So, Boris grabs the Cromwell crown and cancels Christmas. Sir Keir puts the boot in, but still supports the newest addition to the Tier system – 4 and counting – all the same. Just when the nation was giving thanks to our gracious overlords for being granted permission to take time out for a few days of festivities, that nasty coronavirus has gone and done what viruses have a habit of doing – it’s mutated into an even deadlier strain. A shame, because according to the Office of National Statistics, fewer deaths have been registered in the UK this year than at any time over the last five years; that either means the lockdown cycle, social distancing and mask-wearing works, or that this pandemic isn’t quite the apocalypse we’ve been led to believe; and if the latter is the case, where be the justification for the Prime Minister’s latest blow to public morale? The cruelty of an eleventh hour U-turn suggests a reluctance to do the deed on Boris’s part; then again, it could simply be another example of the man’s ineptitude as a leader. Many understandably feel he is playing Lucy to their Charlie Brown, promising not to move the football as hapless, trusting Chuck runs up to kick it and then falls flat on his back once more as Lucy does indeed move it before his kick makes contact.
Overnight images of the multitudes crammed into London’s stations, fleeing the capital like bewildered evacuees in 1939, also evoked the desperation of the citizens of Saigon besieging the US Embassy as the Communist forces approached in 1975. Indeed, in the vivid portraits painted by lockdown fanatics, Covid-19 has now almost taken on the qualities of an invading army; Matt Hancock, bravely holding back the tears on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning breakfast show and maintaining the hackneyed ‘we’re all in this together’ narrative, declared ‘collectively, we all face the same enemy’ – just like we faced Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany. Thanks to the Government pressing the panic button, Londoners were given barely five or six hours to get out of London before the gates of the capital were bolted; if one buys into the wartime rhetoric and visualises the virus as a physical foe, the last-minute decision announced on Saturday has led to this enemy now being dispatched across the country, delivered to provincial doorsteps like so many gift-wrapped bath salts nobody wants.
A mass evacuation in which social distancing is unavoidably spurned makes ‘acting like you have the virus’ (© Mr Hancock) as much of a farcical piece of advice on a packed train carriage as it does on a crowded shopping street. Or maybe ‘acting like you have the virus’ equates with exercising one’s own judgement as to the risk you pose to others and not spending the rest of your days self-identifying as a leper. Earlier, somebody said on Twitter words to the effect that the current design for life seems to be simply avoiding dying, which isn’t really living, is it? If that was living, then Hillary would never have reached the summit of Everest, the Wright brothers would never have climbed aboard the Wright Flyer, and Yuri Gagarin would have left the space race to dogs and monkeys. Mind you, put the fear of God into enough people and chances are plenty of them will quickly come to believe the most basic and mundane of tasks are charged with the same risk to life and limb that accompanied every giant leap for mankind – and chances are they’ll opt out of undertaking them.
Sad as it is, we have now become accustomed to the constant threat of regional lockdowns that make travelling from one part of the country to another something of a minefield; but we were told it would be possible to journey into the lost worlds of the provinces over Christmas as some sort of reward for enduring the most repressive peacetime restrictions on civil liberties the British people have ever been subjected to – albeit at a cost; the prospect of another national lockdown in January was seen by many as the price to be paid for relaxing restrictions a little for a paltry four or five days in December. This is what it has come to – having to express gratitude to Government for allowing a bit of extended time in the company of loved ones that Government policy in 2020 has kept separated from one another. ‘Please, sir, I want some more,’ said the nation to Boris Bumble, and the Parish Beadle has duly obliged by refusing the request. Having the promised extended time now either cut short to one day (outside of London and the South East) or completely curtailed (London and the South East) means there are an awful lot of folk out there who are seeing their temporary respite from this abysmal year go up in smoke.
Of course, for many people, Christmas is always like this – lonely, empty and unhappy. When it belatedly registered that none of this would be over by Christmas, the news that friends and family would no longer be ringing the doorbell in the anticipated numbers has been a crushing disappointment to millions across the country; but for others, an absence of guests is the norm come December, every December. Christmas isn’t one long-running, sentimental John Lewis advert for everybody; and even if one strips away the Disneyfied sheen and acknowledges that those family gatherings in which festering grievances that are kept suppressed for the rest of the year can abruptly erupt are far more common than ad agencies would have us believe, these unpleasant reunions are not necessarily universal. It should be remembered that not everyone has family members, either with or without festering grievances; not everyone has enough friends to make up a party; not everyone has a partner or spouse to keep them company even in the event of Covid-19 preventing others from calling laden with presents.
Those for whom Christmas is a bleak reminder of their own isolation from the rest of humanity as television, the internet and the media bombard them with annual images of how the other half live are now seeing their miserable seasonal ritual shared by those utterly unused to it. I’m sure only the most mean-minded in that position would feel any sense of smug satisfaction at this development; most wouldn’t wish their kind of Christmas on anyone, and the thought that so many are now poised to experience it shouldn’t serve as any sort of solace. At the same time, perhaps these events could be seen as an invaluable reminder that the Christmas routine we are informed is that of the majority is also a luxury fantasy to the lonely and unloved. Some only appear capable of empathy when they themselves undergo privations, so we can but hope lessons are learned this year that prove useful on the off-chance that we’ve returned to a semblance of normality by Christmas 2021. We’ll see.
Personally, I do feel genuine sympathy for those whose plans for long-awaited get-togethers have now been completely trashed; I appreciate what a big deal this is to them, even if their concept of Christmas is entirely alien to me. Speaking for myself, I would’ve been spending Christmas Day alone with or without coronavirus, anyway, and – bar one divine deviation from the norm in recent years – this is pretty standard Yuletide fare for me. But observing the latest cruel move by a political class seemingly intent on crushing the spirit of the public so that they’ll eventually accept compulsory vaccination gives me no pleasure, and I really would be something of a Scrooge if it did.
© The Editor