It was 1992 and Queen Elizabeth wasn’t a happy camper. “It was an annus horribilis,” she lamented during her annual Christmas speech, which got teenage boys sniggering at the innuendo. However, it had nothing to do with Her Majesty’s bottom line, but concerned a few unfortunate occurrences during the year.

Apart from three of her children’s marriages collapsing, so too did part of her favourite Wendy House which she’d been playing in since childhood. It’s called Windsor Castle. Huge chunks of it caved in when a butler kicked over the braai and a raging fire ravaged the old structure, destroying 100 rooms. One hundred rooms? One wonders how many rooms a self-respecting castle needs, and what the heck does Wendy (or Lizzy) do in all of them?

Out of morbid interest, Wendy was Peter Pan’s bit on the side. In a murky Mafia-style hit, Tinkerbell (the foxy Jezebel), connived to get Wendy shot by members of Pan’s gang, Da Lost Boyz. Realising too late they’d been out-foxed, they immediately erected a shelter over her body while she recuperated. It became known as Wendy’s House – like a doll’s house but bigger – and the craze went viral. Today they’re available everywhere in multiple shapes and sizes, usually without a bullet-ridden fairy though.

But back to annus horribilis. Let’s face it, 2020 was a real bummer, and I’m sure we’re all relieved it’s behind us. But before looking ahead to 2021, here’s where 2020 fits into the tragic hit-parade of Worst Year Ever for loss of human lives.

A CNN survey reveals that at number 5 is the Visigoths’ slaughter/sacking of Rome in 410. Then at number 4 is the 30 Year’s War plus the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 – populations were severely decimated globally.

Number 3: Mount Tambora’s eruption in 1816.  It was around 1 000 times bigger than the 2010 Icelandic eruption that grounded air traffic for months. It caused a ‘volcanic winter’ across Indonesia, and without sunlight, crops failed and millions simply starved to death.

Number 2 is the Holocaust in 1944, where an ideology, and not a disease or natural disaster killed over 6 million people – the worst in modern history. At number 1 is the bubonic Black Death in 1348 which wiped out an estimated half of Europe’s population back then.

2020 put Mother Earth at number 6 with Covid-19. Sadly, the global mortality rate is sky-rocketing, but our own actions and the vaccine will hopefully bring it back down to earth – otherwise 2021 will shoot up the charts. This is one (s)hit-parade where we definitely don’t want to be Top of the Pop-offs.

Unmasking the future

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s amazing how people have adapted to the new normal. A year ago, nobody thought we’d be watching empty sports stadia with eerie, dubbed-in crowd SFX, or wearing masks wherever we go. For how long depends largely on us, but it opened the door to a brand-new industry…

Face masks for billions of people world-wide come in multiple shades, designs and styles. In Japan, one bloke with a 3D printer makes a range of flexible full-face masks of famous people. They have holes at the mouth and nose for normal breathing, so you can wear a regulation cotton mask over them. He also produces these in dozens of variations.

So, you can appear like Donald Trump wearing the Russian flag, or Bill Gates munching on an apple, or Oprah sporting a KKK logo. Perfect for bank robbers. (Lat: Incognito pilferatum.)

Another chap has created a regulation mask that translates. It has a built-in microphone and ear-piece with Bluetooth access to your phone. For example, in Tijuana you ask for directions in English, then select a language – Mexican – and Penelope Cruz’s computer-generated voice, plus the Spanish/Mexican text will pop up on your phone. Just play/show it to any bloke with a moustache, and his spoken reply in Spaxican is back-translated/transcribed by Penny into English through your phone and ear-piece. Olé.

Ideal for robbing banks in foreign countries.

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