I suspect many people will, like me, be glad to see the back of 2016; it’s certainly been one of the most extreme years I’ve ever lived through – in fact the sort of year I never expected or wanted to live through.
On a personal front it was great, largely thanks to my titanium hip. I passed the 12-month post-op ‘full recovery’ milestone in August, and will hit my impending birthday feeling ten years younger instead of one year older. I have my strength, energy and fitness back, and (hurrah!) a proper marriage again. Hubcap no longer has to nurse me along like some fragile semi-invalid; we can enjoy ourselves like the couple we used to be, going places, doing stuff, able to hike all day with no fear that an arthritic femur will shift in its socket and leave me stuck in crippled agony (as once memorably happened half-way up the keep stairs at Conisbrough Castle).
I could work physically hard too, making 2016 my best business year for- well, years. I’ve been a real Assistant Gardener at Hubcap’s busiest times, relishing our teamwork and the sweaty satisfaction of a solid day’s graft planting trees, mowing grass or painting fences – not to mention numerous sessions of Himalayan Balsam-busting, bindweed clearance and haymaking on our nascent smallholding. And I developed my new funeral services venture by foot-slogging round Wakefield’s streets delivering 5000 promotional leaflets (a strangely enjoyable task which would’ve been utterly beyond me prior to the op).
Said venture turns out to be one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, although what’s good for a funeral celebrant is perforce bad for my bereaved clients – especially because only one of the services I conducted this year was for someone very elderly; the rest were for folk in their fifties and sixties, who might reasonably have been expected to live a lot longer. It made for a poignant time in my working world, reflected in a wider sense by the staggering number of celebrities to die in 2016. Some, like the great Leonard Cohen, went in the ripe fullness of old age, but more, like Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne, were relatively, cruelly young. The only such death to touch me directly was that of journalist and critic AA Gill, with whom I was very slightly acquainted and liked a lot. Others were cultural icons, their familiar faces and voices woven into the very fabric of my earlier life, including Ronnie Corbett, who made my whole family laugh; Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, to whom I listened throughout my spotty adolescence; my late mother’s beloved Terry Wogan; Greg Lake, one of the first ‘progressive’ musicians I ever got into, and writer of my favourite-ever Christmas song; Prince, whose music charted my work-trips to the States in the Eighties; and David Bowie, for God’s sake, one of the most towering musical figures of the late 20th century… I adored him. Losing so many in a matter of months made me reel; they took a whole era with them and a huge swathe of my personal past, severing a host of connections with long-dead family and friends – which has all added up to a long, sad year of mourning.
However, those griefs pale by comparison to my feelings about the year in politics and the sheer terrifying awfulness of events at home and abroad. ‘The ‘experts’ have made a complete hash of things,’ concluded the electorates here and across the Atlantic; and while that’s true enough, it prompted some catastrophic reactions: ‘So let’s give the ignorant, inexperienced, self-aggrandising morons a chance – that’ll show ‘em!’ Yes, after two of the most despicable, divisive campaigns of misinformation and putrid propaganda I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness, all gleefully fuelled by the bile-spewing media, Britain will leave the European Union and America will be governed by a politically naïve, sexist, shouty orange racist, a porn-star First lady, their equally unqualified family and frightening fundamentalist cronies.
So far, the consequences have been pretty grim. Britain’s Leave vote, won by outright lies and broken promises, has condemned us to years of bitter argument, massive expense, market instability and an uncertain future, and shown up politicians of every party as irresponsible, incompetent, completely wrong-footed by the result and clueless about what to do next. America’s Republican victory has already caused social unrest and protests on a mammoth scale, together with accusations of corruption and criminality against a candidate many refuse to accept as president. And both here and Stateside we’ve seen a huge, horrible upsurge in scapegoating, racial and religious abuse and hate-crimes – enough to scare the bejesus out of any moderate liberal with any awareness of 20th century political and military history. To me, it has a dreadful, apocalyptic feel, as if we’ve just pressed the self-destruct button and things are about to take a turn for the unimaginably worse. I’ve never before felt so disgusted, appalled, depressed and outright bloody frightened by Britain’s political environment; and I want out but there’s nowhere to go because this seems to be the world now, a world increasingly dominated by braying right-wing bigots and unhinged religious extremists.
So it’s goodbye and good riddance to you, 2016. I can only hope and pray for 2017 and beyond that my fears will be misplaced; that everything will pan out for the best, and I’ll be forced to eat all these critical words. And by God, I want to eat them. I want to be as wrong as wrong can be. I want people who voted to leave the EU, or elected the president whose name I can’t bear to write, to be fully justified in saying, ‘See? Told you so – our problems are under control, the economy’s booming and we’re all doing just fine.’
In the meantime, I’ll close my final blog of this benighted year by wishing you and yours the merriest possible Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year.