Our Executive Director Susan Quilliam offers you the festive ‘gift’ of a new perspective on this year’s relentlessly dark times.

So here’s a question for you. Do you remember where you were this time last year… late December, putting up the dekkies, wrapping up the pressies, looking forward to the festivities?

I remember precisely where I was. I was sitting at my desk, writing my annual ‘end of the year’ Damn Cheek blog. And I was feeling fantastic!

I have the proof of this, in black and white and typewritten. For the opening words of that Damn Cheek blog were “life is pretty good right now… at Damn Cheek we’ve not only survived but also thrived… and if you listen carefully you can hear us humming ‘Tis the season to be jolly’”.

It did feel jolly. It did feel that, despite the absolute horror and tragedy of the past 2 years, the world was just beginning to come good. COVID figures were falling. Lockdown was easing. We were able to spend the festive season with those we loved, face-to-face, hug-to-hug for the first time since 2019. There was light at the end of the tunnel and just possibly it wasn’t a train.

Oops. Wrong.

Fast forward to now, a year later. Heating turned down. Anxiety turned up. Finances stretched. Wages shrunk. Witnessing NHS workers being rewarded for their pandemic courage by abysmal working conditions and derisory pay offers. Watching our elected representatives rumble in the jungle and our prime ministers play musical chairs. Raging over the stupidity of global powers who still aren’t taking the climate crisis seriously. Weeping over the brutality of the war in Ukraine.

As 2022 comes to an end, the world is in a dark place.

And frankly, not in any shape to cope with the darkness. Post-COVID, the world is tired, frustrated, clean out of energy and enthusiasm. Anxious, tense, irritated, defensive. Desperate for a bit of peace, a chance to get our breaths back. Needing a break. But good luck with that!

And yet. And yet. And yet…

I’m no Pollyanna. I’m not asking you to ignore everything I’ve just written and opt instead for unrealistic positivity or relentless optimism.

And yet…

I’ve noticed that people still murmur “sorry” when bumping into a stranger. Still say “thank you” to the bus driver when getting off at our stop. Still give a smile or share a silly comment when waiting in a queue. Still offer a hug when meeting a friend.

Recently, a colleague told me about the purse she left on the train being handed in within minutes, money and credit cards intact. And my local community centre has just started opening a ‘warm space’ shelter for those faced with unsurmountable energy bills. This month I read that more and more restaurants are donating their spare food rather than throwing it away at day’s end. And this year alone there have been huge and hopeful breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Scotland has become the first country to provide free period products. Ireland is offering 2,000 artists a basic income for 3 years to support their creativity. Farmers in Wales are being paid to adopt sustainable farming. And while England only reached the quarter finals of the World Cup, they won the trophy for fair play. Don’t laugh. I remember the days when football violence meant I didn’t dare to actually go and watch my beloved Liverpool FC play live!

Look closely and you can even see good news lurking within the bad. The derisory pay offers to the NHS are terrible – but most people acknowledge and oppose that. The political landscape is in turmoil – but the nation is showing its opinion of that in every new by-election. And while the current barrage of industrial action may be irritating day-to-day, it also shows an increased energy for social change, a refusal to settle for inequality and injustice, a commitment to a society that is effective, responsible – and kind.

And what of Damn Cheek? In the blog I wrote this time last year, I spoke of the ‘scrumptious projects’ that Damn Cheek was planning for 2022. Well, we’ve done all of them – and this despite the recent vicious funding cuts to the arts.

We’ve mentored young people from Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists to fulfil their performance potential. Our intergenerational schools-based tour of Monday’s Child has helped early years pupils understand older age memory loss. Our site-specific promenade show The Causeway has got audiences exploring the idea of what legacy each of us leaves behind in the world.

And, in between times, we’ve expanded our ‘family’ of Artists, Advisors and formal supporters… grown our ‘community’ of fans… solidified our commitment to accessibility, inclusivity and diversity… and begun a new raft of just-as-scrumptious schemes for 2023. Watch this space.

But what of the darkness? In last year’s blog, I offered you the ‘gift’ of a new way of thinking about New Year’s resolutions. This year the offering is a new way of thinking about life in general, a way which you might want to adopt in 2023. It’s an approach I myself learned from one of my coaching clients. For the sake of confidentiality, I’ll call her Erin.

Every morning as she wakes up, Erin thinks of 3 things she’s grateful for. These may be small things – sunshine outside, her cat who comes to say hello, the prospect of that first cup of coffee.

Or they might be big things: that she has a job, that there’s a bright shiny new relationship on the horizon, that her terminally ill father has had a restful night. Erin doesn’t allow herself conditions or reservations – she simply lists 3 things, mentally says thank you, then gets out of bed and starts her day.

Life is dark right now in so many ways. But possibly, just possibly, if we can turn our minds to it we can see the small glimmers shining, the small gratitudes that can take us through and out the other side.

If you try Erin’s idea and find it works for you, let us know – and maybe share some of your gratitudes. We’d love to hear from you at info@damncheek.co.uk

Finally, from us all at Damn Cheek, festive wishes. We hope your Christmas is peaceful and healthy and loving and that 2023 goes a long, long way to fulfilling your hopes and your dreams.

PS: For realistic, objective and optimistic global good news, the website Future Crunch offers regular updates.