There’s no reason the year 2020 should be any more significant than any other, but it certainly feels though it is. It is the start of the decade (or the end of the decade if you’re one of those people who really feels the need to make that point). It brings to mind fortified wine, cricket and hindsight (coincidentally three of my favourite hobbies). It also feels like one of those impossibly futuristic dates, like the year 2000 did when I was a kid, one of those dates by which incredible things should have happened (I suppose, in fairness, a lot of them have).
I also turn 40 this year. Come March I will be arguably middle-aged or at least definitively not young any more. If I’m averagely lucky, I’ll be halfway through my life, although my stretch goal is to make it to 120 so I can see in another century (And if I did miraculously make it to the year 2100, any of the pedants mentioned above telling me that the century doesn’t actually start until 2101 will get short shrift).
As I said about 2019 in my last blog, the 2010s have been the best ten years of my personal life, but perhaps not so great for the world at large. The climate crisis only got worse, Donald Trump became president of the US, and a number of other countries elected far-right populist leaders. The political situation in the UK was relentlessly appalling, with nearly a full decade of Conservative and coalition austerity, punctuated by the Brexit vote, and somehow ending with Boris Johnson leading a majority government.
So, people can be forgiven for not being too optimistic for 2020, especially given the early days of the new year have mainly consisted of Trump doing his best to provoke further conflict in the Middle East and bush fires raging across Australia.
It so happens that one of my favourite albums of 2019 was called 2020, by the folk singer Richard Dawson. Whereas his previous album, Peasant, was set over a thousand years in the past, 2020, as the title would suggest, is very firmly embedded in the Britain of right now, with its’ tales of flooding, football and infidelity discovered through a heart emoji:
It’s a challenging album in some ways. Opener ‘Civil Servant’ a tale of a worker driven to the brink of madness by being forced to stop people’s benefits, and the ten minute centerpiece ‘Fulfillment Centre’, detailing the trials of working at an Amazon (presumably) warehouse). The picture the album paints of modern Britain is certainly a bleak one, not one to fill you with sunshine and hope for the future, but a closer listen reveals there are shoots of optimism in there. Not only in the sheer joy of the melodies and the music, but in the stories themselves. The narrator of ‘Jogging’ discovers some relief from his anxieties through that pastime and even the worker in ‘Fulfillment Centre’ retains his dream of opening his own cafe some day.
In many ways the album reflects my expectations for 2020, downbeat, but punctured by moments of levity and light. Given the political situation it is certain to be another very difficult year for many in this country. Another year dominated by Brexit (yes, even after it ‘gets done’ on January 31st) rather than raising people out of poverty, and very likely another year where the climate crisis is not acted upon with sufficient urgency. Even as a generally optimistic person, I am not feeling all that hopeful. The best I can wish for is that amongst the darkness we will find some of those moments of levity and light. They may be major events (the failure of Trump to be re-elected would be a good start) or they may just be those tiny acts of love or kindnesses that happen every day, but they will be there if we can find them.
Whatever 2020 brings, I know that, unlike some of the characters in Richard Dawson’s songs, I have, so far, been one of the lucky ones. I hope in 2020 I will continue to be lucky, I hope I will continue to be healthy, safe and loved, and if you’re reading this, I hope 2020 brings the same for you.