AFTER a year which has been undoubtedly the worst of my life, it seems as if the country is now at a fork in the road. Either we move on positively, throwing off the Covid insanity and learning to live with it (like influenza) or, perhaps much more likely given the track record of this Government, drift towards yet another destructive cycle of lockdowns, school closures, economic devastation, misery and prolonged fear.
The latter option is truly a deeply depressing scenario. Countless folk of all ages, but especially children and young people, would certainly be forgiven for embracing despair, depression and mental illness. A recent article in the Guardian cited Dr Adrian James, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who said a combination of the virus, its social consequences and the economic fallout were having a profound effect on mental health. As many as 10million (!) are thought to need new or additional mental health support, including 1.5million children. Which is hardly surprising but still sobering. Surely online interactions can serve only as a complement to the real thing. Without real social contact with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers, life may not feel worth living. Depression beckons.
This is understandable and, worst of all, logical. I have been sorely tempted to tread this miserable path myself. Except . . .
I do not really understand the fundamental concept of depression. Many highly intelligent people make convincing claims that it can be diagnosed as a genuine clinical condition requiring appropriate interventions and pharmaceuticals but I am not so sure. As so often, I may well be wrong but given my innate British obstinacy I simply refuse to let any aspect of depression cloud my life. I have been to Africa and know the truth of all the simple privileges and advantages that I enjoy in the UK every single day, and I really appreciate them. Most people living in western democratic nations have similar benefits but there are literally billions of people around the world much worse off than me, and they just get on with it as best they can. Often with a smile. I guess it is hard to maintain this same positive perspective when the closest you get to those countless souls suffering hard lives in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East is a few distressing images on TV. Whereupon you can ‘tut tut’, shake your head and turn away to your hot dinner. And forget all about it.
However this past year has sorely tested my resilience, almost to breaking point. I feel that as a nation we have not only dishonoured our glorious ancestors and war dead by a grotesque over-reaction to the supposed ‘crisis’, but worse, we have betrayed our children by sacrificing their futures on a mountain of debt and lost opportunities.
Possibly the most revolting aspect is the vast number of smug people who seem to be wearing a T-shirt that reads ‘I’m all right, Jack’. There is so much toxic divisiveness between the Covid ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, differentiated on class lines that last existed before World War II. Low-paid private sector workers have been crucified, whilst many middle-class professionals, especially those in the public sector, have had a very comfortable year indeed, as have the majority of retirees.
The worst of this divisiveness has been inflicted on the nation’s children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is truly unforgivable. In the words of Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman, there is no substitute for classroom learning. Which is a polite way of saying that state schools and their pupils are basically unable to deliver/engage in any kind of effective online learning. The more vulnerable the children, the more they suffer emotionally and in terms of learning, and the more their futures are permanently blighted. Genuine grounds for long-term depression.
Yet my British stubbornness dictates that I find hope in the face of such ugly policies. I cling to visions of stoical farmers doing what they have always have done whatever the weather, truck drivers pounding down the miles, refuse collectors going about their business, posties going door to door, shop workers getting up early to start their 7am shift, pretty much anyone who goes out to work or takes care of children. Heroes, every last one of you.
Plus of course the hope of a vaccine that is supposedly a game-changer. Inoculate the vulnerable and remove any justification for the further curtailment of our basic freedoms.
But how can we survive and prosper in the immediate future with incessant repression from the Government obediently following orders from their masters in Sage? Egged on enthusiastically by the legions of Covid ‘haves’, media hacks and lockdown zealots unwilling to acknowledge any impact on others. No shops, no pubs, no cafes, no gyms, no restaurants, no concerts, no clubs, no cinemas, no sports. Many never to return.
And here is the kicker. If you agree with my sentiments to some extent, you are in a significant minority. Which is seriously, and arguably, terminally depressing.
But what exactly can you do? That’s a damned good question. Start by chucking your mask in the bin and never wearing it again. Write to your MP in no uncertain terms – very regularly. Third, ignore the diktats. The police cannot arrest us all.
And believe, like me, that when a regime is corrupt and repressive like the original eastern European communist regimes, sooner or later the people win. But what is truly depressing to contemplate is having to live in the vile regime entrenched in North Korea. Thank God we are not there (yet) and with some British phlegm perhaps we never will be.