Memorable high points of a positive kind were few and far between in 2018. But an event that took place on 24 March stood out like a beacon of light amid so much surrounding darkness. On 14 February, a former pupil entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and proceeded to shoot and kill 17 pupils and staff. The response of surviving students was electrifying. Within days they created a nationwide organisation of fellow high school students demanding effective gun controls in their country. The result was the 'March for Our Lives' which took place on 24 March in Washington, DC. Inevitably just how many children marched is disputed, but no-one denies there were several hundred thousand – and there were similar marches in other cities in America on that day. Many of these young marchers will soon be voters.
Out of their ranks will hopefully emerge the leaders of a campaign to compel Congress and the Supreme Court to overturn the current lethal and disgraceful misinterpretation of the constitution's Second Amendment. Only then will the effective gun controls the marchers of 24 March demanded become a reality. Just how desperately such controls are needed is indicated by the recent announcement that in 2018 there were 94 school shooting incidents in America – the highest number ever.
It's impossible to be optimistic about what awaits us in 2019. Whatever the final outcome over Brexit proves to be, I don't see how it can be a positive one. More likely is an intensification of the anger and division which currently seems to afflict the UK and so many other countries across Europe, America, and much of the world. A major player in the fomenting of such social and political disharmony, not only in his own country but across the world, is the sitting president of the United States. I suppose it's just possible that the final report arising from the Mueller investigation into the Russian connection might prove so damaging that a Nixon-like resignation might follow – to the benefit of us all. But I'm not counting on it.
Anticipating an event provides double the pleasure, but sometimes it is the utterly surprising incident that creates the most vivid memory. We were in Texas, on the flat high plains of the panhandle, where the horizon is so far away that the earth seems to curve where it meets a washed blue sky. South of Amarillo is Palo Duro Canyon, carved out by the Red River, with trails perfect for hiking. This much was planned for. From the bottom of the canyon the walls rise precipitously to the mesa, bands of sedimentary rock, coloured red, lavender, ochre and cream. Ripple marks in the strata indicate the action of waves on a shallow seafloor, aeons ago. In the heat and the near silence, there is an awareness of small sounds. The cottonwood and willow trees swish slightly where they overhang the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. And that is where I saw the coloured ribbons in the creek; but they weren't ribbons. A painted bunting, described as the most beautiful bird in North America, was having a wash in the shallows. It is small, shy, secretive and is in the 'near threatened' conservation status. Its head is a deep blue; wings and back show green and blue; the underparts are a brilliant red, as if an artist had painted them with a broad brush in saturated colours. Its nickname is 'nonpareil', and so it was.
As an arts administrator, historian and writer, my hopes for 2019 on a personal level are that in my work I manage to avoid any cock-ups, inaccuracies or grammatical errors. I don't actually anticipate that this will be the case, but perhaps no one will point them out to me. As for the wider picture, I have to admit that I have very little positive anticipation for 2019, not for myself – from my position of three score years and 10 – but for the youth of the world, who do not have the luxury of believing that everything is possible and that all ambitions for success will be met, which our generation accepted as a given, and did not use its opportunities wisely. I wish desperately that I felt otherwise. Perhaps there will be enough anger among the younger generation everywhere that they will create a moving force for good, for human rights, for the planet and for creativity. I would like to anticipate that.
1. My most memorable events of 2018 were: the terrorist attack at Easter in a small town supermarket in Southern France, near to where I've had a house for 25 years. Three people were murdered; the extraordinary bravery of a police officer who substituted himself for a check out woman in the supermarket and was killed with a bullet to the throat. Six months later, the same little town – including my property – was devastated overnight by the most terrible floods. Fourteen people died. The most tragic circumstances involved a woman who had lost her husband in the terrorist attack and then lost both her parents in the flood. All of this in a sleepy, sunny backwater of the Languedoc.
2. My anticipations for 2019 are, inevitably, the last waltz with Europe (or not); more worrying signs of global warming, so let's not wish too hard for more long, hot summers in Scotland; and I look forward to Kenneth Roy's book of final reflections on life and death.
Once a year, when I am on retreat in Glasgow, I walk through Bellahouston Park in the early morning, a place of strong emotions for me, because my parents came here in 1938, along with over 12 million others, to the white towers and elegant pavilions of the Empire Exhibition. It's a poignant park, because many of those who rode the roundabouts and browsed the reassuring display of our armaments would die in the imminent war. But Bellahouston is also a place of hope. This month I halted in awe at the sight of the illuminated new Prince and Princess of Wales's Hospice in the park. It's a truly beautiful building on a grand scale, replacing the previous hospice in Carlton Place. The new one includes in its superlative interior facilities for young adults facing the early termination of their lives, as some of the same generation at the 1938 Exhibition would face death. The new hospice was financed through generous donations and fundraising. In its respect for the sanctity of life and care of the afflicted, its illuminated grace glows on in memory as I write this in wintry St Andrews.
The time of the fantasy of Harry Potter has gone. Instead of dressing up as characters from the novels, children in Australia deserted their classrooms to demonstrate against the lethargy of governments and individuals regarding climate change. I anticipate that this movement of young people will spread internationally, and look forward to seeing similar demonstrations in Britain. We need updated curricula in the schools, and a new children's literature in which the talking animals are silenced. New textbooks and PowerPoint presentations should show children what older self-indulgent generations, notably my own, have done to the planet they are inheriting. Instead of 'The Gruffalo,' the illustrator of the new literature should portray the drip-drip of the glacier, the barefooted child in Bangladesh holding out a begging bowl while the sea swirls under the door. Children's writers need to tell frankly how it's going to be, with deadly storms, flooding and mass human migrations. Regarding television documentaries, let us have no more scenes of a recumbent David Attenborough playing with meerkats. Instead, show the species we have lost already, and will lose – including humans – through our appalling stewardship of the planet unless we act now.
In a year of political turmoil, my most memorable experience was being chased by a flock of sheep whilst minding my own business in Yorkshire. If, in August, you were in the vicinity of Gilling and saw a figure flapping a yellow raincoat and legging it across the field near the model railway, that was me. The sheep were large and, I think, pretty stupid. I mean, what benefit could they gain from trampling me into the dirt? Would it even be fun? Every time I see Theresa May with her colleagues behind her, I think of those sheep.
In 2019, I anticipate stressing a lot about the small things and not at all about the big. I may also finally achieve my perennial New Year resolution to drink more – I imagine there'll be a lot of Brexit anti-climaxes to survive. I'm not anticipating missing any politicians who fall by the Brexit wayside. I am anticipating missing Kenneth Roy more, not less, as 2019 trugs by.
There have been quite a few things that have made 2018 a year to remember: I was awarded 'Scotland Young Thinker of the Year'; I had the honour of being a bridesmaid at my friend's wedding; I'm about to start a new job that I'm incredibly excited about. But although these things – and even the little day-to-day things – have brought me joy and a sense of achievement, I can't pinpoint a single moment in the year that has been truly significant. I wish I could talk about a life-changing event. Something wonderful, like a holiday of a lifetime, or something closer to home, like buying my first house. Yet, if there's one thing that has happened this year, it's that I've learned a great deal about myself. In 2018, I've battled loneliness and anxiety, and there's no question that these battles will continue into the New Year.
My successes in 2018 have instilled a new sense of ambition that I didn't have before. I know I'm capable of achieving great things for myself and, as I start my new job, I'm looking forward to putting that to the test. Taking the next step in my career will present its own challenges and opportunities that I'm ready to face head on. I'm not anticipating any life-changing moments. Who knows what the future has in store for me. I certainly don't. As long as there are countless laughs and good times with friends and family, then I'm sure 2019 will be as joyous as all the years before it.
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