How the years seem to fly now.
This one, 2015, has been no exception. It seems to have whizzed past faster than any of those that preceded it, events unfolding and folding like scenes observed from a train window. A symptom of old age, I’m told.
Some years deserve the accolade ‘Good Year’. To others one simply says ‘good riddance” and hope the next will be better. This last year belongs in the latter category.
Health was an issue for both M and me.
For her, yet another hip operation, which left me wondering just how many hips she actually has, or if she has the regulation issue of two, how many times they can be repaired or replaced or adjusted. The latest ‘fix’ will be the last, or so she’s been given to understand, which means that from now on she’ll have to live with whatever else goes wrong with them. And, of course, the attendant discomfort. She copes with all this with a stoicism and energy that leaves me filled with admiration.
No sooner had she emerged from hospital, actually the same afternoon, than I was diagnosed with a burst appendix. That’s not supposed to happen to a man of my advanced years, but there we are. “Stuff happens,” as my surgeon explained, unhelpfully. Mind you, it wasn’t the dramatic event that I’d thought it would have been. There was no collapse, no ambulance bells ringing in the middle of the night. The pain had been slight, perfectly tolerable, and I had to be persuaded, as usual, to seek medical advice.
The consequences could have killed me, or so I was later told. So out the useless and now disintegrating organ had to come, a procedure that actually required, for reasons I won’t bore you with, two surgical events – both of them mercifully of the keyhole variety. My torso now has more craters than Richard Burton’s face.
But who’s to see them?
The best news of the year was the first anniversary of our splendid grandson Maxwell James. He’d started it rather poorly (a conclusion with which some might disagree) with what turned out to be a minor digestive disorder, but ended it in fine fettle. Now he boasts a hefty torso, supported by such sturdy legs as to cause some of us to entertain thoughts of grooming him for a role in the front row of England’s rugby pack. It could use some help, by the way, after England, the tournament hosts, were eliminated from the World Cup in the opening round. His parents, George and Sara, have done a splendid job. I’m proud of them both. Unless George decides Max should play football.
In the wider world, the words to which our ears became most attuned, to the point of reducing many of us to exasperated intolerance, were ‘ISIL’ (Islamic State & etc), ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘attack’. These were all used at various times, in various places, and in various distressing combinations.
Early in the year, Islamic gunmen attacked the offices of a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, killing seventeen, eleven of them Hebdo employees. Hebdo had published material offensive to Muslims. Publications around the world took note, which is what ISIL intended. If indeed the perpetrators did in fact represent ISIL.
Towards the end of the year, Paris suffered more mayhem. This time the targets were, less explicably, a concert hall, a restaurant and a sports stadium, each apparently chosen at random, in total resulting in 130 deaths. There was also a bomb attack on a Russian airliner over the Sinai desert, killing 224, most of them tourists flying home from an Egyptian resort. A couple of months earlier, thirty British tourists had been gunned down at a beach resort in Tunisia. Finally, or perhaps not, a Muslim husband and wife murdered fourteen citizens of San Bernardino, California.
No doubt there will be more such incidents in the year to come.
Meanwhile, refugees from the war in Syria, so-called ‘economic migrants’ from other deprived or violent locations in the Middle East, and probably terrorist infiltrators, set out for Europe in a great northward trek that could be measured in millions of souls. Europe was left collectively bemused, not just in failing to work out how to ‘process’ them all – but whether they should be ‘processed’ at all. Wire barriers were erected across some borders.
In the absence of a coherent, unifying policy, Europe’s leaders being torn between humanitarian instincts and bare-faced political considerations, even more millions set out on the journey. Many had come in small boats, in which thousands had perished, and still more came, many to meet a similar fate.
The German chancellor said come-one-come-all, but soon changed the tune in the face of a domestic outcry that ignored Germany’s growing need for workers.
Britain, in relative terms, had a trouble-free year; rugby aside, that is, or excluding staunch supporters of the Labour Party, which lost a general election to the Conservative Party, the margin of defeat surprising the winner far more than it shocked the loser. The Labour leader, a hapless Ed Milliband, immediately resigned. He was soon replaced by the even more hapless Jeremy Corbyn, a candidate from the extreme left-wing of the party. He seemed, in his come-from-behind victory, no less surprised than the Conservatives had been by theirs. He was promptly labelled, not least by many members of his own party, ‘out of synch’ with voters and therefore ‘unelectable’.
An election is in prospect in America, too, which interminable process at time of writing loomed as a contest between Hillary Clinton – attempting to create a Democratic Party dynasty – and from an endless field of Republican candidates the fatuous Donald Trump. A property billionaire and stand-up buffoon, Trump defied all attempts to discredit him as unworthy and, like Corbyn, unelectable.
If Islam and politics dominated the headlines, sport wasn’t far behind. For football fans – a diminishing portion of the population, I suspect, or at least hope – it was yet another year of scandal. FIFA’s management, riddled with gangsters and hustlers, was torn asunder by arrests, charges and investigations related to corruption. The last one led to the top of the executive tree. FIFA’s head, Sepp Blatter, owner of the soubriquet ‘Mr. Teflon’, finally fell from power, having long since fallen from grace. This time the mud thrown at him from all quarters had stuck.
Meanwhile, in the world of athletics, the authorities had to wrestle with allegations of widespread drug-taking. This occurred mainly in Eastern Europe, and particularly in Russia, the revelations coming as a shock only to the people who run the sport, the rest of us having assumed for decades that burly and bearded Russian ladies named Olga who could hurl javelins and hammers across the Volga River while eating breakfast had not been empowered to do so merely by munching on performance-enhancing cereals. The new head of the World Athletic Federation, Sebastian Coe, a sublime runner in his day, but now an apparently myopic administrator, was given the job of sorting it out.
So now what? Time for a few bold predictions for the coming year, that’s what.
On the domestic front, Grandson Maxwell, at the rate he’s growing, will soon be hurling javelins, if not across the Volga then at least the Thames. I suppose he’ll have to start walking first.
My beloved M will struggle on, manfully – or lest she be associated with Russian javelin throwers, woman-fully. I’m afraid in her case the drugs will be necessary. They will have to succeed where surgery has failed. She may be feeling her age right now, bless her, but she certainly doesn’t look it. That’s something, at least. Meanwhile, I have to figure out what I’m going to do for her seventieth. All suggestions welcome.
Sadly, the rest of the world will continue, barring the emergence of a leader of genuine stature, to proceed to Hell in a handcart.
ISIL will carry on. It will not be defeated by bombing raids. Only one-in-ten missions do ‘allied’ airplane actually drop bombs or fire rockets, which can only mean that targets worth the expense of the ordnance are hard to find. Of course they are; this is not the field at Waterloo. That being the case, an expanding ground war may be more inevitable than most western leaders, including President Obama, a lame duck, care to admit, let alone contemplate. There is little appetite for putting ‘boots on the ground’ even among those who secretly belie that it’s the only way to win. On which point the West remains in helpless agreement; for now, some observers have been heard to add.
Corbyn will continue to make a fool of his opponents and himself before being ousted. That, given the Labour Party’s new voting structure, and the lack of quality or will among the pretenders, is more likely to be later than sooner. Still, I’d say someone will stir the pot before the year is out.
The Scottish National Party, even more left than the Labour leadership, but totally united in its wrong-headedness, will probably call for another independence vote, though even the feisty Ms. Sturgeon might have to draw back from the brink if the price of oil keeps falling. At $30 a barrel Scotland can kiss the North Sea calculations goodbye. Not for nothing are the Scots called canny – they can add up the numbers. In which case she can while away the time pushing the British government into giving the citizens of Scotland what even the citizens of England and Wales don’t expect to enjoy.
Across the water, Trump, in my considered opinion, will crash and burn, probably in the Iowa primary, but possibly before that. Iowans may be deeply conservative, but farmers are practical folk and the tillers of mid-western soil know a fool when they see one. More to the point, only by voting for a credible candidate will they preserve Iowa’s current status as a political bellwether state.
The Republican nominee, whoever it turns out to be, will go on to lose the presidential poll, barring a catastrophic event in the Clinton campaign, although perhaps by a smaller margin than most now expect.
Some agency, American or Swiss, will charge Sepp Blatter with corruption, upon which his lawyers will plead that the defendant can’t appear in court for reasons of ill-health – a trick to which Mafia leaders have often resorted by showing up at preliminary court hearings in wheelchairs, wearing oxygen masks.
Other than these few intellectually puny forecasts, all I can say is expect the unexpected, though for what I have no guesses. If I did, ‘unexpected’ would be a redundancy.
Alright, then, if you insist, here goes: a shock US election result giving Rubio the White House, tipped over to the Republicans by Florida or Texas.