here is hoping for a somewhat less eventful (at least health wise) 2024 but more of the good stuff please. Oh and a lot less Tories please should our next General Election take place. That would be ace!