The awful, inescapable sensation that we’ve been trapped in one long, drawn-out year since around March 2020 was something I expressed to a friend the other week when trying to recall a recent event, unable to remember if it occurred this year or last. As someone whose memory can be uncannily precise where childhood is concerned – to the point whereby I often catch a snatch of a melody and within seconds can accurately locate not just which childhood year the song was a hit in, but the month it charted – it’s not unusual to reach a certain age and find years much closer to the here and now have a habit of blurring into each other. It’s probably due to the fewer ‘first time’ experiences one receives as more miles are accumulated on the clock, invariably sticking to recognisable routes rather than veering off into uncharted territory. Childhood, by contrast, is nothing but first time experiences, with each one making a deep impression that naturally stays with us; I suppose having them all happen in quick succession means the clarity of the period as a whole remains strong in recollection, whilst the wider gaps between such occurrences as one gets older means there’s less for memory to hang on to.
However, as my opening sentence testifies, the ability to distinguish one year from another has been uniquely exacerbated by the events we’ve been living through ever since Boris made his initial address to the nation from his Covid bunker. I certainly can’t recall the distinction being this difficult before, though I did wonder if it was like this during the War – not for the troops fighting overseas, but for those on the home front. I would imagine the day of Chamberlain’s broadcast to the nation on the wireless in 1939 right up until VE Day almost six years later could easily have felt like one long, drawn-out year to those who lived through it, mainly on account of all the usual signposts being plunged into suspended animation for the duration. After all, how do we usually measure a calendar year? Sure, we have the seasons laid out before us, but unless one is agriculturally-minded, the changing of the seasons amounts to little more than an aesthetic backdrop to events of greater significance or (when it comes to winter) an impediment in getting from the urban A to B.
The creeping dread that we’re careering backwards towards another f***ing lockdown and/or the reintroduction of restrictions won’t enable that sensation to be dispelled. Whilst many rushed back into socialising with all the ravenous desperation of a besieged population suddenly liberated from their isolation when the original restrictions were belatedly lifted, I myself didn’t properly venture out for the first time until a couple of weeks ago. On the eve of Lockdown Mark I, I’d attended an open mic poetry night at a local arts centre, which I wrote about at the time; then the drawbridge came down and that was that. Tentatively inquiring if the open mic night had resumed after a year and-a-half of seclusion, the printed literature confirmed it had. I turned up on the scheduled evening in question, only to be greeted by a bemused response; a few frantic phone-calls from helpful staff eventually informed me said literature was in error and said open mic night was merely a Zoom event, something that didn’t exactly entice me.
After 30 years of loyal service, I’d finally abandoned ‘Have I Got News For You’ following the inaugural (and abysmal) Zoom edition during the first lockdown; the prospect of an open mic night resembling either that or one of those shambolic council meetings with everyone talking over one another or constantly breaking up didn’t fill me with joy, so I left it at that. At least I was back home in time for that evening’s episode of ‘The Archers’. Anyway, that was something of a damp squib after eighteen months away from any form of socialising, but yesterday I sat in a car for the first time since the first lockdown, rejoining my dog-walking friend on her rounds. For more than a decade, this was a weekly institution and its sudden removal from my routine when we were ordered not to leave our homes left a sizeable social gap in my week and took some getting used to. I still haven’t set foot in anyone else’s house yet, but I suppose that’s the next thing to tick off the list.
Mind you, am I looking at a brief window in which to tick this off the list before we revert to where we were and the moment has gone? Is the clock poised to be reset as we re-enter Covid Groundhog Day and the never-ending year that began in the spring of 2020 is extended into infinity? In his new role as Health Secretary, the man with the perfectly spherical head Sajid Javid can’t really do any worse than his predecessor, but he’s fallen back on the same tactic of issuing threats masquerading as advice that evidently worked so well for Matt Hancock. He reckons MPs in the Commons chamber should ‘set an example’ by donning their masks; he seems to think that would send out a message, which it would – albeit not the message one imagines Javid is thinking of. The disappearance of mandatory masks has been one of the few positive signs of recent months; those who choose to keep them on are perfectly entitled to, whilst those who choose not to are no longer regarded as contaminated scum – not by anyone with half-a-brain, anyway. Having compulsory mask-wearing normalised anew by MPs wouldn’t help reinforce this welcome perception.
Javid’s threat is that spurning face coverings could lead to a return to restrictions – see what he’s doing there? Yup, he’s laying the ground for their reintroduction by placing the blame at the feet of me and thee; restrictions return and it’s all our fault for not wearing masks (which we no longer have to) – get it? Presumably, most Honourable Members have been double-jabbed, which was supposed to insulate the recipients from dying of the coronavirus should they contract it; indeed, it was supposed to negate the need to hibernate from society and to not have to wear a face nappy when venturing into that society. Ah, but it’s boosters we need now! Triple-jabbed, if you like. That’s what Sajid is urging; otherwise it’s Plan B – no, not the noughties rapper but the resurrection of restrictions. ‘It’s going to hit us all!’ declared Javid at a press conference this week when referencing rising cases as winter hovers on the horizon – along with the annual NHS crisis, of course.
As with the run-up to Lockdown Mark I, the decision is in the hands of the people as to how many precautions they take. And presumably, when the restrictions are reintroduced, the people rather than the Government will be to blame for not wearing masks 24/7. It goes without saying their reintroduction would otherwise never have happened. ‘We need to be ready for what lies around the corner,’ said Javid in relation to the latest Covid variant remixes laying in wait for the mask-less masses. ‘Our ongoing programme of booster jabs is so important,’ he said. ‘We’ll do what it takes to make sure this pressure doesn’t become unsustainable and that we don’t allow the NHS to become overwhelmed. This pandemic is not over. Thanks to the vaccination programme, yes, the link between hospitalisations and deaths has significantly weakened, but it’s not broken.’
Few dispute this nightmarish scenario is far-from over, though the largely successful vaccine rollout and the minor miracle of it being achieved without armed Covid marshals marching reluctant recipients to the nearest needle has helped put society a step closer to the former even keel than at any point since this shit started. Retreating back into the dead-end of lockdowns would not be the fault of a fatigued population struggling to put the pandemic behind them and rebuild their lives, but a government that has run out of ideas. A new vision is needed for this problem, not repeating the mistakes of the recent past – whether we’re talking 2020 or 2021; and that’s even if we can spot the difference between the two.
© The Editor