Protests in Hong Kong. Bushfires in Australia. The Taal Volcano eruption. A derailed passenger train near Chenzhou. Flash floods in Somalia. Cyclone Amphan in India and Bangladesh. Flight PK8303 crashing near Karachi. The worst locust swarm in decades destroying crops in East Africa. Wildfires in California. Oil leaking into the river near Norilsk. Ebola making its comeback. An earthquake in Mexico. Flooding in India and Nepal. Murder hornets invading the US. Explosions in Beirut. Islamic State attacking Vienna. Putin. Trump. Brexit. COVID-19.
…and that’s just what I can remember.
As I sit here – marvelling at how much like Toy Story my current view looks with its white fluffy clouds dotted over a stretch of stunning blue sky, the sun shining off the remnants of last night’s rainfall – it’s hard to believe all that (and more) happened this year. To be honest, I’d forgotten most of it until the Prince of Egypt soundtrack began on Spotify and I remembered I had to return my tickets to the London stage show due to lockdown. What a long year this has been. What insanities we’ve witnessed.
That list alone makes it feel like the worst year of my life. Until I run out of ‘bad’ things that happened and my mind is filled with all the brilliance of the year.
I remember the 103-year old veteran who survived COVID-19 in time for his 104th birthday, and the 102-year-old woman who beat it twice. I remember the police officer who received a life-saving transplant from a woman he put in jail eight years ago, and the young boy in Iowa who sold baseball bats made from fallen trees to help raise money for storm victims. I remember that democracy won, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected President and Vice President. I remember how the world began to understand how to be actively antiracist and made its first steps towards a brighter future. How Africa was declared free of wild polio after four years without a reported case. Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing, Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest. Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals for the vulnerable and disadvantaged children being successful and forcing the government to do a massive 180. Parasite becoming the first international feature film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. I remember all the news articles about how carbon emissions have fallen by the largest amount ever recorded, and the restaurants who shared their secret recipes so we could make them at home. Crayola launching a box of crayons that had a set of diverse skin colours, the government relaxing blood donation rules for gay and bisexual men finally. I remember Scotland becoming the first country in the world to provide free access to period products. I think about how female leaders were recognised as the best in the world, and how Black Lives Matter became the biggest mass movement in history. I remind myself that we have a COVID-19 vaccine! And I remember all the stories of people banding together to help one another this year, from Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised over £38.9million for the NHS in the run up to his 100th birthday, to Khalsa Aid giving meals to everyone in need, who are even now providing for the drivers stuck in Dover, and everyone in between. The health care systems around the world, the key workers, the volunteers, those looking after loved ones, those who have lost people, those who have lost everything.
And then I think about my own life.
This year, I’ve been stuck in my bedroom pre-lockdown because a sprained ankle kept me from moving; I’ve had bronchitis and countless other aches, usually brought on by stress. I’ve said goodbye to eight people and learned a dear family friend is now in hospice. COVID-19 came too close to home countless times, anger bubbled over onto friends and family who didn’t take the pandemic or Black Lives Matter seriously. I was conned by a fake Lego website, I was stuck in a freezing house with no heating after a three-day power cut, and I either said goodbye to clients because they could no longer afford me or had to suffer through clients refusing to pay me what they owed. My holiday to Italy was cancelled. Every ticket to every theatre show or event was returned. My passes to the Art Fund, ZSL and St. Paul’s Cathedral all went untouched despite how excited I was to finally get them.
Just before lockdown, I saw The Ancient of Days at the Tate Britain at a William Blake exhibition, and I met Michael Morpurgo, Ben Cookson and Melinda Salisbury. I had a handful of writing sessions and coffee dates, and I even managed to watch Uncle Vanya at the Pinter Theatre.
And when lockdown began, all over the world my loved ones were in lockdown too, working and enjoying life from home. For the first time since 2012, my sisters and parents were in one room on Facetime, EVERY SUNDAY! Theatre shows went online and gave me and my American Comiskey Clan the perfect excuse to spend Thursday evenings together, and my oldest friend and I suddenly managed to set aside time despite time differences to have movie nights online together. She finally knows who Rock Hudson and Paul Newman are! I went to San Diego Comic Con without getting out of my pyjamas or having to put on make-up. I went to the London Indian Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the London Film Festival, and countless events with BAFTA, the BFI, the Southbank Centre, Waterstones and FANE. I even enjoyed a Viking exhibition at the British Museum.
I discovered audiobooks, had writing sessions online with my writing groups, joined a book club, and even was treated to an online Reiki session. I watched my nephew play ice hockey for the first time, had work sessions with my soul sister and bro-in-law, and rediscovered painting by numbers. Old friends phoned and texted and e-mailed, and care packages arrived from all corners of the world. And as I didn’t need to pay for travel or lunch or coffee, I had money enough to spend on books and to support every cause I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, from conservation to planting trees in the Masai Mara, supporting theatres and the arts to individuals and independent businesses, as well as all my usual charities. And don’t get me started on the amount of time I was able to spend with Bill and Ted this year!
The Little Book of Fairy Tales was the feature book in Books That Matter’s book box; part of my review appeared in William Hussey’s book Hideous Beauty; I was headhunted for a job in Cork, Ireland; I finished one manuscript and planned another two; I realised my Arius has a fan club; and even though I couldn’t seek inspiration or feel my curiosity blossom in London’s museums and galleries, I fell down a rabbit hole to the Italian Renaissance, falling hopelessly in love with the Medici family and the creatives they influenced (and, even introduced me to Cesare Borgia – 2021 marks a Borgia year, I think!).
And all this just after a week-long trip to Germany to visit one of my closest friends. The highlights? A stranger visiting the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen realising I couldn’t speak German so who took twenty minutes out of his day to show me around; the waiter at nT Café sitting with me for half an hour to read the menu to me so I could order breakfast instead of just coffee; and my tour guides, a.k.a. two of my favourite people in the world, giving me the perfect balance between letting my imagination and curiosity take over, and actually giving me a tour.
A poem was doing the rounds earlier this year. In it, Leslie Dwight suggested that 2020 was a year for change. A year where we finally band together. “2020 isn’t cancelled,” she wrote, “but rather the most important year of them all.” Now that we’re saying our goodbyes to it, those words really hit home. This year gave us everything. It reminded us that there are more good people out there than bad, that the little things often matter far more than the big things, that we can do anything we set our minds to, that good and light prevails, that we’re all in this together, and that the simple acts of kindness go a long way. If there’s one wish I have for 2021, it’s that all that good continues. Let’s keep standing up for right, let’s keep helping one another out, let’s make the most of our time with our loved ones and appreciate what we have. Let’s be brilliant!