Mr Topsy-Turvy would have felt right at home during 2020! It has been an utterly surreal and baffling leap year when many things were turned on their heads like a president who couldn’t accept that his time in office was up, and a chief political advisor who drove his family from County Durham to Barnard Castle during lockdown just ‘to test his eyesight!’

It was a year when the Pentagon released some eerie videos of strange UFOs, Macaque monkeys ran riot in Lopburi, Thailand, and toilet paper here in the UK suddenly became a valuable commodity. The year when Disney decided to get ‘deep’ and released the film Soul dealing with spiritual issues. Also, eye make-up sales rocketed by over 400 per cent! (I suppose we were trying to look pretty, seductively batting our eyelashes over our masks). For introverts it was a bumper year when everybody was finally forced to see things their way and joined them by staying home.

Despite last year being the year of Covid-19, some good things happened too. 2020 saw scientists create vaccines in record time, there was an unprecedented decline in C02 emissions, and the closest conjunction of the two planets Jupiter and Saturn took place for the first time since 1623! Luxembourg became the first country in the world to make all public transport free to use and of course the loveable creature Baby Yoda, the Mandalorian child, was waiting to be discovered under many Christmas trees.

To add to the surreal quality of 2020, instead of playing our usual Scrabble and Monopoly, my husband introduced us to Jaws, the board game based on the iconic Steven Spielberg film! Depicted on one side of the board is Amity Island and on the other, the boat Orca. It is nicely designed with that 1970s feel creating a nostalgic narrative.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Jaws, the board game. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cupboard

Jaws - just when you thought it was safe to go back in the board game cupboard

My husband boldly declares that he will take on the role of the shark. So, we are left with only three options namely, to be Martin Brody, the police chief, Quint, the Shark Hunter or Marine biologist Matt Hooper. Our role is to stop the shark from eating people using various strategies such as attaching barrels him, using binoculars to spot him and choosing close-range weapons to wound him.

The first time we play it I experience a slight brain-ache trying to take in all of the instructions, if your attention span is anything like mine, it proves to be a bit of a challenge. The next evening it’s better as we put more moves into practice. I imagine the game would probably get more interesting after you’ve played it a few times as quite a lot of strategy is required. I end up feeling angry trying to anticipate the moves of this monstrous shark killing all of the swimmers; and the fact that I only get four moves to do anything about it! I’d recommend it for ‘intelligent people,’ but to be honest I didn’t really feel that engaged with it.

I thought Articulate ‘Fame’ was altogether more fun with quick-fire rounds where I had to describe famous people against the clock. Some of my definitions were pretty spot on such as my succinct description of Julius Caesar, “He was the first Roman Emperor.” Other times I sounded somewhat naïve: “She took Prince Harry away from us all to the US.”

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Articulate

Articulate: Fame

When it was my turn to guess, I failed miserably as my husband tried to describe footballers: “A sportsman who plays for Manchester United and is quite vocal about free school meals.”

“Who?” I blankly respond.

Or “A sports television commentator who played for Crystal Palace and Arsenal.”

“No idea!” My husband shakes his head hopelessly realising that I haven’t got a clue who Marcus Rashford or Ian Wright are, and moves on.

Board games certainly have the power to relieve us from the hypnotic state that TV induces. They have been known to lengthen our attention spans, help with memory and cognitive skills and strengthen family bonds, relaxing us and relieving our stresses.

To be honest, there’s nothing quite like a simple game of Scrabble. I bought it for myself as an early Christmas present, totally seduced by the glossy packaging as it comes in a decorative and distinctly Parisian-looking tin. The board is black for a change and the tiles are a grey marble design – it’s such a pleasure to play.

St Albans & Harpenden Review: Scrabble

I love that space between Christmas and New Year where fewer demands are made on our time, we can forget what day it is and play with our new toys. I missed lingering over a hot chocolate and idling away an hour in Waterstones picking up some great bargains. Staying at home and watching old sitcoms like To the Manor Born with a millennial was weird. “Imagine life being that simple,” my daughter muses!

Of course, we have all had to traverse this year with bravery and patience, for many it has been a time of loss and mourning, for others a time of sickness then a journey to recovery, and for our keyworkers it has been a battle in which they have had to soldier on fearlessly. Prince William has reminded us more than once that we owe them all “a huge debt of gratitude.”

Captain Tom Moore’s encouraging words: “For all those finding it difficult: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”

Such sentiments filled me with hope and peace especially because it wasn’t said by some twenty-year old Californian New Ager, but by an ex-soldier and former British Army Officer; a person who has lived on this planet for over one hundred years, has been through so much and has the wisdom to understand that all things will pass. I guess when you have lived for such a long time, you can walk through hell and know that it will eventually come to an end, if we all just keep going, we are likely to reach fresh beginnings.

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at