There’s a pervasive world-weary pessimism about the year ahead that defies even the bottomed-out consolation that things couldn’t get much worse. Yet another in a run where we have done an awkward heel-hop to the curb and, in embarrassed fashion, tried to scrape the year from our shoe knowing full well that we will still end up with a wet wipe and the hose when we get home.

There were the lockdown years in which scientists and politicians conspired further to damage the reputation of experts largely by overlooking an essential law of universal physics that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This year, having trained the nation to lotus-eating, we find nobody wants to return to the oars. Having sealed the country in a plague-crossed house to “protect the NHS”, we find it remarkably unwilling to reciprocate now that untreated cancers and Strep A stalk the land. And, having subbed the railways through “the year of the empty carriage”, the Lynch who stole Christmas is hauling the RMT onto the buffers of automation or extinction and leaving the rest of us stranded.

That old oxymoron of “industrial action”. A path well-trodden from dockers to car workers to miners and along which one may still see the preserved remains of once nationalised industries. The thigh bones on which you can see the tattered fragments of shorts belonged, by the way, to posties. Other delivery services are available.

We lost the Queen, of course. A euphemistic phrase I normally avoid as it sounds like carelessness at a busy department store. I turned my back for a second and… However, in her instance I use it because she was just that. An enormous loss. Not least in her largely seamless stitching of the past and present, of momentous experience and a changing nation and in that sense emblematic, as Queen Elizabeth often was, of the Britain she ruled.

But if her send-off was impressive, stirring, deeply dignified and entirely fitting, there was, in the subsequent boast that nobody does it better, the uncomfortable feeling that pageantry and the retrospective were all we have left.

Whether the monarchy – and the esteem in which it is held – is in safe hands in the coming years remains to be seen. King Charles, 74, is not young nor entirely unencumbered by a royal train of baggage. Shorn of Shakespearean armour are his two warring sons, fighting their roses war through the media. One in particular is prone to the habit developed by more and more of our institutions – from our great universities to our national broadcaster – of misusing the past as a hall of mirrors and insisting that the subsequent distortions are a true and accurate likeness of all we are now. It does not bode well. “Ginge and Whinge” lacks dignity as a title.

Elsewhere, among our elected leaders, it was the year of the three prime ministers. Boris Johnson, unique among the trio in gaining both the backing of his own party and the electorate, fell to his own moral and organisational weaknesses, his many vengeful enemies and a remorseless media onslaught to which even the strongest of leaders might have succumbed. His job was done at Brexit and he lacked the philosophical cogency to go further.

Next came the quirky Liz, the Lady Jane Grey of politics. A Truss without parliamentary support, she, at least, had the backing of the Conservative Party’s membership before taking residence at Number 10. From there, her own precipitous pursuit of an economic philosophy, the reaction of the bond markets and, once again, media hostility took her down in a flurry of snarls, cries and, worse, ridicule.

What her demise also revealed was the extent to which the democratic writ runs here in the land of Magna Carta and the Mother of Parliaments. That she seemed unable to rationalise the divide between the virtual reality of the think tank dinner and the studs-up field of play on which real politics and economics is actually played, is undoubted. That the media and markets played a disproportionate part in her downfall equally so. Neither of these things are new but the extent possibly is.

All of these shifts of fortune bring us to Rishi Sunak, the third man, lurking like Orson Welles’ Harry Lime in the dimly lit political back streets. Having been rejected by the non-parliamentary membership, it was to the recurrent disregard for democracy exhibited by politicians when it gives the wrong answer that he owed his resurrection, with no final vote required even among his own colleagues.

Joining him next door at Number 11 was Jeremy Hunt, another familiar with having failed in a leadership bid. Their joint promise seems to extend only to dull competence in which they appear to be joined by Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer who blends his alternative offering, if such it is, with what the French would call attenteisme; simply waiting it out till the Occupation is over.

This leaves the British people with a remarkably limited choice of vision. Neither of the main parties seem differentiated and, in certain policy regards seem rather expediently to have swapped identities. Fatigue, boredom, exhaustion and manifest incompetence seem set to be the biggest players in the political year ahead, which puts the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland in lumber.

There was a war, of course. It carries on with the supreme irony of General Winter arming against the Russians who seem to have overrated themselves.  A former tankie friend once told me that he and his Chieftain crew would often come across their Red Army oppo in numbers and they would rarely miss the opportunity to “give it large” over their ability to be in Berlin by half past three if they left in the next ten minutes. A claim, it now appears, that seemed largely based on the latter days of the Second World War and the armoured charge.

That Ukraine has done so remarkably well in its own defence is, of course, tribute to its people and leadership. One might add vast amounts of American weaponry, some British training and backing and a sort of patchwork international effort pulled together with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

The war’s almost literally chilling effects on the world economy are well recognised but the questions it has posed the West are more deep-seated. “Thank God for America” as Col Bob Stewart, commander of UN Forces in Europe’s last war in Bosnia, once remarked.

Europe has been left embarrassed and divided by its naïve dependency on Russian energy and the fractured nature of its response. Germany in particular has had its Merkel-built reputation dismantled and it’s time up for its old trick of getting everyone else to pay for its defence – on the basis it can’t trust its lurking inner Prussian – while it sits back and makes money through Wandel durch Handel claiming it’s an altruistic global transformation policy.

The British have a phrase for it too. And it’s not a nice one.

Meanwhile, France has been left looking coquettish and ultimately embarrassed by its flit between Moscow and Berlin while its much-vaunted nuclear sector has coughed and spluttered.

Britain’s fondness for Russian money masquerading as inward investment has also been exposed. Exasperatingly too, its bad habit of maintaining its forces to a degree just enough to put in a decent showing but not enough to swing it continues, as it has since the BEF turned up in Europe in 1914.

More with less and to the background sanctimony of variant politicians deeply respecting the sacrifice and professionalism. In the meantime, fill in for the Border Force and ambulances, would you?

It has to stop. Really. 2022 has left Eastern European looking muscular, increasingly assertive and armed with a confident sense of itself. Its Western counterparts look venal, short-sighted and hung up on social trivia in a general atmosphere of decline. A grand house which looks imposing from afar but where the door handles fall off and the window frames show daylight.

America, gerontocracy or not, is militarily mighty, energy self-sufficient and still looks like the parent we will only truly appreciate when we grow up. And it’s past time we did. It would help us see things like importing American shale gas while banning our own for what they are.

On the subject of childish self-delusion, to football. Another World Cup in which England flattered to deceive, seeing off opponents as mighty as Iran before, as ever, succumbing to the first decent side played and going down to world champions France. As ever, it was the ref. As ever, it was penalties. As ever, if only.

Beneath this tale of it never quite coming home, an unfortunate series of truths lurk. “At the end of the day”, the lad Gareth Southgate has done little more than make the national side respectable on and off the pitch. No small achievement. But that is and will remain the extent of his abilities. The record doesn’t lie.

Compare and contrast to our other national sport, cricket, and one can observe a bright spot in the sporting gloom to join England’s footballing women winning the Euros. Underpinned by an aggressive philosophy of chasing the opposition total down, the England cricket team become double short-form champions by adding the T20 title to their 50 over honours. They have also sealed several unlikely test victories from difficult positions and taken a historic series win in Pakistan including a record first day total of 506 total in Rawalpindi and then a bold declaration. The side boasts several players entitled to a slot in any World XI while combining experience with just enough tyro stardust and, in leaders Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler, talismanic captains.

Much the same ingredients that made up Sir Clive Woodward’s 2003 Rugby World Cup side but which eluded Eddie Jones on his way to being dismissed as England rugby head coach. Jones preferred the mad professor approach, constantly trying to reinvent and, while occasionally producing spectacular explosions, most often emerged from his Pennyhill Park rugby lab soot-blackened and blinking in disbelief.

In a sport which has largely been a go-to of reliability (winners of the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations and 2019 World Cup finalists), England’s recent lack of an identifiable style, an incoherent selection policy and eventually the collapse of its traditional strength at the scrum, saw Jones booed out of Twickenham and out of a job a year before the World Cup. Ah, maaate. As he was wont to say.

Meanwhile Wales, who contrived to lose to Iran at football and Georgia at rugby this autumn, look more minnow than dragon and have gone back to the future in asking Kiwi Warren Gatland to return some hwyl to the Millennium Stadium. Scotland, who failed to qualify for football’s World Cup in Qatar, continued to fall short against rugby’s southern hemisphere, losing both to Australia and New Zealand. Plucky defeat. Exclusive all headline writers.

All of which leaves Europe’s Rugby World Cup hopes for next year lying in Paris and Dublin under the command of English former rugby league players. A mad world.

What has made it madder has been an undoubted overlay of near hysteria on occasion. Despair and apocalypse, flogged on by the vehement catastrophists and the unforgiving mob of social media. It’s been hard, hasn’t it, to make like Ian Dury and find reasons to be cheerful, one, two and three.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising. This was the year when the social and economic accelerants of a financial crisis, a pandemic, a war and so many other things finally overtook our politicians and our institutions. Our certainties have been washed away and only their detritus lies on our collective beach while we look at the wreckage and wonder what became of them and by implication us.

Things of which we were once told to be proud are apparently a source of shame. Nothing seems to work. We trust nothing and the recent census suggests we believe in even less. We are told off. Constantly.

There is a battle going on for the future and, as our politicians constantly cluster unconvincingly to the middle, the wings look set to prosper whether they be the warriors of woke or those who believe our future lies in returning to the past.

So it is a bit forlorn now, here, in the dog days. The dead hand of winter in the air and on the land. It calls for the haunting scrape of a fiddle and a long gaze into the crackling flame. Melancholy as a comfort blanket.

Yet, as ever, it’s about hope. It always has been at this time of year. Since the returning sun first peeped above the stones of the henges. Since the mistletoe stayed green in the scratch-fingered winter trees. Since three spirits visited a miserly old man who thought it all “a fine excuse to pick a man’s pocket”. Or, if you fancy, since a new-born boy lay in a manger.

And you will also find it among us. In the silent and fearful Ukrainian kids rendered confident and happy in our sports clubs and schools. Ordinary people just doing good. That hate-filled Britain in action. In the world-weary humour of our pubs. In our collective and communal common sense and in the wisdom of what we are; an old people. We have seen it all before. We know what true disaster looks like and we’ve always beaten it.

We are better than this. And always have been.

Happy new year.