2012: from dragons to Dickens, it’s the year of nearly everything

Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters
Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters
By John Knox

We are now entering the year of the dragon, the rainforest, the co-op, the Olympics, the Jubilee, the year of culture and what-the-Dickens-else – yes him, too.

The Chinese New Year begins on 23 January, the start of the new lunar calendar. As part of the 12-year cycle of animals, it is the dragon’s turn. Which means, apparently, that it is going to be either a quiet year or a year of catastrophe – a flood or earthquake or great political change.

Certainly, the era of “Who and When” is about to change. President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao are due to hand over to the next generation of Chinese dictators. Vice-president Xi Jinping is the favoured son at the moment, but it seems that ultimate power in China is passing from a small cabal of leaders to a wider constituency of around 400 top Communist Party apparatchiks. We live in interesting times.

And so to the rainforest. This is a campaign run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It seems, though, that the society is a little late, not just to save the rainforest but to catch up with the United Nations’ year of the forest, which was last year. Curiously, the RSPB is concentrating on East Africa and Indonesia and is rather ignoring the problems of deforestation in Pakistan and the Amazon basin, not to mention Scotland. We cut down our native forest years ago and even now we are struggling to increase our tree cover from 17 per cent to the target of 25 per cent.

But saving the tropical rainforest would certainly be a good thing. Around a billion people depend on it for their livelihood, as well as 70 per cent of the world’s species of land plants and animals.

The UN itself has moved on to the year of the co-operative. My Co-op store down the road will certainly be glad to hear this. So will my bank, which is in the process of taking over the good bits of Lloyds. The UN tells us there are over 800 million members of co-operatives in 100 countries, mostly in farming and retail. In the USA, the land of free enterprise, there are 29,000 co-operative businesses. In the UK, there are 5,450. And this month a new law comes into effect which eases the restrictions on membership and shareholdings. In these hard times, when capitalism is stumbling, the co-operative movement may be the job-creator we are all looking for.

The Olympics will certainly be a job-creator. There are 7,000 people currently working on the various construction sites and up to 100,000 temporary jobs are expected to be created in staging the games. And it is hoped the redevelopment of the Olympic areas of London will lead to 10,000 permanent jobs.

Goodness knows how many jobs will be created by the Queen’s diamond jubilee as pageants are staged, cities spruce themselves up for royal visits and new forests are planned. It is hoped that six million trees will be planted, in diamond jubilee woods, each at least 60 acres in size. One of them, in Leicestershire, is to be 460 acres.

Here in Scotland, the government has announced that 2012 will be a year of “culture”. The highlights begin with Celtic Connections, which will see over 2,000 singers swarm into Glasgow later this month. There is then to be a Festival of Visual Art, also in Glasgow, in April. On midsummer’s night, the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela will perform in the open air at Stirling Castle.

Then, as the nights darken in August, Edinburgh will stage a “Speed of Light” show in which hundreds of runners, with lights attached, will sprint around Arthur’s Seat. It will be Scotland’s answer to the Olympic Games, reminding people that the next big event will be the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. August will also see the 65th Edinburgh Festival, the greatest show on earth.

All this, of course, takes place against a black economic curtain. It is a most suitable year to be remembering the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. We are living in hard times, our great expectations have been dashed. Money has corrupted us, uncaring capitalism has brought us to this bleak house. We must now all live most ’umbly. Only love and the simple life remain. We must all live like the blacksmith Joe or Barnaby’s dear old mother and hope that 2012 will be the year of Something-Turning-Up.

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