There’s a broad consensus, that 2016 has not been a great year. Perhaps it’s not been so bad for those who consider themselves ‘winners’ having voted for the UK to leave the EU or for Donald Trump to be Barack Obama’s successor, but the seemingly endless roll-call of celebrity deaths – many far short of average life expectancy – has put a bit of a dampener on things.
While social media has been awash with outpourings of public grief, many have been calling for some perspective, and for more consideration to be given to the refuges of Syria. It’ hard to argue that such a bewilderingly vast humanitarian crisis warrants more compassion than a few dead pop stars and whatnot, but I also understand the way losing a childhood hero or figure one deeply admires and whose work has had a significant cultural impact and has touched the lives of many has a sad resonance. It’s easier to feel something for someone with whom you’ve connected in some way through their music or moves than for large numbers of people of whom you know nothing. I’m not defending it. But by the same token, mourning the loss of an icon does not necessarily mean one feels nothing for the plight of those whose lives have been devastated by war. It’s not a binary question.
But while everyone has their own perspective on what’s made 2016 stand out as one of the (supposedly) worst years in living memory, what the equations of dead celebrities vs the suffering of millions of real people, leave vs remain, Trump vs Clinton (all of which tipped to the wrong side) reveal is a social division which is binary in the absolute.
Things have been heading this way for a fair while now: a vast mainstream culture is countered by an equally vast buy infinitely fragmented array of non-mainstream cultures. Big business is now the dominant force in politics: the role of ‘the people’ and the value placed on them by government has diminished to the point of being negligible. The idea that Brexit was in some way a ‘people-powered’ two-fingered salute to the establishment elite was a myth perpetuated by a bunch of establishment elite looking to con the malcontent in order to achieve their own ends. And while the numbers dependent on food banks continues to soar, so ‘the other half’ are comfortable with iPads for all the family and trips to Disneyland at half term.
Amidst all the shit, daily life goes on, and it’s also shit on a microcosmic scale. My experience today seemed to somehow encapsulate all that was wrong about 2016. Having been to Durham to visit the in-laws, we decided to treat ourselves with a detour toward Whitby to catch the sunset by the coast. The smoke rising from a fire on the moors partially obscured the setting sun, and so we stopped at a pub for food. It was 3:45pm. The doors were open, the lights on but in fact they were closed: the barman, sitting by the bar, was simply waiting for some of the residents to arrive. That’s rural pubs on a bank holiday in 2016, though. They simply can’t sustain opening all hours in the face of rising costs and big-business competition in more ‘key’ locations.
And so we found ourselves at Cross Butts Stables Restaurant. It looked homely enough, boasting locally-sourced produce and ‘proper’ food, cooked to order. It is, as I would later learn from their website, the place ‘Where town really does meet country’. Agh, shit.
We took our seats – well, a seat and a bench with an array of well-stuffed cushions, with squirrels, pheasants, a larger-than-life fox and various other wildlife carved into the towering uprights at the back – at the table hewn from an entire oak tree, not far from the roaring wood-burner and watched twilight’s last gleamings through the windows of the barn-sized conservatory building. Being vegetarian, I wasn’t too concerned by the lack of steak pies, but it might have helped if they’d mentioned that they’d run out before Mrs N ordered one rather than five minutes later.
The Great Yorkshire Brewing Company Lager I ordered had to be substituted too, as it ‘wasn’t pouring properly’. I went for a GYBC Cider instead: on arrival, it was the most lagery cider I’ve ever tasted, to the extent I was suspicious the contents of my glass corresponded with the Coors Light glass it arrived in. To be fair, my brie wellington was great, but the fact the meals were served on chopping boards was not. But 2016 in a single sentence: a portion of chips served in a plant-pot on top of a chopping board.
The game is over. The wheel has been reinvented. And a burger andchips on a rough-hewn chopping board with 3” terracotta pot on top costs £14.
Why does this infuriate me so? Because it’s pointless. It’s beyond frivolous. It’s hyping and pimping stuff and charging over the odds in the name of – what, exactly? It says ‘we’re doing this because we’re so cool’. It’s like Pulp’s ‘Common People’ has been put in the blender and rendered a compote by hipsters who think that charging double for the experience of being poor is the apogee of entrepreneurialism. It’s the celebration of the idea of quality produce, the dignity of labour, saving the planet by cutting air-miles, recreating the spirit of a golden age of simpler times in the cuntiest way imaginable.
2017 will see Trump step into his new role and, in all likelihood, the Tories will invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and lead the UK out of the EU. 2016 was not Armageddon, but merely the beginning of the end. Might as well enjoy the artisanal, thrice-cooked chips now before things get really bad….
Image from TripAdvisor