Ever since the pandemic struck, a spectre has haunted Boris Johnson: would Britain ever escape from this? His scientific advisers had given him a terrifying vision. Only 7 per cent of the public had caught Covid in the first wave, they said, meaning 93 per cent were still susceptible. So what was to stop his premiership being a never-ending cycle of lockdowns? Now, he has his answer: not one but three vaccines, two with efficacy rates of 95 per cent.
Long ago and far away, small children used to arm-wrestle their siblings for the privilege of opening a door in a cardboard Advent calendar. It was reward enough to find a picture of an angel or an awestruck donkey. How quaint that now seems. Because then Cadbury saw an opportunity and launched an alternative calendar, with little chocolate inducements. I mean, which would you choose, the donkey or a chocolate button? It was a no-brainer.
I am on the record as being, if not a convicted seasonal denier, at least insufficiently Christmassy. Last year I interviewed Noel Gallagher for the Christmas cover of a magazine and we bonded over our mutual dread of what our American friends call, dispiritingly, holidays.
‘Christmas Day’s the longest day, longer than D-Day — and more stressful,’ he moaned. ‘You’re sitting there exhausted, thinking, “And it’s only 11 o’clock”.
Never mind the regal and political tussles depicted in The Crown; the real action comes with the closing credits. This is the kind of list of job titles of which many feature films can only dream. In addition to the seven art directors of various ranks, there is an art department co-ordinator, art department assistant, five set decorators, two set decoration runners and a set decoration prop driver. Not to mention a drapes master, drapes master assistant, one florist and two home economists.
I love the labour movement. I love its history, its traditions, its brass bands and banners. I love its rousing songs, anthems and festivals. I love its slogans and rallying cries, inspired, as they are, by an abiding faith in the collective spirit and the seductive vision of the New Jerusalem.
For all that tribalism is given a bad name these days — sometimes with good reason — I feel tribal about my attachment to the labour movement.
We have a vaccine. In fact, we have three — and more are on the way. While we still need to scrutinise the full data from the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca trials, the initial reports are stunning: vaccines that in some cases exceed 90 per cent effectiveness, and might be ready within weeks.
Previous surveys showed a big appetite for the vaccine, but more recent ones are concerning. According to YouGov, only 67 per cent of British people say they’d be ‘likely’ to get the Pfizer virus, with 21 per cent saying they’d be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ unlikely to.
Across Europe, hospitals have been filling up again with the second wave of coronavirus. France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands have all been hit, as has the Midwest of the United States. In England we’ve gone from fewer than 500 Covid-positive patients in hospital at the start of September to nearly 15,000 now. Each morning, we anxiously scrutinise the overnight figures. Thankfully, in the past week Covid inpatient numbers have begun to plateau — although they’ve still been rising in parts of the Midlands, London and Kent.
At the risk of sounding like Sid James in some late period Carry On, I currently have two birds on the go. One in the garden, one at the allotment, both real beauties — both robins.
I’m smitten and I suspect I’m not alone. With much of the nation either working from home or on actual gardening leave, robins have become more familiar than ever.
Most species of garden birds are horribly in decline (around 60 per cent of house sparrows, for instance, have been lost since the mid-1970s), but the robin has stubbornly stuck around in great numbers.