A look back at 2015

After a cracking end to 2014 with my nephew being born, I was ready to tackle 2015 and continue my recent tradition of trying to top the year before.  I had big plans for 2015 and now I am sitting here looking back on it, it has been an absolute cracker!

It started off with a slight change on my contract.  I was still contracting for Computacenter but due to them losing the Nationwide contract in Swindon, I was being whisked up to Nottingham to work on the RWE contract in the same role.  While it wasn’t a change of role as such, just customer, it did make me take the decision to hand the tenants of my apartment notice and it was time to return after two and a half years away from the place.

Phoenix Nights is easily one of my favourite TV shows ever, so when they announced Live Shows, it was a no brainer to get tickets for Lee and I.  We headed up to Manchester for the weekend and the show didn’t quite go as planned.  Our bloody luck, in the middle of the show, one of the actors (Den Perry/Ted Robbins) had a heart attack so the show was cut short!  All that way and we did not get to see the whole show, but of course, the main thing was Ted pulled through and we decided against heading all the way back up Manchester for a special matinee show they put on for us.  Still, it was good to get to see the old characters again in the first half and always good to go away and have a few drinks with Lee.

Following in from the birth of their first child, Kim and Jason had also got engaged and their engagement party fell on a special day in the Kevin Rowe calendar, Spurs away!  So it was to North London for me first and then jetting back to South Wales for the engagement party.  Unfortunately, we lost to the scum 2-1 but the day was class as usual and it was as drunken as always.  The engagement party was really good, good to catch up with family and I think at one point I had even forgotten the result from earlier in the day.

In February too was the big move back to Birmingham.  I really missed the apartment but not so much the city.  I was pretty excited to go back because when I’d lived there first I did not have a pot to piss in.  Despite being on good wedge, buying a place on your own at 21 was always going to be tough.  I remember only being able to go out certain times of the month (probably because of the wedge used to spend on Arsenal tickets in all fairness) but I was looking forward to actually enjoying what the city had to offer (restaurants etc) the second time around.  After a bit of a cock up with the notice period, it turned out that I got the keys back the day before I was due to go to New York again for some serious Ice Hockey action!

My 2nd trip to New York was incredible, and full of Ice Hockey.  Yet again, it was freezing and snowing but I go primarily to see The Islanders play and I was by now full on into hockey so it was incredible.  It was a bit sad too, knowing that this would be the last time I would see the Isles at the Coliseum which is the old stadium where I fell in love with hockey.  I got to see 4 games in a week and had Jonny (a Welsh, Arsenal, Islander) so it was good to go to a couple of the 4 games with somebody.  I can’t actually remember the results but I did go a bit wild in the in-stadium auctions and managed to nab a great Matt Martin signed canvas to cart home.    Other than the Ice Hockey and meeting some cool Islander locals, I did the few things I had missed the previous trip like the Brooklyn Bridge.  I absolutely love Broadway and went to see ‘The Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime’ which was amazing too.  One of the highlights was missing our train from one of the Isles game and me and these 2 guys I met on the night headed to a bar in the very ropey area of Hempstead.  What looked like a gangster bar (we were the only white people in there, not that it matters but we were wrongly apprehensive) turned out to be an amazing night.  The owners and people in there were great to us and kept buying us all drinks, it was a top class time and we definitely shouldn’t have made such a swift judgement on the place.  Clearly though, we weren’t the only ones because they said how surprised they were to see us and never get randoms walking in, they treated us like royalty.  Another cracking New York trip and I already cannot wait to visit my favourite city in the world for a third time.

One of my favourite days of 2015 was the Monday night Away trip to Manchester United.  It was an unbelievable night because we had an unusual allocation of around 8,000 because it was an FA Cup game and of course we beat them 2-1 with Welbz getting the winner.  It was unforgettable and will remain one of my favourite games for a very long time.

The first UCL away of 2015 was Monaco in the Last 16, and we had royally ballsed up at home so had it all to do away.  In true classic Arsenal style, it was so near yet so far as we got dumped out.  The trip was really good though, even if I was pretty un-impressed with Monte Carlo.

To finish a great March in 2015, it was time for me to head to Vegas for the very first time.  I was not expecting to love the place, but it was out of this world.  We had 6 days there and I was blown away by all the casino’s.  We were there for Ollie’s birthday so had a great VIP night in one of the clubs and VIP pool party which was also incredible.  The weather was incredible and easily the highlights of the trip were the helicopter tour (landing in the canyon for a lunch) and the shooting range with all sorts of guns.  Despite me trying to tick off as many countries/places as possible, I very much doubt that will be the last time I go to Vegas.  Oh, and I won a massive tiger in Circus Circus too, I had to carry it around everywhere but Dougie loved it.

After an incredible March, April had a lot to live up to.  It started with taking my Godson to WWE Live in Birmingham for his birthday which was brilliant.  I hadn’t been to WWE for quite a few years so I was buzzing for this show and he absolutely loved it too.  Was good to have him and Lee down Brum for the weekend too so all in all, a cracking way to kick off April.

Wembley is pretty much Arsenal’s second home at the moment and the Semi Final was so stressful.  Granted, it was not quite as stressful as the Wigan Semi-Final in 2014 but we scraped by Reading after being gifted a winner.  The day as usual was top class and alcohol fuelled, and I was absolutely buzzing for my 2nd FA Cup Final in a row.

I was in Norwich for a week for Eye Surgery part 2, to have a small correction which I wish I never bothered with as it made no real difference.  It was pretty grim for a week to be honest too, way worse than the first time so I was proper struggling.  Still, it was good to be around Norwich so the two Godson’s could take my mind off it.

On the 1st of May, I attended a cracking wedding (Andy and Jen) and it was a great way to kick off May.  It was at an amazing venue, and I got absolutely shit-faced.  I couldn’t get a taxi back to my hotel, and after un-successfully trying to sleep in the back of my car, I managed to somehow find my way into a swanky suite in the wedding venue and sleep there.  I ignored the note on the bed to the guests for the next day and got some much needed sleep.  The drive home was pretty grim the next day though but I had a great night and it was a great day overall.

The end of May always sees the annual Village FC tour and I had organised this one in Orebro, Sweden.  It was a cracker in the end after all the stress and as usual the tour was a brilliant trip.  Of course it was a bit weird for me not being able to play but I still had a great time, and there were a few other raspberry ripples out there to keep me company on the sidelines.  As well as the drinking and football, we managed to get to see Orebro SK after our personal tour around the inside of the stadium, standard practice I got the shirt.

The FA Cup Final was on my birthday this year so I was absolutely buzzing.  Although, this year I had driven to the game because I needed to pick up an amazing signed Arsenal shirt I had won in auction where the money went to a local girl who had serious injuries after a car accident.  The cup final was absolutely incredible, we stuffed Villa 4-0 and I went away from the ground very happy.  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite leave London happy as I scratched the shit out of my Jag leaving the ‘Just Park’ space I had paid for, scraping the side of my car on his garden pillar with the space so tight.

A catch-up with Denise was due in June and we went to London to watch Thriller at the theatre and do some touristy stuff like the Thames boat tour.  The weather managed to hold off and so far I have liked pretty much every theatre show/production I have seen on Broadway or the West End.

With my retirement from football last year or the year before, it was time to pick up a new hobby.  I took up golf lessons, determined to be ready for the Aaron Ramsey charity golf day in 2016.  I really got into the group lessons and it was pretty close for me so I soon got the bug although as I write this I have been slacking off recently.

Unfortunately, every year seems to have its downs now and the first of the year was attending the funeral of my best mate’s nan.  Being very close to the family it was not nice to have to do but as usual, these things always end up being a bit of a celebration of the person rather than a purely sad affair.

The day after it was up to Manchester for me to watch a cracking card with Ollie.  The Crolla Perez fight was the main event and the whole card was really good.  Added bonus when we got to chat with Bellow and Eddie Hearn and grabbed some photos (terrible ones mind).  I have definitely grown a proper liking for Boxing over the years and I was pretty keen to go and see some more boxing after the last three events been to now have been epic (definitely one for 2016).

In July it was to be all change.  I had long given my notice to not renew on the Computacenter contract and they had brought the end date forward a couple of weeks which wasn’t ideal but it enabled me to go back to Wales for a week and look after the dogs and house while my folks and Kim were away on holiday.  It was a nice way to chill out before the month of August which I have been looking forward to for a very long time.

The reason for August being a big month for me was it was time for my 5 week travels to Japan.  Yet again, I was off on travels on my own, absolutely buzzing to explore what I expected to be an amazing country.  I was not let down, the 5 weeks contained some of the most incredible experiences of my life.  On reflection now, I am so in love with the country and the people, I would love to go back.  I felt so safe, I was so intrigued by the country and I have the utmost respect for the superb Japanese people.  I visited 15 towns/cities in Japan throughout my time there and really enjoyed writing the blog as I went along too.  I looked back on my trip here but my highlights were 1. The Samurai Kembu Lesson 2. Nagoya Castle festival 3. Hida Folk Village4. Miyajima and Mt Misen and 5. Staying at traditional Ryokan up Mt Koyasan.  A truly unforgettable trip and a reminder why I went contracting in the first place, so I could experience trips like this.

Strangely, as I was flying out to Japan, I got wind of a Service Management role in RWE who was my customer at CC.  I really wanted to get back into what I do best after the mind numbingly boring time rolling back the years in Problem Management.  So I managed to secure an interview via e-mail in Russian airspace, and I ended up interviewing (by phone) from Japan at 10pm while the other candidates were face to face in Leicester.  Amazingly, I got the role so I was so happy to be able to enjoy my last two weeks in Japan knowing I had a new contract kicking off on my return.

When I returned from Japan I was straight back on the Arsenal away trail, we will not mention Stamford Bridge but I did get to visit three new amazing grounds in Leicester’s, Watford’s and Sheffield Wednesday’s.  Also in that month, I got to the Cardiff City stadium with my Dad to be part of the Euro 2016 qualification party Vs Andorra.

Unfortunately, October turned out to be a tough month with another top friend of mine going through a death in the family, so it always brings it back home that the years are ticking and I just have to carry on making the most of them.  Yet again, such a sad occasion but good to see all the old gang pull together at those times.  It definitely makes you realise however far I travel or however long I’m away from home, when the chips are down, you can always rely on the old friends.

Speaking of old friends, I had arranged a reunion for our primary school class which was an absolutely brilliant night.  Very low key, but well attended by both teachers and pupils and it ended up being an incredible laugh and I hope we’ll do something at least once a year because we have such an amazing class.

The UCL Away trail continued with ANOTHER trip to Munich.  As usual, it ended in disappointed but this was only the group stages this time.  We got absolutely hammered but it was a great trip, even if it was slightly tamer on the alcohol front this time.

Another catch up was due with Denise and I randomly suggested we catch up in Edinburgh!  Really, I just wanted to scratch off Scotland from my map and it seemed like a great idea.  It was a proper good trip, despite storm Douglas trying to cause some serious havoc.  Edinburgh castle, Michelin star 7 course meal and a challenging hike up Arthur’s Seat made for a very good weekend.

The final group game of the UCL was a critical one and it was another trip to Athens for me.  It turned out to be the best game/result I have witnessed at any of my 14 champions league away games.  We smashed them 3-0 which was just over the required margin to complete the great escape and take us through to the last 16.  I also managed to get to the Acropolis again which is always amazing to see.  Unfortunately, we pulled Barcelona in the Last 16 so it was to be 3rd time at the Nou Camp and 5th time to Barcelona in March 2016.

Coming to the end of the year, the good times kept rolling with a brilliant weekend for Dougie’s 1st birthday.  Kim, Jason and Dougie came to mine and I took them to Thomas Land for his 1st birthday.  He seemed to absolutely love it and we all did too so December had really delivered and I was all ready for Christmas.

In preparation for 2016, I found out which tickets I had got for Euro 2016, despite there not being any Wales games it looks like I pulled some decent bargaining chips for the tournament in France.

The only thing now is to spend some quality time back home in Wales and then the folks coming to Birmingham for some Christmas celebrations.  I have absolutely loved 2015 and even though I am always stressing out about the next move, the next trip and what I am doing with my life, when I sit down and look back like this, I am always amazed how much I manage to fit in.

I am hoping to end 2015, start 2016 in style with NYE with Lee, Zara and my Godson’s and attending two friends of mine’s wedding on the 2nd January.

I will be previewing my 2016 soon which will no doubt get my feet itching and I will probably end up on travel, property, job and all sorts of other websites in preparation for some other big trips, moves, events 2016.  For anybody who has contributed in some way to such an epic year, thank you and have a great Christmas and make sure 2016 is amazing!

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