Here is a moment from 2016 that should not be forgotten. It should stand as a reminder of how low we can sink in British politics. The UKIP poster showing non- white faces coming to Britain as a ‘flood’ was unveiled with a week to go in the EU referendum. That such a hateful and hate filled poster should even have been considered is a sign of the illness in our democracy.
Gary Younge, the Guardian journalist I admire, spoke of 2016 as the year that vulgarity, divisiveness and exclusion won. It should also be the point from which the recovery takes place. Surely, we cannot sink lower in our public discourse. So, for me, the unveiling of the poster should never be forgotten and should be the call to arms.
Fortunately, the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell is on hand with the perfect visual riposte to such events. I salute Gary Younge and I salute Steve Bell and I hope 2017 shows the better side of Britain.
In March I went to the World Track Cycling Championships at the Velodrome in London o the Olympic site. It was an amazing morning watching cyclists of many nations compete against each other. Seeing Laura Trott in action was the highlight of the day but watching all the cyclists was amazing. I cheered for Britain most of all but joined in the fun by supporting other nations as well; Japan was my second choice when I needed an alternative.
Watching sport live restored something knocked out of me at school when all sporting endeavour was accompanied by abuse (from teachers as well as peers). It also made me realise that it is possible to be proud of being British without that meaning distrust, disdain or contempt for other nations.
It was great to be part present at something so positive, especially in this year when so much to do with nationhood has been negative.
Here is another moment I will look back on fondly when this year closes. I went to see Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium in September. Not only was he wonderful, as I expected, but he was well worth the wait: I had tickets to his joint concert with Elton John, also at Wembley, in 1998 when he had to pull out due to ill health. Elton did the whole concert by himself. He was great, as you would expect, but I missed out on Billy Joel and it took an 18 year wait until that was put right.
It was a wonderful evening. Billy Joel made the stadium seem like a more intimate venue and I am sure he had a mug of coffee brought to him at the piano which suggests the both of us have aged as I could have killed a coffee at that stage.
Eighteen years wait until I heard the man sing ‘Piano Man’ personally. It was a great night.
This has not been my favourite year! Politically, I have been very depressed by what has happened and by who has triumphed. However, there were bright spots and the Olympics were a large part of what made me proud to be British in 2016.
Jack Laugher and Chris Mears won Gold at the Rio Olympics. Their event was the synchronised 3m diving. This was Britain’s first diving Gold so was an amazing achievement. I watched it all with a growing sense of excitement when it seemed that the pair would actually win despite the best efforts of the Chinese and the Americans.
When they won, of course, they were delighted and their hug showed the level of excitement. What a shame then that Britain’s Daily Mail, the house journal of the small-minded, could not help but make a point about the fact that this was two men hugging! Good for Mears and Laugher who showed that you can hug your friend and colleague even if you are a man!
This Larkin poem comes to mind at Christmas. It reminds me that we think of ourselves most often before we think of others or the impact we can have. This is seen quite clearly in our attitude to pets. I think back in shame on the neglect of our family dog, bought because of my relentless campaign to get one and my promises to walk him every day.
Take One Home for the Kiddies
On shallow straw, in shadeless glass,
Huddled by empty bowls, they sleep:
No dark, no dam, no earth, no grass –
Mam, get us one of them to keep.
Living toys are something novel,
But it soon wears off somehow.
Fetch the shoebox, fetch the shovel –
Mam, we’re playing funerals now.
Of all the books I read this year, two stand out. Several things connect them, one being the fact that they are both by and about Australia. The most striking thing to me, though, is that I bought both over four years ago. They have been on my kindle that long! When I read them, this year, I thought they were both brilliant.
‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey and ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville take the honours.
I buy more books than I can cope with at any one time, so there are always books on my shelf or on my Kindle waiting. At the time of buying I am always ready and keen to read the book but I always have another book ‘on the go’ with the inevitable situation that a book has to wait its turn… and then, other books come along and books get shelved and I sometimes forget what it was that attracted me to the book in the first place.
Well, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the book’. Perhaps I should reduce my book buying. Maybe, I should read books in strict order of purchase. I could just wait for the right moment for each book.
There is a story behind this film for me, and part of the reason it is in my hinterland. I wanted to see this film version of the stage musical by Lionel Bart when it was released at the end of the 60s but getting my parents to take me to the cinema was quite a job back then. Instead, I decided to watch it when it was broadcast on British television some time in the mid 70s. It was a time when the family television set was colour but we also had a small black and white one upstairs.
On Christmas Day, ‘Oliver!’ was broadcast in the afternoon when I knew my parents would be asleep. I didn’t take into account my older brother and his domination of the television and there was no way he was going to let me watch a musical! So I was banished to a bedroom to watch what was left of Carol Reed’s superb and joyous film in less wonderful black and white.
The story continues: a few years later, but still before video and DVD, I noticed in the newspaper that a local cinema was showing ‘Oliver!’ for one night only. I went along only to find myself at the end of a very long queue and I didn’t get in. I eventually saw the whole film in splendid isolation in the late 70s when I had access to a colour television. It was a fantastic hour or two.
Lionel Bart’s musical is wonderful, the songs especially, and the trimming of the story to shorten it and clear it of the complexities of the Dickens novel made it stronger. Mark Lester was the perfect innocent and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger made it hard for anyone else to follow in this role. Ron Moody as Fagin was the charismatic heart of the film despite playing a morally dubious character.
‘Oliver!’ remains a fantastic film despite its age and I agree with the film critic I admire Xan Brooks who stated that this film improved on the weaknesses of the original Dickens novel, weaknesses exposed in a novel that started life as a weekly serial. I didn’t read the actual book until several years later and was surprised by the ‘extra’ parts of the story. It is hard to think now of the story of Oliver Twist without also thinking of the songs from this film.
‘Oliver!’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?