Think of this as an end-of-days advent calendar, or a childish attempt to make the time pass quicker.
Don’t expect chocolates or comforting scenes of festive joy. Instead, this daily penance will provide a dismal peek through the boarded-up windows of the now burned-out building that is Number 2020, Main Street, Anywhere, Planet Earth.
So join me here each morning to count down the days until the end of the second lockdown in England, on Wednesday 2 December. Or counting in the days before the start of the third lockdown.
Ho! ho! oh.
Wait! What’s this? Behind our first window lies a fine example of Crappus Giganticus, or Common Flytipped Waste, as it is better known.
Once rare, this festive plant is now a familiar sight in hedgerows each winter, its proliferation down to growing uncertainty about whether a trip to the civic amenity centre is an essential journey, or not.
While the saplings take the form of a discarded sofa, the fluorescent bulbs and bright red plastic in this fine example indicate that this is a mature specimen.
Any advent calendar worth its myrrh deploys a mythical star early on in the game. So the second day of this calendar also features a star that appeared in the East.
Actually, there are five stars, and they are found on the flag of the People’s Republic of China. The place where SARS-CoV-2 first emerged, and where only 4,740 deaths have been reported to date. For comparison purposes, there have been 47,832 in the UK.
Many doubt China’s numbers, so let’s choose another star instead. How about the one on the flag of its more open neighbour, Taiwan?
A crowded island like the UK, Taiwan hasn’t reported a case of COVID-19 infection in over 200 days because it was prepared to handle infectious diseases, had an effective track and trace system in place and drew on inspirational leadership.
There’s a joke here about wise men but I’m saving it for later. It might raise the mood around day 127.
The wise men tracked the Star of Wonder they spied in the east on camels. These so-called ships of the desert helped them travel vast distances with their gifts.
Many years later, ships are still drawn to the star of cheap manufacturing in the East, but their newer equivalents now collect their quarry from anonymous warehouses in Northampton and then cross deserted motorways to bring Amazon’s finest to our doorsteps.
But in Ye Lockedown Engerlande, these camels no longer have legs, nor toes that merit street dictionary definitions.
No, they are glorious white vans that modern-day hi-viz Templar Knights called Pavel or Ylber steer through empty streets, nourished only by Monster Energy drink, a Samsung Galaxy with a cracked screen, and massive reserves of Couldn’t Give a Fuck.
I like to think the romance of those epic desert crossings remains, however, in the names that these sturdy people give their steeds: Transit. Sprinter. Boxer. Crafter. PARTNER.
Next time you see one, say Howdy.
I can’t think of a Christmas stocking without remembering the orange that would always lodge itself in the heel. It’s a reminder of the homespun origins of Christmas before it was ruined by that ghastly John Lewis TV ad and the whole concept of gift cards.
As an aside I remember one stocking many years ago which included the shiniest red Macintosh apples from Canada, alongside the grey mid-seventies British “chocolate”. Their exotic presence and heady fragrance captured Christmas better than anything else.
Okay, so I’m comparing oranges to apples, there, but let’s return to the particular orange above, which lies behind the window on day four of our calendar.
It had planned to be an integral part of many stockings this Christmas, but this old fruit seems to have passed its sell-by date.
No amount of zesty boasts or orange dye will fool a child into peeling that diseased old nugget and drinking its foul juice. It may still be biding its time, hopeful of remaining the star attraction this winter. But it’s literally gone bad.
I suppose the fact that Trump’s loss at the polls has been met with commentators warning against triumphalism is pretty much par for the course for 2020.
Because if there’s one thing we have learned from this godawful year, it is that the course in question is not so much the manicured lawns of Agusta, but a dismal parking lot in Philadephia backing onto a porn shop and a crematorium.
“The smug triumphalism of morally superior liberals risks further alienating many millions of ordinary American voters”, one commentator wrote in The Times this morning, attracting thousands of comments from those who disagreed. Like me, these readers seemed to feel that it’s actually pretty easy to take a position that is morally superior to one espoused by a proto-fascist. Not inciting race hatred is a pretty good start.
Is the image behind today’s window triumphant? Maybe. But after all those vitriolic Caps Lock tweets and images of patch-bearded young men with AR15s ‘protecting’ polling stations, this was the result of my celebratory Google search of the ‘cutest thing on the internet.’ It’ll do.
Normal service will be resumed once I stop laughing.
That’s more like it. As you will no doubt have seen, Collins has announced its Word of the Year for 2020: ‘lockdown’.
The choice hardly comes as a surprise and is merely the latest in a string of Words of the Year that capture the increasingly chaotic world we live in. Like 2019’s ‘climate strike’; 2018’s ‘single-use’; 2017’s ‘fake news’ and, of course, 2016’s sadly unforgettable ‘Brexit’.
So, on the basis that Collins is ramping up the fear factor year on year, and 2020 seems to be an even crappier year than ever before, I fear the dictionary publisher may have been a little premature in announcing its choice with at least two months of the year remaining.
Who knows what else awaits us? Floods? An asteroid crashing into the Earth? The awakening of sharp-teethed aliens from their icy resting place under the polar cap? A friend recently joked about the possibility of 2020 finishing on a high with a plague of locusts. I laughed, but a once-redundant yet now fully operational survival gene deep inside me pulsed, and went to Defcon 2.
Not now, Collins. Your Word of the Year could still be ‘alien’.
Apparently, one of the most wanted presents this Christmas is a 1,000 piece Lego set of Baby Yoda, the computer-generated imagery (I refuse to call it a character), which pretty much owns the screen in the Star Wars offshoot, The Mandalorian.
But as of yesterday, there is another gift that I wager has toppled Baby Yoda off its coveted top slot. Yes, at this stage in the pandemic, a vaccine would make the perfect Christmas present for anyone. David Icke excepted.
Despite promising results, significant logical challenges exist around getting this vaccine under the tree this Christmas. It must be kept at -75 degrees centigrade and, once ready for use, will only survive in a fridge for five days.
That said, it’s better than a Lego set, which usually only survives two days before being pulled apart anyway, its constituent parts never to be seen again. Until that is, the fateful day when your foot finds one as you make a bleary-eyed descent downstairs at 6.00 am, and the world ends.
And while I would usually choose the short sharp prick of a vaccine over Lego foot, this year I’m even more certain this is the case.
Who doesn’t like a Bank Holiday? If you’re British, bank holidays are the perfect excuse for daytime drinking and a sodden barbecue in the garden. Or, in the unlikely event that it’s not pissing down, a reason for daytime drinking and a sodding barbecue on the beach.
So the Government’s announcement that an additional Bank Holiday will be held in June 2022 to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is to be welcomed, although I do have a few questions.
Namely: given we are currently on lockdown, it’s a tad insensitive, no? Or does the Government think we need positive news that badly? In which case, might I suggest its finest minds concentrate instead on the successful conclusion of Brexit negotiations? Or getting the much-promised ‘world-beating’ track and trace system fully operational?
Hell, at the moment I think we would settle for moonshots such as a visit to the pub, seeing more than one other human being, or being allowed back to work. Maybe we should try for those first?
And, without continuing too far down the apocalyptic path that this calendar has taken in just over a week, is it perhaps not a little presumptuous to plan anything for 2022? Are we sure we will get there? Asking for a friend.
As the days grow ever shorter and we head into darkest winter, it’s a good time to look back on the long, hot summer.
Remember when the sun shone all day, and one could take a leisurely trip up the A1M to Durham? Or spend a leisurely afternoon simply lying in a rose garden?
Me, May 2020: “Thank God for the weather, though. Imagine being locked down in winter!”
Me, November 2020: “111? I am growing gills… Yeah, I know. It has been wet… Can fish get COVID?”
Whatever your opinion about the merits of lockdown, it does give a man the opportunity to think outside the box.
I’m conscious this calendar has become a little grouchy over the last few days, mainly due to the political nonsense and the apocalyptic tone. Here’s a nice pic of the Snack of Kings, instead.
The second lockdown has seen non-essential shops close at the most important time of year when shoppers are on the lookout for Christmas gifts.
Yet the notion of essential and non-essential goods is pretty much meaningless if I tell you that a quick search today revealed that you can buy Frankincense and Myrrh on Amazon. Myrrh, in particular, isn't cheap: in concentrated oil form, it costs £2,000 a litre. But one click and it could be yours, with next day delivery thrown in.
You can’t buy a book from a high street book shop or order a pint at a bar, but Amazon will sell you Myrrh. So, if you’re a locked-down Magus lost for inspiration, remember that Jeff has all your Adoration needs covered.
Been in a car crash of a year?¹ Not your fault?² You may qualify for compensation!³ Call our experienced personal injury lawyers⁴ and find out how you could claim thousands of pounds!⁵
¹ Like much of the human race
² Blame the bats. And ineffectual Government.
³ 14 days’ self-isolation.
⁴ Furloughed bar staff, hotel receptionists and out of work actors.
⁵ Claim you can provide the Government with a few thousand facemasks for £200 million through a Uni mate who went to a 24-hour tailor in Hong Kong when pissed on a stag do and will try and remember how to find it again.
The above painting by Walter Sickert is called “ennui”. And, despite it being from another century — indeed around the time of the Spanish Flu — I feel it captures the overwhelming numbness that our digital lockdown seems to have provoked.
During a call today my brother suggested ennui might be behind the nagging sense of unease that most, if not all of us, feel at the moment. I think he’s right.
It’s quite a nice, decadent word for what is essentially an uneasy boredom, but it’s far more romantic. Which may be of some help.
Nothing, Siri. You cannot help me. Crawl back into the shadows of your glassy screen cave and take the snideness that your millennial Californian coders mistake for humour with you.
I don’t need the number of a taqueria in Los Angeles. I don’t need you to recommend music to listen to. I can look out of the window to check the weather outside or, better still, take a guess (hmm.., CRAP?)
And when I want you to tell me a joke it will be because I need a counterpoint to the strained moans of my own lingering death.
At that point, your interruption will be welcomed. Deal?
It may not feel a lot like Christmas, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Festive supermarket ads are running on TV, perhaps even more tawdry and mawkish than usual. Every newspaper features conjecture about whether households will mix at Christmas. Everyone’s fat and unhappy already.
Want more signs? Well, it’s nearly Black Friday, that ancient mid-winter festival with, er, one-click druidic origins, where Amazon generates so much cash in one day that the excess is used to fuel the rockets it sends into space to fulfil a frankly teenage, tissue-concluding fantasy of penetrating distant galaxies.
And there’s this: literally, the holly and the ivy, which I stumbled on today during a walk, in its genuine Prime. I think it's far more festive.
Don’t fence me in.
The VIX, or Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, is an indicator of how wobbly, er, stocks are on the S&P 500. In times of uncertainty, it goes up. When it’s calm, it goes down. Although it’s hard to remember a time since its launch in 1990 when calm might have been the norm for planet Earth.
But its creators could never have imagined a year like 2020, which has provided entirely new highs for this shithitsfanometer, and it wouldn’t take dinner with Rishi to figure out why.
That spike in March? My first efforts at baking bread using £20 eBay yeast in a Le Creuset. The gradual decline? My realisation that I cannot bake, but that Ocado still has loads of sourdough.
The trough in June was my adoption of online yoga, while the subsequent rise was my growing frustration with YouTube ads for Voltarol.
I’m still up, year on year. My corresponding alcohol consumption chart is at an all-time high but it has blunted some of the peaks from the mountainous region that is winter 2020. Mustn’t grumble.
The death of travel writer Jan Morris last week seems particularly sad, as it occurred in the middle of a lockdown that mocks the very large part of her life spent travelling the globe.
That said, she spent much of her recent years in a Welsh village, and this picture of her in a much-loved, boy-racer Honda Civic R is one of my favourites.
Perhaps most famous for her report on the conquest of Everest for The Times, my favourite comment of hers relates to a diary entry in which she admitted to starting Gabriel Garciá Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, quite “late in the day”, at the age of 90.
“The New York Times, I see, says it should be required reading for the whole human race. I shall soon know whether all of it is going to be required reading for me.”
Rachel Roddy’s white beans with tomato and sage. Parmesan. Festive bowl. Whoopee. 😶
There are many things the UK Government has got wrong about the pandemic. To add to an ever-growing list is the use of the word ‘tier’ to describe the restrictions placed on those who live in at-risk areas.
‘Tiers’ are levels of privilege, not suffering. The British Airways Executive Club (current active members: 12 frequent flyers and a sniffer dog), famously offers blue, bronze, silver and gold tiers. And some sort of unicorn-horn level for your global nomads.
Putting aside the fact that progression through the tiers, from low to high, offered benefits – not restrictions – I propose we adopt a similar coloured tiered system for lockdown.
It plays to the English obsession for superiority and makes more sense than a system where tier one is literally loving it, yet tier three is under lock and key.
Oh. Wait. We are all at Blue level. On so many levels.
I was wondering where the usual wanging-on would come from today until I just read that the UK Government had attempted to have AstraZeneca and Oxford University print a union jack on its eagerly anticipated vaccine.
Apparently, the calls came from the Government’s newly created “Union Unit”, which has been created to fight Scottish Independence, and so undo years of its own Westminster meddling that has only served to deliver the greater possibility of a constitutional break.
It’s just the sort of bluster one would expect from a populist government that has mishandled a crisis due to incompetence, yet believes it can drive a country off the white cliffs of Dover with a 52/48 advisory mandate.
Putting a Union Jack on the vaccine is a massive waste of red, white and blue paint. From what I see on social media, the cross-section between rabid, Union Jack-waving Leavers and the refusenik freaks who believe that vaccination is a form of mind control, is a large one on that hellish gammon pie chart.
No, if the Government wants to get enough people vaccinated that COVID-19 disappears, it needs to worry about the significant numbers of muppets who say they won’t take it. Maybe put a picture of Piers Corbyn, David Icke or Nigel Farage on the vaccines instead. The sceptics might accept one of those pricks.
I wrote about why covid misinformation makes social media literally bad for our health. And why regulators are finally doing something about it.
Strange how the Government is loathed to put ‘unnecessary’ labels on things such as junk food but is keen to ensure we know the difference between drama and documentary.
So for the benefit of Oliver Dowden, our label-loving Culture Secretary, I say ‘Rule Britannia!’ and respectfully point out that:
- The image on the left is art.
- The image in the right is not art.
I trust that makes everything clear.
As we reach the end of this calendar our story turns to the manger that offered respite to the tired family as there was no room at the inn.*
* Because arbitrary rules introduced to compensate for a wholesale lack of national preparedness and subsequent ineptitude over implementing an effective track and trace system had left all the inns economically unviable.
Goodbye lockdown two, hello tier two restrictions. Hope your time Home Alone has been similarly hair-raising. Can’t wait for Christmas.