Neil Oliver: Our new Christmas tradition? A great big dollop of fear and misery from Government grinches

I have no plans to make any forms of restrictions part of my Christmas Yet To Come, far less my Christmas Present.

Published Last updated

Christmas is all about tradition. Part of what makes it a reassuring time, a comforting and restorative time, is how so much is familiar every year. A lot of it is about little things – the same decorations in the same place on the tree, on the mantlepiece, in the garden. The same family rituals performed at the same time, year after year. The same favourite foods. The same old songs playing in the shops. So here it is, Merry Christmas … and all that.

Now it looks as though we’ve been gifted a new Christmas tradition – one we can all enjoy for ever more – and it’s a great big dollop of fear and misery from the Grinches of our government and their soul-sucking scientists.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the voices of the not too distant future:“Can we start the Circuit Breaker Lockdown tonight, Daddy?”

“No, Tiny Tim – you know we can’t just start our own Circuit Breaker – that wouldn’t be right, or Christmassy, now, would it? We all have to lockdown at exactly the same time, otherwise the economy might recover, and we can’t have that! The Dear Leaders went to a lot of trouble to crash the economy and do away with The Pound. Imagine if we had to give up our Universal Basic Income and go back to working for a living!!”

“But when then, Daddy? – I want to lock the front door and hide the key until Spring, like we always do. ‘T’was the night before Christmas and all through the country, not a creature was stirring because of Covid.”

“Well, you’ll just have to wait until that twinkly little elf, Professor Whitty sends his annual message down the chimney, wishing us all a Happy New Booster and warning us to stay away from granny, in case we kill her.”

“But Granny died years ago, Daddy – from the pancreatic cancer no one knew she had until it was much too late to do anything about it. You remember, Daddy – the same year Grandad died alone in the care home because no one was allowed to visit him?”

“Now, now, Tiny Tim – that’s not the point. It’s not about making sense, it’s about making it up as you go along, like Jolly Old Professor Ferguson and his Merry Modelling. You know better than to talk about undiagnosed cancer, or indeed any other erstwhile dangerous ailments like heart attack and stroke. Now, what do we sing?”

“Silence, now. Silence, now. All is closed. All is Covid.”

“God, Bless you, Tiny Tim – now let’s sit by the fire with the rest of the family and do our lateral flow tests.”

“God Help Us, Everyone,” said Tiny Tim, although the words were quite muffled from behind his three masks.

It’s two Christmases in a row now. I think of Christmas 2020 as The Ghost of Christmas Past. We were younger then, and innocent by comparison. Tears were shed. By then we had already forgotten all about Three Weeks to Flatten the Curve. As the nights drew in that year, we could still faintly remembering gathering on our doorsteps to rattle our pots and pans – a bit like Jingle Bells, but tinny and flat. Remember, Ho, Ho, Ho, how we used to Clap for Carers! Soon it will be time to sack lots of those naughty little helpers for not taking their experimental medicine.

“What did Santa bring you, this year, Nurse with 25 years of experience and half a lifetime spent looking after others?”

“Why, my P45 and a look of disgust from my manager as she showed me the door.”

How Christmassy.

Little did we know it then – naive souls that we were, in Christmas Past – but in just a few weeks, just into the New Year of 2021, it would be all about 15 million jabs to freedom! Ah, how we laugh about that silly old notion now.

Now it’s the end of the year and the Spirit of Christmas Present is among us and already it feels like we were never without the traditions we learned just this time last year.

Among my new favourites are the Not So Merry Masks – sure to hide the smile on every child’s little shining face. How exciting to see the return of the One Way Systems in shops – almost like a conga line, but socially distanced obviously. And what about Ireland going all out and opting for an 8pm curfew! Talk about the Luck of the Irish … talk about Silent Night – one Silent Night after another, I think you’ll find.

And in among it all, instead of Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody, or maybe a bit of Wham! or Sir Cliff Richard – we get to listen to The Usual Suspects of Downing Street – worst boy band ever but a guaranteed Christmas Number One – droning on and on about how much danger we’re all in, cases rising, Save Our NHS, how we must act now to … whatever. Instead of Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s just Blah, Blah, Blah.

Let’s update the Nativity scene while we’re at it, so that the Three Wise Men bring gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Omicron.

Looking ahead now, to the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come, and what do I see? Well, more of the same and a few new twists.

Noddy Holder’s raucous opening line can soon be,

“It’s CO-VID!”

Covid is here to stay, of course, joining the rest of the coronaviruses that have previously gifted us other Christmas traditions like the Common Cold, and so on, but we don’t mention harmless viruses at this time of year. That said, I’m telling you now that Covid is definitely for life, not just for Christmas.

I’ve wondered how the boosters will be delivered in future. Maybe the National Health Service will work a bit like the Wine of the Month Club – dispatching a new one to the doorsteps every four weeks. Or perhaps every home will be sent an All Year Round Advent Calendar – with a brand new booster behind every door. Frankly, the possibilities are limited only by Our Dear Leader’s imagination.

So far, so sarcastic – but increasingly I can’t help myself. I am also, and let me be clear, as we say, undefeated by it all. Underneath it all, like the slumbering bulbs of snowdrops and crocuses waiting out the cold and ready to burst forth when the time is right, is the certainty that all of this must end – will end – and that it will end at precisely the moment enough of us simply say, “It’s over.”

A few weeks ago, I saw an excellent meme on social media. It had Scrooge, as played by Alastair Sim, in the classic version of A Christmas Carol, leaning out of his window on Christmas morning and shouting to a passing child, “You, boy! What variant is this?”

I laughed at how perfectly it summed up the ridiculousness of the point at which we have arrived on account of Sage, and Independent Sage, and Professor Neil Ferguson, and Chris Whitty, and whatshisname Van Tam, and Boris Johnson and the rest of what I consider to be the worst, the absolute worst troupe of carol singers ever.

But underneath the laughter, there is truth. A Christmas Carol is a story about redemption and a new beginning. It is about a man who has lost his way, who has forgotten about all that really matters on account of his headlong pursuit of money. Lucky for him – in spite of all his mistakes, all the hurt he has turned a blind eye too, a deaf ear, he has one last chance at a fresh start. The moment that seems to affect him as much any is when the Spirit of Christmas Present reveals, hidden within his cloak, the desperate wraith-like children that are Ignorance and Want. Like too many other wealthy men, he has overlooked Ignorance and Want, but as the spirit tells him, They are always with us. What other broken figures might be standing alongside those two in the years ahead? Fear? Desperation? Anger? Corruption? Hopelessness? Too many to count.

After all three spirits have come and gone, one after the other, Scrooge realises his folly and, all in an instant, changes his ways. Rather than looking back and dwelling any longer on past mistakes, he sets out with all possible vigour and optimism to make sure that, however long he has left in this life, he will enjoy it to the full. Better yet, he will be made happy by giving every ounce of effort to making others happy.

I say it is time our leaders and their advisors learned from their mistakes of the past – because their mistakes have been as numerous as snowflakes. Traditions last because they are good and do us good. I have no plans to make lockdowns, masks or any other forms of restrictions part of my Christmas Yet To Come, far less my Christmas Present.

Me and mine will stay faithful to the old traditions – and we will be happy. Before Christmas there is Advent. Advent means the arrival – the anticipated arrival – of salvation. There is coming, and right soon, a day when all of this trouble is behind us, and we … we are still here.