I started this piece on Sunday 13 December 2020, exactly a year to the day since I woke up to the sickening news that the Conservative party, led by Clown Johnson, had won the General Election in December 2019 with a sizeable majority.
It almost matched the bouts of nausea I felt in 2016 – the first when I woke up to learn the referendum result, and the second when Trump won the US Presidential election.
And a year on from Clown Johnson’s victory, I still felt very queasy.
13 December 2020 was supposed to be the deadline by which the Brexit decision – deal or no deal – would be made; 72 hours after that uncomfortable and fruitless dash to Brussels for dinner with a woman whose self-respect and integrity made Clown Johnson’s usual tactics futile.
It was a well-aimed gesture. Clown Johnson may have little grasp of statistics, biology or any other currently useful scientific knowledge, but he will (surely?) have understood the reference to turbot in Juvenale’s Satire 4, that classical critique from the C2 CE of corrupt Roman power.
And even as I wrote on that ‘deadline’ Sunday – we learned that the talks will continue, perhaps indefinitely, as no deadline was offered this time. Meanwhile the foreign secretary was playing at the Channel boating lake, remotely-controlling four Navy vessels in a pathetic attempt to ? well, what? intimidate the French fishing fleet?
(Cue here for a short clip of the opening cartoon of Dad’s Army with models manoeuvring in the Channel and in Northern France… ‘who do you think you are kidding Mister Johnson?’)
How could this have been happening ? Isn’t most of the fish netted or deep trawled by British fishing fleets sold to Europe anyway?
Woe, woe and thrice woe…!
Sounds biblical perhaps? Or Shakespearean ? No … those of us old enough to have voted in the 1970s to continue in Europe will recognise the refrain from Senna, the soothsayer in Frankie Howard’s camp comedy Up Pompeii!
50 years on, a farce based loosely around the gaffs, deceits, betrayals and cheating of Roman ruling classes seems an appropriate medium to convey the mess that was 2020.
Frankie Howard – as Lurcio – attempted to manage the affairs (in every sense) of Ludicrous Sextus (Boris?) and his household of Ammonia, Nausius, Erotica, and Plautus.
This might have become the 2020 Christmas Party game: casting these roles from our present rulers. Plenty of material for a long run of episodes. So let’s make a start on our miniseries:
Woe, woe and thrice woe…! A 2020 retrospective from Westminster studios
Episode 1: setting the scene: bring on the clowns...
After a glum Christmas and the New Year 2020 many shared Graham Norton’s view that the ‘world is going to hell in a handcart’ with a growing fear that this ugly wave of crude populism might well perpetuate the presidency of that other – transatlantic – blond clown.
(An aside: why have there not been more jokes in this dreadful year about ‘dumb blondes’ ? It used to be applied stereotypically to women – so why not literally to these two clowns?)
Episode 2: timing is everything – on the stage, in politics, in ski resorts…..
31 January 2020 saw a dumb Big Ben (there’s happenstance at work!) and a dumber PM mumbling a short speech before shuffling off to a Brexiteers Party.
On the same day that we officially left Europe one unsuspecting doctor made his way back to Brighton (via alpine ski-slopes) from a conference in Singapore to be confirmed as the UK’s first known covid sufferer, and indeed, the first super-spreader in the UK, infecting 13 others en route home.
As luck would have it, David and I flew back from Turin airport (with dozens of skiis in the hold) on Saturday 1 February after spending a week in Piemonte. Phew! That was close!!
Episode 3: before we forget....
Storms Chiara and Dennis? And the downing of an airliner at Tehran?? And a number of strange reports of unpleasant coughs, fevers and flu-like symptoms…
Early February had plenty of home-grown problems – unrelenting rain, violent winds, failed flood defences and catastrophic breeches across the river banks of the north of England. The Red Wall may have given way to a Blue one, but neither appeared to keep water out, despite the loudly declared aim to ‘level up’. (Weak point, shout louder..)
And abroad? Well there was general panic about some foreign pestilence which, let’s face it, won’t really bother us… and a little matter of US-Iranian hostilities and the several hundred of Iranian meritocracy dead from ‘friendly fire’.
Clown Johnson was terribly busy anyway appointing half-wits and yes-people to the cabinet. Gavin Williamson must get the prize for being the most stupid person ever to be over-promoted. First Foreign Secretary (silly Russians) – and now in charge of Education, just so he can put his critics right and show us all how smart he really is, especially with algorithms….
Episode 4: being ill is only for sissies…
‘Yes – I know everywhere else in the world is getting very concerned about this new kind of flu… but we mustn’t over-react. Yes, there are people who appear to be ill with coronavirus; Yes, I know – because I’ve been shaking hands with them..’ Leading by example, hey…
12 March: Testing? WHO says mass testing is a good idea? No.. we certainly not doing that! Far too many people to track down! Waste of time…
My italian teacher, whose family live in Milan, immediately shifted our lessons to Zoom. She knew firsthand how disastrous covid is. Stay at home ! she repeated again and again. People did. Coffins in their hundreds lay in sad rows inside solemn Bergamo Cathedral.
Trains, offices, shops emptied; numbers of the very ill and dying rose ominously. Choirs were cancelled, and where people could work was conducted from home. Still no clarity from Clown Johnson who under pressure from the herd immunity lobby (aka the business lobby) resisted any limiting of freedoms, that shibboleth of Conservatism.
Then came – for the first time – Clown Johnson’s very own version of Dibley’s
‘No! no! no! no, no… no….. no…….. er… erm…. well perhaps… erm .. o alright – yes..’
That two week delay cost many lives and much public confidence. By the time spring arrived – 21 March – schools had already closed early, the ill or potentially infected were self-isolating, people were panic buying and lock down began. And furloughing for millions began. (Rishi Sunak for PM…?)
Why was toilet paper and hand sanitiser in such short supply? There was so much shit to shovel…
Episode 5 – you couldn’t write this script…. [Spoiler: Easter special : double-length episode]
While we were busy saving lives by protecting the NHS we were also basking in extraordinarily warm and continuously sunny weather – an enormous challenge to social-distancing. Clown Johnson resorted to a fiercer interpretation of lock down: stay at home! Clapping for the NHS every Thursday evening broke out, as did the scrabble for PPE (just what does it stand for??)
By Saturday 28 March 1,019 people with covid had died in hospital – not counting the hundreds of excess deaths in care homes. And just the day before, Clown Johnson had tested positive for covid and self-isolated.
By Monday he was ‘coughing and spluttering through conference calls’; survived April Fool’s Day, and clapped for carers (looking like death) on Thursday evening. Carrie Symonds, pregnant with Clown Johnson’s fifth (or is it sixth?) child, confirmed she too was ill.
And so is Matt Hancock ……So who is running the country? Did you say Dom? Which Dom??
The fever persisted; and after nine days of illness (while ‘leading from the front’) Clown Johnson was admitted to hospital and eventually found himself in intensive care on Monday evening 6 April. He was still in charge apparently, though Dom 1 (Raab) was in close touch; well, he’d spoken to him last Saturday anyway…
‘Now – has anyone seen the PM’s special adviser lately? You know… Dom 2 ? He what? He just popped in to collect a few things? He said what??’
“Anyone for a spin ? Who fancies driving to County Durham for a family visit while suffering from covid? The PM’s already got it. I’m not really needed right now…no-one will miss me….”
A week later, Dom 1 still hadn’t heard from the PM, but hey, he was nearly better. He was finally discharged to Chequers on 12 April – Easter Day (did the timing risk more delusions of grandeur? Hero Churchill replaced by the resurrected Jesus?? Luckily Clown Johnson had never really taken much notice in Chapel at Eton…) Thank you NHS!
Meanwhile the sun shone, some people stayed at home, others went to the seaside; someone went to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight – and lots of people clapped. And sadly, by Easter Day, lots of people had died. 10,612 to be precise, of covid, in hospital. And no doubt thousands more excess deaths, especially in care homes; but we aren’t counting those yet….
Stop Press: 29 April : Welcome Wilfred! A new baby – to help convalescence? really?
And by the way, Matt Hancock says having a working testing system is crucial after all, and he’ll get that running in no time…
Episode 6 : Comings and Goings (or did I really mean Cummings and Goings..? Not yet…)
The sun shone – relentlessly – through April and on into May. Hot Bank Holiday after hot Bank Holiday. Let’s drive to Bournemouth ! The sunniest and driest spring on record. Thank goodness for the great British countryside, and running, and cycling, and walking, and sun-bathing…
While some thought Rishi Sunak was giving away money hand over fist to people sunning themselves (better known as furloughing) clever ways were sought to recoup some.
Whose idea was the visa surcharge? Let’s make anyone who wants to come to this country to work in the NHS pay for the privilege! Well, perhaps not doctors or nurses… but certainly all the others… the other key workers we keep clapping every Thursday.
Perhaps not. Revoked 22 May.
Now, changing the subject – where are we on quarantining visitors from overseas, or returning holiday makers? Mmmm – does anybody know? Forget Garden bridges, let’s go for air-bridges. Anyone? Anywhere? Shall we? Shalln’t we? Ah! I can feel another U turn coming on…
And a game of Cluedo: Dom 2 in a white shirt meets the press in the Rose Garden of No 10. His eyes do seem better. His memory seems to be failing though….along with all credibility
Clown Johnson is proving less funny than his fans thought. Has he noticed ? Time to move on:
Still short of equipment? One person’s problem is another person’s opportunity: ‘ we can source it for you! That’s what friends are for….’ (winning contracts for things they know nothing about..?)
Episode 7: Making U-turns stylish – practice makes perfect…
3 June: ‘No – Parliament must sit – however dangerous it is to be in a crowded place with lots of people shouting. Just find someone else to pair with, who’s a woose like you’ (aka Proxy voting)
4 June: perhaps we should review this… Where’s the handbrake? Hey! U turns are getting easier..
Half term’s over – so let’s get back to school – Primary schools first…. What do you mean – teachers don’t feel safe? Of course class rooms are big enough! The children are all very small… What on earth do Headteachers need more money for? Of course all under 11s should be in school now….
EXCEPT those whose parents don’t want to send them yet. After all, personal freedom is at the heart of all the Conservative Party stands for.. Isn’t it? Yes…. No… Perhaps… Not sure anymore
16 June: while we’re on the subject of children… Who says children go hungry ? Marcus Who? Is a rugby player? NO? Soccer? Free school meals? What on earth for? what does he know about it?
17 June: OK, so some kids go hungry… Go on then. Meals on us… For the time being. For term time
18 June : Let’s try out a test and trace system! What about the Isle of Wight? That’s a typical place. Does anyone know how to turn this phone on? Where’s the button? What’s an APP? Is it like PPE?
21 June: summer begins. Let’s think about easing lockdown – that gives people something to cheer
How many people have died so far? Well, its either 42,647, or 64,533. It depends what you mean by dead… Dead in hospital with covid, or dead in hospitals and in care homes…. with covid. Whichever, the UK scores higher than anywhere else in Europe ! Leading from the front…
Episode 8: Shall we… shalln’t we?? A relaxing July
Well, it might have been. Suddenly we could see each other and visit, talk to and cuddle our extended families – and very good it was too. But there were clouds gathering on the horizon…
14 July was a busy day: Face coverings ! Shall we? Shalln’t we? The jury was out, although Asia had understood years ago that the can make a big difference. In the end, we opted for them. So, they may not keep every thing in – or out – but they must do something! Yes, and they remind us to be careful… Duh…
And Haewei; shall we, shalln’t we? This wasn’t the only occasion when the Dumb Orange Blond from over the water exercised significant influence on the UK’s politics but they moved quickly from being a GOOD THING to being a BAD THING. In the twinkling of an eye…
Episode 9: Rewards for all that boring and dull work….. formerly known as exam results
15 August: Having jumped through all the hoops (wrongly described as education) students this year had an even more nightmarish August. No actual exams mean only estimated results – based on mocks? or course work? or teachers’ assessments? You choose! Which is your best result?
The Dept of Education had months to think about this; and Scotland had helpfully spotted the complicated issues. Gavin backed the algorithm. Some of us wonder – does Gavin even know what an algorithm is?
But Is it robust? Yes! Or… Well, whatever. It all went belly up. Pity the kids.
Even the Daily Mail got upset…
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak wanted us all to eat out to help out. The scheme started on 3 August and ran until 31 August. It certainly helped both the hospitality trade – and transmission of the disease.
Episode 10 – the new school year.. might life return to normal?
Well – yes – and no… the young become bolder, the old remain cautious. But school makes a big difference, and in the course of September, rules gave way to guidance, with the rule of 6 leading the confused way. Certainly deaths had declined, though numbers of covid cases crept up, at first slowly as people relaxed and mixed, and even managed brief holidays.
The threat of evictions returned to to those unable to pay their rent, though mercifully that attempt to shelve the relief plan already in place failed. Phew!
On balance the U turns do seem much better than the Clown’s straight lines
Some bright spark invented a catchy name for a very dumb if very expensive idea: Moonshot. It was never very clear what this aimed to achieve; though its cost (let’s say £ X) put NHS spending (£ 4X) in perspective. For such a lot of money, we didn’t hear very much about it… ever… [ NB: X represents billions]
Was it a sort of South Sea Bubble? Or is it a unicorn? Or a drink perhaps? Read on to find out…
Numbers in the North of England were worryingly high; the relationship between housing, poverty and illness became even clearer, and the increased vulnerability of BAME people indisputable. As the weather changed, the numbers grew, and the cautious Health England (and many other number-crunchers) were advocating a two week circuit breaker around the October half term.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no…… well perhaps….. we’ll do something – but not until after half term
Episode 11 – the next bright idea – complicated or wot?
A second, modified lockdown from Halloween 31 October until 2 December. Schools open, people working, hospitality shut – ish. In fact it’s hard to remember what the perms and coms were. Most people couldn’t, including the politicians who’d invented them…
Shining Knight Rishi rode to the rescue – extending Furlough until Easter 2021 (He’s not an optimist!) And up popped Marcus again, pointing out that children need feeding every day; not just weekdays in term time.
November was a very disturbing month; so much distraction in the news, and an overwhelming sense of fragility. So what was there to worry about?
The wrangling over the Brexit deal (or no-deal) seemed interminable. Covid appeared to be endemic in the North of England, whose restrictions had been in place for months without much impact.
New surges were reported the world over, and covid limited the excesses of political rallies in the States, but at the cost of massive posturing and perpetual fake news. When would – or rather could – the lockdown end?
Clown Johnson’s refusal to even reprimand (never mind sack) Priti Patel whose behaviour had been judged to be unprofessional and bullying led to the resignation of yet another honourable civil servant, Sir Alex Allan who had chaired the review.
But there was some good news! There was cautious optimism about vaccines with the race between PFizer and Oxford Zeneca neck and neck. Then a squabble in Downing Street turned into a minor coup as Carrie flexed her muscles and ousted Cain and Cummings, which cheered everybody up except the Prime Minister. (Might she have the telekinetic powers associated with her namesake in the 2013 film of Stephen King’s novel ?? If so, Carrie for PM!!)
Meanwhile the election in the States went to the wire. Trump declared the result fake; the democrats had cheated and that his was a resounding victory – views he has not rescinded.
Things went from bad to worse…
Episode 12: preparing for Christmas and a No or Yes Deal Brexit – simultaneously
While controversy raged in the US, the UK was thrown into ever greater turmoil. Under pressure from the business lobby, Clown Johnson lifted Lockdown II on 2 December, only to impose Tiers 2 and 3 (and even 4 in places) on all but the Scilly Isles and the Isle of Wight. Travel within tiers was again permitted, shops, gyms, sports, hairdressers, weddings and worship all kicked off again – despite an alarming and dramatic surge of cases in the South East.
Then, just as the vaccines were galloping into view, the mutant variant of Covid was formally identified as even more of a thug than its predecessor, and was rapidly romping its way through Kent, to London and all stations north, south, east, and west…
Within a week, all the Sages, and the Public Health gurus of England, Scotland, Wales and N Ireland were of one mind; unless radical measures were taken the NHS would be overwhelmed and thousands would die. In about four weeks… yes, by mid January…
In response, the cabinet changed its position (one can hardly call it ‘mind’), the tiers, the rules, the guidance – daily. No! today …. Yes! tomorrow… But of course Clown Johnson and his crew had other battles to fight.
This blog began with the extending of a deadline: the Let’s Get Brexit Done! deadline, set as 13 December, in order to ensure parliamentary blessing before the 31 December. After all, Cromwell made the House sit over Christmas – so there’s a precedent for twelfth hour tricks
Lots of important things to sort out. Yes, we have had all year to do it, but we still have a few days left! Let’s see who blinks first! Ursula is a woman after all!
Clown Johnson flies to Brussels for dinner and a friendly chat. She’ll soon see sense.
Eton didn’t really equip Clown Johnson for relating to a clever woman who doesn’t need his money or want his children but does understand words like integrity. I doubt she uses adjectives much; just precise nouns. (Like Turbot?) Clown Johnson cam home disappointed and puzzled.
Btw – whose idea was the No Deal? Is it any good? All too difficult… Let’s do Christmas now…
Christmas was personally guaranteed by Clown Johnson: ‘however tricky it is on the Brexit front, come what may, sensible Britons will enjoy bubbles of three households, for up to three days!’
Really? No, not really. By the 19 December, the three-bubble, three-day Christmas was off. So we packed in as much as we could – you know – shopping, rushing around, catching up with family, delivering pressies – in the remaining days of Tier 2 (or 3, or 4..) as you do…
Episode 13: and it came to pass….
For a chancer like Clown Johnson, who no doubt has gambled on most things in life – Lady Luck was seriously letting him down – again.
Sod’s Law: just as the rapid roll-out of the vaccines for the elderly and vulnerable got underway (managed efficiently by the existing health infrastructure – well – there’s a new idea!) the new mutant virus variant was not proving a popular export from British shores.
Trust the French to close its borders ! How did they expect all these thousands of lorry drivers to get home by Christmas? “There’ll be lor-ries over the white cliffs of Dover … just you wait and see”
Perhaps it was all part of a cunning European plan – a foretaste of No-Deal Brexit?
If they thought rapid testing would work, they thought wrong. Brits don’t do rapid testing. Ever.
And by the way, Moonshot turns out simply to be a brand name for Moonshine!
Christmas Eve 2020. So much to look forward to… another day sleeping in a lorry without any lavatories; no family coming to stay; too much food in the wrong place and no one to eat it. And it hasn’t even snowed despite being too cold to leave the doors and windows open for long without freezing Granddad.
New cracker jokes? ‘What are you giving Granny for Christmas? Covid….? Or pneumonia?’
Goodness – breaking news! A new baby! First pictures just released:
The Saviour is born…
and a grumpy home secretary (aka Herod) remains vigilant while others turn a blind eye…
Episode 14: the Christmas break: a time to reflect; a time to plan for the future?
No sooner was Christmas Day over, than we were all back in…. surprise, surprise – Tier 4!
And as we headed for New Year 2021, the lorry back-log at Dover had dispersed, the continent was once more cut off by fog (not seen since the 1970s) and the numbers now testing positive soared – and appalled.
But we were cheered up by the vaccine roll-out and looking forward to the inauguration of Mr Biden as the President and Ms Harris as Vice-President in a few weeks time.
Time can drag at Christmas. But Clown Trump now understood what was making him cross
This cartoon predated the events on Capitol Hill by a big margin. Such prescience!
Here in the UK, parents and teachers were getting restless. If covid numbers are soaring should schools open?
Well of course they should! The government puts a very high value on educating children! Teachers should just man up, and get on with their jobs! Important announcements were energetically made (on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show?) : Primary schools will open tomorrow! Secondaries next week – of course – when those controversial lateral flow tests – on which schools have had to pay a fortune – are ready!
Hundreds of thousands of small children got up on Monday, and went to school….
By the time they were in bed that evening, schools were closed. Well – that was two and half weeks of staying safe at home wasted! Another week’s isolation before Grandma could come round. But hang on – she can’t!
On Epiphany 6 January 2021, the UK was entering Lockdown III.
But what of the USA ? Theirs was an Epiphany like no other….
The insurrection and the mob attack of Capitol Hill and the Senate on 6 January 2021 certainly concentrated minds. Clown Trump’s inciting behaviour and refusal to concede defeat shocked the world and embarrassed – and frightened – all thinking Americans. It has been a nerve-wracking month in which true colours are clear. Revelatory in every sense. Democracy has become both precious and fragile.
As I write today, on 20 January 2021, Mr Biden and Ms Harris are being sworn in and a new chapter begins – for the United States, and for the rest of the world. We fervently hope so.
Nonetheless, by this same day, 95,829 people in the UK have died with Covid on their death certificates, and with 1,820 people dying yesterday, there will be more than 100,000 dead in three days time.
This is the highest figure in Europe per capita; the fourth highest in the world. The R rate has settled at around 1; numbers of positive cases are sticking at just below 40,000 each day.
And to make some people’s lives even more miserable, Storm Christoph has just delivered record volumes of rain, flooding thousands of homes and hundreds of thousands of acres.
The good news: 4.6 million people in the UK have already received their first vaccine.