A-Z of 2013: The Independent's writers predict the future, from the Oscars to royal baby hype
We should be due for a quiet year in 2013, what with no Olympics, no Jubilee, no elections, no Twilight…But when have we ever had a quiet year? From unpredictable weather to entirely predictable royal baby obsession, from space exploration to underground heritage, our writers examine what’s in store over the next 12 months.
Saturday 29 December 2012
A is for Andy Murray
On a thundery Friday afternoon in July 2012, the planets aligned, the tennis gods smiled and the clouds parted over SW19 – a man born on British soil had won a place in the Wimbledon Final for the first time in 74 years. Sadly, we all know that this particular fairy tale ended in tears.
But then Andy Murray did something truly amazing – he bounced back. Tragic fatalism gave way to a raucous late-summer festival of tremendous tennis. At the Olympics, Murray dispatched Roger Federer in three emphatic sets to take gold, on the same turf where only a month earlier he had succumbed to the old master. Another month later, in New York, he emerged the victor against his old friend-cum-tormenter, Novak Djokovic, and was crowned US Open champion – the first British man to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry, 76 years ago.
The scale of Andy Murray's achievement is not to be underestimated. To be playing in the same era as any one of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate would be a dreadful misfortune for even the most talented of players. To carry the burden of competing against all three – and still to win Olympic gold and the US Open – brings Murray close to the pantheon of all-time greats.
Whether or not he can cross the final threshold, 2013 may tell. He turns 26 this year and will be at the peak of his abilities. His victories last year give him confidence going into every match, every break point, every knife-edge tie-break. And Wimbledon? It's not quite now or never – but there was never a better time than now.
B is for baby
Specifically, the royal one that is due at the start of June. There's so much to be chewed over in the next six months, isn't there? Will it be a prince or princess? What will he/she weigh (if you're quick, you can probably get 20/1 at Ladbrokes on whichever it is being 8lbs 4oz)? The godparents – well, Harry and Pippa are a shoo-in, but there'll be at least 20 others, from all corners of the Commonwealth, the royal palaces of Europe and the international confederation of party-planners.
And the name! If it's a girl, Elizabeth, Diana, Victoria, Frances, Anne and Grace are top six favourites, though there's an outside chance of the Duchess choosing the name of one of her designers: Alice (from Temperley)? McQueen? (Princess McQueen has a nice ring.) LK Bennett? If it's a boy, it'll be saddled with one of those four-square royal names, as stolidly traditional as fudge: George, Charles, Philip, John, Louis and Richard are the top six, with crowd-pleasers such as Bradley, Usain and Mo some way behind.
Will the royal parents have the baby delivered in the King Edward VII hospital, or will that awaken too many sad associations? But then, how can they decently choose somewhere else? So much to be discussed at exhaustive length…
C is for cycling
From alpine passes to the vertiginous banks of a London velodrome, cycling reached such heights in 2012 that topping it will be tough even for the superhuman pedal-turners of teams Sky and GB.
A sport in which we somehow find new ways to be brilliant rose again on the slender shoulders of Bradley Wiggins, the man with the 'burns who can drink beer like it's energy drink. The Tour de France winner, Olympic time trial champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year has distanced himself from the goal of a second yellow jersey, but his dreams may have turned pink, the colour of victory at the Giro d'Italia, which starts in Naples in May.
Chris Froome has a better chance of conquering a mountainous course in France in July. British wins in both events would be an extraordinary way to set the bar higher still for 2014, when the Tour starts in Leeds.
The road to Rio has already started for our track cyclists. A new generation will seek to dominate again in February when the UCI track cycling world championships go to Belarus.
The year will be crucial, too, in the debate about safety, as a nation of narrow roads and, occasionally, minds, tries to adjust to a cycling boom. We will look to our heroes for more inspiration, and the suits who rule our roads for answers.
D is for Derry
Derry aka Londonderry aka Slash City (because it's been referred to so often as "Derry-slash- Londonderry") is about to be officially launched as 2013 UK City of Culture. The 2013 Turner Prize will be unveiled there, the first time it has been celebrated outside London.
So what are Derry's cultural credentials? Well, in 2010 it was named 10th most musical city in the UK by the Performing Rights Society. It was the birthplace of George Farquhar, the Restoration dramatist (remember The Beaux' Stratagem? Of course you do) and the contemporary playwright Brian Friel. It's the city of Seamus Heaney, the Nobel-winning poet, and the novelists Joyce Cary and Jennifer Johnston; of Feargal Sharkey and his band The Undertones, and, er, Nadine from Girls Aloud. Oh and Dana, who won Eurovision in 1970 with "All Kinds of Everything" before becoming an MEP.
Perhaps less culturally distinguished than Seamus and co is the 'Banks of the Foyle Hallowe'en Carnival' that winds through the town every 31 October – forming "the largest street party in Ireland", according to the local Visitors and Conventions Bureau. Also noteworthy is the annual Big Tickle Comedy Festival every March, the Jazz and Big Band Festival every April and the Celtronic annual electronic dance festival held all over the city.
And don't forget the momentous day, 9 December 2007, when 13,000 Santas gathered in Derry, to break the Largest Gathering of Santas record previously held by Liverpool and Las Vegas, thus hurling Derry city into the Guinness Book of Records.
Culture? Derry's got culture seeping from every pore.
E is for EU
This time last year, analysts were predicting 2012 would be the year the eurozone finally imploded. But morning has broken on a new year in Europe and the euro is still with us. Uncertainty remains, however, as two of the biggest players in the crisis go to the polls in 2013. First, Italy will elect a new prime minister. Angela Merkel's favourite Italian Mario Monti, the unelected technocrat who steadied the ship in 2012, resigned at the end of last year, paving the way for the possible return of Silvio Berlusconi – an outcome that could hike up Italy's borrowing costs.
Then, in September or October, Ms Merkel herself faces the people's reckoning. While France and the so-called southern bloc would like to see Germany carry on as the guarantor of her European neighbours' debt, Merkel wants to see the spending of eurozone states brought under tighter control in an ever more federalist union. Any progress in the great European game of cards will most likely be put on ice until we know who is left holding Germany's all-important hand.
There will also be a new face at the table this year, as Croatia accedes to the union in July. With mutterings about a UK exit from the EU in the not-too-distant future, welcoming its 28th member will supply a timely dose of self-confidence to the beleaguered Union.
F is for FA
If the Football Association sometimes looks slightly stranded and baffled by the endless acrimony of modern football, it does at least have an excuse. This coming year will mark the 150th birthday of the game's governing body. So perhaps it can be allowed a touch of tolerance, if not celebration?
The FA has spent much of the last year or so adjudicating, through its independent regulatory commissions, on issues of intense unpleasantness. They have had to decide why one case of racial abuse justifies an eight-game ban while another excludes the perpetrator for just four. This would not be light work for anyone. But the FA is 10 years older than the Emancipation Proclamation. It was not built for this.
The era of Victorian kickabouts between church and social club teams is long over. Modern football is a monster, fuelled by money and controversy. And when the Football Association does try to engage it, as when it bid for the 2018 World Cup, it struggles to live with it. Unable and unprepared to do the work that was required, the English bid was outmanoeuvred by Russia, whose football union has only just marked its centenary. These 20th century organisations do things differently.
But the very elderly are still entitled to a party, even if it is sometimes designed for the enjoyment of others. So in 2013 Wembley will host the Champions League final for the second year in three. Officially this is to mark the 150th birthday, although of course Uefa will make a few pounds back on the tickets.
G is for G8
For most UK citizens, the last time the G8 registered as more than an anodyne acronym was in 2005, when Scotland's Gleneagles hotel hosted the summit and Bono and Bob Geldof used their groundsman-bothering Live8 concert to amplify a call on world leaders to 'Make Poverty History' – or at the very least wipe out remaining Third World Debt. Their campaign married success (Prime Minister Blair and co did indeed 'Drop the Debt') and failure (obviously, poverty remains – and people are now noticeably more cynical about campaigns).
This year's conference, the first held on UK soil since 2005, will take place at Lough Erne golf resort in Northern Ireland – and aid agencies are determined to pile more pressure on the politicians attending, this time with a call to tackle global hunger. Make Poverty History mark II, organisers hope, will lead to a focus on rising commodity prices in the developing world.
In theory, this conference does provide a useful opportunity for the leaders of eight extremely powerful nations to co-ordinate policies across borders. George Osborne has promised to raise the subject of corporate tax avoidance, a practice which obviously benefits from a lack of international regulation.
However, sceptics say that beyond a pleasant round of golf and a photo-op or two, little gets achieved. And with the rise of the broader G20, which includes rising powers like China and Brazil, the G8's influence may be on the wane anyway.
H is for H&M
If this year was big for the Swedish fashion empire H&M – with the launch of flagship stores for two of its in-house brands Monki and Cheap Monday in London, not to mention bestselling designer collaborations with Versace and Maison Martin Margiela in the title company – then 2013 is set to be even bigger.
Even as the tide of fast fashion ebbs further, as shoppers begin to buy conscientiously with an eye on longevity, H&M has managed to shift its USP from a quick fix to a quietly confident presence.
The beginning of the year sees the chain developing a men's cycling collection in tandem – no pun intended – with the cult and impossibly cool bicycle emporium Brick Lane Bikes, while in February, stores across the UK will launch a clothes collecting service, whereby customers can donate their unwanted clothing. Each bag of rejects will be worth a £5 voucher, which can be exchanged on purchases over £30.
But this spring also sees the launch of a premium brand, named And Other Stories – a womenswear collection that will be jointly produced in Stockholm and Paris, and which aims to provide high-end quality at an accessible price point, targeting more youthful and trend-led customers than the extant upmarket offering, the minimalist's haven on the high street, COS.
Speculation is rife as to how the new label will fare, but if it's anything like the rest of the company – which has in the past 18 months also launched a homeware line to much acclaim – it's bound to do well. Those Gothenburg gurus have the fashion industry all sewn up, it would seem.
I is for Israel
There are few places in the world where a government's foreign minister, and at the same time leader of the junior coalition partner, can resign after being indicted by the Attorney General with just over a month to go before the general election, and that almost the same coalition can expect to be re-elected with an improved majority. But then this is Israeli politics.
There are many uncertainties about the general election next month, but one of them, according to polls, does not appear to be the result. And this is despite the resignation earlier this month of the foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the country's nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, who quit after being indicted with breach of trust in a case concerning a former ambassador to Belarus. Mr Lieberman denies the charges.
The government led by Benjamin Netanyahu faces a divided opposition and at the same time enjoys the support of most Israelis when it comes to matters of security. The Netanyahu administration has promised that Tehran will not get nuclear weapons – and this plays well with an Israeli public, which takes seriously what it sees as the existential threat of an atomic Iran.
If everything goes as predicted, Mr Netanyahu will win with an increased majority; that could mean that a war with Iran is more likely. And this being Israeli politics, Mr Lieberman is "leaving temporarily". Indeed, there is a good chance of him being given the plum job of Defence Minister in the new cabinet.
J is for Justin Welby
Job offer: the Church of England is looking for a new leader. Suitable candidates must be expert in herding cats, have a proven track record in squaring circles and the skin of a rhino. Step up Justin Welby, the eventual winner of the bizarre and secretive selection process which decides who will be the head of our established church.
Applying for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury is a little like wanting to be PM: those who genuinely want the job must insist publicly that it's not their cup of tea.
Welby, a former oil executive who took the cloth and quickly rose up the ecclesiastical ranks to become Bishop of Durham, was something of a dark horse. He is relatively inexperienced compared to many of his contemporaries, but he's also technocratic, charismatic and evangelical. Most importantly, he was one of the few candidates who could appeal to both the liberal and conservative wings of what has become an increasingly fractious Anglican Big Tent.
But boy will he need his skills when he takes up office on New Year's Day. Come what may, over the next 10 years, the Anglican Communion will inevitably have to face up to the twin thorny issues of women bishops and homosexuality. That's like facing a fiscal cliff, rampant unemployment and a civil war all at once. Even the most highly accomplished politician might be forgiven for thinking: "There but for the grace of God go I."
K is for Korea
Thomas Cook isn't offering package deals to Seoul or beach breaks in Busan just yet, but if the glossy travel magazines are anything to go by, high-street travel agents will soon be scrabbling to book charter flights to South Korea. That's right, the home of K-pop and nifty consumer electronics is set to become the must-visit tourist destination of 2013.
Lonely Planet has already ranked it as its number three off-the-beaten track destination of 2013, British Airways is launching a direct flight to Seoul for the first time in 10 years and rap artist PSY's distinctive dance moves in the viral hit "Gangnam Style" are expected to send a wave of K-pop-obsessed poshpackers rocketing towards the country as fast as a North Korean ballistic missile.
His distinctive video has just overtaken Justin Bieber's "Baby" on YouTube as the most viewed ever and tourist officials have gone into overdrive with a new monument to Korean pop music and a square for concerts being built in Gangnam, the hip Seoul neighbourhood that inspired the track. There's just one problem. According to The Rough Guide to Korea, Gangnam is "one of those Seoul areas that is utterly devoid of traditional tourist sights".
Don't let that put you off though; the adventurous 2013 traveller shouldn't miss the towering 'Great Gates' of Seoul, the historic city of Gyeongju and the semi-tropical paradise of Jeju Island. Or if you are really brave, how about popping over the DMZ to the so-called 'Hotel of Doom' in Pyongyang? It will tower over the impoverished city's skyline at 105 storeys high and after 26 years' construction will finally be ready for guests in 2013. Surely that's a tourist site worth waiting for?
L is for library
The new year brings rare good news for embattled libraries and their communities. It does in Birmingham, at least, where more than two million books in 60,000 crates will be lugged a short distance through the city ready for lending when Europe's largest library opens its doors in September.
The £188m Library of Birmingham on Centenary Square is part of the city's regeneration led by big-money architecture. Dutch firm Mecanoo won the competition to rehouse Birmingham's books inside a giant box clad in doily-like steel lattice, a modern home for a collection that includes a rare copy of Audubon's Birds of America valued at £6m, as well as an edition of Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623.
The library was conceived before the recession, however, and cuts are likely to hasten the rate of closure elsewhere. Councils shut four libraries every week this year and a Government report published last month warned that some local authorities risk failing in their legal duty to provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service. A new report on the long-term effects of such cuts will be delivered by the end of 2014.
In Newcastle, Lee Hall is leading a campaign to protect the city's 18 libraries, 10 of which are set to close. The Billy Elliot playwright expressed the sentiments of many when he said: "Working men and women in the north-east have fought, generation after generation, for the right to read and grow intellectually, culturally and socially – to be as 'civilised' as anyone else. It is a heritage that took decades and decades to come to fruition but will be wiped out in a moment. You are not only about to make philistines of yourselves, but philistines of us all".
M is for musicals
The world's longest-running musical will be one of the longest-running films of the year at more than two hours and 40 minutes, but if the early reviews and buzz prove accurate, we'll tolerate numb bums in our droves to see a film that appears destined to strike gold at February's Academy Awards.
Les Misérables, which opens on 11 January, isn't just any song-heavy film, either, it's ALL song, a rare thing in cinema. So as well as the showstoppers that we'll all be sick of humming in a couple of weeks, we get phrases like "We will nip it in the bud" done opera-style.
But wait, this isn't even just any sung-through musical film, it's all sung LIVE, as the cast and endless trailers have been so keen to tell us. And because the actors sang their stuff on set with the music played live from a piano via earpieces, rather than in a studio weeks before, they were totally free to, y'know, act!
To suspend cynicism for a moment, however, the approach evidently accounts for much of the film's impact and early Oscars chatter. Anne Hathaway is apparently mesmerising as Fantine as she cries and grimaces her way through "I Dreamed a Dream" in what one reviewer called "a performance of monumental welly, one you'd be too plain frightened to refuse an award". Whatever the Academy decides, she should receive special credit for reclaiming that particular ditty from Susan Boyle. How many studios are waiting to greenlight full-on musicals, and how many actors are currently taking singing lessons, probably depends on Oscar night.
N is for novels
If 2012 was dominated by EL James's erotic behemoth of a bestseller, next year's offerings come in many more shades than grey with 'accessible' quality fiction vying for readers' attentions. Tracy Chevalier's novel, The Last Runaway (Harper Collins), promises to be among the first of the 'event publications' when it hits the bookshops on 14 March.
A master storyteller of the 'historical' genre – her commercial breakthrough came with Girl with a Pearl Earring, about a Vermeer model which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film – Chevalier's seventh novel is once again immersed in evocative history, this time in Ohio of the 1850s during the last days of slavery. The story revolves around two Quaker sisters from Bristol who are hit by tragedy while sailing towards new lives in America.
Another high point for literary fiction comes in April, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings out Americanah (Fourth Estate), the first novel she's written since the stratospheric success of her Biafran story of love and war, Half of a Yellow Sun, for which she won the Orange Prize five years ago.
This one also involves a migration – of two young Nigerians who seek new worlds in the West, and its drama takes in both contemporary London and post-9/11 America. If Chevalier and Adichie's track record is any measure for these latest books, we can expect at least one of them to turn up on a literary prize shortlist next year. Book groups, too, might be thankful for an escape from soft porn.
O is for overdraft
Britain's journey out of the economic abyss has taken on the character of a recurring nightmare lately – you know the one where you are running and running towards a goal and every time you think you are nearly there, it recedes further and further into the distance.
There was a time when it was all going to be over by 2015. The Coalition would cut public spending to meet deficit targets, we'd have a few lean years and everything would go back to normal. Then in 2011, the Chancellor told us that things were worse than we ever imagined and "austerity" would last two extra years.
Now we are told that the cuts will be with us right up to 2018 – assuming this Government survives an election, that is. One way or another, children who were doing their GCSEs when the crisis started will probably be getting married and not getting a mortgage by the time we finally haul ourselves out of it.
So, what to look out for in 2013? The recession could become a 'triple-dip'. With the economy shrinking again in the last three months of 2012, another contraction at the beginning of this year would confirm that, far from recovering, we are doing little more than "bumping along the bottom", as an increasingly exasperated Vince Cable put it recently.
What's more, analysts are beginning to cast doubt on Britain's cherished triple-A credit rating, which would be a political disaster for Osborne and another blow to growth – one he can ill-afford now the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has downgraded UK growth forecasts for 2013 from 2 per cent to a measly 1.2 per cent.
For the man on the street: more job uncertainty, stagnant wages and higher bills – but we're all getting used to that by now, aren't we?
P is for phone hacking
Will Rebekah Brooks be found guilty or innocent? And what will happen to all Rupert Murdoch's other journalists who allegedly hacked, bribed and covered up? We will, finally, find out in 2013.
Two years after the shock closure of the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch's former chief executive and six other senior journalists are due to stand trial at the Old Bailey in London on 9 September, accused of plotting to intercept the voicemails of 600 people. At the same hearing, Brooks and six others – including husband Charlie, chauffeur Paul Edwards and PA Cheryl Carter – will face charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, which carries a maximum life sentence.
Then there are the corruption cases. Brooks and David Cameron's former spin doctor, Andy Coulson, are alleged to have made illegal payments to public officials, and Scotland Yard might well charge some of the 53 journalists, police and prison officers and civil servants arrested during its year-long inquiry into bribery.
At Brooks's trial in the autumn, expect weeks of legal argument and a stream of extraordinary claims about the culture inside Murdoch's British newspaper group.
It won't be a comfortable year for Rupert Murdoch or his journalists.
Martin Hickman is co-author of 'Dial M for Murdoch'
Q is for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The end of what many thought was the greatest show on earth was just the beginning of a years-long, £300m transformation of a theatre that produced more drama than many could compute. In July, those still suffering from Olympic hangovers and not yet tired of montages of montages may set foot among the arenas again when the first part of the Olympic Park opens with a new name.
North Park is described as offering "acres of vibrant green parklands and footpaths, perfect for picnics, walks and play" and is overlooked by the velodrome, which is due to re-open later in the year as part of the new Lee Valley VeloPark. There will also be a new arena for sports events and concerts with seats for 7,500 people.
The rest of the park, including the area around the stadium itself, whose future remains uncertain but is likely to see it hosting Premiership football, is due to reopen in 2014 along with that controversial red Orbit tower.
Aspiring Phelpses and Simmondses may also then take to the waters of Zaha Hadid's stunning aquatic centre after its re-birth without the vast wings that carried extra seating.
And if that isn't enough, the most dedicated and nostalgic Olympic fans will soon be able to purchase their own part of the Olympic legacy. Chobham Manor, the first of five new neighbourhoods set to be built around the park, is due to receive residents in 2015.
R is for restaurants
A staggering new 160 eating houses opened in London last year. That's three a week, in the teeth of recession, austerity and George Osborne's glum prediction that we must tighten our belts for years yet. In 2013, there'll be stacks more. High-profile chefs will open new kitchens, grizzled restaurateurs will invest in ritzy new premises, and the 'dude food' movement will spread.
The highlights? Kevin McNally from Balthazar, the foodie shrine in Greenwich Village, is supposed to be coming to Covent Garden. Jason Atherton follows up his popular Pollen Street Social with a place in Soho.
The tarted-up Granary Square in King's Cross will be home to The Grain Store, a new bistro from Raymond Blanc's favourite protégé, Bruno Loubet. The opening of The Shard will see much barging in the queue by foodies anxious to sample both the view and the grub in the half-mile-high incarnations of Zuma and Aqua.
Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries is reportedly returning to London, to start a new restaurant in Devonshire Square. Tom Aikens will look for a new audience of City types in Westferry Circus. A London version of the Madison Square Shake Shack (apparently "the most famous single burger joint in the world") will reel 'em in at Covent Garden's Market Building. And the Bubba Gump seafood chain (the name inspired by Forrest) comes to the Trocadero.
Out of the capital, Angela Hartnett will open a new restaurant in the New Forest – the Lime Wood Hotel, where she'll be "consultant" to head chef Luke Holder; and we must expect the dirty burger, haute hot dog and fried chicken explosion to spread across the country's cities. Hungry yet?
S is for space exploration
It used to be an exclusive club, which only the Americans and Russians could afford to join, but the next year is likely to see the pace of change in space travel rocket forward like never before. And with Nasa's Shuttle gone and Russia's Soyuz space capsules working flat out to supply the International Space Station, it's being left to the Chinese and private companies like SpaceX to grab galactic headlines and inspire a new generation of space dreamers.
First up is SpaceX, which will start launching the first of three new Falcon 9-Heavy rockets from Cape Canaveral in Florida in early summer. The 70m-tall rocket is the most powerful since the Apollo era, can put more than 53 tonnes of cargo – more than twice that of the now defunct space shuttle – in orbit and is set to challenge the dominance of the state-backed European Ariane space program in the lucrative commercial satellites market.
The real story, though, and the one that's got US policy makers worried, is the continued march of the Chinese to the Moon. An actual landing is still a decade away but another manned mission to orbit the Earth is planned to lay the path for a manned space station in the next decade.
This will be followed later in the year with the launch of Chang-e 3 (it doesn't have the same ring as Apollo, Challenger or Endeavour, does it?), which will put an unmanned Chinese lunar rover on the surface of the Moon for the first time. Expect a propaganda frenzy touting its scientific might and alarmist noises from some in Washington. As Chinese explorer Wong How Man told CNN earlier this year, "We're in space… not just making cellphones".
T is for Tony Hall
After George Entwistle's 21st- century media reprise of Brian Clough's spell at Leeds United, one may presume that the job of BBC director general is a damned one. But, after the Savile and McAlpine affairs, incoming DG Tony Hall may well find himself in a position of strength when he arrives at Broadcasting House on 1 March.
Though the fallout from December's Pollard Inquiry into the Savile affair will no doubt still be felt, it ought to allow the former Royal Opera House chief the chance to make a mark on the Corporation by putting Auntie's news operation in order. A new Broadcasting House, the bedding-in of BBC North, a website unrivalled in its depth and continued public approval ought to help Hall steady the ship, too.
The BBC, though, is the most scrutinised broadcaster on the planet and any honeymoon period will probably be swiftly derailed by some avoidable calamity. But as bad as Queengate and Brandgate were for Thompson, it's unlikely Hall will be forced to shower in the kind of shitstorm that hit Entwistle upon his ascension to the role.
He will, however, have to deal with the effects of Thompson's budget-cut scheme, Delivering Quality First, in which 2,000 staff are expected to leave by 2017 and most departments will be hit. A hard task, but Hall's widely regarded as the safest pair of hands available.
U is for Underground
Where would Londoners be without the Tube? "On time for work," might be the cynical answer. Talking down our creaking old underground train set remains a city-wide obsession, but it's high time that the Tube got the recognition it deserves. On 9 January, it will be 150 years since the first journey on London Underground was made, on what is now the Metropolitan Line between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863.
In those days, London was suffocating under the weight of horse and pedestrian traffic as grey swathes of clerks and labourers trudged the endless streets of the old town between home and work. Such was the novelty of that first underground journey that thousands of people queued for hours at each station to take a ride and, as far as we know, all arrived on time. The line, which connected mainline stations at Paddington, King's Cross and Euston with the City, was a great success and soon 26,000 people a day were travelling on it.
One hundred and fifty years later and the Tube has passed its biggest test for years – the Olympics – with flying colours, is on track for another round of extensions in coming years and, against all odds, facilitates 3.5 million journeys every day.
London Underground and the London Transport Museum have orchestrated a season of events to mark the anniversary: the most exciting of which for train buffs will surely be the return of steam to the Tube. Metropolitan Locomotive No 1 – a distinguished old engine built in 1898 – will be pulling carriages on ceremonial journeys along the line at selected times throughout the year.
V is for Vatican and Venice
If you thought the Pope tweeting was revolutionary, wait until you hear what the Vatican is up to in Venice. In October, the Holy See announced that it would be exhibiting at the Biennale for the first time ever next year. Big deal, I hear you say. But in many ways it really is quite a sea change for an organisation that is not exactly known for making snappy judgements.
Rome has often been criticised for being unimaginative in engaging with a modern, rapidly changing world. The fact it took the Vatican's comms depart- ment so long to get the Pope on Twitter speaks volumes. (The Biennale deal was first mooted back in 2009.)
Art is a great way to engage, particularly if you are a religious organisation with an artistic pedigree as fine as the Catholic Church. Of course, religion lost its monopoly over art many moons ago and Rome, like a grandpa struggling with a, iPad, has sometimes had a testy relationship with modern art – especially if it takes a pop at religion.
In 1954, the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, pronounced the Biennale an "artistic debacle". "This is a demonstration of the breakdown of art in modern times," the paper wrote. "It is so bad that a mere wooden bowl becomes, in this exhibition, a piece of sculpture, while entanglements of wires are considered statues."
Five and a half decades on and how things have changed. But don't expect the Vatican to be submitting any pickled sharks or portraits made from elephant dung. Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, has said that the the Holy See would "choose the best contemporary art and not expose itself to criticism". The Italian newspaper La Stampa, meanwhile, reported the Vatican would select up-and-coming male and female artists from around the world inspired by the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Well, it's a start.
W is for weather
While scientists have been quick to downplay any suggestion that Britain's weird weather in 2012 was necessarily a symptom of man-made climate change, be assured that the experts will be watching what happens in 2013 very closely. A year in which the driest spring in more than a century was rapidly followed by the wettest April to June on record has taught the British that nothing can be taken for granted.
Farmers will be praying for a better year after a washout summer led to a dismal harvest. Another lean year could put many growers out of business. The Government, meanwhile, has committed £120m for new flood defences to protect homes after 4,500 properties were flooded in the past year.
Beyond our shores, the world can ill-afford another year of extreme weather events like the droughts that hit the grain harvest in the USA and Russia in 2012. Some scientists predict such extremes will become more common as the world's climate changes.
What we know for certain is that with global grain reserves running low, a world food crisis looms if the weather plays another trick on us. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation has stated categorically that there is "no room for unexpected events this year" – all of which makes 2013 the year when talking about weather becomes a very serious business indeed.
X is for X Factor
Well, it was this or 'xylophone' and now that Patrick Moore's gone…
ITV's flagship show has long drifted into self-parody and – as with the non-stop briefing against 2012 finalist Christopher Maloney – downright nastiness.
Ratings for the show took a kicking last year, with the final drawing its lowest audience since 2006 (though still 11 million) and Emperor Cowell is said to be heading back to the UK this month for a "crisis meeting". For those hoping it will be rested, the show accounts for 6 per cent of ITV's entire annual revenues. Expect it to stagger on until the only people not to have auditioned are members of the Privy Council. More focus on music may help. And if Gary Barlow leaves, perhaps we can expect Cowell to return to the judging panel.
This year's winner – the talented and original James Arthur – may be one bright spot. Indeed, it's his work which may prove to be The X Factor's biggest influence on 2013. But looking at previous winners, the odds aren't on his side.
Despite those struggles, The X Factor will still be all over 2013. Either via the show itself or its legacy which, Olly Murs aside, mainly involves dinky Beatles, One Direction, who continue to cause adolescent mania. All we can know is that as soon as the circus rolls on to our TVs in August, a nation will ask itself, "Is it back again, already?"
Y is for yuzu
The future isn't orange – it's determinedly yellow. Yellow, rough-skinned, sweet-smelling and the size of a golf ball to be exact. Next year is the year of the yuzu fruit.
A hybrid of the Ichang papeda and sour mandarin orange, it hails from China but is largely cultivated in Japan, where its rind is used to give fish and veg a citrus inflection, and its juice to breathe life into miso, soy and ponzu sauce.
It's relative rarity meant it was always likely to capture chefs' hearts. It first made itself felt in New York where Jean-Georges Vongerichten created a dish in which a bay scallop was clouded with yuzu mist. It has been annexing fashionable menus here, too. Yotam Ottolenghi uses it in his salads and the dessert section at Nobu features a yuzu cream-filled doughnut. It's even had a walk-in part on Masterchef.
This year, expect to find it on drinks menus. It's recently been star turn at London's Duck & Waffle, where bar manager Richard Woods turns it into a foam and puts it in a G&T. "This year I'm going to make it into a jam and use that in a cocktail," he says. Yuzu jam cocktail – coming to a martini glass near you.
Z is for Zero Dark Thirty
This is the most hotly anticipated film of the spring. Directed by Kathryn (The Hurt Locker) Bigelow, and starring Jessica Chastain, playing Maya, a CIA analyst caught up in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, it's picked up four Golden Globe nominations. It's also stirred up controversy because it seems to sanction the idea that torturing people is a necessary side of counter-terrorism.
Ms Chastain presides over waterboarding scenes and tells a suspect: "You do realise this is not a normal prison; you determine how you are treated".
American liberals have responded with horror to what one called the film's "overarching jingoism" in presenting the government's intelligence men and the military as brave heroes, while almost every Arab or Muslim in the movie is a black-garbed, menacing terrorist probably connected to al-Qa'ida. "It borders," wrote the New York Times, "on the politically and morally reprehensible."
But a new controversy has reared its head. The Chastain character is supposed to be "closely based on a real character" who still works for counter-terrorism. Now, an expert who knew all about the operation swears the operative was a man. Crypto-racist propaganda? A feel-good film about torture? Gender confusion? If this wins an Oscar there'll be hell to pay.
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