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January 1, 2006 - To 2006

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This is the last column from Our Man in London, Mike McCahill - born in Warwickshire, England in 1978. He currently works as a film critic for The Scotsman, The Sunday Telegraph and the BBC, while trying to string together novels, screenplays and travel guides for places he's never actually been to. Mike divides his time between the Midlands and London, where professional duty requires he spend at least the first part of every week sitting in small dark rooms. With a couple of exceptions, he is open to offers. In the New Year joins The Scotsman full time. Drat.

Last week's column, a look back at 2005, ended with the weather, and so it seems fit to begin this week's with exactly the same thing: business as usual, you might say, for an Englishman. The arrival of heavy snowfall - well, as heavy as the UK gets - in the last few days brought with it the annual flurry of panic and news headlines about ungritted roads and drivers stuck in their vehicles overnight. Do we never learn in this country? It's late December, and therefore likely to be cold; and if it's going to be cold, chances are it's going to snow. But then this is a country where the phrase "it's too cold to snow" is in common circulation. Try telling that to the penguins.


The cold snap isn't likely to put any of the annual New Year's Eve parties on ice, though Londoners may find themselves spending much of December 31st waiting around on train platforms rather than celebrating an eventful year for the city. London Underground workers have called a strike for that date, in an ongoing protest over new rotas and pay scales.


It's hard to work up too much sympathy for their cause, particularly when LU spokespeople keep invoking the July 7th bomb attacks as a legitimising factor in their complaints. Playing the terrorism card appears to have trumped common sense, in this instance: any suicide bomber worth their salt would surely target the middle carriages of an underground train, meaning that the train's driver, at the front behind reinforced doors, is probably the safest person aboard. As Underground drivers get almost two months' annual paid leave as it is, chances are most of them will be elsewhere if and when any further attacks were to take place.


Still, the Tube drivers have their employers over a barrel. (If this were a political cartoon, the barrel would be labelled "EXPLOSIVES", with a very short fuse emerging from the bottom of it. And in the background, there would be a small group of sorry New Year's revellers with soggy paper hats, having precisely no fun whatsoever. While the drivers, round of belly, swigged champagne and smoked cigars. I am thinking this might be a new career path for me, describing satirical pictures with words.)


Also flailing, heading into 2006, is the Prime Minister Tony Blair. 2005 should have been a celebratory year for Blair, returned to power at the General Election in May for a third term, an unprecedented achievement for a Labour Government. Instead, he goes into 2006 facing a triple threat: the alleged ongoing rift between himself and Chancellor Gordon Brown, over who should run the party (and thus the country); the beginnings of a Labour backbench rebellion made manifest in recent anti-terror legislation; and from a rejuvenated Conservative Party, under their new leader David Cameron.


Cameron scored something of a coup this week in recruiting the services of Live 8 tsar Bob Geldof, a man who posed for more photos with Tony Blair this year than perhaps even Blair's wife Cherie. Geldof insisted he is to remain non-partisan in his work as part of a Conservative focus group on poverty - that he's there for the sake of an issue, rather than the party - but this high-profile transfer has to be regarded as a clear sign of Cameron's pulling power. His recent call for third-party Liberal Democrats to defect to the Conservative side all of a sudden seems less like upstart posturing and more like something Blair should be taking very seriously indeed.


In the sporting field, it's unlikely we'll see anything in 2006 to match the fervour that marked England's cricket series with Australia in summer 2005, not least as cricket now moves from terrestrial television to Rupert Murdoch's pay-per-view Sky Sports empire. Most popular attention will be focused instead on the England football team's exploits at the World Cup in Germany throughout June and July, where superstars David Beckham and Wayne Rooney will face the likes of Brazil, Argentina and dark horses Portugal.


Another sporting hero could be crowned in young Scot Andrew Murray, a promising tennis player who positively charged up the world rankings in 2005, along the way outshining British number one Tim Henman at Wimbledon, winning his first ATP tour title, and giving Roger Federer something of a game in the final of the Thailand Open. One of 2006's most tantalising questions is whether Murray has the ability to step up to tennis's premier level; all evidence available so far suggests as a player - and an unusually fiery participant at that, far removed from the polite fist-making more common to Henman's game - he most certainly has.


In culture, it's much harder to know what to expect; a large part of art's appeal is, after all, its ability to surprise us. In the short term, expect Oscar nominations in the coming months for British actors Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, for their performances in The Constant Gardener, and possibly for Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice. (Providing the Academy haven't had the misfortune to see her hopelessly miscast as the bounty hunter in Domino.)


Those British bands that have already made progress over the Atlantic will no doubt continue to try and make as many inroads as they can into a market dominated by rap and R'n'B acts. Both Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs will have highly-awaited follow-up releases floating around in the ether at some point over the coming months; the big test will be whether any trace of the novelty that propelled them to stardom remains in the always difficult second albums.


Another trend that may continue: iconic American figures moving to Britain. We've already welcomed Madonna (a mixed 2005 for her: largely pro reviews for her comeback album Confessions on a Dancefloor, universally awful reviews for husband Guy Ritchie's film Revolver) and Gwyneth Paltrow (a mixed 2005 for her, too: a new baby, but delays and mixed reviews for the movie Proof). Next up could be Woody Allen: his London-set thriller Match Point opens here in the first week of 2006, and he's just finished filming a second film set in the city, Scoop, with plans for a third to be shot later in the year.


At any rate, 2006 will surely be business as usual, to return to a phrase in the opening paragraph, and neither terrorists nor train drivers will stop that. Perhaps, after the tumults of 2005, a year of relative calm and normality is just what we all need.


Finally, as you may already know, this is my last column for Just Above Sunset for the time being, due to work commitments in the New Year. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those of you who've read my words over the last few months, especially those who took the time to let me know whether they agreed with me or not, or to fill gaps in my knowledge; also to thank Alan, Bob, Ric and the rest of the Sunset team for their input in what I hope has been a mutually beneficial enterprise. Happy 2006 to all!



Mike McCahill

December 30, 2005





Copyright 2005 – Mike McCahill

Email the author at mikemccahill@fastmail.fm



Editor's Note: British spelling and punctuation retained here.


Editor's personal Note: A big THANK YOU to Mike.  You will be missed.  The columns were wonderful!




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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