52 Things I Learned In 2021

And welcome to the final hours of 2021. Behind us lie 8,744 of those tidy little parcels, sixty minutes each. Sixteen more rush toward you on the railway tracks of time.

You’ll probably want to spend those sixteen hours in revelry or reflection, but if you find yourself with a few spare minutes, then here’s a fly-by of a year’s worth of creativity and curiosity.

AKA what I’ve learned thanks to this newsletter.

  1. I can do a thing, consistently, for a whole year. Yes: 100 Days Of Adventure is complete. Bring on DOA 2022.
  2. It takes about 55 hours to write my half of one episode of a radio sitcom. Creative writing is impossible to judge objectively. But knowing roughly how long a sitcom episode takes to write tells me that there is a reliable process behind the evanescent, ineffable clouds of creativity.
  3. How to make bread. Easily.
  4. My beloved Marin bike lasted about 18,000 miles and cost me about 18 pence per mile.
  5. We are an indoor species, spending 90-95 percent of our living hours in boxes, either static or mobile. There’s a statistic worth raging against!
  6. Drawing leaves is a lovely way to spend an hour. And might make my brain healthier too.
  7. Veganism hasn’t killed me. Or given me diabetes, gout or low testosterone.
  8. How to skateboard. Possibly the most rewarding thing I’ve learned this year. Never too old!
  9. You get paid more for doing ethically dubious jobs.
  10. Sending thank you emails to my favourite authors is surprisingly rewarding.
  11. Since I bought The Corollavirus back in March, I’ve driven 4883 miles. This has cost me about £777 in petrol, racking up a carbon debt of about 968kg CO2e compared to similar journeys on public transport. It’d take 44 mature trees a year to absorb these new emissions. That’s a whole copse worth.

    In monetary terms, I’ve worked out that the unembedded carbon cost of my 4883 driving miles is £480. More to come on this calculation in a future email — along with where I’m going to invest that money for maximal positive environmental impact.

  12. Right from the very beginning, the people who invented email knew that it was highly unproductive. Mind blown. Credit to Cal Newport’s A World Without Email.
  13. Bitcoin currently uses more electricity than the entire countries of Austria and Greece combined. Since the most recent surge in market price, which began in November 2020, the energy demands of the Bitcoin network have doubled…
  14. But cryptocurrencies could still be a force for good, by helping to change wealth distribution, reverse inequalities and counter ecological degradation.
  15. 92 percent of our countryside is ‘private property’. We need the law to change. Until then, we need to trespass.
  16. 90 percent of women have been victims of sexual harassment while travelling on public transport. That was according to a French survey, but nothing I’ve heard suggests the number is any lower in the UK. Credit Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.
  17. How to light a campfire using a flint and steel. Also: how to click ‘buy’ on a stormproof gas-powered lighter. There’s no prizes for going hungry.
  18. Heifers are terrifying in the springtime and tearooms are always unexpected.
  19. ‘Inoculating’ degraded soil with the ‘soil microbiome’ of a healthy landscape can accelerate recovery and increase carbon sequestration.
  20. Even a massive ‘wartime’ level of investment in carbon-removing technologies will not stop global heating at 2 degrees.

    Even if negative emission technologies are a huge success, we must still make far-reaching changes to our societies and our economies. And, of course, there is no guarantee that negative emissions technologies will be a huge success.

  21. There was a man called Buys Ballot. He taught me something or other about atmospheric pressure. Turns out that interpreting synoptic charts is hard to internalise.
  22. Every spring, thousands of ermine moths swaddle the poor bird cherry tree in a terrifying web of silk.
  23. George Orwell’s 1984 opens with a graphic description of a helicopter gunning down a raft of refugees floating somewhere out in the Mediterranean. The passage chimes loudly today.
  24. 108 ancient woods are being damaged or felled to make way for the HS2 railway line. There is no way to replace or replant a 400-year old oak.
  25. Over the past three decades, Bob Dylan has played 3,064 shows — about 100 per year. For comparison, between 2014 and 2019, modern chart-toppers Arctic Monkeys played about 50 shows a year. About half the work rate of an eighty-year-old.
  26. Aero bars are a PHENOMENAL bit of kit for the touring cyclist. I don’t know how I survived without them for so long. If you intend on cycling a long way next year, I can highly recommend getting a proper bike fitting.
  27. In practice, there are no legal routes for claiming asylum the UK.

    If it passes without amendment, our government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill will put UK law in direct opposition to the 1951 Geneva Convention by criminalising people who arrive on these shores without a visa — even when they have a legitimate claim for asylum under international law.

  28. Cycle touring is a storyful way to see the world, making sense of the scenes briefly illuminated in our lamplight as we pass.
  29. Liverpool is the world’s eleventh least stressful city.
  30. Breaking a world record is a LOT of admin.
  31. The Mayor of Glastonbury is an absolute baller.
  32. Wiltshire is the most generous county in southern England. FACT. (Probably…)
  33. Tiramisú is perhaps the least appropriate cycling snack for a vegan who likes to avoid sugar and doesn’t drink coffee. Works a charm, though.
  34. After a month talking politics with strangers, I learned that The Daily Mail and the Conservative Party do NOT represent the views of the people of Britain. Far from it.
  35. There are six ‘solidarity archetypes’: The Capitalist, The Idealist, The Gregarious, The Paranoid, The Wealthy, The Compassionate — which are you?
  36. Feeling your support van’s clutch snap is not a great start to a day on a world record breaking cycle tour. But sometimes Turkish Delight falls from the sky and sometimes miracles do happen.
  37. In Barcelona, you can swap your car for a free annual public transport pass. Tempting.
  38. Once you’ve got your eye in, psilocybe mushrooms are almost impossible to miss in the autumnal damp of the Welsh Valleys.
  39. An acute scarcity of time, money or love can mean a ten point penalty to your IQ. It’s not that you’re stupid, it’s that you’re stressed.
  40. Lamb from New Zealand has a quarter of the carbon footprint of Welsh lamb, despite travelling 17,840km around the world to our shop shelves. But you’re still better off eating coconuts.
  41. How to identify and presever the heather among the gorse.
  42. The proportion of citizens who say that having people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds makes the UK a better place to live has increased since Brexit from 75 to 85 percent. Thank fuck.
  43. Sternutation is science-speak for a sneeze, a bodily reflex that I performed 127 times on a chilly day in November. That’s more than most people will ever do in a whole month. Proud.
  44. Blood On The Tracks is 88 percent perfect and my appreciation for the music of Bob Dylan can be quantified.

    Dylan’s finest albums by decade: Bringing It All Back Home (1965, 84% perfect), Blood On The Tracks (1975, 88%), Oh Mercy (1989, 63%), Time Out of Mind (1997, 56%), Modern Times (2006, 50%), Tempest (2012, 40%), Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020, 30%).

  45. Homemade vegan chocolate hobnobs are divine.
  46. Our right to wild camp on Dartmoor is being constrained: no hammocks, no family tents, no groups of more than six, plus an 8 percent reduction in the permitted camping area, including some of the most accessible land.
  47. Winter is the best time to go adventuring in Britain, for the wonders of solitude, star-gazing and silence.
  48. Twenty-four hours in the day is merely a convenient average; the actual time between solar noons fluctuates throughout the year. This is why the latest sunset of the year arrives ten days before the shortest day.
  49. Using nothing but the eyes that evolution gave you, you might see anywhere up to 4,548 stars in the night sky — although that number will depend greatly on the amount of light pollution in your vicinity.
  50. I’ve now read 46 books this year. Here are seven of the best.
  51. Writing a diary keeps me sane. I’ve written in excess of 223,000 words in my journal this year.

    I use the wonderful novel-writing software yWriter to store my diaries and, since 2010, I’ve amassed more than 2.7 million words for future historians to sift through in bewilderment.

  52. Above all, I’ve learned (again and again) that the discipline, creativity and curiosity of sharing this newsletter with you is not only good for my heart and soul, but that so many of you generous humans love it too!


Thank you for sharing some of those 8,744 hours with me. Thank you for hitting reply or posting a comment and telling me what moves you. Thank you for sharing these words with your friends and for helping this newsletter grow.

Most of all, thank you for helping everyone through a year of resilience and adventure.

I look forward to seeing what becomes of 2022 and I hope you’ll join me there.

Hungry for more?

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at davidcharles.info.

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