Christmas – in spite of Covid (and our politicians)

Christmas – in spite of Covid (and our politicians)

by Frankie Hutcheson
article from Monday 21, December, 2020

SINCE COVID struck, we have become accustomed to a landscape of flattened affect. There have been waves of fear, glimmers of hope, myriad changes in advice and guidance and regulations, but the state of emergency has never gone away; it has just become normalised although nothing is normal anymore.  

On Friday morning, I took my son and daughter Christmas shopping in Edinburgh. There was no need to queue in the shops; even Primark was virtually deserted. You wouldn’t know it was Christmas. Princes Street Gardens was empty, the merry-go-rounds, ice rink and Glühwein stalls of the Christmas Market no more than a nostalgic memory, like something recalled from a film. I had a shock watching a Netflix series the other night that showed people meeting and making merry in a New York bar: did we really used to do that? 

We stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant, where the track and trace form asked for a home postcode. Without thinking I filled it in, then crossed it out and replaced it with an Edinburgh postcode, lest the restaurant refuse to serve us because we’d travelled from outside the city. In the event the waitress never even looked at the form. My children were anxious as they had been when we crossed the Forth in case the police stopped us. Still, the meal was good, the shopping successful and it was a rare day out for the three of us together.  

Johnson’s and Sturgeon’s latest pronouncements have strengthened lockdown, reversed the Christmas relaxation, shut non-essential retail and delayed the return of schools in January. Few thought they would dare to cancel Christmas and ramp up the fear-mongering in this way. The announcements were left late enough to prevent any parliamentary scrutiny and debate, let alone sanction. Sturgeon took the opportunity to remind us of her past proscription of closing ‘the border’ – and, when police refused to set up roadblocks, pressured the Chief Constable to double border patrols. 

In Scotland, this is on the basis of seventeen cases where the new viral clade has been identified. On Friday fewer than 14 per cent of tests were "positive". Numbers both absolute and per cent positive are flat or declining over several weeks. Hospital and ITU bed occupancy is essentially static. There is no rising tide of infections, as John Swinney claimed a few days ago. 

Yesterday I was lucky enough to enjoy a rare moment of collective artistic celebration: not a make-the-best-of-it online effort, but the real thing on the wild and windy East Neuk coastline. Darren Peattie, a young entrepreneur in St Monans, staged a sound and light show focussed on its windmill, the last remaining one in Fife, which was used to pump seawater for salt panning in the eighteenth century. There were rumblings of discontent and a boycott within the toun in case the event was against Covid rules, but the show went ahead anyway, with scores of families collecting on the grassland below the windmill, and many more watching from further afield. It was a community event to celebrate the return of salt-panning to the Neuk by Peattie, and in particular, the delivery of salt-harvesting equipment to his new premises in the toun where he plans to re-establish this once thriving East Neuk industry. The show’s nuts and bolts were supplied and organised by a 17-year-old sound engineering student who during lockdown has started to run a business on the side. 

As we stood amid the swirling gusts, fierce waves at our backs, anthemic rock music with bagpipes played the tower became a psychedelic symbol of human grit and determination. It could have been kitschy, like the proliferation of Christmas lights in front of houses, more extreme than ever this year as if a quiet assertion against the joy-killing Covid doom and gloom – but it wasn’t. The scale of the illumination, the weather and the fact that people came and stood there, despite the virus, despite the hail, despite the sheer madness of it, imbued the event with meaning.

Never has getting soaked and frozen felt so good.   


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