By Joshua Anthony, on 22 December 2022
The snow that fell across the UK three days ago is still obnoxiously hanging on, glinting in the sun that I desperately hope will finally end its last dying moments as deadly ice. What started out as an honest effort to replace all of Sainsbury’s copies of The Fall of Boris Johnson with out-of-date Taste-the-difference gammon has now become a treacherous Bambi-dance across the frozen customer car park. Rarely has a trip to the shops been dangerous, but now I’m risking a winter carpet-burn and you’ve-been-framed fame for the sake of a small Christmas gesture.
Reflective hazard tape was the last thing I imagined draping around the Christmas tree this year, but I have to admit the ambulance lights passing by the window have really lit up the place. From my dazzling blue igloo, it’s hard to see why everyone is complaining about extortionate energy prices when there’s finally a chance to put last year’s pair of thick-knit Christmas socks to good use. It’s all mistletoe and doom nowadays. Even here, at the Institute for Risk and Party-pooping (IRPP), we held a debate to discuss whether the risks of the festive season outweigh the benefits.
Courtesy of Drs Lisa Guppy and Gianluca Pescaroli, our delusions of a risk-free Christmas were thoroughly shattered. This year, it would be better to tell the old white patriarchal saint, Jeff Bezos—I mean Father Christmas—that he can throw away all those unsustainable gifts and snacks, because they are destroying the environment. Actually, don’t throw them away; instead, convert them into eco-friendly desk accessories that you can throw away in five years! Alternatively, an optimist could turn to resilience experts from Needhams 1834 Ltd (the kind event sponsors), Dr Chris Needham-Bennett and Robin Bucknall, who argued that the vital thread of good spirit that Christmas inspires has pulled people through the worst of times.
Alas, to list all the risks and benefits would take us into the new year and undermine the haughty exclusivity that all attendees of the debate get to feel. Besides, the panel failed to address what seems to me to be one of the fundamental components of risk this year: the Backstreet Boys’ new Christmas album, “a very Backstreet Christmas”.
If risk is a product of hazard and vulnerability, then it is the responsibility of government and emergency planners to ensure the public have the sufficient hot water this winter to submerge their radios in the baths. No one could have guessed that the drought earlier this year could have such profound knock-on effects on aural hazards.
There are, however, potential benefits: “Do they know it’s Christmas” the 1984 charity rock song by Band Aid has raised over £200 million since its first release to fight famine in Ethiopia. To quote NME music magazine: “Millions of Dead Stars write and perform rotten record for the right reasons”. It can only be imagined how much money for humanitarian causes will be raised by the Backstreet Boys’ 427th cover of Last Christmas.
There is a theory that the archetype of Father Christmas comes from a shamanic tradition of once-a-year imparting community members with healing, psilocybin-laced reindeer urine. The characteristic red and white stripes of Christmas decorations have a striking resemblance to a special type of mushroom that would be hung up and dried upon the leaves of a pine tree. Whether or not that’s true, it’s clear that Christmas has routes deeper than its neoliberal capitalist incarnation. At its best, it represents a part of human nature that encourages community resilience; at its worst, it is a realisation that the psychedelic experience may be the only way to help you drown out the soppy screeches of an overcooked festive boyband (for other examples of its worst, see any major news headline in the coming weeks).
Undoubtedly many of us will have memories of last year’s cancelled Christmases, this time round playing a thrilling game of “Have I caught covid, or have I just not drunk enough water?” But it wouldn’t be a year in Disaster Risk Reduction without first considering the risks we are getting ourselves into. At least we have the new John Lewis advert to look forward to: a heart-warming glimpse of Jeff Bezos guzzling down reindeer urine and waltzing around the lunar north pole to some new Backstreet Boys.
I would like to extend my gratitude to all those that contributed their great work to the IRDR blog this year. A truly inspiring range of topics were covered by our students, staff, and colleagues. A special thanks must be given to Dr Gianluca Pescaroli, who coerced more people into writing blogs for us than any of my emails could have hoped for.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Josh Anthony | Blog Editor.