VILLAGE life in one of the loveliest counties of England is pretty good. During the lockdowns, the surroundings were a gift, but still a green-gilded cage. Many of its human inhabitants frighten the life out of me. Allow me to introduce you to the tip of the iceberg.
Joyce and Ken, childless, retired and very fat, live comfortably and peacefully in a pretty cottage. They’ve worked hard, seen the world and enjoyed life to the full. Passing the time of day one sunny morning in April last year, I comment that lockdown is a tragedy for the young.
‘It seems so hard that they should have to give up their lives,’ I say.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ says Ken, puffing as he staggers towards his garden gate. ‘Children are resilient. It’s the only way we can stay safe.’
I fail to bite my tongue.
Angela, sprightly in her late seventies, enjoys excellent health. She and her husband Gordon sensibly downsized into a small, manageable house that they built a few years ago. They sold their family home exceedingly well to Colin and Pam.
Kindly Colin gets stuck into village life. He likes to mention the Victorian pile in which he and Pam raised their children. He refers to the West Midlands public school they attended. ‘Facilities second to none,’ he says with awe.
I comment that it is a shame the children who should be enjoying those lovely playing fields and art studios now are all in solitary. Pam shrugs happily. ‘Can’t complain about this weather though, can we?’
Angela’s garden is manicured to perfection, but she worries about it. Panic-stricken, she flags me down in the road as I set off to queue outside the supermarket, to ask for my advice on home composting. Smugly, she tells me she’s booked weekly Waitrose deliveries for the next month. Got to stay safe.
Nigel and Elaine have more or less finished converting one of the village pubs into their retirement cottage. It looks a picture. Nigel worked in public health (lovely pension). He rocks on his heels, head on side, and smiles patronisingly when I say how sad I feel for children locked away from their friends.
‘At least we’re keeping case numbers down,’ he says.
Keith and Libby appear on the footpath that runs beside our garden. It’s a hot day, I offer cold drinks. They shudder. Keith is wearing thick gardening gloves, so that he can open gates ‘safely’.
Libby tells me with an indulgent chuckle me how upset their two-year-old granddaughter had been at the weekend when they wouldn’t let her approach them at the socially-distanced picnic they’d organised. ‘She couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t hug her!’
Hey-ho. Got to stay safe.
Christmas brings a visit from portly Phil in his top-of-the-range Volvo. He won’t come in. I stand a respectful distance from the open car window as he explains arrangements for an outdoor church service. ‘Don’t worry,’ he says ‘It’ll be quite safe’
I notice his vast girth and ruddy complexion as he congratulates the village on having kept the plague out. He checks nervously that I haven’t got family coming home for the festivities.
‘Will you be painting crosses on doors?’ I ask. Not sure how to react, he roars off in a cloud of diesel fumes.
Remembrance Sunday 2021 brings another outdoor service. Karen offers (strongly) hand sanitiser at the gate. She assures me that the order of service sheets have been untouched for at least a week. They’ll be quite safe, she promises comfortingly. We gather in the wet grass at the war memorial and remember those who died for our freedom. They were not safe.
After the service I congratulate Gordon, now well into his eighties, on being all-clear after a harrowing course of chemotherapy. He thinks he and Angela might have a weekend away with the family, though he tuts disgustedly at his daughter’s refusal to allow her 12-year-old son to take the vaccination.
‘I don’t blame her,’ I say. ‘We should never expect children to risk injury in order to protect us.’ He scoffs.
Here we are in December 2021. The vaccine wars are in full swing. I listen to a political exchange on the radio as I prepare for an early morning dog walk.
Billy Bunterkins, the young, Puritan lefty, says with righteous anger that he thinks the unvaccinated are selfish and dangerous. He thinks mandatory vaccination might be a step too far, but that there should be ‘consequences’ for the unvaccinated.
Save us. I venture out, and encounter Anne and Margaret striding up the lane. Inevitably, we discuss the state of the nation.
Anne, a sprightly grandmother, would like to see vaccine refuseniks charged directly for all health care from now on. Margaret would like to see them refused treatment full stop. No nonsense here.
‘But how else can we keep safe?’ asks Margaret.
I have reason to visit Ken and Joyce the morning after the vaccine passport vote in the House of Commons. I’d sent a collective message of thanks to the rebels, blessed be they. Ken, puce and fatter than ever, laughs. He knows I have strong feelings about living in a free society.
‘How about a Christmas drink?’ asks Joyce. This time, I shudder.
During the last fortnight, we have heard details of two of the most terrible child murders in recent years. Tiny, defenceless children locked away from the world with psychopaths. Unseen and unheard. At least we stayed safe.