I am so looking forward to the Queen’s Christmas address to the nation this year. “In difficult times such as these it is such a comfort to have one’s family around one…” Leaving aside that Harry and Meghan have run away to California (which looks a better plan with each passing day), it’s no longer relevant, is it? Scrub that and start again. HRH must have gone through a few drafts.
You can be sure that Captain Tom and Marcus Rashford will get a mention – and rightly so. But what’s the context? The hospitals are full of seriously ill and dying people, and children don’t have enough to eat. The best that can be said is that our country is not technically at war.
In the current circumstances it’s only a minor irritation that we can’t go to France for New Year. Actually, it’s a lot more annoying than that. The perfect storm of Covid-19 and Brexit has come home to roost.
He said, piling cliché upon cliché
On Saturday 5 December 2019 I took a bus to Oxford. I was going to record some guitar overdubs, staying overnight at Bernard’s. I had been intending to drive but didn’t feel up to it, having slept badly. I thought I might be going down with a cold.
Andrew was already there, having come from Exeter. The following morning I got up feeling tired and hot; by midday my teeth were literally chattering and I was wearing my coat and scarf indoors. We did some recording, but not much. That evening I took the bus back to London; it was very cold and I was feeling unwell. When we stopped outside Victoria, I caught a train back to Herne Hill and went straight to bed
I awoke in the early hours, T-shirt soaked in sweat. Then the coughing started. I slept, or tried to, in the spare room for a few days. Cough, cough, cough. I never had a runny nose or a very sore throat. Did I lose my sense of smell? If so, it wasn’t for long. Whatever I had, it seems that neither Bern nor Andrew, nor indeed my wife, caught it. A couple of days later I met a friend for lunch. Subsequently her whole family caught Covid, although she had only mild symptoms. Could I have caught it as early as December and passed it on?
I had gone to the British Museum with a friend a few days before to see the Troy exhibition. A couple of hours after we left he started coughing, and we had to go into St Pancras to buy a bottle of water. If you want to catch a contagious disease, going to a packed visitor attraction in central London must be a good way to do it. There are (or were) lots of tourists about, including from China. That same week I attended a Herne Hill Society event. There were elderly people there but I am not aware that anyone caught it. And then, exactly a year ago, I visited my parents – but they have both been fine. As I’ve never been tested, there’s no way of knowing.
We started the new year on holiday in Charente
I was not on top form, although I wrote in this blog that I had “finally stopped coughing”. Later in January I went to Birkenhead to watch Tranmere defeat Watford in the FA Cup, then visited my old Junior School for the first time in over 50 years. The following weekend it was back to Oxford, where One for the Wall played a successful gig at Klub Kakofanney.
In early February I was invited to an academic symposium in Oxford. I was planning to meet my old tutor for the first time in 15 years, but he had gone down with the flu, so we had to postpone it to a later date. The following week we were intending to go to Swanage for my birthday but foul weather caused it to be postponed (for eight months, as it happened). Even so, I could hardly have packed much more in to the first two months of 2020.
And then it all went wrong
We were invited back to Klub Kakofanney, but it was “postponed”: one of the words of the year. I made a few predictions about the spread of Covid-19 at the time. Most, though not all, have come to pass. I did not foresee that infection levels would fall then rise so dramatically, after the false hope that it would quickly be under control. I wrote on 5 March:
The number of confirmed UK Coronavirus cases will shoot up from today’s 80 or so and will soon be measured in hundreds, and then in thousands… there are massive social implications ahead – never mind the effects on the economy. Theatres, cinemas, museums, pubs and clubs will close. Londoners will shun the Tube. Tourists will stay at home… It’s an industrial revolution in reverse. One is tempted to say “bring it on and let’s get it over with”; after all, we can’t hide away for ever and there isn’t going to be a vaccine or cure this year…. But the thing is: we don’t even know if you can catch it more than once. And what about next year’s mutation?
Since then, everything has changed… and there was no choice. Some people have been having an awful time. Others admitted they were having a good lockdown, enjoying the sunshine, the reduction in noise and pollution, the end of daily commuting.
But winter’s here, Covid infections are rising, next year’s mutation has arrived early, Brexit negotiations are crawling along – and the idea that 2021 will be an improvement is now a matter of debate.
I normally steer clear of politics in writing but I am having serious doubts about democracy as a style of government. I know Churchill famously said it was the worst method of government, apart from all the rest, or something to that effect. For many people it is sacrosanct.
But look at democracy in action today
In June 2016 few serious politicians in Britain thought that Brexit was a good idea. Which is not to say that they thought the EC was wonderful and didn’t need reforming, but they understood that leaving would probably be a disaster. And yet, the people voted for it in a referendum. (I hesitate to say that the English are a nation of xenophobes, but don’t tell me that wasn’t a factor). Those European countries with a large number of sceptical voters (and it is a long list) were astute enough not to allow their voters the opportunity to do what we did. It divided our country and might still lead to the breakup of the UK. Those who voted for Brexit will, in the main, not derive the slightest benefit. We’re still arguing about fishing, which is of minuscule importance to the economy. It has been an utter, utter shambles. And all to foster the political ambitions of a few rabble-rousers.
The countries that have fared best in the pandemic have been those with a tradition of trusting their government and/or doing what they are told to do. Enlightened countries such as USA and UK have sought to export democracy to countries that have never enjoyed its benefits, yet what example have we set? Both countries elected exceptionally ineffective leaders, and our response to the threat of Covid-19 has been patchy at best. Mask-wearing and social distancing have not been sufficiently respected and never properly enforced. Talk of personal responsibility and trusting in people’s good sense rings hollow when Britain has the highest death toll in Europe and USA has the highest in the entire world.
Just do as you’re bloody well told!
If wearing a mask can save lives, then arrest and fine those won’t do it. As I’ve written before I have yet to see anyone challenged on our trains. The chaos here, of course, pales besides the situation in the US where not wearing a mask quickly became a political symbol. It was unfortunate for Americans that their democratically-elected President showed no sense of responsibility to anyone but himself and his family and – as we soon found it – no respect for democracy either. But he was elected, and a very sizeable minority voted for him again. Depressing.
“I’m not taking the vaccine because it’s got a tracking chip in it.” Oh please. If you believe that, what else are you prepared to believe? Why do we even bother with trial by jury? What a kick in the teeth for those who’ve been working flat out to try to save people’s lives. You won’t believe the world’s most distinguished scientists but you’ll put your faith in some twaddle on social media from a troll or “influencer”? How to get the message across:
- You can have Covid without showing symptoms
- It is highly contagious and no-one is immune
- You can pass it on to people who seem healthy
- It can make you very ill even if you do not die
- You could kill vulnerable members of your own family
Perhaps there is some excuse for the poorly educated or those who are manipulated by ignorant “community leaders”. But the middle-class, well educated anti-vax movement? Give me strength. Put yourself at risk if you’re determined to do so, but don’t kill the rest of us.
Rant over – for today
In other news, it’s exactly seven years since the idea of resurrecting One for the Wall, moribund since 1983, was floated. Since then we’ve got back together, played our old songs and had a lot of fun. Then new songs started to appear. But it was in 2020 that – paradoxically – we made a great leap forward.
Since that Oxford gig in January we have not been able to meet again. Many enjoyable and creative weekends have been denied us. All the same, we have made progress. We managed to complete two new songs in lockdown. Then I created a band website. We finally got a song on BBC Radio Oxford. We worked hard to complete 11 tracks and issued a CD, our first after all these years. Then we got our songs uploaded to Amazing Radio, so we can now be heard in the US. It is not the same as playing music together but it is hugely satisfying and it has spurred us on to achieve more next year.
Because none of us knows how much of a future we may have. I have tinnitus and my arthritis is getting worse. Poor old soul! In any case, one’s 60s are hardly likely to be the best time for energy and creativity… however, my message is a positive one: get on with it because, as the Irish saying goes, “You’re a long time dead”. Like it or not, it looks as if next year will provides lots more opportunities for long-distance collaboration.