Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - An A-Z Guide to the crappy year that was

In his book 2010: Odyssey Two - the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C Clarke had us yomping around Jupiter in spaceships looking for the monolith-building aliens who'd kickstarted the development of human intelligence. It's an optimistic book about us becoming a better species. Ah, would that that were true. The real 2010 has not exactly been a showcase year for Homo Sapiens: Oil spills, riots, duplicitous politicians reneging on election promises, tax evading businessmen, personal freedoms infringed to fight terrorism, phone hacking allegations against the police, appallingly slow aid for earthquake-struck Haiti and flooded Pakistan, Obama having to fight his own nation to get free health care for those that need it most, Blair getting away with it, global recession, tax rises and austerity cuts ...

It hasn't all been bad news though. There was the rescue of the Chilean miners, Wikileaks, the near demolition of the BNP, the England cricket team's Ashes win, and ... er ...

Let's face it, on the whole, 2010 has been a bit shit. It certainly has been for me and I know that I'm not alone. Normally, I'd do a review of the year - the highs and lows, silly and serious stuff. But with it all being so overwhelmingly crappy, I thought, instead, that I'd write a tongue-in-cheek A-Z Guide to 2010. I hope it raises a smile or two. Goodness knows we need a few.

A is for Austerity. Welcome to 2011 and being poor. Or poorer. My house is worth less than it was when I bought it. VAT is going up. Petrol prices are mad - the other day it cost me £80 to drive to Cornwall and back in a pretty average gas-guzzling car. Oh, and I have a tax bill due. Thankfully, that shouldn't be too painful as I've pretty much earned bugger all this year; wherein lies another issue altogether. In February, I left the Met Police Service. I'd done my 30 years and I was eligible for my full police pension. I was offered the chance of a year by year contract renewal to stay on but, frankly, I'd had enough. There's only so long you can keep doing a job where you spend 40 hours a week trying to help people and keep them safe and yet every fecker hates you for it. Besides which, I'd had a book published and things were looking great for me. As it happens, if I had stayed on in the police, I'd have been let go by now; the '30+' officers were the first against the wall in the austerity cuts. Meanwhile, my book deal fell through and I found myself unwaged for the first time in three decades. Admittedly, I have a pension but it barely covers the mortgage and bills. I have no money at all for luxuries. All of which has meant being a little more canny with food and learning to be more frugal with water, electricity, gas etc. It's been a real eye-opener. It's quite amazing what you can do without any appreciable loss of lifestyle and still save lots of money. I've grown my own fruit and veg and learned to bake. It's even led to me experimenting with food that many would shy away from including cooking two pigs' heads which were, I have to say, delicious. I may miss out on the luxuries in 2011 but I won't starve. Which is a bugger as one of my New Year's Resolutions is to shed a few pounds. Maybe just the one pig's head today then ...

B is for BP. Oh dear. Wasn't that a feck up of the highest water? The highest detergent-soaked oily water at that. The incident had Americans marching through the streets with placards blaming BP for everything from global warming to alien abductions and the incident stirred up a lot of anti-British feeling. I suspect it's going to take a lot more than sponging off a few pelicans to rebuild BP's reputation. And by that I don't mean asking seabirds for money you oaf. Of course, look at oil spills globally and the Americans still win hands down. For example, on May 10th this year, ExxonMobile had an oil spill in Nigeria Delta. It was the 16th worst oil spill in world history, at 95,000 tonnes (696,350 barrels or 214,475,800 gallons). This dwarfs the BP oil spill and they are a regular occurrence in Nigeria, about 300 a year. It is estimated over the past 50 years about 1.5 million tons have been dumped in the Delta, equivalent to the Gulf War oil spill (the largest spill on record) or 50+ Exxon Valdez-sized spills. yet you don't hear that being discussed very often do you? The fact that the Deepwater Horizon spillage happened on their doorstep has, at least, stirred Americans up to the point that the world has started to ask questions and it's brought the activities of oil companies to public view. So maybe some good will come of it.

C is for Coalition ... and for another C word equally appropriate to describe the LibDems. I am genuinely appalled by their policy U-turns and supremely disappointed in the spinelessness of Nick Clegg. I didn't vote LibDem (I'm a Greenie through and through) but if you did, I am so sorry that your vote was wasted. It's a shameful time for British politics and if ever a parliament should be hung ... On the up-side, however, the British National Party took a right hammering - a whitewash? - and we can look forward to some great new comedy. It's a fact that all of the best funny stuff tends to happen under a Tory government because very few comedians are right wingers. Best joke so far? What's white and stops you going to work? David Cameron. Fnar. Okay, if you're reading this sometime in the Summer or in warmer climes that doesn't work. You need a good few inches of snow on the ground for the full effect.

D is for Dinosaurs. Stop killing them off you cladistic bastards! When I was a kid I developed a life-long love of dinosaurs. I'm still fascinated to this day. Like most kids, I made an effort to learn their clumsy Linnaean scientific names and wondered why they didn't have common names that were easier to speak and spell. I mean to say, we don't go around talking about Pan Troglodytes or Meles Meles do we? We say 'Chimp' and 'Badger'. So why do I have to try to pronounce a name like Tuojiangosaurus or Similicaudipteryx? Why can't they be called 'Spikey' and 'Flappy'? For that reason alone I suspect that we all tended to learn the easy-to-pronounce ones first. Brontosaurus. Tyrannosaurus Rex. Stegosaurus. Pterodactyl. Triceratops. Easy - although there was always some argument whether it was Diplo-doh-cuss or De-plod-oh-cuss, in much the same way we argue over the pronunciation of 'scone'. This little group of dinos became the Royal Family - the ones that everyone knew. So imagine my horror now that they've all started to disappear. Brontosaurus went a few years ago when it was discovered that he was actually an Apatosaurus instead. Bye bye Bronto. Pterodactyl never really existed anyway as he was an inaccurate generic term for a whole range of smaller pterosaurs. And now, in 2010, Steggy and Trikey are at risk. Research has revealed that Triceratops is probably just an immature form of Torosaurus and, according to Peter Galton, a curator at Yale's Peabody Museum, the first Stegosaurus specimen - described in 1877 - is too incomplete to compare with other fossils, which therefore invalidates the genus name. Instead, more complete stegosaurs such as Kentrosaurus, Lexovisaurus and the tongue-shredding Tuojiangosaurus may become the new holotype. Boooo! Incidentally, we are now - for the first time since the dinosaurs - making species extinct faster than new ones can evolve. We're officially unbalancing the biosphere. Go us.

E is for Easel. I've got mine out this year. As I've been effectively unemployed for 10 months and I've never been able to paint, I thought I'd teach myself. It's been great fun and I get better with every canvas. It may be that I have to rely more on my artistic skills than my writing skills in 2011 in the light of the publishing crisis. I'm certainly planning to run some art classes in a few months' time and I may even hold an exhibition. Watch this (gallery) space.

F is for Football. We lost the bid for the next couple of World Cups amid sour-grapes allegations of 'money always wins' and we crashed spectacularly out of the World Cup this year by playing like a bunch of drunken one-legged ducks who all hate other ducks. The competition was further marred by in-fighting and allegations of players shagging each other's WAGs. Deplorable. But, sadly, inevitable. I will happily admit that what I know about football could fit inside a kitten's fist but isn't our current system specifically designed to make the England national squad a failure? Firstly, look at what we pay the players. Rooney is on £180,000 per week. Yes, that's right - per week. At a time when VAT is being increased, child benefit is being stolen away from some couples who rely on it and higher education is being made available only to those who can afford it, he gets paid £180,000 per week for kicking a bag of wind around a field. The world's gone fucking mad. Believe me, I'm not bitter. I'd love to earn money like that! Good luck to them. But, that aside, is it any wonder that our footie players end up embroiled in sex and drugs scandals? Who wouldn't be tempted to the Dark Side if they had that kind of income to indulge themselves with? In addition, our football league system is built upon tribalism with club hating club so all of our players spend most of the professional careers playing against their national squad team mates. Then there's the fact that most teams seem to be made up of foreign nationals. That says to me that we're training the opposition, aren't we? Shouldn't we be putting our money into developing new home talent and getting them working together in time for the next World Cup? If you halved the money paid to our top players they'd still all be squillionaires and we'd have some money to invest in our sporting future at a time when the government is reducing investment. Just a thought.

G is for Gunmen. First there was Derrick Bird in Cumbria who killed 12 people. Then there was Raoul Moat. It's not been a good year for their victims or their families. My condolencies to them.

H is for Henhwedhlow. Which means legends or fairy tales in Cornish. After many years of slog, my book of Cornish folktales finally made it to print in 2010. If it gives you some idea how long I've been at it, my initial kick up the arse came from Douglas Adams several years before his untimely death. I knew that no mainstream publisher would touch it as it's too parochial. Plus, they're famous for not taking chances, a condition made infinitely worse by the recession. However, the Cornish Language Fellowship (Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek) embraced it and asked if they could publish it in Cornish. The translation was done by a splendid bard chap called Tony Hak and what eventually appeared was a book published in English and Cornish with the languages on facing pages. I donated the stories to Kowethas and I'll earn no money from it. But they may earn a few bob to help keep the language alive and that's a good thing. I'm proud of my heritage and I'm also proud to have written what is now the largest body of original modern Cornish prose in existence. 2011 will see me visiting my home county several times to do readings at various festivals. I can't wait.

I is for i-Pad. The must-have gadget of 2010. i-So want one. i-Can't afford it.

J is for Joke. When is a joke not a joke? When you post it on Twitter and it gets read by some numpty who takes it seriously, that's when. Back in January a trainee accountant called Paul Chambers was experiencing some frustration in his life. His local airport was closed by snow. In annoyance he left this comment on Twitter: 'Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!' Trainee accountant, remember? Not trainee Al Queda-trained terrorist. Not trainee IRA provisional. Not a disgruntled sociopath with a hatred of airports either. Just a normal guy expressing his frustration in the same way that we all do at times. However, to his utter surprise, Chambers found himself being arrested for issuing a 'genuine threat'? It's madness. I was a cop for 30 years and five minutes with the bloke would have easily convinced me that there was no threat and no intent to cause panic. Even the police officer investigating the case branded it a 'foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see'. It's blindingly obvious that there was no malice behind it. It even ended in a brace of comedy exclamation marks!! Terrorists don't do that!! They really don't!! See how silly it is!!? There was no intent to cause terror or to inflict terror and I'm damned sure that Chambers didn't have the capability to blow up an airport. Sadly, the Crown Prosecution Service didn't agree and took the matter to court in May where, to almost every sane person's dismay, he was found guilty and fined £385 and a £15 victim surcharge. Chambers decided to appeal and, unbelievably, he lost and was ordered to pay the outstanding fine plus new prosecution costs of £2,600. He's also been banned from Robin Hood Airport. Astonishing. In solidarity a bunch of us re-Tweeted his joke, word for word, along with the hashtag of #IamSpartacus in a parody of that film's most famous scene. Surely if he can be arrested for writing those words, shouldn't the thousands of us who did the same also be arested? What an appalling waste of time and money and what a damning insight into our out-dated and humourless judicial system.

K is for Kraft. If they fuck up Cadbury's chocolate I will become a terrorist and blow their factory sky high. #IamSpartacus.

L is for Leaks. Specifically Wikileaks. Julian Assange I salute you. I hope that the sexual assault allegations against you are, as the conspiricists claim, an attempt to smear your name and character. If not you deserve everything that you get. However, Wikileaks is bigger than Assange and the truth must always come out, especially when it shows illegality or immorality by the people we trust to run our countries. Interestingly, when Time Magazine asked readers to vote for 'person of the year', they voted overwhelmingly for Assange with a total of 1,249,425; that's 148,383 votes more than the silver medalist, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey. So who did the magazine make their Person of the Year? Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who actually came 10th in the poll. Feck you readers! What do you know with your purchasing power. What? Oh ...

M is for Miners. What can I say? The rescue of the Chilean miners was a triumph of human ingenuity and courage. Sadly, however, the wrong person got all the credit. As writer and blogger Piers Beckley wrote: 'A few moments ago, the Chilean president came on television, thanking God for the rescue of these men. Others have also praised God for His help in this matter. Sebastián Piñera was, of course, incorrect. It was men who organised the operation. Men who designed the equipment. Men who drilled the shaft. Men who worked day and night for the last two months. Men who have saved the lives of these 33 people. God? He's just the fucker that dropped a mountain on those miners in the first place.' As an atheist and sceptic, I couldn't agree more. I found it almost insulting to see the efforts of so many dedicated rescue workers swept aside in favour of a being who, if he/she/it actually exists, would have caused the disaster in the first place. The same being, incidentally, who obviously hates the Chinese. For even as the last Chileans were being winched to freedom, 115 Chinese miners were also trapped underground with little hope of rescue and surviving on eating cardboard. And why would they be hopeful? Mining disasters are as common as dog farts over there and the world conveniently ignores it because it is over there. In 2003 China accounted for 80% of the world’s total coal-mining fatalies, although it produced only 35% of the world’s coal. Official figures show that, in the first six months of this year, 3,393 miners perished in accidents that occurred on an almost weekly basis. In July alone, 126 mine accidents claimed 329 lives. Political commentator Wang Zhi’an believes that the lack of proper safety equipment and facilities is mainly due to the absence of government regulation on safety standards. Safety and shelter facilities require capital investment as well as human effort and other resources; if the cost of death is lower, then mining enterprises prefer cash compensation (to families of the dead miners) instead. Nice.

N is for Natural Disasters. An earthquake in Haiti followed by cholera. Flash floods in Madiera. Earthquakes in Chile and China. Volcanic ash clouds in Iceland. Catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Wildfires in Russia. Hundreds of thousands dead. Millions affected. And on a much less damaging scale but irritating nonetheless - two lots of snow that have caused chaos where I live. Hasn't God been busy this year? How anyone can continue to believe in the fecker amazes me.

O is for Obama. He's had a rough ride in his first year, bless him. His popularity is down and he's been fought every inch of the way by bigoted right wing loons, intolerant Christian fundamentalists and blinkered good ol' boys who can't see anything beyond US borders. His election win was a glorious day for American democracy. Let's just hope the nutjobs can be slapped back enough to let him make the reforms that will make the USA a much better place to live than it already is.

P is for Promises, promises. It would be so easy to whinge here about Nick Clegg and the LibDem's U-Turn on university fees. Words cannot express my anger at him and his party. The Tories? Well, I kind of expected it from them as they've always been a party that favours the well-endowed moneywise. Now, it seems, even an education is no longer a right but a privilege for the privileged. My kids have all grown up now. And I'm glad because I couldn't fund their higher education and it's an appalling thought that in order to have an education, they'd need to enter an adult working life with a huge millstone of debt around their necks. Instead, I am going to have a whinge at spineless book retailers and publishers instead. When I sold my first book Joined-Up Thinking, I got a great advance for it and all was looking great - excellent reviews, cover quotes by Stephen Fry and the QI crowd and the trade magazines nominated it as a definite top Christmas seller ... but it didn't work out that way. The retailers bottled at the last minute, reneged on their promises and the book disappeared under the weight of a celebrity autobiography wankfest (For the full story, read this rather dour post here). It all meant that the sequel I'd been asked to write will probably never see the light of day and the new book I wrote was turned down due to my 'poor sales'. Sigh. I might write a book called 'How to feck a career with one broken promise.' But who'd publish it? The good news is ... celebrity biography book sales have been dreadful. There's hope for me yet.

Q is for QI. The one beacon of light in my career this year has been Quite Interesting Ltd. John Lloyd CBE (as awarded in the New Year's Honours list and quite richly deserved) and his merry band of elves have embraced me and welcomed me and some of my happiest days this year have been spent with them and working for them. I saw several shows recorded and met many of the cast and crew. I also enjoyed watching the recording of all six episodes of the 'spin-off' radio series The Museum of Curiosity, hosted by Lloydy and produced by Dan Schreiber and Rich Turner where I met wonderful people like Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Richard Wiseman, Jon Ronson, Sarah Millican, Suggs and Leigh Francis. The year culminated in me drawing and co-writing eight pages for the QI H Annual 2011 and doing the covers for The EFG Bumper Book of QI Annuals. Plus my artwork was shown on the TV show and Stephen gave me a name check. The good news is that my relationship with QI may will be continuing and maybe expanding in the new year. Certainly, I'll enjoy every opportunity I am offered.

R is for Radio. Congratulations to 6 Music. Glad you survived the cull. What a great station.
And a big 'Wooo!' for Radio 4 which continues to delight and entertain me in ways TV never will. Highlights this year included The Museum of Curiosity, Bleak Expectations, The Goodies Reunited, The League of Gentlemen's Ghost Chase, Fry's English Delight, Dom Jolly's Me and my Mobile plus all the perennial favourites such as I'm sorry I haven't a clue, Brain of Britain and Just a minute. May you broadcast forever.

S is for Sherlock. The first time I've ever said 'No shit Sherlock' and meant it. Wasn't it good? Stephen Moffat can do no wrong it seems and Mark Gatiss was an able accomplice. I liked the teaming of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman too. More please.

T is for Tax, non-payment of. And Top Shop. What can I say? How extraordinary that Vodafone's unpaid tax bill is almost penny for penny what the government needs from us in austerity cuts. And as for Top Shop ... I don't condone violence or criminal damage but, if any of their clothes fitted my lardy body, I'd boycott them. Oh yes. Grr.

U is for University fees. Grrr. It's also for Unicorns. Which existed, apparently. Kentucky's state-backed $150 million creationist theme park, The Ark Encounter, will allow visitors to explore a literal interpretation of the Bible's story of Noah and the ark. Incredibly, the official blog of the group claims that dinosaurs (or 'dragons') and unicorns were on the Ark. They say that: 'Being land animals, dinosaurs (or dragons of the land) were created on Day Six (Genesis 1:24–31), went aboard Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6:20), and then came off the Ark into the post-Flood world (Genesis 8:16–19). It makes sense that many cultures would have seen these creatures from time to time before they died out.' And here's their position on Biblical unicorns: 'The biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. ... The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.). ... To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.' I did say it was 2011 this year and not 1711 didn't I? Hang your head in shame Kentucky.

V is for Vuvezela and Volcanoes. It was the sound of the Summer. An irritating, dischordant blast of mind-scraping cacophony. How I hated the vuvuzela. I bet they're here to stay though. I bet every fecking footie match this year will feature those hateful African trumpets. Thank goodness I'm not a footie fan. Another annoying cone-shaped object this year was the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which caused absolute travel chaos back in April. Who'd have thought we'd ever see airport signs in the UK saying 'Flights cancelled due to volcanic activity'?

W is for Who. 2010 saw the debut of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor and a mighty fine job he made of it too. David Tennant was always going to be a bastard of an act to follow but Smith has done himself proud. I'll admit that I started watching his first series with a growing sense of disappointment. I blogged about it here having watched half the series and ended by saying, 'The show is still head and shoulders above much TV drama but it can be, and has been, so much better. I still love the show but I want to love it more.' I am pleased to say that the Moff didn't disappoint and the series ended with me wearing a big grin on my face. I'm still not entirely sure how the Doctor got out of the Pandorica but I loved the sheer pace and stupidity of it, fez, mop and all. The Christmas special was not too shabby either so roll on 2011. While we're on the Ds I'll also mention Dirk Gently, the long-awaited TV adaptation of the adventures of Douglas Adams' holistic detective. Stephen Mangan was born to play the part and I enjoyed it very much. Yes, it played havoc with the characters in the original book. Yes, it had a whole new murder plot. And yes, there was that huge gaffe in that an i-Phone apparently kept its charge in a box for over 20 years. But Douglas famously arsed around with plots and characters himself and the various forms of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy all contradict each other. I'd like to think that Dirk Gently the series (if it gets one and I hope it does) will be 'the further adventures of ...' The character deserves a good outing on TV.

X is for ... 2010 was not big on xylophone news or stories concerning King Xerxes. I suppose I could say 'X Rays' and mention the intrusive full body scanners being introduced at airports. I guess that the indignity of having strangers laugh at my willy means that the terrorists have finally won. Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to 'virtual strip-searching' and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved. There is also the fact that images of children made this way actually contravene the law by making indecent naked images of minors. All I know is that we're all paying the price for the actions of a few nutters and you're still more likely to die in a kettle-related accident than from terrorist activity. No picture here as they all show nudity which kind of defeats the object of me complaining about them.

Y is for Yahoo! Well done to the England cricket team for its spectacular Ashes win in Australia. Well played lads!

Z is for Zebedee. Time for bed for these wonderfully talented people who we lost this year: Norman Wisdom, Leslie Nielson, J D Salinger, Jean Simmons, Erich Segal, Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Dankworth, Ian Carmichael, Alexander McQueen, Dick Francis, Corey Haim, Peter Graves, Robert Culp, John Forsythe, Christopher Cazenove, Malcolm McClaren, Lynn Redgrave, Ronnie James Dio, Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, Rue McClanahan, Maury Chaykin, Ivy Bean (world's oldest Tweeter aged 104), Mitch Miller, Jack Parnell, Glenn Shadix, Kevin McCarthy, Eddie Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Tony Curtis, Stephen J Cannell, Roy Ward Baker, Joan Sutherland, Simon MacCorkindale, Benoit Mandelbrot, Tom Bosley, Ari Up, Bob Guccione, Gregory Isaacs, Jill Clayburgh, Dino de Laurentis, Irvin Kirschner, Blake Edwards, Bobby Farrell, Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) and Paul the Psychic Octopus.

Happy New Year everybody. Let's all hope that 2011 is a damned sight better for us all.



Anonymous said...

What a thoroughly splendid post! It was a crowded year for you personally as well as for humanity at large - I loved the A-Z approach; this worked so well.

Of course, I wasn't so thrilled by the Ashes outcome but I do acknowledge that you are fully justified in your delight! (Just give us five years or so and we'll be back...)

My only other 'quibble' would be with Wikileaks. I understand why people were pleased with the revelations but I caution everyone to be chary of lauding Julian Assange. To me he's always come across as a thorough creep, a hypocrite and a con man - I'm guessing that he's set to make a shit-load of money out of Wikileaks and that therein lies his personal motivation; I doubt he had any sense of community service when this particular opportunity came his way. He doesn't strike me as being the least bit philanthropic. I guess time will tell.

Living austerely isn't so bad - it's amazing what we can adapt to. As far as being smarter re food choice and intake quantity, you and me both!

Thank you for the balanced view re oil spills - I wish the mainstream media were more objectively honest and less self-servingly sensationalist.

I could so easily go on - there's so much food for thought here - but this is not my blog and I am here to give credit to the blog writer for such a grand piece. Thank you, Steve!

In closing, I'll echo your sentiments - may 2011 be so very much better than 2010!

Mopshell xx

Ange1ina said...

I still believe in the stegasaurus. And the brontosaurus. We had a song at school which went: "Brontosaurus on the prowl, off to find his dinner. He can only eat sycamore leaves, but he grows no thinner." Terrible rhyme, so bad it stuck in my mind. Not sure about the authenticity of the diet of sycamore leaves either.

I agree 2010 wasn't great and I hope we all have a much better 2011

Ali said...

Hi- just to let you know that you have had at least one reader in New Zealand (although a Pom still). I enjoyed your review of 2010 and agree it was a seriously crap year. Unfortunately NZ managed both a mining disaster (in November we lost 29 miners in a series of explosions underground) and in September Christchurch (where I live) was hit by its own natural disaster when we had a 7.1 earthquake, the aftershocks of which we are still dealing with. My blog has brief details.

Anyway keep up the good work and I hope that 2011 is a better year for you.

BTW if you need a dieting buddy I need motivation. Like you I lost 30kgs 2 years ago and have worked hard to put it all back on :(