The year that was 2020

Travel Talk

Happy New Year

Whether 2020 was the last year of one decade, or the first year of another is, frankly, beside the point – though I happen to favour the first option. 

Either way, it’s a year most of us are glad to see the back of. But not all of us.  

For Colonel Sir Tom Moore, it was a wonderful year, because he was the best of the good guys. As were all those folk who ran, and cycled, and climbed, and did goodness knows what else to raise money for worthy causes. And, by doing so, demonstrated the magnificent generosity and kind-heartedness of the British people.

For every idiot who panicked and stripped the supermarket shelves, there were a dozen people ensuring that elderly neighbours got a hot meal. For every selfish clown who packed the summer beaches, or the pre-Christmas trains out of London, there were hordes of willing volunteers eager to do what they could to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities.

On that score, we came out of 2020 a darned sight better than we entered it.  

Was it the worst year of our lives? Not for me. The worst years were those of personal bereavement, such as 2007, when I spent months in a dark and bitter place, existing mainly on a diet of misery, hate, and resentment.

Was it the worst-ever Christmas? For those of us with long memories, the Christmases between 1939 and 1945 were pretty bleak – as I mentioned last month. But Christmas 2020 will stay long in the memories of children, especially those who appreciate that Father Christmas overcame the bug and delivered the presents on time.

It had its high and low points – apart from the ebb and flow of optimism that came with developments on the Covid-19 front.

One of my lows was early on, when I sought refuge from reality by watching weird YouTube channels. One was devoted to model railway layouts. A tiny camera, mounted on the engine, took you round circuits all over the world, some of which were enormous and complicated. It was hypnotic, and time-consuming – which, of course, was why I watched it.

Another time-wasting temptation was watching Tom and Jerry cartoons, one after another, for hours on end. Not that I did, mind you. But there were moments.

As the year drew to a close, I also managed to avoid getting hooked on the treacle-thick sentiment of ‘Christmas’ films – which appeared on television long before Christmas.

Visiting the USA many years ago, I came across the Hallmark TV channel, churning out one ‘feel good’ film after another – with virtually identical plots and characters. The year of Covid-19 allowed those films to gain a foothold over here.

But television and YouTube provided some unforgettable high points. National Theatre and RSC plays, for one thing – and a performance of ‘An American in Paris’ with Leanne Cope in the role of ‘Lise Dassin’.

Though she looks like she has just shed her gymslip, Leanne Cope graduated from the Royal Ballet School in 2003 and is a First Artist with that company. She moves like thistledown and is a joy to behold.

She’s from Bath which, by odd coincidence, is the home town of another dancer who brought joy to a generally miserable year. Bill Bailey went from rank amateur to win the Strictly Come Dancing prize, and boosted the sometimes fragile egos of chaps at the upper end of the generation gap.   

Sticking to the plus points of 2020, I finally got round to making and hanging new gates at the side of the house, and repainted the front door – changing its funereal black for a glowing red (to match the aforementioned gates). In the annals of DIY it may not be a great achievement, but it bucked up my summer no end.

Another plus was getting to know the neighbours. I knew quite a few of them already – the long-established ones. But newcomers became new acquaintances, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was your experience, too.

Yet another plus – well, I suppose it depends on your point of view – is that I am well past the 75,000 word mark of a memoir. I call it that because ‘autobiography’ doesn’t sit easily with me.    Intended for future generations of my family, it might see the light of day as a proper book, but I’ll make that decision when it’s finished.

I’m not one to press my political opinions on others, but must say that, for me, one high point of 2020 was the departure from the scene of Donald Trump.    

Actually, I need to be cautious here. At the time of writing he is playing golf in Florida, thinks he won the election, has fractured the Republican Party (possibly fatally), and may have to be winkled out of the White House by men in white coats.

A Dime-Store Mussolini, his idea of adult conversation is Twitter, slogans, and bombast. “Those whom the Gods wish to destroy …”

As far as 2021 is concerned, I’m making no predictions. I am due to attend a swish dinner at the Savoy in March, lecture on a cruise ship in April (I mentioned that last month, didn’t I?), and have a special lunch date with Carole in May (though I hope to be seeing her frequently between now and then).

Any or all of those plans could come to naught. Like you, I shall have to wait and see.

But I am optimistic about 2021, which could be the year we start making significant changes for the better in our lives, both personally and as a nation.

And, I hope, the year that sees us travelling around the globe again.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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