It’s Christmas Day, and I have eaten too much. I should really be reading the book my sister gave me, but I can’t quite get past the preface of Frank Dikötter’s “Mao’s Great Famine“. I’m a bit too full (ooh the irony) for such a stunningly well researched and well-written account of the tragedy of ideology.
So instead, I’ll put together a sloppy collage of the cultural and political events of 2011, all of which of course I have consumed, rather than created. It has been a very significant year of world events, and feels like the year my hypothetical children will ask me with a tone of wonder what it was like to have lived through; much as we ask our parents what 1968 was like. When my mother as usual says, “oh, I didn’t really notice”, I used to protest that Elvis’s comeback concert on NBC must have been dead exciting to watch for the first time.
“Oh him, yeah, some of the girls at school seemed pretty keen on him. Funny hair”.
We often ask her how she could have missed all the student demonstrations, since she was a 19 year old Anthropology student in 1968. Usually, she says she didn’t really notice. This morning, she said,
So not part of it at all then, no.
I on the other hand am certainly not part of the major events of 2011. I saw in the New Year in a country pub somewhere on the Western Australian coast. It featured a live rock band with a lead singer who looked like an anorexic Bonnie Tyler, and sang Bat Out of Hell really badly several times. I toasted the New Year to a classy bottle (or two) of Smirnoff Ice and got back on the bus to Perth the next morning with a corresponding hangover.
January saw those awful floods in Brisbane, and I wondered whether the house I grew up in in Sherwood (or Indooropilly according to Google) had survived. I tried to locate it on Streetview, but the pictures were taken in 2009, and the jacaranda trees looked as lush green as ever.
Later in January, I was in a Glasgow hotel room watching the pictures of the Tunisian revolution, following the self-immolation of the fruit seller. I was quite excited by the apparent success of the revolution, and the signs of Egypt following suit. The following week, I picked up the Evening Standard at Canary Wharf tube, and was shocked to read about the assault on the American reporter at the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo.
A news event which was little commented outside Germany was the resignation of the German defence minister, Karl Theodor von und zu Guttenberg – to give him his full name – after he was found guilty of plagiarising large parts of his DPhil. I was completely astounded by the brazenness of the sections he copied. http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/0,1518,801996,00.html
On the 11th March, I got to work early and decided to sort out my savings, so I fully invested my ISA in Far East and Japan equities. I then had a little browse through the BBC news website, which was rather the wrong way around from a financial point of view. I find the scale of such natural disasters incomprehensible, and this one seemed in many ways worse than the 2004 Boxing Day tsuami, as it affected a more densely populated area, not to mention a nuclear reactor. I was absolutely fascinated by the resulting news reports of the men who went to work inside the exclusion zone, and by the interesting parallels with Chernobyl. Apparently, the exclusion zone in Chernobyl has become a wilderness, populated by species that are rare in other parts of Russia.
On the 16th March, I went to see another Royal Ballet Triple Bill – Rhapsody/Sensorium/Still Life at the Penguin Café. Rhapsody featured the kind of Ashton choreography that is rather too stilted and fiddly for modern tastes, but Rachmaninov is always a winner, and of course Alina Cojocaru was beautiful to watch. Sensorium I can’t remember much about except that Debussy is always a surprise. Still Life at the Penguin Café was the most adorable thing I’d seen in a while, and I would recommend it to anyone, particularly the oddness of listening to music that you remember from 1980s advertising, used in a completely different setting.
On the 19th March, I went on the climbing holiday to the Costa Blanca that I have written about elsewhere. It was a huge revelation for me, and a hobby I completely fell in love with – albeit in a slightly tortuous way, since it is a much larger physical and psychological challenge than rowing, and therefore pretty much impossible given my unwillingness to forswear all culinary delights. Good climbers I know don’t appear to eat anything except the occasional Clif bar (“for dinner”).
The 19th March was also the quite amazing day on which the UN resolution of air strikes against Libya went through. The politicians who played a part have earned themselves a place in history for making that happen. I don’t really care that external military force can’t solve all the problems of the world, or that the motivation for intervening usually boils down to control of natural resources. It doesn’t negate the benefit of the outcome to the population, and whatever happens I think they will be personally pleased they made that decision.
On the 7th April, I went to see In a Forest Dark and Deep, which was running at the Vaudeville. It was quite a satisfying piece of theatre, with Matthew Fox as the bit of Hollywood box office – and correspondingly flat – and Olivia Williams doing the acting bit, rather well. It was about a rather tragic sibling relationship; always a very profitable approach to scripting, building the whole story around only two actors that takes place entirely in a shabby living room. It worked a whole lot better than Festen, at any rate, and that must have cost a fortune.
On the 9th April, I went to see Fidelio at the Royal Opera House, which was relatively uninspiring.
The 29th April was the long bank holiday, or succession of them, caused by the Royal Wedding. At the time I loved it, spending most of the day watching it on TV with a friend and lots of fruit and champagne, but in hindsight, it seemed rather wasteful.
Bin Laden was captured and/or killed on the 2nd May, which I found rather strange after so long. I don’t suppose it made that much difference either way.
The rest of the summer was mainly spent driving up and down the M1 to Hathersage at weekends for climbing, and spending the week working in Glasgow, which I grew to quite like. The locals are much nicer than in Edinburgh, even if it does rain pretty much all the time. I also ran the Asics London 10k, and beat my previous time to come in at a fairly reasonable 53 minutes.
In the autumn, I ran a really embarrassing time in the Run to the Beat half-marathon (2.5 hours), and the following week went to see Ralph Fiennes in The Tempest. It’s quite a difficult play, given the way it meanders along with fairies and drunkards and dreamers, but in the end I was completely charmed. Ralph Fiennes is of course a stage actor in a way that Kevin Spacey never will be. The reviews of Richard III at the Old Vic emphasised the physicality of the role, but that is where Kevin Spacey can’t really impress in the way that Ralph Fiennes always has. He sits and moves so elegantly, and speaks so commandingly; in the opening scene, all those irritating coughs and wriggles in the audience were entirely silenced, as people seemed to take him in with rapt attention.
In December I finally went back to Madrid, primarily to spend most of a day wandering around the Prado. It was stunningly good, in particular the El Grecos that never have the same colour palette in prints. The captioning on the Picassos in the Reina Sofia was so inspired it came a close second – each picture is captioned with the exact date it was painted, so that in one room, one realises one is looking at the output of a single month of summer.
So, the rundown is:
– Best play: The Tempest
– Best movie: The Tree of Life
– Best TV show: True Blood
– Best song: Radical Face, Welcome Home (didn’t actually come out this year, but was in the Ueli Steck video of the Eiger Nordwand, and I kept listening to it in the car on climbing trips)
– Best moment: 31st December, Cumbrian fells somewhere, sitting in a stream eating a cheese sandwich in the pouring rain with some friends
For 2012, I shall make it to 50 minutes in the Asics London 10k on the 8th July, make more effort to keep in touch with my friends, and spend less time complaining about everything. Oh, and cross my fingers that the events currently taking place in Hungary somehow don’t end up in as bad a place as they look now.