Paul Kirkley’s Honest Review of 2016: It was an A597 sort of year...
There are good years and bad years – but can anyone recall another year whose very name became a byword for misery?
At dinner tables, on barstools and across social media, #2016 is widely accepted as shorthand for"terrible news - but what else did you expect?". It's so common, in fact, that the hashtag now feels like part of the date. They probably even put it on gravestones: Born 1933, Died #2016. Possibly of despair.
Of course, if you're Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, it probably didn't seem so bad. In fact, it was a bit of an annus mirabilis (and I'll leave you to add your own annus joke there). They were the chief beneficiaries (along with fellow charmer Vladimir Putin) of the year's most seismic shocks, in which - in a dramatic display of the noble art of democracy - voters were given great and weighty decisions to make. And then made the wrong ones. Yes, voters - I am giving you a look.
In the Brexit vote, the Leavers won the day with the wooliest of slogans about"taking back control", cocking a decisive snoop at so-called"expertsin the process. That will teach them for going round and knowing stuff. Cambridge, being full of experts of one sort of another, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and spent the rest of the year looking like a sad smiley face.
The voters of Cambridge were among the 48 per cent of the country derided by the popular press as members of an insidious Metropolitan Liberal Elite - which is one heck of a big elite, and must have come as a surprise if you were, say, a Remain-voting Scottish social worker or Dial-a-Ride minibus driver from Market Harborough.
In West Yorkshire, a far-right terrorist took out his pathetic frustrations with a murderous attack on hard-working constituency MP and mother-of-two Jo Cox. The newspapers were plunged into 48 hours of shock and mourning over such a brutal and cowardly act, before merrily returning to trashing everything Jo Cox had ever believed in.
In America, Donald Trump somehow managed to sell the idea of an inherited billionaire white man who literally lives in a gold tower replacing the son of Kenyan farming folk in the White House as one in the eye for the establishment. Almost three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton, but Trump still won because that's how democracy works in America, apparently, and anyone who doesn't understand that is an idiot or, worse, a foreigner. (Incidentally, if Trump's election is being laid at the door of the so-called alt-right, is there any chance we can re-set the dreadful events of 2016 with a global ctrl+z?).
Back home, Theresa May became Prime Minister through an even less democratic process, after David Cameron resigned, Boris Johnson was stabbed in the back by Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsomﾅ hang on, remind me who she was again? It was a very confusing time.
Labour, meanwhile, capitalised on the Tories' disarray by having an even bloodier, more protracted punch-up, with 172 of the party's MPs passing a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Despite this, Corbyn was re-elected party leader with the backing of 313,209 Labour Party members - which, by a remarkable coincidence, is the exact number of people expected to vote for him in the next General Election.
Having been handed the ticking Brexit time-bomb shortly before everyone else ran away and hid, Theresa May spent the next six months insisting the country had sent"a clear message(even though it hadn't) - that it wanted a Hard Brexit (even though it doesn't)."A hard, painful, red white and blue Brexit that will leave birch marks on your jolly naughty bottoms!added Mrs May, looking a little flushed. She was also forced to administer a smacking to Boris Johnson when, speaking about Saudi Arabia's dirty little wars in the Middle East, the bumbling Foreign Secretary broke with Government protocol by accidentally telling the truth about something.
Even the twin quakes of Brexit and Trump, however, faded into insignificance next to the year's biggest upset - the BBC's loss of The Great British Bake Off to Channel 4. Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc and the nation's Queen of Puddings, Mary Berry, all chose not to"go with the dough(there were a lot of baking puns around in September), leaving Channel 4 with nothing more to show for their £75million investment than a tent and Paul Hollywood (in that order).
Back in the real world, the people of Syria, caught between the twin terrors of Isis and Assad-Putin, continued to die in vast numbers while the West sat on its hands and did pretty much nothing - our shameful inaction just the latest legacy of Bush and Blair's disastrous Iraq misadventure. Ironic that invading a country for all the wrong reasons now stops us intervening in a different one for all the right reasons. I'm not sure the dead children of Aleppo would appreciate the irony, though.
Still, at least those who managed to flee the terror could be guaranteed a sympathetic reception by wealthier, more fortunate nations like the UK, right? (For the benefit of the hard of understanding, I am now making a sarcastic face.) Meanwhile, Europe is once again succumbing to the inexorable march of fascism. I'm always deeply suspicious when people compare anything to Hitler and the Nazis, but this feels a lot like Hitler, and the Nazis.
Closer to home, Cambridge's City Deal vied with A Bucket of Cold Sick in the popularity stakes, with proposals for peak-time road closures prompting 9,000 responses (though, to be fair, at least a dozen of those may have been in favour). And work finally started on the long-awaited upgrade of the A14, creating a much-needed extra lane of queueing Latvian lorries, but there are currently no plans to replace the notorious Girton Interchange with something less terrifying, like a Wall of Death.
Oxford Dictionaries declared"post-truthto be the word of the year, and Cambridge University classics professor Mary Beard got a unique insight into why when businessman Aaron Banks, co-founder of the Leave EU campaign, decided to give her a history lesson on the fall of Roman Empire. When Beard objected to a tweet in which Banks blamed the sacking of Rome on immigrants, the UKIP donor dug in and proceeded to mansplain Roman history to a woman who's written at least seven books - and presented several television series - on the subject. Banks, by contrast, founded the insurance firm GoSkippy.
It ended with JK Rowling weighing in on Beard's behalf and tweeting:"Bloody Professors of Classics at Cambridge University and their 'facts'.So expect Banks to start lecturing her on the history of Hogwarts and the correct ingredients of the Hiccoughing Potion any day now.
It wasn't all bad news, rancour and recriminations, though. In Rio, Britain enjoyed its most successful Olympics in a century, beating China to secure second place in the medals table, while Leicester City proved the Premier League can still be the stuff of dreams (once every couple of decades, anyway). It was a good year for Andy Murray, too, who won his second Wimbledon title, his second Olympic gold, his third BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy and became the first British tennis player to reach world No 1. He still didn't quite manage to let the excitement reach his face, though.
Sports presenter Ore Oduba also lifted the nation's spirits by winning the most popular ever series of Strictly Come Dancing - a 13-week explosion of glitter, sequins and smiles that proved a real tonic in the winter nights of a wintry year. Simon Cowell's increasingly tired and joyless X Factor, by contrast, was beaten in the ratings by both Strictly and David Attenborough's Planet Earth II, as viewers decided they'd literally rather listen to a grunting rhino than another Whitney Houston wannabe warbling through I Will Always Love You.
In a year when closing the curtains on the world was an increasingly attractive option, it also proved a purple period for TV drama, with Line of Duty, Happy Valley, The Missing, National Treasure, War and Peace and The Crown among the highlights. Oh, and cockney jack-the-lad Danny Dyer turned out to be a direct descendant of Thomas Cromwell and some proper geezer called Edward III in the greatest episode of Who Do You Think You Are? ever broadcast. From Wolf Hall to the Queen Vic in five centuries, it certainly brought new meaning to the term 'my manor'.
It was easy to forget, during all the Sturm und Drang of 2016, that we're still lucky to be living in the here and now, as opposed to the times of Cromwell or Ed III, when the bubonic plague would have put even the persistent stain that is Nigel Farage into perspective. Barack Obama reminded us of this in October when he declared that, for all the problems facing mankind, this is still the greatest time in human history to be alive. Though, to be fair, he said that before an angry orange manchild was elected as his successor. And it also failed to take into account that, this year, many beloved figures ceased to be just that: alive.
Yes, the Grim Reaper really was pulling double shifts wherever he could in 2016. The pitiless roll call of death started early, with the passing of David Bowie on January 10, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar - a parting shot to the world filled with allusions to his own mortality. And after that, they just kept coming: Terry Wogan, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Harper Lee, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, George Martin, Johan Cruyff, Prince, Victoria Wood, Carla Lane, Muhammad Ali, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Jean Alexander, Andrew Sachs, Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Jimmy Young, Peter Vaughan, Greg Lake, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Rick Parfitt and, on Christmas Day, George Michael. The list goes on. And on.
Each of us will have had our favourites. I admired David Bowie as one would a work of art - as a shapeshifting chameleon who recreated pop music in his own image with every reinvention. He was a genius, but he wore too many faces for me to connect with emotionally. Prince was also a genius but, as a middle-aged white man from Yorkshire, I simply lack the required levels of funk to properly appreciate him. For me, the three most keenly felt losses were Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood and Leonard Cohen. Terry because he'd always just been there - more of a fixture in my life than, let's be honest, most members of my extended family. And Victoria and Leonard simply because I have loved their work, deep in my bones, for as long as I can remember.
When Leonard Cohen died - like Bowie, shortly after gifting us a triumphant deathbed confessional record - one of his old lyrics caught fire on social media:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
It's as reassuring a mantra for the business end of #2016 as anything: that idea that the world may not be perfect (and that's putting it mildly), but the light will always find a way.
I'd like to leave you, though, with this equally profound offering from the wise and wonderful Victoria Wood:"Life's not fair, is it? Some of us drink champagne in the fast lane, and some of us eat our sandwiches by the loose chippings on the A597."
It was very much an A597 sort of year.