GEM article - Ba Humbug and Other Christmas cheer
2016 has been a difficult year and to be honest, one I will be happy to see end. Looking back though my diary there are strands that keep reoccurring. I had forgotten how much Brexit and the possible election of Donald Trump had dominated even as early as January. Now we are in December and we know the outcomes but still have to face the consequences.
It's also been a year dominated by terrorism, war and increased political tensions between Russia and the west. The horrors our TV screens have revealed night after night, terrorist attacks in France, barrel bombs hitting civilian’s cowering underground in Aleppo and mass graves found in towns liberated from IS in Iraq. One year ago it would have seemed impossible to imagine Russia locating Cruise missiles in Kaliningrad threatening all of the Baltic States or one of its destroyer sailing along our eastern coastline heading for the Mediterranean to attack opposition fighters in Syria.
The news has been grim but made grimmer by the rise of false/fake news, trolling on Facebook and twitter and the unleashing of racial, religious and sexual abuse on social media and in the streets. The horrific murder of Jo Cox did not sober it all up. Instead it seemed to make it worse. Threats and abuse towards anyone who was disagreed with increased. Anger seemed to be everywhere.
Now we are in December and looking forward to spending Christmas with friends and family. The Christmas tree festivals in Porthcawl and Bridgend have shown even greater ingenuity and brought delight to many. The carol concerts have been packed, the posties tell me their parcel deliveries have grown even bigger this year and the Panto in Porthcawl a delight.
I spent three days in Washington earlier this month speaking to Senators, Congressmen, Generals, Think Tanks and academics and the general view of everyone when asked what will a Trump Presidency mean, was a shake of the head, a shrug of the shoulders and palms raised up in the air. Cyber-attacks, internet and financial terrorism are growing. One company alone protecting critical UK national data bases prevents an average of 550 million cyber-attacks a month. IS earns four million dollars a day from selling oil, antiquities, taxes on local populations and donations. IS puts out 55,000 message on social media in different languages a year targeting vulnerable individuals. New legislation to monitor internet usage has been drafted around the world to tackle the threat of home grown cyber threats and terrorism. Meanwhile the Brexit triggering of Article 50 will take place next March with details of the proposals for exiting the EU outlined before the vote.
I just stopped and re-read what I have written and it is not the seasonal cheer I had planned to write. Those Washington days at the Defence University and intelligence security forum in Congress left me gloomy. It's so good to come back home and see the positive side of life. The volunteers and the generosity of local people who make the foodbank successful in ensuring people don’t go hungry. The many opportunities to enjoy music and the wealth of choirs and musical talent we have. I never fail to be delighted by the energy, enthusiasm and pure joy for life that is part of any visit to a school bringing hope for the future. I could write a long list of people and organisations that make this a great place to live and represent. They are the people who make our communities strong.
Politically it has been a tough and often unhappy year for the Labour Party. But we have a new Leader of Bridgend Council. I’ve known Cllr Huw David for years and now he’s the man leading our Council. A very safe trustworthy pair of hands. So a bright side.
So how do I end and round up 2016? How about on a personal note. I’ve been helping with research into frontal lobe dementia. It involved two days of working with a team based in University College London having psychological and medical tests. The team is part of a group in UCL who are looking at Motor Neuron Disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. They recruit people who suffer from these conditions and controls. I was acting as a control, someone who appears healthy with no signs of disease. I will be tracked once a year to see how I change physically and psychologically. Will my brain scan change, my retina grow thicker, my facial recognition, emotional assessment, maths, spacial awareness and memory change.
I hated the hour in the MRI scanner. I found myself gripping the panic button in a way that shocked me. The noises didn’t bother me but the close confinement and the cover over my face made me very uncomfortable. I survived however, and the eye, movement, hearing and blood tests all went ok. If you would be interested in helping you can find more information on their website at; https://www.ucl.ac.uk/drc/research-studies
As I look back over a year when the world has become a more dangerous place it is all the more important to hang on to the good things in life. To the ways in which good, clever, fun and dedicated people (including my staff in London and Bridgend) are striving to make a positive difference to our world. Enjoy your Christmas holiday time with friends and family. A big thank you to all of those volunteers, professional and carers making life better here in Bridgend and to all of the readers and staff of The Gem, A Happy Christmas and a Peaceful 2017.