2016 – A LIMERICK REVIEW
So farewell to 2016/
A hell of a year that has seen/
Trump’s triumph, and Brexit’s,/
And multiple exits/
By stars of the stage and the screen.///
This was the year the British people took part in a momentous vote – and after giving their opinion, many were aghast to see the government hell-bent on ignoring it.
Yes, back in March the UK’s National Environment Research Council began an online poll to choose a name for a new polar research vessel. A populist surge led to an overwhelming victory for the name Boaty McBoatface. But the government overruled the people’s will, naming the ship RRS Sir David Attenborough:
The government flatly rejected/ A candidate fairly elected,/ Ignoring the vote base/ For Boaty McBoatface,/ And leaving us all disaffected.
Did that result contribute to suspicion of establishment experts, and fuel support for Brexit? Who knows. Back then we were all more interested in the referendum’s potential effect on the governing Conservatives, deeply split on the issue:
A party divided on Brexit/ Finds Europe continues to vex it/ As colleagues campaign/ To leave or remain/ While hoping this isn’t what wrecks it.
The dilemma for Boris Johnson was particularly acute – almost Hamlet-like, as he made up his mind in an agonisingly public way:
The terms of the June referendum/ Leave Boris a choice to defend ’em/ Despite major qualms/ Or else to take arms/ And so by opposing to end ’em.
As the campaign got under way, rival flotillas led by Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof traded insults on the Thames:
Farage went upriver by boat/ Campaigning for Brexit afloat/ Sir Bob set sail too/ To back the EU/ And fish for the odd floating vote.
Among the first consequences of the June vote to leave the EU was David Cameron’s decision to step down as Prime Minister – the victim of a situation he had created:
There was an old fellow named Dave/ Who left Number 10 with a wave, / The cause of his exit/ A gamble on Brexit/ That dug his political grave.
As the summer wore on, the story became the government’s Brexit plan – or lack of it:
The Cabinet’s brainstorming Brexit,/ Whose ramifications perplex it./ The vote was to leave,/ But how to achieve/ This outcome continues to vex it.
Fortunately Theresa May finally moved to clarify matters, nailing her colours to the mast:
Denying she hadn’t a clue/How Britain can leave the EU/May said it’s all right,/It’s not black and white,/For Brexit is red, white and blue.
UKIP too had a change of leader, as Nigel Farage also decided to step down following the vote:
The UKIP boss Nigel Farage/ Resigned as the group’s grand fromage/ He won in a poll/ To take back control/ But wants someone else to take charge.
And the process of picking a new leader was far from straightforward – between Farage resigning and Paul Nuttall taking over, they had Diane James for two weeks, then Farage again. And remember Steven Woolfe, the previous front-runner, who was knocked out in October. Literally – in the European parliament, by a fellow MEP, the aptly-named Mike Hookem, who was angry that he’d been talking to the Tories about rejoining them:
Divisions in UKIP got bitter/ When Woolfe was denounced as a splitter/ As manners forsook ’em/ The MEP Hookem/ Emerged as the party’s big hitter.
And to ram home the message that this is not just an arcane debate about treaties, the fallout from the drop in Sterling and the uncertainty about Brexit led to shortages on the shelves – of Britain’s most loved-and-hated spread:
A big UK grocery chain/ Is showing the post-Brexit strain/ Tho Lidl or Spar might/ Still have jars of marmite/ At Tesco you’ll seek it in vain.
The makers of Toblerone chocolates insisted Brexit had nothing to do with their sneaky move to shrink its product. But the economic symbolism of the troughs between the peaks getting bigger was lost on no one.
The maker of Toblerone chocs,/ Of famous triangular box,/ Has caused global schism/ By keeping the prism/ But shrinking the size of the blocks.
As with Brexit, so with Trump, opinion polls and liberal commentators failed to see what was coming. My limericks before the election sadly look a little naïve now – playing to my left liberal echo chamber, I made the mistaken assumption that voters would judge him on the things he said and did. Here’s one example from October, as footage emerged of Trump bragging about what we would generally call ‘touching women inappropriately’’. My limerick may also have sacrificed anatomical accuracy for the sake of rhyme:
Republican candidate Trump/ Is sorry he groped the odd rump/ The number of women/ Inclined to vote him in/ Will doubtless continue to slump.
But then of course, he won – the electoral college, if not the popular vote – to the bemusement and horror of many observers in other countries. Not all, of course, but I’ll claim poetic licence here:
There was an old billionaire,/ A groper with bright yellow hair,/ Whom millions of voters/ Elected as POTUS,/ Engendering global despair.
He went to meet Obama, for what felt like a very symbolic encounter:
The Donald met up with Barack/ To put the transition on track/ Debate was wide-ranging/ But everything’s changing/ And orange is now the new black.
Trump’s appointments provided lots of scope for analysing which way his government is likely to go – like Steve Bannon, the editor of the self-styled alt-right website Breitbart, as Chief strategist:
The senior posting for Bannon,/ A maverick far-right loose cannon,/ Leads many to dread/ Trump may go ahead/ With some of the mad stuff he ran on.
Then there’s his pick for Treasury secretary, a former Goldman Sachs executive, which some felt flew in the face of his anti-Wall Street, anti-global elites campaign rhetoric. Hadn’t he promised to drain the swamp?
Mnuchin the Wall St exec,/The next US Treasury Sec,/Was hired by Trump/
To drain a big swamp/In which he is up to his neck.
But while Trump breezed along, abusing the New York Times, Saturday Night Live and anyone else who annoyed him, it was left to his running mate Mike Pence to absorb the flak – when the cast of the hit musical Hamilton read out a critical statement after the show urging the new administration to recognise America’s diversity:
There was an old fellow named Pence/ Whose Broadway excursion got tense,/ The cast of the drama/ (More into Obama),/ Refusing to sit on the fence.
None of which stopped the Donald being named Time Person of the Year:
The Person of 2016/According to Time Magazine/Is Donald J Trump/Who acted the chump/But won when it wasn’t foreseen.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 18 LIMERICKS
Having got those out of the way, let’s take a quick tour around some of the year’s other global developments that listeners may have forgotten.
Back in January, a diplomatic spat erupted between France and Iran when visiting President Rouhani’s aides asked for their meal to be dry. Quelle Horreur!
Inviting Rouhani to dine/ The French took a principled line/ Let’s cancel the meeting/ There’s no point in eating/ Unless we can also have wine.
In February, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un once more defied the United Nations with a big rocket firing, weeks after conducting a nuclear test.
There once was a man from Pyongyang/ Who wanted to make a big bang/ He fired off a rocket/ Before they could block it/ & told the UN to go hang.
In March, an Egyptian man claiming to be wearing a suicide belt hijacked a plane to Cyprus. The world braced for a terrorism crisis, until it transpired that he just wanted to talk to his estranged Cypriot wife.
A fellow who hijacked a plane/ Said sorry for being a pain -/ My ex won’t reply/ I need you to fly/ To Cyprus, so I can explain.
In April we had the Panama papers:
Some leaked Panamanian files/ Expose one or two of the wiles/ And ruses by which/ The terribly rich/ Avoid paying tax on their piles.
And actress Amber Heard was a bad girl for smuggling her pet dog into Australia:
An actress admits she told porkies/ Illegally smuggling Yorkies./ Expressing regrets/ For hiding her pets/ Ms Heard was allowed to go walkies.
In May, Brazil’s senate voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff, leading to her eventual impeachment. Although events at the time and since appear to confirm that her opponents are far from squeaky clean, with new president Michel Temer’s planning minister forced to resign over a recording in which he talked about getting rid of Dilma in the same breath as covering up the investigation into corruption surrounding Petrobras:
A minister bugged in Brazil/ Affirmed the impeachment of Dil/ Was meant to impede/ Attempts to proceed/ Against those with hands in the till.
And of course, in the English Premier League Leicester City pulled off a major shock:
An unfancied underdog team/ Outfoxed all the cream of the cream/ The best of the best’re/ Officially Leicester/ Who dreamed an implausible dream.
The football went international in June with the Euro 2016 championships in France, where Russia challenged England for the Hooliganism Trophy – prompting some to suggest that their actions were officially sponsored, or at least condoned:
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin/ Denies that the president’s rutin/ For hooligan Russians,/ Who face repercussions/ For any more putin the butin.
July saw the attempted coup in Turkey, which left President Erdogan stronger than ever:
There is an old fellow from Turkey/ Who’s feeling decidedly perky/ The coup was a flop/ And left him on top,/ Though some find it all rather murky.
And in the UK we had the long, long-awaited publication of the Chilcot report on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq alongside George W Bush in 2003. It’s only 2.6 million words – plus the executive summary. But I’ve summarised it for you:
The gist of the Chilcot report:/ Blair gave Bush his total support./ The case made by Tony/ Was utter baloney./ War wasn’t their final resort.
In August we had the Rio Olympics. I’m afraid I didn’t cover them in detail, just looking out as ever for a bit of juicy scandal. This was duly provided by the U.S. swimmers Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen, who claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint.It turned out to be a sordid tale involving drik and late-night criminal damage to a petrol station:
Old Jimmy, Jack, Gunnar and Ryan/ Are under suspicion of lyin’ – Inventing a robbery/ To cover their yobbery,/ Which Rio police are not buyin’.
And a row blew up in France as several local authorities on the Riviera banned women from wearing costumes such as the bikini that were deemed to cover too much of their flesh from the public gaze:
A beach-going woman in Nice/ Was fined by the local police/ For brazenly wearing/ A suit that’s not baring,/ Now seen as a breach of the peace.
Another colourful leader had meanwhile appeared on the scene – new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who had boasted of killing drug dealers, and delighted in insulting other world leaders, including Barack Obama, in choice language:
Obama met up with Duterte/ Who told him to stop getting shirty:/ “Don’t be an old bore/ You son of a whore/ Folks love when Rodrigo talks dirty”.
And the big celebrity story of the year – Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt parted company, leaving us all to guess why:
The couple they called Brangelina/ Departed the public arena/ As Jolie told Pitt/ She wanted a split,/ No doubt after some misdemeanour.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife weren’t getting on to well either by October. She criticised his hiring policy, and when asked about this during a visit to Germany, he said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” Oo-er missus!
Nigeria’s President’s wife/ Said dodgy appointments were rife/ Buhari got bitchin’/ “Get back in the kitchen” Which may produce marital strife.
October is of course also Nobel prize season, and the controversy was provided by the award of the literature prize to Bob Dylan, which many questioned. Are his song lyrics poetry to compare to the work of proper poets, who don’t sing – limerick writers, say?
Lit critics may see something strange in/ A Nobel award so wide-rangin’/ The panel bestow it/ On Dylan the poet/ But the times they are a-changin’.
November was dominated by the U.S. election, but also saw the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. There were thousands of column inches devoted to unpicking the good and bad part of his legacy, but I’ll just give you the limerick from the chapter on him in my book (There Was an Old Geezer Called Caesar, A History of the World in 100 limericks), focusing on the CIA’s many attempts to get rid of him:
There was an old man named Fidel/Whom agents attempted to fell./Their schemes were quite weird/Like spiking his beard/And cigars that would blow him to hell.
European politics and the rise of the right was a dominant theme in December. Italy’s populist Five Star movement claimed success in defeating Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposals for constitutional reform. He had foolishly promised to do a Cameron and quit if it went against him, turning it into a chance to vote the PM out:
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi/Saw voters rejecting him when ‘Si’/
Was beaten by ‘No’/So he had to go/Provoking political frenzy.
S Korea’s president Park Geung-Hye is fighting for her political life, with impeachment proceedings under way over a close friend seen to have been trading on their connection.
A prominent woman from Seoul/Got into a bit of a heoul/Unable to handle/An influence scandal/She finds herself stripped of her reoul.
LIFE AND RHYMES
2016 was also the year we said goodbye to many much-loved figures – not least David Bowie. His death less than 10 days into the year prompted much speculation as the year wore on that the Star Man had somehow been the glue that was holding the world together – without him we were doomed. Here’s my tribute:
Now planet earth really is blue/ There’s nothing at all we can do/ No more life on Mars/ And all of the stars/ Look different today without you.
Also departed this year, the great American boxer and civil rights advocate Muhammad Ali:
So farewell Muhammad Ali/ The greatest we ever did see/ In numerous fights/ Not least civil rights/ The butterfly stung like a bee.
A great British comedian and writer of fine comic songs:
Farewell to a comic so good/ She wrote as we all wish we could/Be mighty, be flighty, melt my flameproof nightie/ We’ll miss you, VictoriaWood.
The children’s author Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
A popular author named Roald/ Lives on in the stories he toald/ He wrote many books/ Where adults are crooks/ And children are clever and boald.
And Leonard Cohen, whom many had argued was a better candidate than Dylan for a Nobel:
So long now, it’s good people knewya,/ Got lyrics and poetry thruya/ From bird on a wire/ To drunk in a choir/ We’ll sing you a last Hallelujah.
On which note I wish you all Happy New Year – whatever fresh horrors 2017 brings, it will also see the publication (Feb in the UK, May in USA) of my second limerick history book, There Once Was a Man with Six Wives!
Let the good rhymes roll!