Nine Things That Gave Me Joy in 2020

I’m not known for my upbeat nature. A few months ago, someone on facebook asked me if I was ever happy about anything. It was a supercilious remark that did not deserve an answer in the middle of my railing against the things I normally rail against: climate change inaction; the creeping disaster of neoliberal culture; all those things that are called ‘democracy’ but are not; the madness of Brexit… it’s quite a long (and closly related) list. But this is not a ranting blog entry for a change. During the time of Covid19, the time of our most incompetent government ever and the confirmation of the irredeemable stupidity of the human species, there were still some good things. In the true tradition of the Internet, here are Nine Things That Gave Me Joy in 2020.

Jamulus

For fifteen years, this open source software, authored by Volker Fischer, has been available to musicians like myself but like many previously niche programs, has been a game-changer at a time when a deadly respiratory disease put paid to so many real life interactions. As an amateur musician, I’m very fortunate. The cancellation of events did not affect my livelihood – but I missed playing. My new, lightweight MarkBass cab had only two outings before the first lockdown and I had a full diary of gigs lined up on sax and on bass! Everything was cancelled, and yet my musical experience has broadened considerably. Thanks to Jamulus and the WorldJam, I have played a wider range of music than ever before, and with musicians from all over the world – all in real time and all online. I’ve even given the double bass its debut!

Elephants

One of the best ‘thankyou’ gifts I ever received as a teacher, was a year’s adoption of little orphan elephant, Ndotto from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It was a great gift for two reasons: 1) It was not a candle or a bottle of wine (I’m not a great drinker), and 2) the daily videos full of inter-species compassion and affection are a wonderful antidote to news of human stupidity and violence. I kept the adoption going and added another. Baby elephants are endearing, of course, but the Sheldrick Trust’s success rate is truly uplifiting. To date they have raised 263 orphaned elephants and seen the birth of 38 babies to former orphans now reintegrated into the wild.

Tiny Recorder

Prior to the pandemic, my facebook feed was already full not just of elephants but of insects. Several sites share extraordinary photographs by their members who also help each other with identification and recording. On one occasion, I came across Tiny Recorder and was hooked. Tiny, with the help of his big person friend, The Narrator, explores the British Isles and showcases the (mostly tiny) wildlife. He’s gathering quite a following which is not surprising, because although there is plenty of excellent biology, Tiny is superbly portrayed through humour and crafty camerawork.

Women Politicians

This is another unexpected one from me and I’ll need to be more specific. Even as a woman myself, I’ve never been a fan. I’ve always felt, and to some extent still do, that women are complicit in their own status as lesser humans. There isn’t always an external barrier – they often just choose to not do things they could do. Sometimes they continue to do things which don’t help – like wear those ridiculous shoes. But 2020 was a year that changed my view of women, not as a general thing but because of those who were morally grounded, intelligent, compassionate and authentic – all traits that seemed to give women leaders the edge when dealing with the pandemic. Women can and do change the narrative and perhaps we can hope for a cascade effect. Here’s a short selection of some class moments.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US congresswoman – confronting US abusive masculinity specifically and generally.

Greta Thunberg, young climate activist and Times Person of the Year – staying cool in the face of troll behaviour from a mad president.

He tweeted, “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”. She changed her bio to “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.” But better than that, – when the time was right she returned the advice.

Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South – speech to UK Parliament on gifts for favours. Why are most MPs silent about it?

Molly Scott Cato, Former MEP – response to Brexiter challenge on her expertise. OK, this is strictly 2019, but it has made me laugh ever since.

Jacinda Ardern, of course, New Zealand Primer Minister, who did her job and got it right because she did not think there was an ‘acceptable number of deaths’ or that some lives were less valuable.

Art on TV

Painting by my friend, Karen, taking Bob Ross to heart.

In all my years as a primary teacher, I saw the arts denigrated and abandoned as high-stakes tests in maths and English dominated the curriculum, so it was interesting to see how important music and fine art became during the pandemic. Many people turned to painting, finding Bob Ross for the first time. As a lapsed painter myself, I found I was inspired to pick up a brush for the first time in years, after watching Portrait/Landscape Artist of the Year and to see if I still ‘had it’. My favourite though, was Grayson’s Art Club, featuring Grayson, his wife Philippa, and several guests (celebrity and otherwise) in a gentle, creative chronicle of the time of Covid.

Open bionics

A simple one, this. Somewhere in my research for a primary school theme, I came across this company and ‘liked’ it on facebook, thereby improving my timeline by their positive posts. They have changed many people’s lives with their Hero Arm, an affordable, light and cool-looking prosthetic that actually works and is particularly popular with children. I’m reminded that there are groups all over the world quietly doing their best to make things better.

Dave and Nandi

There are so many things to love about this drum off between a legendary US rock musician and a young drumming prodigy from England.

Maryam Tsegaye

17 year old Canadian winner of the International Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Thoroughly deserved and what a role model! Do watch. It’s excellent.

Fall of Trump

Not much needs to be said about this. It was an unexpected brightening of the timeline. Jonathan Pie sums the Trump era rather eloquently.

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