The way we were 2013... The IoS looks back at a year of firsts, lasts and 'twas ever thuses
The triumphs, from David Bowie to Andy Murray; the trends, from burgers to twerking; emerging stars, fallen idols, the expectation of exciting stuff to come, and some things that we left behind, hopefully for good...
Simmy Richman is Associate Editor of The Independent on Sunday's New Review magazine. He is also a writer and CD reviews editor for The Independent on Sunday
Sunday 29 December 2013
The way we... listened
The way we listened? Please! It was the year we couldn't avoid listening. We're getting used to music coming out of as well as going into our ears: Sonos, Spotify, YouTube, smartphone, shops, pubs, cafés... but 2013 took this to a new level.
It was the year when items about people releasing records made front-page news: bookended by David Bowie in January and Beyoncé in December. It was a year of party songs so insistent that resistance was futile: Daft Punk's "Get Lucky"; Lorde's "Royals"; Macklemore's "Thrift Shop"; Pharrell's "Happy"; even, grudgingly and controversially, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". Even those who avoid music found their ears affronted: "Please send these intrusions [an episode of Mastertapes featuring Robbie Williams] back to Radios 1 or 2. Radio 4 is supposed to be for speech," said a disgruntled listener.
It was also a year when chatter about performers often had little to do with making music: the brilliance of Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" drowned out by opinions on what she was, or wasn't, wearing. But, behind the jabber about what's appropriate, there was one inescapable truth: pop stars these days have to do something to make themselves heard above the thwomp thwomp thwomp of pop's persistent, all-pervading, perpetual pulse.
The way we... drove
The way we ... drove: Jaguar
I'm not sure how many miles I've driven while reporting on the latest cars this year, but I can only hope my free time on pedal-powered wheels has gone some way to offset what has been an old-fashioned petrol-guzzling 12 automotive months. From Jaguar's much-hyped but wonderful F-Type and a new Mini, to another luxuriously fast Bentley and the latest Range Rover, British car brands have been booming with high-octane motors – much to George Osborne's delight.
The thing is, none of them are exactly, what you'd call, well, even vaguely green. Don't get me wrong, blatting along in a V6 Jaguar through the Welsh valleys and taking an aircraft carrier-sized Bentley through Beijing have been real highlights, but it's the less glamorously badged cars that are really important. Take the new VW Golf. It's not as exciting but it's among the leaders in a charge of small petrol-driven cars with low emissions and frugal powertrain.
With deaths from air pollution on the rise, these cars (including new models from Ford, Hyundai, Vauxhall and Skoda), are on the market now, have proven to be greener than the models they replace and, unlike such electric cars as the BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf, start at prices the average car buyer can afford. Even the new Porsche Cayman, which is a full-throttled sports car, offers far better economy than the big old family car did a generation ago.
Yes, it seems we British can do luxury and export motors to China by the container shipload. But, when it comes to saving the planet, we are still a long way behind the Germans.
The way we... played
The way we ... played: Andy Murray
After 77 years, we buried Fred Perry – or, rather, Andy Murray did, by winning Wimbledon's men's singles title to break the biggest hoodoo in British sport. So, whatever next? And when? The answer, delivered by bike, came soon enough as Chris Froome became the first Briton to win the Tour de France for, well, 12 months actually. Golfer Justin Rose also triumphed as the first English winner of the US Open since 1970; Christine Ohuruogu and Mo Farah struck gold at the World Championships and England's cricketers retained the Ashes. It was like 2012 all over again: we're obviously rather good at sport....
Unless you're an England footballer, that is. Greg Dyke, the new FA head, caused a storm by sensibly predicting that Roy Hodgson's lads will revert to type as plucky losers in next year's Fifa World Cup in Brazil. But even that traditional British sporting tag eluded our cricketers who earlier this month handed back the Ashes with a spectacularly inept show just 134 days after winning them. No luck and not much pluck Down Under.
Meanwhile, it was big business as usual in the Premier League as Gareth Bale signed for Real Madrid for a world-record £87m and much attention was focused on Luis Suarez who bit an opponent and then, after serving his ban at the start of the season, was recast as the domestic game's goal scorer extraordinary. Memories seldom last long in sport, unless we're talking Fred Perry.
The way we... ate
The way we ... are: The Cronut
How did we eat this year? With great difficulty. The reason: the never-ending vogue for no-reservation restaurants. They are a blight on the culinary landscape.
One can see the economic sense of it all – no last-minute cancellations, no unseemly demands for table back after "90 minutes please, sir" – but, still, an hour-long, block-curling queue for a posh hot dog? Really?
If you did manage to actually, y'know, get a table somewhere, chances are you were probably eating a large hunk of beef. The trend for poshed-up burgers goes from strength to strength. The Americans – Shake Shack and Five Guys – arrived in London's Covent Garden with great fanfare this year; Meat Liquor went to Brighton and Byron Burger was sold for £100m. The trend has spread from the capital like ink on a blotter.
It wasn't all about vast chunks of cow, though. This was also the year of the pâtissier. In May, the world said hello to the Cronut. Chef Dominique Ansel's doughnut-croissant hybrid drew punters to his Manhattan bakery like iron filings to a magnet. Queues outside were measured in hours, Ansel trademarked his creation and soon it was front-page news around the world.
Less toothsome news came from Trussel Trust food banks. The charity, which runs 400 food banks across the country, reported that 350,000 people turned to them for help between April and September alone. Three times as many as in the same period last year.
So there we have it: 2013 the year when excess and want sat together on the same plate.
The way we... read
The way we ... read: Lionel Shriver
This was a big year for books, as well as being a year for big books. Not the Big Book – that's every year that a young American novelist brings out his magnum opus and everyone announces that he's written the Great American Novel. No: this was the year that brought us The Luminaries (832 pages) by Eleanor Catton, The Goldfinch (784) by Donna Tartt, The Kills (1,024) by Richard House, and the comparatively diddy Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, about a marriage, a family and a brother who is big in every way.
This was also the year when we discovered that The Americans Are Coming – as the Man Booker Prize announced changes to its entry criteria which, from 2014, will let in writers from more of the world, and benefit bigger publishing houses. British authors wept.
Sadly, this was not the year that the Government forced Amazon to pay a more realistic level of tax in the UK. There's an old linguists' joke (always the funniest) that a language is merely a creole with an army and a navy. As if to prove that it is more powerful than most of the world's governments put together, Amazon announced its intention to launch an army of drones to deliver its books from now on. Waterstones reacted with plans for a fleet of owls.
Finally, a plea to publishers: the next big thing for 2014 is yet to be decided, but it is unlikely to be erotic fiction or the Tudors. Enough!
The way we... travelled
The way we ... travelled: Skiing
Remember all that snow back in January? Heathrow – surprise, surprise – couldn't cope, and hundreds of flights were cancelled. But the bad weather turned out to be good news for one type of traveller. For the first time since the downturn of 2008, there was a rise – albeit of just 1 per cent – in the number of Brits booking ski holidays. Meteorological matters are still urging us away, with Nasa claiming that this could be the last decent showing from the Northern Lights for a decade, and tour operators expanding their trips to view the aurora borealis accordingly.
There was frustration for sun-seekers when Boeing's much-anticipated Dreamliner developed battery problems. As a result, early-adopter Thomson Airways had to disappoint passengers who'd booked to travel on the 787 to Florida or Cancun in May and June. But there were no concerns over perennial favourite Tenerife. By the end of this year more than 1.6 million UK tourists will have arrived for sun, sand and sangria – or for a sophisticated spa break, as the business-class seats on British Airways flights from Gatwick, launched in March, helped change the travel demographic of this Canary Island.
Affordable designer luxury was also big in 2013: Qbic's new budget-chic hotel arrived in Whitechapel, while the super-stylish Generator hostels group expanded into Barcelona, Berlin and Venice.
Finally, December's chaos at the air-traffic control organisation, NATS, lent the year a certain symmetry. Heathrow – surprise, surprise – couldn't cope (again) and hundreds of flights had to be cancelled. Don't expect the Davies commission to solve that particular problem any time soon.
The way we... sought equality
The way we... sought equality: No More Page 3
"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands."
Jane Austen, Persuasion
When one woman who was on the verge of winning Wimbledon was casually described as someone who was "never going to be a looker", and another woman was threatened with rape for campaigning for a female face to be on a British banknote, was 2013 the year in which feminism's fourth wave suffered a setback?
Is the pen still in men's hands? It would be easy to think so. But John Inverdale's swipe at Marion Bartoli was so glaringly out of place, harking back to another era, that he faced a backlash – from both women and men. Caroline Criado-Perez was threatened by Twitter trolls for getting the Bank of England to put Austen on the £10 note, yet the voices of women, backed by such campaigns as Everyday Sexism and No More Page 3, were louder than the hate. At the top, some progress: women in FTSE 100 boardrooms rose to 19 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent two years ago. A quarter of government ministers are now women, while 40 per cent of Ed Miliband's front bench is now female. But women's equality burned brightest at the grassroots. The Twitter campaigns showed that women again have the confidence to say they are feminists. They are, gradually, wresting control of that pen.
The way we... wore
The way we ... wore: Cara Delevingne
From a fashion editor's point of view, what we wore in 2013 was varied, variegated and fabulous. There was straight up-and-down Sixties, followed by the nipped-in Fifties, and far, far too many pink coats. There were safety-pins and studs adorning everything from business suits to ball-gowns in an all-out ode to punk. Pyjamas and nightgowns were given dubious currency, possibly a natural evolution from last year's onesie. That was on the catwalks (although we can't blame them for the onesie). But, really, did any of that stuff make it on to real people's backs?
It wasn't a sartorial bellwether year, but there have been few of those of late. There was something slightly disturbing about a revival of the prepubescent-styled pinafores of Mary Quant and André Courrèges at the same time as Jimmy Savile-style revelations. Alexa Chung declared Lolita to be her style icon, based on the appeal of heart-shaped sunglasses. Apparently, the darker ramifications of Nabokov's book, like the seedier undercurrents of a style once dubbed Kinderwhore (revived by Saint Laurent and populating many a high-street rail) went unnoticed. But maybe that's looking too deeply. That Sixties stuff was a retail hit for the same reason as before: a straight shift is easy and cheap to make, whether the label is Marc Jacobs or Primark.
The way we... thought
The way we ... thought: Nick Clegg
We thought, according to opinion polls, that 28 out of every 100 people in Britain are lone parents, when the actual figure is three. We thought 24 per cent were Muslim, when we meant 5 per cent. And we thought 34 per cent were Christian, when 59 per cent of us described ourselves thus for the census. Mind you, we may be setting ourselves up in judgement over the uncertainty of the national religion with that last one.
Funny business, the supernatural: 32 per cent of us believe in life after death, 16 per cent in reincarnation and 4 per cent believe that Nick Clegg is a "natural leader".
Indeed, politics is also a funny business. We are confident that we know about it. In one survey, 62 per cent said, "Yes, we know who that is," when presented with a photograph of George Osborne. "OK, then, who is it?" asked the pollster, and one in five who said they knew gave the wrong answer, mostly, "Ed Miliband".
No wonder that, if pollsters want to know how we are going to vote, it turns out that we are not the best people to ask. "People are bad at predicting their own behaviour," says one top psephologist. Apparently, polls are more accurate if you ask for whom people think other people are going to vote. How very British. "You won't be interested in my opinion, and I'm not one to gossip, but that couple next door, I think they're going to vote for that Nigel Farage".
The way we... shopped
The way we .... shopped: The rise of pawnbrokers
The numbers themselves are almost irrelevant: the boarded-up shopfronts tell their own story. As do the splashes of pawnbroker yellow and money-lending gold painting a high street near you everywhere. Shopping, as we once knew it, is over. Finished. Broken. Why bother popping out to the local parade when you can pop online and bag yourself a bargain to boot? Not that hitting the net instead of the shops is anything new; but 2013 saw the acceleration of a trend that means internet shopping is now more popular in Britain than in any other major economy.
What's changed in the past year is the way we're going online, with all internet sales growth now coming from mobile devices: smartphones and tablets. Yup, we won't walk to the shops but we will shop as we walk. The industry body IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) reckons that 15 per cent of everything bought online this past year will have been purchased via a mobile device. Figures for November show that M-commerce, as it's known, soared 81 per cent compared with 2012.
The reality is that nobody knows what to do about it. Sure, the Government could cut business rates to resuscitate the high street. And, of course, retailers could help themselves by being a bit (well, OK, a lot) more imaginative. But it's hard to see how anything is going to change. Especially when shopping online, through outlets such as Ocado, is so convenient. That's assuming the items you bought turn up, which is a whole other story... too bad you couldn't have just nipped out to the shops that are no longer there.
The way we... rode
The way we rode: Lance Armstrong
After the glories of British road racing in 2012, the grotty reality of the sport eased itself into some slacks, a sports jacket and scored itself a date with Oprah Winfrey last January. That's to say, Lance Armstrong confessed, live on television, to systematic doping while a professional cycle racer. He lost his seven Tour de France titles, sponsors and the adulation of millions. Deservedly so, but depressing nonetheless. We looked to our heroes to cheer us up, but perhaps our expectations were too lofty: Bradley Wiggins dropped out of the Giro d'Italia with a chest infection and Mark Cavendish had, for him, a decent but not spectacular Tour de France (once he'd washed from his shirt the urine thrown at him by a spectator). And even though Chris Froome made it consecutive yellow jerseys for Britain, the Team Sky rider didn't have the spikiness or the sideburns to catch the public's imagination.
The remainder of the two-wheeled year was dominated by commuter cyclist safety, particularly in London where, as ever, Mayor Boris Johnson spun hard. Some of his contributions were positive, such as the pledge to invest £913m in a 10-year plan to improve cycling safety. Others, less so: outlaw headphones? Really? After six commuter cyclist deaths in November in the capital, the debate became urgent: should HGV cabs be redesigned? Are so-called cycle super highways up to the job? Are police on corners at big junctions no more than a temporary fix? The Tour de France starts in Britain next year – here's hoping that we can start to find answers to a few of those questions for ordinary cyclists by then.
The way we... watched
The way we watched: Breaking Bad
We watched before we went to work, long after we should have gone to bed, and for entire weekends when we were apparently supposed to be somewhere. And, even when we weren't watching, we were mostly asking other people what they were watching, and, crucially, which episode they were on, lest they unwittingly unleash a spoiler on us. Why such unhealthy viewing habits? Blame an overload of brilliantly suspenseful series – Broadchurch, The Returned and Breaking Bad, to name a few. Also blame Netflix for producing quality, original shows, such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, that they handed to us as entire series in one go. We could always press stop, but mostly wilted in the face of instant gratification.
For light relaxation, we resorted to "hate-watching", the phenomenon otherwise known as "sitting through mind-bendingly awful programming for the purposes of slagging it off on social media". We started the year snarking about Splash! and Mr Selfridge, and ended it hating on the ever-declining Homeland. If you forgot to furnish the world with a thrillingly withering assessment of Brody's family, you probably lacked a pulse.
Just occasionally, we watched things that made us feel better about the world, as with Educating Yorkshire, the school documentary series which turned us all into evangelists for the teaching profession. Then there was Gogglebox, the loveable show that let us watch others watching TV – and reassure ourselves that what we were doing was the stuff of life itself. Long may our watching continue.
The way we... argued
The way we argued: Nigella Lawson
For disharmony in the home this year, the highest octane was saved until last, with the court outpourings surrounding Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi. But there was plenty of bile elsewhere. The Miliband boys stood up to the Daily Mail, which had accused their sociologist father, Ralph, of holding views that "should disturb everyone who loves this country". Miliband Snr was said to have hated Britain. Footnote: as a 22-year-old, he risked his life storming German positions on the beaches of Normandy.
Some seasoned old rows rumbled on, with the first anniversary of Plebgate, Andrew Mitchell's attempt to re-enact Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, while Piers Morgan vs Jeremy Clarkson, the Hinge and Bracket of the 21st century, persisted in advertising their own silliness. Morgan remembered taking a whack from Clarkson as "like being hit by a three-year-old".
Australian cricketer David Warner, having enjoyed a Birmingham summer evening on the alcopops, belted England's Joe Root in the face, apparently because he was wearing a fancy dress wig, earning himself a fine and a lot of harrumphing about why Australian cricketers don't drink beer any more.
But the year's prize for unconsummated hatred must surely go to actor Alec Baldwin, who did not take kindly to a suggestion by journalist George Stark that his wife had been tweeting during the funeral of their friend James Gandolfini. "George Stark, you lying little bitch. I am gonna f%#@ you up... I want all of my followers and beyond to straighten out this f***ing little bitch, George Stark. …. some toxic Brit writes this f***ing trash... [I'd] put my foot up your f***ing ass, George Stark, but I'm sure you'd dig it too much... I'm gonna find you … and I'm gonna f***... you... up." 2014 has a lot to live up to.
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