A very grim-reaperish 2016 staggers to an end, waiting in its turn for the Grim Reaper to come and get it. Just think of all the famous folk holding their breath and crossing their fingers in the hope that they do not become last minute additions to list of those 2016 has seen off.
Out and about this morning, I ran into Mike and his grumpy rescue dog. Mike is one of the people who has gone from being a nodding acquaintance to someone with a name who stops and chats and we set the world to rights. His rescue dog is generally unaggressive, apart from when he comes across certain other canines, but seriously not friendly. Unlike Rosie (the little dog belonging to old Jack, another former nodding acquaintance who now has a name), a dog who always runs to meet me and demands attention, the last thing Mike's dog wants is someone to stroke him and make a fuss of him. Determined (no, bloody-minded!), Mike's dog demands to be walked miles and miles every day. Many times I have come across them at around 9.00 am as they return from a walk that began at 6.00 am, if not earlier.
So, I ran into Mike, who commented that every year for the last five or more he has predicted the demise of the annoying Liverpudlian comedian Ken Dodd. And, lo and behold, this year the old dodderer, still alive, has been given a knighthood! I saw him on the television news last night, face like a crumpled leaf (he is 89, after all) declaring himself "very tickled".
Yes, it's that time of the year when they announce the New Year's Honours. Mike and I spent a few minutes slagging off some of the people who have received honours and, indeed, the honours system in general.Someone I once worked with received an OBE, years ago now, for service to education. And now Victoria Beckham is receiving one, presumably for services to fashion. Or maybe for being married to David. How do these two nominations manage to be comparable?
La Beckham's nomination has apparently been criticised because her fashion label is threatened with closure afer failing to file accounts. And La Beckham herself is criticised for telling her family she would be receiving the award before the announcement was officially made , something the MP Peter Bone described as "a betrayal of etiquette". Shocking!
Then there are the knighthoods and damehoods (does that word even exist?). Somehow I imagine a knight or a dame to be venerable, to have done a great service to the country. And while it's great that Andy Murray has proved to be a great tennis player, number one in the world, winner of Wimbledon and of Olympic gold medals, does he need to be SIR Andy? As my friend Mike said, "He was just doing his job. And earning plenty of money at it too!" I felt the same about SIR Bradley Wiggins. And about all the athletes who won lots of gold medals for us at the Olympics. Although Katherine Grainger, the lady rower who has been made a dame, did manage to keep her nomination secret, even from her family. She clearly knows the etiquette!
Is it very snobbish of me the feel that perhaps Mark Rylance, actor, has more fully deserved his knighthood for services to the theatre? Probably! He too was just doing his job and getting paid for it, although I suspect not as much as Andy Murray. I suppose sport is as much a part of our culture as theatre. And maybe giving them honours makes them even more of a role model for young people. Hmmm!
Two people turned down their honours.
Lynn Faulds Wood, former presenter of the BBC's Watchdog programme said she would be a "hypocrite" to accept the award for her work on consumer safety. She was nominated for an MBE, Member of the British Empire, and it's the Empire that sticks in her throat. We no longer have an empire, she said, and feels that the honours system needs dragging into the 21st century.
She continued, "I think honours are really important and should be given to people who have done really good stuff.
"And I've changed laws and I've helped saved a lot of people's lives, so maybe I'm deserving of an honour, but I just wouldn't accept it while we still have party donors donating huge amounts of money and getting an honour.
"We're a very backward-looking country at the moment.
"We shouldn't have lords and ladies and sirs. We should give people honours, yes, because plenty of people deserve them, including, I hope, myself. But it's not a fair system."
Another refusenik was the Hillsborough campaigner Prof Phil Scraton. He refused to accept an OBE in protest "at those who remained unresponsive" to help families and survivors affected by the disaster. He said he was also unwilling to accept "an honour tied in name to the 'British Empire'.