This year has certainly been memorable, plenty of light, even more shade, but here is a purely cultural evaluation:
TV - Outnumbered, Little Dorrit, Merlin were live highlights for me, and on DVD, Mad Men, The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm have been wonderful. Can't wait to see more of Wallender as well, in which Branagh was marvellous and also provided a little touch of Tom Hiddleston, definitely an actor to watch (see below...). But my complete favourite was Devil's Whore with the amazing Andrea Riseborough, Dominic West, Michael Fassbender and Harry Lloyd as a memorably slimy cameo of Prince Rupert. I can't wait to see what Riseborough does next.
Books - Travels with Herodotus is the book I will definitely re-read from this year, along with Jude Morgan's An Accomplished Woman, and Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books. This has been a great year for history books and children's fiction, but apart from Morgan and the delightful Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, good new romance has been thin on the ground. Am also being very careful not to gollop up CS Sansom's Shardlake books - I loved the first two.
Music - Well, Vampire Weekend obviously, as well as Fleet Foxes and The Killers, but the other pleasure has been discovering David Daniels, especially the opera Rinaldo with beautiful performances from him and Cecilia Bartoli, just utterly lovely. Minion No 1 went to his first rock concert, VW at Botanique here in Brussels, and we also took both boys to their first proper classical concert, a special children's concert with some Rimsky Korsakov, Weber and Stravinsky's Firebird with accompanying narration.
Theatre - the year started with the highlight of Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre with Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale as Beatrice and Benedick, and another highlight was Maria Aitken's The 39 Steps, which is wonderfully funny. Cheek by Jowl's Cymbeline was excellent, pacy, weird and introducing Tom Hiddleston who is going to be big big big. He's one of those actors who just catch your eye and can't quite release you once you start watching him. Elegant, neat and precise with his verse. But of course, the big big big highlight was Tennant's Hamlet. Not just Tennant, but Greg Doran's wonderful ensemble cast, with an extra special mention to Penny Downie's Gertrude, who lingers with me.
Art - Renaissance Portraits at the National Gallery and seeing the Queen's collection of Flemish Masters here in Brussels have been major highlights. I took friends to see Rubens' house in Antwerp, always a delight to see. Taking the boys to Chatsworth was enjoyable - Minion No 1's egalitarian instincts were somewhat offended by the wealth of fine art snaffled by the Dukes of Devonshire on their numerous Grand Tours and then displayed so finely in deepest Derbyshire, but he was impressed.
Cinematically speaking, the stuff we saw was on DVD, but my main impression remains admiration for George Clooney for steadily producing a stream of interesting, complex films appealing to adults - this year, The Good German and Michael Clayton joined Goodnight and Good Luck and Syriana as films I will happily watch again. No, you know, I really don't fancy him. We finally caught up with Lives of Others, which was just as marvellous as everyone said, and with Sophie Scholl, which was terribly sad and beautiful. And I am going to stand up for Mamma Mia! which received very dodgy reviews from male reviewers but was and will be the ultimately feelgood film for dark times, one to watch and rewatch when the winter glums are a little too pressing.
So culturally, at least, a rich and varied banquet. No dance - so maybe 2009 is the year to introduce the boys to ballet...