We’ve become very good at coping with all this. At the start of the first lockdown, we were, naturally enough, frightened and anxious. Since then, though, we’ve grown so inured to this dismal way of life, that even the bleakest new rule hardly seems to raise an eyebrow.
Take the grim moment in the Commons a couple of weeks ago, just as the current English lockdown was beginning. The Government had forbidden people to leave their homes without what was considered a “reasonable excuse”. Matt Hancock, however, announced that ministers were willing to make an exception. Members of the public, he declared, would be permitted to travel overseas – but only for one purpose. Assisted suicide.
So that was a cheering thought. I’m still free to get on a plane. As long as I promise not to come back alive.
If I did come back alive, though, the Government would be furious. I’d have to go on the run. Policemen would be sent to my house to make inquiries. “Mrs Deacon, I’m afraid we’ve got some bad news about your husband. He’s alive.”
Perhaps it’s best not to dwell on these things. Got to look on the bright side. And, today at any rate, it seems there’s reason for hope. Because, according to reports in yesterday’s papers, Christmas might not be cancelled after all.
Apparently, the Government is considering a plan to let households across the country mix for five days, starting on Christmas Eve. Exciting news. If anything, yesterday’s Sun seemed to get a little over-excited. “ALL OF UK TO COME TOGETHER,” whooped the subhead on its front page. What an image. From the rule of six to the rule of 67 million.
Admittedly this plan is not without its risks. This isn’t like the trenches on Christmas Day 1914. On this occasion, our enemy is not going to agree a truce. The virus isn’t going to exchange presents with us, challenge us to a friendly game of football, and promise to take the day off from infecting us.
Even so, I think most people want the right to assess the risks for themselves, and come to their own decision. We want our Government to treat us like intelligent, responsible adults. Not like hapless toddlers who have to be blocked off by a stairgate in case we do ourselves a mischief.
Anyway, we need something to look forward to. A goal to work towards. The prospect of reward for our current sacrifices.
Without that, December will be grim. Even at the best of times, the run-up to Christmas has always been a slog. All that money you have to spend, all those cards you have to write, all those presents you have to wrap, all that trekking to the Post Office… Let’s be honest: it’s a pain in the neck. But at least, in the past, you always knew it would feel worth it, come the big day. Whereas if the lockdown rules remain in place, this year we’ll have to do all the usual tedious prep – but have none of the fun at the end of it.
If yesterday’s reports are true, then, it’s a rare boost. Handy for ministers, too. They can dangle Christmas like a carrot. Use it to make us behave, and keep following their rules. Have you been good little boys and girls this year? Then you can see your families at Christmas. But if you haven’t been good… dear oh dear. Nothing under the tree for you.
Still, it could yet backfire. Because if the Government bottles it, and cancels Christmas after all, the country will be livid.
We’ve had quite enough of the endless chopping and changing. This would be one Government wobble too many. And it would be no use the Government saying, “Well, we never actually promised to lift the rules for Christmas. It was merely a proposal that was under consideration. We never meant it to be leaked.”
In the eyes of the public, that excuse just wouldn’t be good enough. It’s been on the front page – so now it has to happen. Just like on Halloween, when the plan for an English lockdown got leaked to the papers – so Boris Johnson decided he had no choice but to proceed.
If I had to guess, I’d say the PM will go for it. Give Christmas the thumbs-up. When it comes to big decisions, he’s never been shy of sticking his neck out. And the latest good news about the Pfizer vaccine – now shown to be 95 per cent effective – should embolden him.
As should the progress of other possible vaccines. It’s terrific, seeing them start to come through. At this rate, there’ll soon be so many vaccines, manufacturers won’t be able to give them away. By this time next year, executives from Big Pharma will be reduced to flogging them by the crate-load at East End market stalls. “Vaccines! Get your vaccines here! Lovely fresh vaccines at unbeatable prices! Twenty-five million doses for a tenner!”
For now, though, all that families can do is wait for the Prime Minister’s decision. When Alok Sharma, the scrupulously non-committal business secretary, was asked about it in an interview yesterday, all he would say was that Christmas “is going to happen, come what may”.
Note the careful wording. This was not a promise that you’ll get to see your family. It was merely a promise that the world will not end before December 25. A Government pledge that the planet Earth will not be devoured by the sun or destroyed by an asteroid before the specified date in the calendar can be reached.
Then again, the way this year’s been going, it would be complacent to rule it out.
Read more: Our complete guide to Christmas, from the best gifts to decorating, and food and drink