On our Sunday walk through the park, people were in groups of families and friends, mostly unmasked as if to say, like Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And then in the depth of mid-winter, Monday’s Solstice came, with the dawning of understanding that England is now closed well into the New Year. The clouds are rain-filled and hang low in the sky, dripping like a slipping tap. And there is no way we can see the great conjunction of the planets, Jupiter with his train of moons and Saturn with her large rings.
Between Brexit and the new mutant strain of COVID-19, the rest of Europe is firmly closing its doors on trade and travel with England. Albeit ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’. The mutant strain of COVID-19 is now found in six countries while 40 countries more have banned travel to and from England. The blinding vision that Boris Johnson, and all who sail with him, carry – that England would become a hub of commerce – have not just faded but imploded. Great Britain, in the eyes of the world, is now Little England. Who is being served here? Certainly not the European, Scottish and English fishermen, nor the lorry firms’ haulers or container-freight drivers from Europe or the UK. A six-hour queue on the motorways in Kent is now the norm, and the book of Brexit is not yet closed. News broadcasts announce that ‘there will be gaps on the supermarket shelves within days. A shortage of lettuce,’ they say. But who on Earth is choosing a salad over hot winter vegetable soup in these dark, wet, days. But we will join the rest of the country stocking up as best we can for our non-existent Christmas and into the Bleak Midwinter New Year. We go to our familiars: the supermarkets that are close to our feet and bank accounts, and we have now become the old people, moving slowly, peering at this and picking up that. Six crumpets at 30 pence a packet are still the best and cheapest comfort food on the shelf. And the wine, well we could always do with a bottle or two more.
Much of England’s dismay is the understanding that – once again – the UK government has not been telling, ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ The mutant strain of the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in Kent in September. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government Chief Scientific Adviser, spoke of it in October, and still, in November the government announced a five-day break of isolation over Christmas. Last week there was a “Oh, sorry about that, our whoopsie,” before a rushed reversal, clamping down to a one day Christmas holiday with no more than six people and no granny or grandpa visits.
In Tom Chivers’ December 21 article in UnHerd, ‘How dangerous is the Covid mutation?’ he writes of his family’s efforts to do the right thing before – thank you – explaining about mutations in a very readable way.
While Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeats:
“It’s all very difficult.” But is it? Hie Min, the dance choreographer from Taiwan writes that life there is now almost normal. What did they, and other nations like China, Japan, New Zealand, and Vietnam, do? Apart from mask–wearing, social-distancing, super-hygiene, and testing, they closed their borders and contained themselves. And they thought of the collective good over their personal wants and needs.
Despite the lock-down I cannot help getting twitchy in the kitchen (as an American friend says about his Swiss wife) at this time of year. And so I buy dried fruit, mince-meat, more flour, eggs and butter, and bake for hours. But I’m not the cook I was and one burnt Dundee cake found its way to the compost pile where it will become soil for next spring. There is a little COVID-free cluster in this cul-de-sac bringing neighbors together as we all look out for each other. My husband watches with some concern as another plate of Mince Pies or Biscotti goes out the door into grateful hands and brings a smile to another drawn face. But there are always the crumble bits – which long ago Uncle Harold taught us have no calories.
There are more knocks on the door, as gifts and secrets (can you wrap this for us?) arrive from family and friends. This morning there is the mail from America, our letters from abroad. I open it eagerly, for among the constant bills, is always a note from our son. This one says that the old Christmas Lights from eons ago are hung on the windows and a wreath of welcome hangs on the door. The gratitude that we feel when Dan the postman knocks on the door and, with a smile, hands us our letters, makes me wonder if this is how it felt to receive mail packages from the ships in past centuries, when families were taking great leaps into far-away countries, and letters from home were a reminder of what they had left behind: their families, the good, and the terrible times. Those leaps are still being taken by families from over the world. News may not come in letters, but phone calls – even emails – will still contain the same messages: of hope, of longing, some truths, some not-quite truths, some requests, some reassurances and news, good or not.
As of this weekend it was not known if the Queen had written or recorded her Christmas message to the nation and commonwealth. It is hard to imagine what she must be thinking about this government. A good hearty wield of the ceremonial sword would not go amiss in these times. Her unprecedented message in the middle of the first lock-down helped us all see this through but now there is a deeper malaise, a sadder push and pull to us all in the country. We will listen to her carefully-chosen words on Friday, and hope that she can give us all the strength and courage to Carry On.
This has been a Letter from A. Broad.
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch