Call that a summer? Now how will we cope with a Covid-ravaged autumn? | Joel Golby


I’ve been drenched in rain this week. Personally, I like it. I have a theory that everyone has a season that brings out the best in them, and for most normal people that is summer, because summer is good, but for me I like autumn: wearing boots, looking at clouds of fog, going in woods for a bit, having a hot chocolate. There is no better season in which to watch a really long film while turning on all the lamps in your house, for instance. Suddenly caring about hedgehogs. Casseroles. Going to a pub with a fireplace in it. All of that.

So for people like me (miserable; a lot of coats), autumn is good. For everyone else, not so much. More to the point, the blunt fact of autumn being here is that summer is over, and therein lies a problem: we didn’t have a summer this year, in a year when we really needed one. And I can only foresee this coming out in simmering, wrongheaded ways (oh, just say British”!) over the next few weeks and months, and probably ruining the good early days of winter, too.

Here’s the thing: summer really needed to step up to the plate, to make up for the fact that Christmas was cancelled at four days’ notice in much of England, and that various winter lockdowns dragged on for months, and that the original “freedom day” we had scheduled for April didn’t really see any changes to freedom at all, and the second day of freedom in England scheduled for June had to be moved to July, and also every pub has a different app and they’re a pain to use, etc. After all that, we really did need a sort of national emergency holiday day to feel as if 15 months of time moving grey like a slug was over, and, though I do see the practical inefficiencies of that (“Congrats on sacrificing a year and a half of your life for the greater good of the country! Go out and spit in everyone you know’s mouth!”), without it, there is a collective feeling that we missed out on a distinct moment of closure. Dreary summer weather across the country did not help. The Euro 2020 tournament and the euphoria of seeing England do well did not solve it. Even festivals happening again a bit wasn’t a magic bullet. Summer this year never properly got started, and now it’s over. This can only be bad for the national psyche.

For one, as the weather starts to get even worse, we won’t even be able to go to the park and complain about how many other people are there, which got a hell of a lot of us through the first couple of lockdowns. (An intrusive memory from spring 2020: I saw a man in a park who had an actual haircut, not whatever strange thing my girlfriend did to me with a pair of kitchen scissors that made my hair grow out like a dome, and I had to fight the impulse to go over and demand he tell me where he had his done.) The second, more crucial reason, is this washout summer has not in any way prepared us for anything to go wrong again, which of course – with the people we’ve had in charge throughout all this still being in charge – is a constant threat. Any hint of another lockdown might just about fly if I’d been able to have more than one day of summer when I could eat a Twister lolly and feel as if I had hope in my soul again. But I didn’t, and now my joy–misery seasonal balances threaten to go severely out of whack.

The straight fact of all this, of course, is that Covid has not gone away and we have to adjust to a world of living tentatively with it, rather than wholly underneath it. But there’s also been a shift in mood: though the more righteous “stay the f**k indoors” pan-clanging crowd of last year may still be diligently double-masking and hand-sanitising and yelling at people who stand too close to them on the train, in other areas things are approaching semi-normal again (schools, offices, people on Instagram going on holiday and making me jealous). Yet I can’t help but feel that not having summer is secretly going into a lot of people’s personal set of grievances from the past year and a half, and may be trotted out again as yet another form of sacrifice we all had to make should there be any step backwards on the road towards normality.

Yesterday, in between issuing impromptu diss tracks against Nicki Minaj and her cousin’s big balls, Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty outlined England’s “winter plan” for Covid, which was essentially: please don’t get Covid again, everybody, the NHS can’t take it. Plan A is jab-heavy – boosters for the over-50s, jabs offered to 12- to 15-year-olds – while Plan B sounds more like the slippery slope we’ve all unsuccessfully been trying to clamber up, as the world’s longest and worst ever gameshow episode, for most of the last two years: caution, face coverings, guidance on working from home.

Though it was stressed that Plan B would only be enacted if further protective measures were needed, it does feel that the wider winter plan was deliberately unrevolutionary, a sort of we-will-only-do-something-if-we-absolutely-have-to pre-empting of a national mood that feels primed to sour at any moment. Johnson et al are now facing uncharted emotional terrain with the English public: after all this, and a crap summer, asking them to put face masks on and queue to get in supermarkets again could really tip them over the edge. Look out for a dark, gloomy season of people complaining about their neighbours and questioning others’ commitment to keeping Covid at bay. There is a defined, traceable line between “not going to enough BBQs this year” and “calling the police on the people opposite for having too many people over for Bonfire Night”, and we’re about to see the early stirrings of it.

  • Joel Golby is a writer for the Guardian and Vice and the author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant



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