Robert Graves won’t mind, since his 1929 masterwork echoes so many of the themes which have been part of the fabric of 2017, like our renewed interest in atheism, feminism and socialism, complete with statistics, flag-waving and Jeremy Corbyn.
Reviewing the year is a troublesome pastime, laced as it frequently is with the strychnine of being a year older and the anodyne of not much caring. For some, an annus mirabilis – witness Donald Trump and Prince Harry. For others, horribilis – me, even. This year, several people have been jerked from my life leaving behind either a breath of fetid air or a whispering of roses. Joyce wrote ‘every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.’ How all the world’s people chatter in our ears, much as we would try to drown them out with our own tuneless singing. We live a short distance from our bodies and come full time we shall one by one all become shades. As I myself grey gently, I reflect on the idea that it might be better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age, with further apologies to Mr Joyce.
What didn’t happen this year? An invasion by extraterrestrials? Scotland didn’t win the Six Nations? What did happen then? Did we all drift into a coma, awakening in some foreign place, inconveniently stiff and cold like a Minnesota dumpster, clutching an empty bottle and wondering where it all went? A reminder then, lest we forget. On January 20 a Republican billionaire was inaugurated as US president, vowing: “America first.” He didn’t really want the job, especially in light of allegations that the Russians meddled with the election. He sets out his stall by pulling out of international agreements on climate, free trade, immigration and UNESCO and making up new words like ‘covfefe’, despite the negative press, thus sparking a nationwide game to try to guess what he really meant. I favoured ‘coverage’ at the time. On December 6, he sent shock waves around the world as he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He could have just asked the Jews. An interesting, if somewhat unorthodox opening, as a chess journalist might have remarked.
On March 29, London launches herself off the Brexit cliff, hoping the parachute will open on time, as voted in a referendum nine months earlier. Endless TV shows revisit the possibility that the electorate was basically stupid, ignorant and jingoistic and had they known what they were voting for they would certainly have stayed, huddled behind the towering ramparts of France, Germany and, oh, yes, a few other hangers-on. Fuelled with hubris, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives suffer a major setback and lose their majority in a snap election on June 8. Her supporters snarl and turn on each other, inexorably drifting rightwards while Brussels and London squabble about divorce, specifically its cost. The Labour opposition, now proto-Marxist to a man, sits a distance away from the campfire like a wolf pack in the night, licking their collective lips, waiting to attack. Meanwhile, a youthful Emmanuel Macron and his elderly wife sweep the Socialists into oblivion as the Elysée Palace falls to a pro-European centrist with good taste in suits. Speaking of which, an American actress is joining our own Royal Family – keeping HRH Prince H orf the streets of Mayfair and Las Vegas and into connubial bliss on the same afternoon as the FA Cup Final – bit of a clash there for his older brother.
The Saudis and the Iranians have not been playing nicely together. Attack and counter attack have reduced Yemen to cinder and ash, each blaming the other. The North Koreans love their fireworks and have launched a few of them this year – much to the annoyance of their immediate neighbours and also the Americans who feel threatened for the first time in half a century. Seventy-three coalition partners committed themselves to the goal of eliminating the threat posed by ISIS and have already contributed in various capacities to the effort, to the end that ISIS has been almost completely wiped out, so one less piece of good news for arms manufacturers.
Trying to look on the bright side is often as ineffectual as it was in ‘Life of Brian’. Chechnya still imprisons and tortures gay men, Assad is still in charge in Syria and quite possibly possesses a chemical arsenal to use on his own people. Fanatical Muslims still try to stab people, drive cars on the pavements and blow themselves up at pop concerts. Fires take lives from the Bronx to Grenfell Towers.
But, hope springs eternal and the tabula, sodden with the lachrymal effect of too much Hogmanay alcohol, is washed clean, tomorrow becomes rasa, available anew to write our hopes and dreams upon. May yours be bright and full of promise.