Tuesday 20, December 2016 by Jessica Combes

Goodbye to the Voldemort of years

Well, here we are, rounding the corner to the final stretch of the end of another year.

It’s a year that has given me an idea of what it’s like to be Alice as she crashes down the rabbit hole into Lewis Carroll’s world of mayhem, but without the funky tea party and the infuriating member of the Lepidoptera.

As I sit back and reflect on the year, I’m pretty happy to see the back end of it, and yes, I’m about to come off as a grumpy woman, way older than my years.  A friend of mine, Quintin, summed it up pretty well. “If I wanted to create an art installation representing this year, it would be an animatronic Sylvia Plath sticking its head into an antique oven on the hour, every hour, while a rain of toupees, cheese and hatred (representing the western capitalist machine) falls in the background, to the soundtrack of some band who dress like guys who choose fonts for a living.”

I’m going to kick off with mentioning some of the celebrities we’ve lost this year; losing people who created and inspired is actually quite gloomy. Bowie and Prince weren’t just musicians; they were innovators who maintained their careers over decades, with stamina not really seen by the mishmash churned out by the music industry today. On the other hand, Leonard Cohen no longer has to love all cover versions of ‘Hallelujah’ equally.

The big number for checking out seemed to be 69 – with the likes of David Bowie, Patty Duke, Greg Lake, and Alan Thicke all that age. Alan Rickman was another, and frankly, this this year’s Christmas screening of Love Actually will have me sobbing harder than Emma Thompson in the bedroom scene. But as a friend’s child recently pointed out, “Snape can be with Lily now. Always.”

Gene Wilder, a comic genius and reportedly one of the kindest people in Hollywood, also bid the world adieu, leaving it decidedly a less funny place. We’re not the music makers and dreamers of dreams Gene, we’re living in a nightmare. As I write this, the latest addition to this list is Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was 99. So long, dahlink. You were a fabulous housekeeper.

The world of sports had an interesting time of it. The passing of boxing great Muhammad Ali at the age of 74, after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s, delivered a considerable blow to the sport; the summer Olympics (somehow) went ahead in Rio, despite concerns about numerous health hazards in the athletes’ village, and swimmers being warned to keep their mouths closed when competing in Guanabara Bay. Usain Bolt continued to defy the laws of physics and became the first man to win the Olympic triple: 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m, three times. South Africa’s Caster Semenya brought home the 800m gold, despite the ongoing gender questioning by her detractors. She’s a girl. Let it go.

Syria has been utterly decimated.

The political arena is where it got really trippy. On 24 June I woke up thinking the whole nasty Brexit issue would finally be done and dusted, only to find myself in the media hornets’ nest surrounding the ‘leave’ vote. Following that, Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, and we all know how that one turned out. Our parents were right; you really can be anything you want.

I think the crux of what made 2016 an awful year, from my perspective, was the world’s flagrant disregard for humanity. The 12 June shooting at Orlando nightclub, Pulse, saw 49 people killed and 53 more were injured in what has been called the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in United States history. Barely a month later, 86 people were killed and a further 434 were injured when a 19-tonne cargo truck was driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France. A similar incident has just taken place in Berlin, with 12 confirmed dead and 48 injured, at the time of writing.

The rampant displays of intolerance in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and Trump’s election were absolutely dumbfounding. After the Brexit vote, hate crimes rose in the UK by 14 per cent, with community members of differing ethnicities being verbally attacked and physically assaulted, and told to ‘go back’ to their countries of origin, regardless of whether or not they were born in the UK. Clearly, the ‘leave’ faction misunderstood what the vote actually entailed. Spoiler alert: immigrants will not just be shipped back ‘where they came from’.

Xenophobia was rife across pond as Donald Trump riled the masses, pandering to their ignorance and their bigotry and their fear, during his campaign. In the ten days following November’s presidential election, The Southern Poverty Law Centre confirmed 867 reported cases of harassment or intimidation in the United States. The incidents also follow increasing attacks against Muslim Americans. There is something massively wrong in a society, particularly in a first-world country, where Muslim women are afraid to wear hijabs out of concern for their safety.

According to FBI statistics for 2015, there was a 67 per cent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, with incidents against Jewish people, African Americans and other minorities increasing as well. The violence has occurred on both sides, with Trump supporters experiencing attacks as well, though on a slightly smaller scale. That’s before we even touch on incidents at American schools with kids chanting ‘White power’ and ‘Build the wall’, for which I have no words.

The political climate seems to have given people the green light to unleash their prejudices and loathing for anyone of a different race or religion, and this is the first year that has come to an end where I am left feeling sad.

I’m sad for the state of humanity. I’m sad that people appear to be more divided than they have been in a long time. I’m sad that people treat each other with increasing suspicion, anger, aggression, and contempt, rather than compassion, patience, tolerance, and kindness. This is the first year I haven’t felt particularly Christmassy, and I don’t feel any particular good will towards my fellow man. I don’t feel any bad will towards my fellow man either, I just don’t want very much to do with my fellow man. In fact, my fellow man and I will be taking a much-needed time-out over the Christmas break as I steel myself to face the new year.

I realise come 1 January all of these problems will be right where we left them. But my wish for 2017 is that, in spite of the varying political agenda, people remember that we are actually in this together, more than ever. I’d like to see us follow the guidelines that are set out for toddlers in kindergarten: no slapping; no biting; no hitting; no kicking; no punching; no name-calling; look out for one another when crossing the road; share cookies and crayons;  stand up to bullies; and say sorry and give a hug after a fight.

Until then, I wish you and your loved ones a happy festive season, and safe travels to anyone making a journey. We’ll pick this up again in the new year.