From a ping to Bing,
Roger Ratcliffe’s Xmas
past and present

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“The most wonderful time of the year” was stolen from us last December by our lying hypocrite of a prime minister, and now once again it is being tinselled up with uncertainties.

Just a few weeks ago the festive season seemed on course to be all merry and bright, but the Omicron variant has made it look a lot like a leaning Christmas tree that would take just one injudiciously placed bauble to topple over and crash to the floor.

Certainly, the boffins advising the government are itching to supply that bauble in the form of another computer model requiring us to be locked down well into the new year. After all, boffins live in laboratories and their reaction to anything is to isolate it in a glass tube.

On the other hand politicians want to exercise control and use any situation to their party political advantage. Thus we have Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Mark Drakeford in Wales milking the opportunity to look statesmanlike on frequent live TV addresses in a way that wouldn’t be available to them in normal times. It’s in their political interests to spin out our reaction to the pandemic, leaving the rest of us casualties of the decisions they make.

As I write this the situation is still as fluid as the drinks flowing at a 10 Downing Street party, but the drum beats suggest we are being softened up for yet more restrictions. It’s a right Omicronshambles.

What I find especially maddening is that the whole conversation about reintroducing curbs on our freedoms when we get together with family and friends has come right out of the blue. It’s as though we have been, like last Christmas, completely taken by surprise by the resilience of Covid-19. Yet surely, like the playing of Slade’s irritating Merry Christmas Everybody in supermarkets, it was an entirely predictable part of this Christmas. And unless we learn to live with the pandemic by adapting our behaviour to minimise the risk – we’ve all had almost two years of intensive training – it will loom over many Christmases and variants to come.

It was clear to me a couple of months ago that I should hold off making the same preparations that fell apart a year ago. Like everyone else, barring the prime minister and those Downing Street partygoers, my yuletide bonhomie back then was, on a scale of nought to 10, somewhere around minus 5. Most of the food for meals – enough to feed up to 12 people on Christmas Day – had been ordered a few weeks in advance, but in the end there were three of us round the table. People reading this will have had far worse experiences.

This time, those so-called gatherings in Downing Street will make it hard to persuade many to follow advice on family get-togethers. Home alone again this Christmas? No chance, they will say, and I can’t help sympathising with that view. The sooner all of us take seriously the need for masks, vaccines and regular tests the sooner we can get on with our lives.

For the moment, though, I am grateful to have got through another year of this mess. In the words of another Bing Crosby song in the film White Christmas: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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