Colin Brazier: Freedom Day has put more bums on seats in pubs, and possibly on pews in churches. But we are still considerably below pre-Covid levels.
First, we remember how we did things before covid. Second, we get off our backsides and start doing them again.
What are the things you will no longer do, perhaps NEVER do again, because of covid?
Old habits and customs that you took for granted as part of your weekly routine. The practices you abandoned in the first flush of lockdown 16 months ago, with every intention of resuming when it was all over?
I ask the question, or rather I repeat a question posed yesterday to me. An elderly friend had taken me to church – a Catholic Mass on the island of Jersey – and the priest was obviously a bit rattled.
The congregation wasn’t tiny, 50 worshippers maybe. But the pews were maybe only half as full as they were pre-covid. “Will you tell your friends,” said the priest “that it’s okay to come here again”.
You don’t need to be a God Botherer like me to see what’s happening. It’s not just places of worship. It’s pubs, restaurants, gyms, cinemas. All the venues where we once chose to physically spend time in pursuit of an activity, but which - we’ve discovered - can be enjoyed, after a fashion, at home. And without expending nearly as much time or money or effort.
Many of us have discovered that, for instance, we can enjoy a drink at home, a newly-released film at home, a haircut at home, a work-out on the treadmill at home. We are creatures of habit. And the habit, for some of us, of going SOMEWHERE to do SOMETHING has been broken.
What impact will our absences have? It will obviously accelerate a shift online. Your local gym’s loss is Joe Wickes’s gain. Covid hasn’t abolished a need, it’s just shifted the point of delivery. Five million people tuned in when Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, led an online service from his kitchen table last year.
The Church of England said it was the largest single “congregation” in its history.Which is a nice line in an Anglican press release, but it isn’t going to stop hundreds of churches from effectively closing in coming years. They might have closed anyway, but covid will make that process more of an inevitability. The same goes for hundreds of pubs and restaurants. And even foreign hotels.
How many Britons, having discovered they really quite like holidaying on the West Coast of Scotland, or indeed Jersey, will find that a new habit of staycationing has supplanted the old habit of getting-up early to beat the Germans to the best sun-loungers.I draw a distinction between the things we need and the things we like.
I’m talking here about our free-time, our discretionary consumption. And these are habits we can resume, punctuation marks in our weekly or monthly or annual calendars that we can restore. Going to the football once a fortnight, to the mosque once a week, to Benidorm once a year. Over these habits we have choice.
Not to be confused with the habits that are being changed FOR US – to use that most deadly of phrases “due to covid”.
The GPs appointments that infuriate patients by going online. The banks and bricks and mortar shops that have gone digital, in spite of the old folk who need them. The offices some of us would like to work from and meet friends in, but which are employer insists are now only for a couple of days a week.
Freedom Day has put more bums on seats in pubs, and possibly on pews in churches. But we are still considerably below pre-Covid levels.
There are some physical buildings in our communities, which we have no real power over. If your bank wants to use covid as an excuse to save money and close your high-street branch, well, you’ll just have to whistle. But there are other cherished institutions which we can save. It just takes an effort of will. Or rather.
First, we remember how we did things before covid. Second, we get off our backsides and start doing them again. That’s tonight’s Viewpoint.