2016 – Well, wasn’t that a year!

Fat bloke is on tour! I’m tapping this out, on the 31st December 2016, in my old ma’s living room. Little Bloke is battling Pokemon on his 3DS, Mrs Bloke is pinching her brow in resignation at something. It is the last day of 2016. 2016, the year we all have learned to hate.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of another year that we have anthropomorphised as much as we have this damned year. Looking at social media memes and it’s as if 2016 has been deliberately culling celebrities, shaking up the global political landscape along with one or two extremely unlikely sporting results to add spice to the mix.

Even within my living memory there have been momentous years that have changed the world. 2001, the world changed after 9/11, we all became a lot more scared, but I don’t recall anyone blaming the calendar for it. 1989 the Berlin Wall came down but no-one thanked the Date.

(Incidentally, my old ma is just reading her Saga Magazine, ‘There’s an article here about de-stressing your life with a Hula Hoop’ Can’t be said we don’t have the highest level of discourse in this house. )

I think 2016 has become such a Bête Noir because of the sheer range of disaster, political unrest and high profile deaths that have taken place, that it has become hard not to take it personally. There have been so many terrorist attacks they almost start to merge together. What we should remember though, for every attack in Europe far more have been killed and injured in attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. Most of the victims of ISIS are other Muslim’s, something worth bearing in mind. And the nightmare that is Syria.

The western world seems to have taken a huge political shift to the right, leaving us on the wishy washy left wondering quite what the hell happened.The Brexit Vote in the UK and Trump winning the Electoral College in the US, far-right groups on the continent making huge strides. And even on the left there are huge divisions; amongst the Ivory Tower Corbynites and the more pragmatist, less idealistically pure, centre-left. To this un-nuanced liberal I’ve often felt this year alone, in the centre ground, as everyone else rushes to the barricades on the far left and right.

The celebrity toll this year as well has felt particularly hefty. Some absolute legends have passed on, before their time. Facebook and Twitter have been an almost non stop litany of tributes to Pop Stars, Actors, Writers etc. The double tap this week of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds has been exceptional though, in a year of exceptions. I was genuinely upset to hear of Carrie’s death. I love me a bit of Star Wars, it was a huge part of my childhood and Princess Leia an idol. In a time when pretty girls in films were there as eye candy to be rescued; Princess Leia stood up to the arch villain, was prepared to sacrifice herself for her cause, rescued her ill prepared rescuers and led a rebellion against a fascism regime. As the years passed you heard more of Carrie’s personal struggles, her strength and determination. Her death is a genuine loss to the world.

It is not so much the death of a celebrity that upsets me, it’s the frustration when they are taken before their time, and you know there was still so much they could have done. We’ll hear no more new tracks from Bowie or Prince, no new comedy from Victoria Wood or Caroline Aherne, no new performances by Alan Rickman. The future world is poorer for losing their creativity.

But odd as it might seem, it wasn’t such a bad year for Celebrity death, in fact 2017 is likely to be worse. BBC Radio 4’s show ‘More or Less’ have looked at this and the sad truth is that more celebrities will start passing on each year because there are more celebrities reaching the age where naturally people start dying. Mass celebrity culture didn’t start really kicking in ’til the 60’s, when Rock and Roll started, people started having TV’s at home, Radio 1 started up. Suddenly a lot more people became famous heartthrobs. Sadly, if you were born in the 1940’s, to be famous in the 1960’s, you are now in your 70’s.

The best we can hope for is that those who do pass are at a grand age and not far too young. But then, that is what we would wish for every human being, famous or not.

So, I don’t think 2016 has been a stand alone awful year. To be honest, I’m looking at it more as an origin story, putting the major players into place for the real action to start kicking off in the Sequals. I’m old enough to remember being slightly scared of Nuclear Weapons when I was a child; some of you may remember the Cuban Missile crisis which came ridiculously close to Nuclear War. I thought it was all behind us. I thought, of all the things to worry me, nuclear winter would not be one of them. Whatever ISIS is, they aren’t at the stage of being able to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at us. I never thought I’d see the day when a American leader is talking about re-arming and expanding the nuclear arsenal. The same leader who has a hissy fit everytime Alec Baldwin does a skit about him on Saturday Night Live. Ladies of Greenham Common, we might need your determination again!

So, on that slightly glum note, let me wrap up by saying it’s not all bad. Yes, 52% voted for Breixit, but 48% who voted didn’t, those that didn’t vote at all didn’t. They can keep saying we chose as a nation, but we didn’t. Likewise, Trump may have got the Electoral math to gain access to the White House meter cupboard, but he lost the popular vote by a staggering margin. Not all Americans are reactionary right wing fools, just as not all Brits aren’t. Science goes on, discoveries are made, lives are improved over the world, books are written, music performed. There is still love, respect and an urge to peace in all humanity. We just have to make sure we are focused on that, and not on the fear and negativity the media bring us every day.

After all, in a year when Leicester City Football Club can win the Premier League, anything can happen.

Have a wonderful and safe New Year and I hope 2017 will, despite my misgivings, bring lots of joy for us all.

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Fat Bloke’s Christmas Message – Why I love Christmas.

I hate Christmas.

‘But Fat Bloke’, I hear you cry, ‘you are usually such a jolly, tubby fella, surely this is your time of year?’

This is the fourth time I have tried to write a piece about my dislike of the festive season, and each time I have ground to a halt,  I can’t quite land the point and prove my argument. Thousands, literally, thousands of words have been hammered out; pointing out the gaucheness, the ugly consumerism,  the sexism, the hypocrisy and the far right political prejudice of it all.

Do you own an ugly Christmas Jumper? Did you five years ago? I bet you didn’t, but, well, ya know, some of the shops decided they’d quite like some more money, so they invent a new thing. And we rush out and buy it. Now each year there seems to be a new Christmas product for us to buy, helping us create that ‘Perfect’ Christmas. Cushion covers! Mugs! Duvet covers for Christ’s sake!

And the advertising! Whiter than white families walking smiling together from stores as the first of the Christmas snow begins to fall. TV Adverts that all but say ‘Money equals love’. The very.co.uk advert this year actually showed a woman whose heart got bigger with every gift she gave! AAARRGGGHHH!

We look forward now with anticipation to the John Lewis Christmas ad, like that’s the official start of Advent. We compare the big brands for their heartwarming Christmas magic. They are adverts for shops! They are manipulating us and instead of barely tolerating it, we are then buying merchandise based on that advert! I have a photo of Little Bloke stood next to a life size figure of the snowman who goes to buy gloves for his girlfriend, from the John Lewis ad. a  few years ago. (True story, we then got on the bus home, back seat on the top deck. Five miles from home he enthusiastically vomited over me and the seat. Ho ho ho. )

And ‘The War On Christmas’ bullshit. This has really been grinding my gears in recent years. You know what? Walk down any High Street, turn on any TV Channel, any Radio station after bonfire night (or Thanksgiving in the U.S). I think Christmas is holding its own. Saying Happy Holidays is just a nice way of saying ‘I hope you enjoy your holidays’. Christian or not, you’ll be getting a day or two off work. Enjoy them!

‘Umm, Fat Bloke’ I hear you say, interrupting again. ‘I’ve just checked the top of the page and you’ve called this piece Why I love Christmas. What’s going on ya idiot?’

Okay. Above are just some of the reasons why I hate this time of year. But I think the reason I had so much trouble expressing them before, is that, really, at the heart of the thing, I don’t hate Christmas for all the commercial nonsense or anything else. I hate Christmas because it personally brings back uncomfortable memories and feelings. My parents separated when I was quite young and that meant, each Christmas day, we’d get a visit from my Father and two older siblings, exchanging gifts. Everyone did their best to make it as pleasant as possible, and you’d think a seven year old on Christmas Day would not be aware of a strained atmosphere, but I was. I think every child in that situation is. That led to me often playing the fool, being silly, because making everyone laugh eases the tension. I’d be so excited waiting for my dad, but I’d also know that would be hard on my mum, and make me feel guilty. Add to that a new step-family also dealing with their own family break up and it all got mixed up inside. No wonder I was a bed wetter. (An affliction I’m bound to grow out of eventually.)

Both my parents and my step-father went out of their way to make it as joyful and special as they could. And I do have fond memories of my childhood Christmases, especially when I was old enough to start getting served wine. Then I became HIL-ARI-OUS. But often sleepy.

One thing more that annoys me at this time of year, is that conversation you’ll overhear in any workplace or supermarket. Two friends will stop and speak. ‘What have you got planned for Christmas?’ One will ask. ‘Oh nothing much, just a quiet one with the family.’ Listen, just because every supermarket shows its adverts with people filling their houses with guests, piling on food, that doesn’t mean that is a good Christmas. That’s only a good Christmas for their shareholders. A small Christmas, surrounded by those you love most in the world is the BEST Christmas. And it will be anything but quiet. After two hours round a table, at least from my experience, the wine has flowed and the tone has lowered.

When I think back, there are a few Christmases that really stick in my mind. In ’94 my sister had moved into a new house and only us siblings, her husband and young son were there. It was such fun, little did we know it was a milestone for some of us. It was the last Christmas where I wouldn’t be with the future Mrs Bloke, though we were ‘going out’ together. My other sister had just started seeing the man who would become her husband. We lunched long and hard, then went down to my dear ma’s where we all promptly fell asleep on the floor.

In ’13 my big brother and his wife were over from New Zealand and all us siblings piled round to my sisters again en masse for lunch. Including children and partners we were up to 17 round the table. (I was just looking at the photo, Mrs L and I briefly argued why she made it 17 and I could only count 16. It took longer than it should have for the penny to drop that a) I was missing from the photo and b) I was the one taking the picture.)

But, the Christmas memory that makes me smile, that makes my heart warm, is that Christmas moment that only comes once or twice for each child and each parent. Little Bloke was just two years old. We had decorated the lounge after he had gone to bed Christmas Eve, the presents were out, the tree was lit, Mrs Bloke carried him in and the look of wonder, excitement and just plain magic on his face was wonderful. It breaks my heart to remember it. That wonder only lasts a couple of years for each child, and I believe we make far too much effort trying to prolong that magic.

So, to sum up. Enjoy Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Jedi. If you are Christian, then you can worship at a church, nobody is stealing that from you, but the festival is not just for you. Almost every element of the ‘Traditional’ Christmas is a hodge podge of pre-Christian pagan tradition and that is fine. It is a wonderful time of year, when we get together with our family and friends, take a day or two off work to eat, laugh, drink together. Exchange gifts if you want, only what you can afford, it’s not a competition. Your kids will grow up better people if they don’t always get everything they want. Celebrate it however you want, but celebrate it with those you love and try to think of those who can’t be with those they love.

I’m not a theologian, but from what I know of the teachings of Christ, he taught inclusion; from ‘suffer the little children’, to letting a sex worker wash his feet. The Good Samaritan is a story not about kindness, but about not judging those from different societies with different beliefs.

An annual festival, where people can sit and eat, in peace and companionship, whatever their religion. I believe Jesus Christ would have liked that idea very much, even if it was on his birthday. And don’t forget, it’s the one day a year you can have Quality Street for breakfast.

With one week to go before the big day, things are starting to get crazy. Remember; it doesn’t matter if you can’t find that perfect gift, if the sprouts are too hard, or the Yorkshire pudding’s overcooked. That won’t ruin Christmas. Relax, enjoy the company and just remember it only happens once a year.

Thank you for bearing with me. Wishing you all, in advance, a very merry and peaceful Christmas and I’m sure we’ll chat again before the new year.


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