Another week and another drive into our nearest town, to be met by yet another series of placards and hoardings – this time with the message ‘let’s do the right thing’ which in this case means keeping your distance, getting a test if ‘WE’ have symptoms and wearing a face covering! Not that it seems to have made any difference in this town, which has a very low rate of cases and from what I’ve gathered from other local people, was fully expecting to be getting a lower tier rating when this present national lockdown was supposed to end ‘because it’s the law’ according to various politicians on December 2nd.
Well, we all know, or maybe we don’t, that it depends on whether you look at, listen to, or read the mainstream media, that ‘lockdown’ will, may be eased, or made more stringent, or just be given some other name to shut up and close down any opposition, by anyone that doesn’t tow the government’s line.
That apparently includes again, depending who or what you listen to or read, one hundred backbench Tory rebels. Many more than last time, which, when push came to shove, and vote, shrank to just a few you may remember. We’ve heard it all before I’m afraid, and I for one won’t be holding my breath next week when the vote on the new restrictions is to be held.
At least this time MPs on both sides of the house can’t say that they have not been given enough time ‘to scrutinise’ government proposals. As is now usual in the ‘new normal’, ‘somebody’ leaked everything to the mainstream media, obviously designed to cause as much speculative and divisive argument before the Prime Minister announced the ‘fait accompli’ – sorry new proposals, laws, guidelines or restrictions or whatever it has been decided to call them this time around.
It’s obvious that all has been decided and nothing will change until well after Christmas, or even later it is now rumoured.
Christmas when, if you are all good citizens, Boris – guided by the members of Sage and the PHE (by the way just when is that organisation going to be axed), the NHS, various ministers and anyone else with an ‘independent’ view – will ‘allow’ you to visit, under strictly controlled conditions of course, another household where you can celebrate Christmas in the time-honoured way and do more or less what you want for four whole days before returning home, only later to return to your Christmas location, this time to visit undertakers and make arrangements to bury all those elderly relations whose deaths you are responsible for.
Already ‘project fear’ is building in the press and media, who have suddenly remembered that not everyone lives in large cities and metropolitan areas. Much of middle England lives as far away as possible from such places, a trend increased this year as much of the population, terrified by the daily onslaught of doom and gloom, have sold up properties in cities and are in the process of buying new homes in shire towns and villages where, according to estate agents, prices and sales are booming.
Even here in St. Mary on the Wold, houses are again much in demand as people rush to buy property as prices surge (or not, again depending on which news outlet you prefer), with many properties now resplendent with new ‘For Sale’ or ‘Sold’ signs.
It seems, though, that completion times are very slow, possibly due to the amount of work surveyors and solicitors have at the moment, or maybe the whole process is stuck in a chain, as estate agents helpfully describe the process of buying and selling homes these days.
Anyway, reporters have been seen on the streets of local towns, as they or their seniors have suddenly discovered that many shire towns have huge numbers of people furloughed or made unemployed by struggling companies, that much of the hospitality sector is facing bankruptcy along with the retail sector and much of the self-employed service sector.
As job uncertainties and unemployment hits locals, towns dependent on tourism, both national and international are beginning to look like ghost towns, bad weather and further tiered restrictions will, without doubt, cause many businesses to close and this time for good.
Stratford on Avon has been in the news this week. The town relies for much of its local economy on international and national tourism; hundreds of thousands visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties bringing employment to many small businesses in the area – many of which have spent hard earned cash making their premises ‘covid safe’, only to find that after lockdown the area will be placed in tier three level restrictions.
The theatre had made plans for restricted live performances in December, only to see their efforts come to nothing as tier three restrictions will curtail that activity until, it is now rumoured, next Easter, which falls on April 2.
To say that locally that there is much annoyance and, it must be said, anger at these new restrictions being placed on Stratford on Avon is no exaggeration, although to be fair there are people who think that restrictions do not go far enough and that all restrictions should be strictly enforced, as one person told me last week.
One elderly gentleman told me that he thought that restrictions didn’t go far enough; much more should be closed he said and the law enforced. “You just can’t have all these people doing just as they like,” he said.
Just why if he thought that, when he himself was in town was not clear, nor was the thought process of the lady who later accosted me in the queue for takeaway coffee shop in the town, who told me it was ‘all over’.
I, being a sensitive and caring person, was shocked by this outburst as I didn’t know the lady from Adam but replied, in the interests of sensitivity and equality you understand: “Well, actually, it’s not your fault, it’s me.”
This stemmed the conversation for a minute but she went on, determined to ‘engage’ as we say, that she “hated” her neck warmer tube worn as a face covering under her sunglasses, as she couldn’t see properly and it made it hard to breathe.
I tactfully suggested that she may like to keep her distance from me and take the thing off in the street if it made her life that difficult.
Not sure what she said in reply, apart from something sounding like: “Well it’s nearly over now we’ve got the vaccine,” and “anyway, it will be all fine by next March”.
My turn to be nonplussed then as coffee in hand she climbed into an SUV of some description and drove off, hopefully without her face covering causing her spectacles to steam up. Anyway, I decided she meant well.
I asked the take away coffee shop owner if those sorts of conversations were frequent, to which he replied: “Regrettably, it’s quite amazing what people tell you,” mostly gleaned, depending, he thought, on their age, from certain quality newspapers and TV news. Younger people, he said, seem to keep their opinions on the news to themselves, but in any case this is a family business and it’s not worth siding with one view or the other, so we keep our thoughts as neutral as possible, adding it’s hard not to say something sometimes.
Something many of us will have done, or learned to do, during all sorts of controversies, particularly over the last few years when, let’s face it, there have been enough to choose from and it’s not been worth entering into any discussion, especially in the workplace or at family gatherings.
I wonder how many family ‘domestics’, as the police call them, will be avoided if thousands of people actually don’t visit family or the ‘outlaws’ for Christmas this year. Barely contained grievances have a habit of surfacing when family members are in close vicinity for one day, never mind three days and nights.
Looking on the positive side, maybe some people will actually have a quiet, pleasant Christmas free from family strife or arguments caused by taking the wrong exit at a busy intersection while driving to ‘mum’s’ or children not behaving in the approved manner at ‘dad’s’ or somebody sleeping it off for hours after Christmas dinner.
How families survived 30-odd years ago when half the country didn’t visit home for Christmas, everything was mostly closed and the rail and road networks were mostly deserted and the only thing to watch on ‘the box’ was Christmas Night with the stars is anyone’s guess or lost in the mists of time.
Tiers or souvenirs – part 2 will be published here tomorrow.