Amidst all the gloom, chinks of hope still shine through
Another year has gone careering past with rude haste despite being perhaps the most sensational news year of the last two decades.
It was a tumultuous 12 months across the globe, with regimes falling, economies collapsing and world figureheads like Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi turned from towering figureheads to dead myths and martyrs.
In the UK it was a year of historic endings - of the News of the World (and the credibility of tabloid journalism as well as the all-pervasive, uncontested power of the Murdoch Empire along with it); the unquestioned supremacy of Einstein's theory of relativity; the male-favoured rule of succession regarding the heir to the throne; and the notion that Andy Gray and Richard Keys were fit for televisual purpose.
It was also a year in which we lost some truly awesome talents. There are too many to list, but saddest for me were Christopher Hitchens, Amy Winehouse and the maverick playright and ex Czech leader Vaclav Havel.
You couldn't say it was a 'good' year for UK-dwellers. Some of us might have done brilliant, joyful things like fall in love, have babies, or win the career of our dreams. But in social, political and economic terms 2011 will go down as a dark period characterised by fear, conflict and tension, the year an ominous 'Future Unknown' seal was stamped across crucial aspects of British life like the NHS, higher education, the local high street, and the UK X Factor.
With that in mind, I've come up with a shortlist of things 2011 gave us to help maintain faith in the idea that, even in scary times, there will always be interludes of inspiration. As Leonard Cohen said, there's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in.
Tariq Jahan. The English riots brought some grim scenes but they also presented us with some shining examples of humanity, none less moving than Tariq Jahan, whose 21-year-old son Haroon was killed by a fleeing car in the midst of the Birmingham chaos. Just hours after cradling his son's dying body Jahan, a Muslim immigrant, went onto the streets to reject bloodthirsty calls for revenge. "Step forward if you want to lose your sons, otherwise, calm down and go home, please," he said.
Janis Sharp. Winner of this year's Liberty Human Rights Award. Sharp's son Gary McKinnon, the autistic man accused of hacking into US military computers , has lived with the threat of a pointless and frightening extradition to the US for nine years now, and is allegedly suicidal as a result. The formidable Mrs Sharp continues to fight the powers that be with the fiercest of convictions and deepest of maternal loves.
Gareth Malone. For me, the boyishly exuberant choirmaster brings joy every time he turns up, smiling and sporting yet another new haircut, on TV.
But this year he did himself particularly proud, taking a group of hitherto unacknowledged women - the wives left behind, alone and unheralded, when the nation's celebrated soldiers head out to war - and turning them into Simon-Cowell beating chart-toppers.
Vicky McClure. Her performance in the year's best TV drama, This is England 88, was as compelling as anything on television for years. As the lonely, haunted, beautiful Lol she burned with the intensity of a Ted Hughes poem, and in those final, unforgettable moments of happy redemption, her smile could have felled an oak tree. A sublime talent.