Monday, 9 January 2017

Here we go again - as 2016 passes to 2017

So here we are.  Another New Year – 2017, and I creep ever nearer to a pensionable age that until the last 18 months or so seemed a distant speck on the horizon but is now a mere 15 months away.  Doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself?

So 2016 was a strange year, in many ways.  I started it in Amsterdam, ensconced in a project that promised a full diary for another three years at least, and before the year was half finished I was out of the door.  “A new focus” within the bank prompted it – way too many expensive contractors like me on the payroll, so a whole slew of us were unceremoniously pushed through the Exit.  A shame – not least for the bank, that now has some alarming knowledge gaps, given the work I and others were doing there, that it will not be able to fill internally for quite a while.  I hope it doesn’t damage the bank too much, because it was a good place to work and there are some great people there.  I saw rumours of a merger with another bank being discussed, so I’ll be following that story with interest.

But it at least gave me a decent summer break – two months.  July was spent, as usual, at the Baltic coast, and was as good as ever.  In August the kids went away for a couple weeks’ summer camp, each to a different location to do different things.  It gave us all some freedom to try new things (at least in the kids’ case) or just relax and do not very much at all (in my case a bit of job hunting).  At the end of August we teamed up again for a short trip out of town, spent idyllically canoeing along a quiet and deserted Polish river in hot sunshine.  It was a lovely end to a lovely summer.

Then back to school, and, in my case, back to work.  I managed to find something very quickly, and ended up spending the last three months of 2016 in Israel.  It’s a country that I had never had any wish to visit – to that extent no different from others I’ve been to overs the years, like Kazakhstan, Trinidad, Latvia, even Poland – but for very different reasons.  I’ve blogged before about the political situation in the Middle East as a whole, and the part that, with its hatred and genocide against the Palestinian people (who themselves are far from blameless) Israel plays in the continuing carnage. 
But the offer was an excellent one, and with no firm alternative I took it.  It has been an eye opener, but one that has not changed my opinion that much.  Tel Aviv is an interesting city, cosmopolitan and less Orthodox than elsewhere (in many respects it’s little different from other Mediterranean resorts like Benidorm or the Balearics or Greek islands) and the people I have met at work and elsewhere have been very friendly and welcoming.  I have never felt threatened, probably because I continue to avoid places and situations that could put me in a (shall we say) difficult situation, and I try to avoid any political argument here. 

And yet…. Palestinian dissidents (or terrorists if you prefer) continue to attack the country.  In my time here, there has a been a nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv (a week or so before I started work here) and just this week a truck driver in Jerusalem drove his lorry at high speed through a crowd of off-duty soldiers (including young women) then reversed back over them to make sure they were dead, before being gunned down himself.  All in view of closed-circuit tv cameras, providing some disturbing images for CNN et al.  And yet…. the Government continues to stoke the fires by building more and more settlements for its residents, on land recognised internationally (by the UN amongst others) as Palestinian, hence rendering them illegal.  And moreover…. calls for a pardon for a young soldier convicted of cold-bloodedly shooting a wounded and unarmed Palestinian dead after the wounded man had himself stabbed an Israeli.  Rather than allow the Palestinian to face justice in a court of law, the soldier executed him – is that not murder?
It seems to me the country, by its actions and insistence of being always “right” and allowing no other point of view, secure in the support of its biggest ally, the US, brings much of these terrorist actions on itself and leaves itself wide open to a criticism that is rarely voiced publicly by world leaders who just may be able to make a difference to a sad situation.  All the time hard-nosed and often corrupt leaders like Sharon and now Netanyahu run the country, nothing is likely to change.

There have been, for me at least, three major news stories this year (that’s besides the birth of my three lovely grandchildren, a boy and twin girls, to sons of whom I am more proud than ever before – and that’s going some!).
First, the continuing slaughter and tragedy in Syria where Assad continues to indiscriminately bomb his own subjects, particularly around the besieged second city of Aleppo.  The siege ended just before Christmas, after four terrible years in which countless innocent women and children lost lives and limbs, while many thousands of victims risked (and often lost) everything including their lives in the mass refugee “invasion” of Europe.  Despite many fine words and waves of shuttle diplomacy by UN diplomats and, in particular, US Secretary of State John Kerry the siege only ended when Russia joined in, on the side of Assad, and introduced even more lethal weaponry to the conflict during 2016.  Accusations of war crimes abound but are highly unlikely to ever be prosecuted let alone proven.  The rest of the world should hang its collective head in shame for allowing such events to drag on for 5 years so far – that is almost as long as World War 2.

The second story has been the emergence of an orange, bewigged, reality tv star, sometime property magnate and multiple bankrupt The Donald Trump as President Elect of the US.  Right up until Election Day, most “experts” continued to insist that Hillary Clinton would win and continue the Obama project.  But Trump managed to tap in to a nationwide dissatisfaction with the American political establishment in a way that Clinton (part of that Establishment) never could, and despite an often brutal and always offensive campaign that showed him to be a racist, misogynistic bully without a policy worthy of the name – and that was just the primaries that won him the Republication nomination – he won the race and will be inaugurated next week.  Even now, the arguments rage as he takes to Twitter in a daily rant against anyone who has the audacity to either disagree with him or (God forbid!) criticise him in some way.  Oh, and he likes Vladimir Putin, another bully with an aversion to free speech and opposing opinions.  Is it just me, or will the world be a tad more dangerous (or a lot…..) after January 20th?

And the third, inevitably for an Englishman I suppose, is bloody Brexit.  The unlamented ex-PM David “Call Me Dave” Cameron called a referendum on membership of the EU, to honour an election pledge from 2015 and more importantly shut up the anti-EU element in his party. And then proceeded to lose and resign in, one hopes, embarrassment.  The campaign dragged on interminably – or at least it seemed interminable: in reality only a couple of months (how in hell do the Yanks put up with a two year campaign every four years?) – and both sides argued and bickered, lied and misinformed to an equal degree, and threw reams of statistics at us to prove their points.  And all without giving us any clear information or idea of what life would be like if we voted to Leave (we knew already of course what being In would be like).  

In the end it came down to LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) Politics – which side came up with the best scare story, trumpeted it the loudest and most frequently.  And in that, led by everybody’s best boozing mate, the loathsome UKIP oaf and leader Nigel Farage (“We want our country back!”), everybody’s favourite buffoon and Have I Got News For You regular Boris Johnson (“Turkey will be in the EU soon opening our borders to 35million Muslim terrorists!”) and the dreadful, smarmy, backstabbing Education Secretary Michael Gove (“Look, you don’t need experts, just listen to me!”) – the Out campaign succeeded.   Like The Donald, the Out campaign had managed to tap into a deep mistrust and anger in a population tired of austerity and nervous about losing jobs to lower paid immigrants from both within and without the EU, and with the In campaign offering little more than “More of the same” they won hands down.

Now, just over six months later, we are no closer to knowing how things will end up.  Legal challenges were made, not about the result per se (though to hear the vitriol being thrown around by Farage and co you would never know that) but more broadly whether further acts of parliament are needed to enact the Exit instead of using Royal Prerogative for this and all other referenda.  The Scots, who voted overwhelmingly to Remain, are increasingly agitating for another referendum of their own (this time whether to break away from the UK).  There are no clues about what leaving will actually mean, apart from a rather vacuous statement from PM Theresa May (conspicuously absent during the campaign….) that “Brexit means Brexit”.  Boris, now Foreign Secretary (dear God…..) says that we will negotiate a deal that allows us to take advantage of the best bits of the single market without the rest (and lacking specifics about what those “best bits” are) and is echoed by Liam Fox (Minister of Foreign Trade) and David Davies (Minister for Getting Out of the EU) – who seem to be continuing to squabble between themselves about who should be doing what and who is more important.  Farage, meanwhile, continues to say “The people have spoken” – true – and “the Government should listen and just get on with it” – true-ish – and “I want my life back!”.  He also supported The Donald on the stump, became the first overseas politician to meet with The Orange One after his win, and would like to be Britain’s Ambassador to the US (even though, as BoJo and May pointed out, politely, there is no vacancy).  Gove seems to have disappeared completely, hopefully up his own arse.

So 2016 has been entertaining and eventful, depending on which way you look at it – and that is ignoring the Euro Championships (another cock up by England, but at least the Welsh did well), the Olympics (in which Britain did rather better than expected), Wimbledon (another win for the now be-knighted Sir Andy Murray) and a plethora of tragic deaths bookended by David Bowie in January and Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia from Star Wars) at Christmas and her mum, actress Debbie Reynolds, the next day.  Sad.

And now we’re in 2017, what to expect?  I have no bloody clue! 

I hope somehow solutions are found to end the mess in Syria and Iraq and Libya, and everywhere else where anarchy and IS currently have the upper hand.  I hope The Donald turns out to be a better President than people expect (but I’m not holding my breath on that score – the man seems a dangerous loose cannon lacking either common sense or common decency: I hope I’m wrong).  I hope the UK Government gets its act together and manages to extricate Britain from the EU relatively easily and cheaply (but I have little confidence the politicians charged with doing so have the quality to succeed).  I really really hope that people across the world – and particularly in Britain – re-discover the tolerance and understanding that once, briefly, allowed diverse societies to grow and flourish in London and New York, Paris and Berlin and elsewhere, before the demons of bigotry and xenophobia were released from the bottle over the last few years and stalled that process.
On a personal level, I pray that my kids, all five of them, and my grandkids, and my wife and extended family of sisters and nieces and nephews and cousins scattered all over this world remain fit and healthy and happy (a bit of wealth wouldn’t go amiss either), and any trials and tribulations they are facing – I know there are some, quite serious – sort themselves out soon and without too much suffering.  And I hope they all stay happy and keep smiling……

Me?  I want to stay fit too, and healthy, to enjoy that extended family.  I want to stay in work, both here and elsewhere, and keep enjoying it, the travel too (though it becomes increasingly difficult with each year that passes).  I want to – no, I WILL – finish and finally publish The Match, and make progress on my memoirs (Living), and keep finding inspiration to carry on these scribblings, more often than for the last couple of years.  I’ll also get this website up and running to pull it all together and put it out there.  I want to stay happy too.

Happy New Year, everyone.