I intend this to be my last blog post for 2010; shortly, I will be going on an extended holiday, and hopefully I will feel reinvigorated afterwards. If so, I am likely to have a lot more about which I wish to comment.
This year concludes with more than a tinge of sadness. On my birthday, the office chipped in for a card which featured a picture of a roller coaster. No photograph could have been more apropos. There have been the delights of graduation and my book being published, the troubles from the world of politics, and the lows of emotional turmoil and still-bitter regret. Nevertheless, the storms have been navigated, tasks have been completed, and the year ends with far less loose ends than which it began. So: to walk in the early morning through my town and see the twinkling of Christmas lights in shop windows seems a just reward. Soon I’ll take a trip and eventually come to a door marked “Exit”. My eyes will be bleary, but then light up when I find my family waiting on the other side. There will be the tree, the gentle lie-ins, the more chromatic dawns that are a feature of my place of origin. In a week’s time, I’ll awake, stare briefly at the ceiling, and know that I’m done. The reset button is soon to be pressed. New challenges await, but they can wait a little while.
Those who have read this blog through the year have accompanied me on this journey; I know there are a fair few, and for their presence, even though it was mostly unspoken, I am grateful. For them and for all, I finish up 2010 with a few observations which fill out the year’s end.
Earlier this week, I visited Birmingham on a business trip; I was there for a training course. On the evening prior to the seminar, I saw two couples while out walking: one was a pair of young women, the other a man and his girlfriend. Those who argue against marriage equality would perhaps have been surprised; the more “unnatural” of the two pairings was the latter. The two young women emerged from a store in front of me; my supposition is that one had bought the other a splendid gift. It merited a romantic kiss that took no heed of the world around them. The other couple was perched on the doorstep of Waterstones: they were arguing, the man doing his best to soothe his partner’s anger, which had erupted for an unspecified reason. No doubt the man and woman had their beautiful moments, and no doubt the two young women have their share of spats, but surely a mix between pleasure and pain is the hallmark of a true couple? And if the two relationships are equal in tenor and in the challenges that face them, surely the institutions which support both should be equal as well?
Birmingham was irritating in several respects: I found it very difficult to find a cash machine that actually had any money to dispense. People stood in long queues to few machines at a large branch of Lloyds Bank; I was one of them. It struck me as odd that having saved the banks that we taxpayers could demand no more than the usual. Contempt has rightly arisen in the breast of the body politic for all they do; yet they sail on and try to pretend that nothing has changed. This tension is unsustainable; it may come to a head in nations like Ireland which are sick of austerity. Sinn Fein’s win in the Donegal South West by-election, based on a platform of purposeful default, may point the way to the future. It would be better if the bankers and bondholders came to an arrangement with debtor nations that was far less punishing, lest they lose it all in the haircut to come; do they see this? Well, they haven’t enough sense to keep the cash machines fully loaded in the middle of a busy commercial area.
Another episode that crossed my path in Birmingham occured at the Bull Ring shopping mall. I disliked the old Bull Ring: its successor’s virtue lay in not being its predecessor. I tried to find a suitable place to eat; on the mall’s map, I located a Wagamama. On my way, I saw two security guards dragging off a middle-aged and dishevelled man wearing a blue baseball cap. He spoke in a strong Brummie accent: he complained that it wasn’t right. What the “it” was, I have no idea. I presume he was either drunk or mentally ill: nevertheless, he was troubled. It wasn’t right, he complained. The guards sympathised briefly before continuing to march him to the door and pushing him out in the cold. It wasn’t right. I understand the guards’ point of view: I found the man irritating too. However surely there was something better to be done? If he was homeless, could they not call a shelter? If he was mentally ill, surely a hospital should take him away? It wasn’t right.
The train ride back home was long and tedious. At the start of the journey, Virgin Trains felt the need to explain the rules associated with the issuance of tickets: they were so long and complicated that although my office had booked them, I was gripped by a near-panic at the thought that I might have the wrong kind. Very few types were apparently correct: pay anything other than full fare, unless you have a truly super-duper saver fare and a receipt signed by the (dead) Queen Mother, a penalty charge of £70 could apply. Of course, you could avoid this fate if you decided to get off in Coventry and take a London Midland train, which would arrive in London sometime in February. I do remember a nationalised rail service: while it had its egregious faults, at least the ticket pricing was far less Byzantine. Surely this is something that could be sorted out? Maybe?
It is threatening to snow again here in the South. Up in Scotland and the North of England, it is already coming down. This may be a feature of our future: according to research done in 2005, the Gulf Stream is slowing down. Britain is on the same latitude as Canada, and without the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, we can expect Canadian style weather. The cause? Melting ice in the Arctic may be playing merry hell with the currents. Perversely, climate change may lead to a future in which Britain is colder. Some would say, “it’s just our luck”. Those who wish to deny climate change merely refer to it as “global warming” and point to a dropping thermometer as if it is conclusive proof of their overly optimistic theories. Meanwhile, the problem remains unresolved.
Finally, Time has apparently decided to pick Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its “Person of the Year” instead of Julian Assange. It has occured to me that Assange is a litmus test on how one views democracy: leaving aside the accusations of rape, his major crime has been to rip off the mask Western governments wear and show that what we supposed is true turned out to be true, yet no one was ever supposed to say, and we were never supposed to know. Some don’t want to play these games and believe democracy is only served by having a populace which is fully informed. It’s a conundrum: how can we govern ourselves if we don’t have the detail of fact in our hands? Others feel that good government can only operate in the dark. I belong to the former camp. I hope Assange gets his day in court, but only one that is absent of any political taint.
At this point, my thoughts retreat. I think there is space now for engaging with classic episodes of Doctor Who or a work of light fiction and to smile untroubled for a time. Of course serious concerns will return and predominate, but the virtue of December lay in our ability to set them to one side. Pick up pleasure, embrace familial love, put up twinkling lights, be in awe of a tree in the living room. It is an innocent time. I wish that for all this holiday season: that there is space for an essential innocence, the best gift I can possibly imagine. May it be found, relished and cherished.