The great delight of a day out walking is the ongoing chat and the chance to put the world to rights. So, once again, I have asked my walking friends to nominate their Person of the Year. Beware they are mainly elderly and leftie though this year the regular group has voted to admit women to keep in step with the changing times.
No sports stars have made the list this year. Our favourites Rafa Benitez and Joe Root have both struggled and potential heroes like Ben Stokes, Mo Farah and Chris Froome have been under a cloud. Anya Shrubsole deserves a mention for making headlines for womens cricket.
In the entertainment field, Bruce Forsythe brought to an end the longest career on the stage of any male entertainer but Chips remembers Rodney Bewes, who died in November. His finest hour was when the North East was made glorious by newly built Leech housing estates, when Newcastle United fielded home grown players and when, in select bars, you might even get a glass of wine. Bewes was not a great actor and very much the foil for his partner James Bolam, but together they perfectly mirrored what is now called the Zeitgeist. I saw him much later perform his one man show Three Men in A Boat at the Customs House and was enchanted. He toured with the boat strapped to the roof of his car.
John and Christine go for David Attenborough who has been the BBC’s voice of natural history for over 60 years. In his magnificent new series, Blue Planet 2, Attenborough has described the desecration of our oceans in an authoritative and dignified manner. He has reached millions of mainstream viewers who range far beyond environmental lobbyists and the green fringes. John and Christine see their nominee as the consummate broadcaster on matters of enormous significance and, at the age of 91, truly a man for all seasons.
Next a local hero, put forward by Wendy, who is Catrina McHugh, Artistic Director with Open Clasp theatre company. Open Clasp creates bold and innovative theatre for personal, social and political change and performs in prisons, schools and community centres. Wendy recalls coming away from the production of Rattlesnake at Live Theatre exhausted by the power of the voices of women who were the victims of domestic violence. The play was commissioned by Durham Police to help them understand about abuse in the home. Catrina is the unassuming founder and driving force. She was awarded an MBE in June for outstanding services to disadvantaged women through theatre.
In the community field, I also much admire Chris Milner, who once ran British Airways’s operation in Newcastle, before setting the charity Hextol to give work experiences to people with learning disabilities. This year, he has moved on again because he has ‘one more big project in him’ his wife told me. Applaud too, my former colleague Barbara Gubbins who retires this month from ten glorious years leading County Durham Community Foundation. Her sights are also set on pastures new.
I am most proud to have a group of friends who are passionate about the persecuted and the marginalised. Jan follows Time Magazine’s example and nominates the #Me Too hashtag movement, which has bravely broken the silence about sexual harassment. It was tweeted half a million times on the first day. There are famous names featured on Time’s cover but the magazine stressed that this is a movement without a leader, of all classes and countries, which has set off the most fundamental shift in power and gender relations the world has ever seen.
Ken picks 13 year old Amineh Abou Kerech, who is a refugee from Syria and winner of the Betjeman Prize for her poem ‘Lament for Syria’ . Amineh started writing poems in Egypt, after her family fled penniless from Syria and has now mastered the English language whilst living in Oxford. “Can anyone teach me how to make a homeland,” her poem, asks. Can any of us understand what she and millions like her have been through?
Robert and Caroline chose Richard Radcliffe for the way he has remained calm under extreme personal pressure to secure the release of his wife Nazamin Zaghari-Radcliffe, wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. Even when Boris Johnson’s incompetence made the situation considerably worse, Robert and Caroline say, Richard declined to criticise the Foreign Secretary, saying that such criticism wouldn’t help get Nazamin released. Lets hope that Nazamin is home for new year.
I nominate the residents of Grenfell Tower, those who died and those who survived. It was the searing, defining event of the year which revealed the appalling conditions in which poor people live in one of the richest boroughs in the land. Their tragedy was confounded by the ham fisted rescue operation and the longwinded inquiry which is a shame to us all. Their bravery and resilience gets my vote.
In May, I was invited by Michael and Marion to join them on a walking holiday in Ireland and enjoyed five glorious days walking the Sheeps Head Way. Michael nominates Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance which makes small loans to third world entrepreneurs who cannot get conventional banks loans. Michael says that Yunus has changed, and continues to change, so many lives, not only in his native Bangladesh, but in the first, second and third worlds, especially for women who otherwise couldn’t break the cycle of disadvantage. His work confirms that it is the small, community based and largely unrecognized changes that have real impact for good. From little things, big things grow.
Another international name in the frame is Emmanuel Macron chosen by Fiona for creating a new political force, En Marche!, which within a year won him the presidency. He is the youngest President in French history, and one who is still considered by the majority as respecting his campaign promises. He inspired young people to engage in politics and broke the French establishment mould with his bi-partisan approach. His popularity has since blipped but how badly we need a European champion now that Merkel’s star is waning.
Merkel, Markle, I get confused who’s who.? What about a late award for the soap star who is marrying her Prince Charming. Lets hope Meghan can be a protesting friend at court.
Finally, the big two. The men who have dominated the landscape this year; one good, one bad, depending on your politics, but both nominated by my even handed friends.
I was shocked when Chris nominated Donald Trump. In almost every respect, Chris says, he would regard Trump as appalling, but Trump stood out because it was almost impossible to believe that such a person could be elected as US President until he actually was. We wake up to a Trump tweet most mornings and live in fear and trembling of his next reckless move. For those of us who have always believed that democracy is a “good thing”, Chris says, Trump’s election, and the Brexit vote, shook comfortable assumptions to the core. The world became more volatile and dangerous this year.
As championed in my last column, I would rather go for Juli Briskman , the cyclist who made a rude gesture as Donald drove by. We must show dissent at every chance and stop him coming to the United Kingdom.
Runners up in the world domination category must surely include Kim Jong-un and Prince Mohammed bin Salman who this year held his corrupt competitors to ransom in a luxury hotel, bought a Leonardo painting and let women drive. Vladimar Putin remains the dark horse.
The other big beast is the man who has changed the political landscape. He stopped benefit claimants being described as ‘scroungers’, questioned whether seven years austerity had been necessary and promoted public over private. Another fine mess requires the private train operator to be bailed out on East Coast, by the way. Jeremy Corbyn is proposed as Person of the Year by both Mike and Edward. Ed contributed a wonderful couple of days walking around Vienna to my year.
Mike admits to having been being sceptical when Corbyn was elected two years ago but young Edward has been a staunch supporter all along. Other walkers are not so sure. They worry about his policies, his hencemen and his management skills. But who else emerges from the Palace of Westminster with a shred of credibility this year?
Against all the odds, Mike believes, Jezza has given us a vision for the future of our country which is different to what we have had served up for forty years and which has led us into the mess we’re now in. And he is taking a growing number of people with him.
So in this season of hope and goodwill, the man who lost the vanity election is crowned Person of the Year. It was not a year to be proud of. But, funnily enough, out of adversity came some signs of profound change. May we walkers wish you all, that’s the many not the few, a prosperous rather than a preposterous new year.
Published in Newcastle Journal on Boxing Day 2017