We’ve learned plenty about the human race – and individual nations – during this cornonavirus crisis and like the proverbial curate’s egg some of it has proved to be good only ‘in parts’.
Unfortunately for him, former Tory prime minister John Major will forever be associated with the characteristics attributed to him by the satirical series Spitting Image despite one of his redeeming features being his lifelong devotion to cricket.
His puppet from said series – which incidentally (some might suggest appropriately) sold at auction in 2010 for a relatively modest £3,600 compared to the £12,600 achieved by those of Tony and Cherie Blair in 2008, the £5,040 of Maggie Thatcher in 2007 and the £4,800 by of Gordon Brown (2007) – was established as a Pooterish local high street bank clerk-type, stereotyped as “a modest man with a lot to be modest about …” [quip © Winston Churchill, referring to Clem Atlee] and famously becoming “not inconsiderably annoyed” by this or that – Rusters desirous of reminding themselves of that of which I write should see here for the famous scene of him discussing the quality of his evening meal’s peas with his wife Norma – courtesy of – YOUTUBE
Back in the day, during his speech to the Conservative Group For Europe on 22nd April 1993, Mr Major uttered the passage for which he is perhaps most famous:
“Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable in all essentials.”
When we oldies – and indeed the generations before ours – look(ed) back misty-eyed to the UK’s ‘good old days’ through our NHS-provided rose-tinted spectacles, we used to think of the British Empire; our supposed wartime Blitz-defiant ‘we’re all in this together’ spirit; Battle of Britain dogfights high above the Kent countryside; the BBC World Service broadcasting the impartial and widely-respected British common sense view of world news and current affairs, dripping with an inherent high moral integrity; black-and-white television coverage of late Fifties and early Sixties cricket featuring E.W. Swanton, Peter West and Brian Johnston and its football equivalent detailing the exploits of Stanley Mathews (as he then was) and England captain Billy Wright and whichever-one-it-was-of the-Beverley-Sisters-he-married; and, of course, the BBC’s children’s hour staple Crackerjack, hosted by Eamon Andrews andLeslie Crowther in which the immortal Peter Glaze held us all enthralled.
It’s an image that has endured over the past seventy years – to an extent maintained and strengthened by the UK’s high art, dramatic and performing stars’ ability to punch way above their weight and (bizarre though it may seem) the willingness of other nations – and here please step forward as a prime example the population of the United States of America – generally to admire and feel nostalgic about the long and grand history of the British Isles and the perceived quaint restrained modesty and politeness of its people.
All of the above has contributed to a widespread belief – not least amongst ourselves – that the UK is a special and resilient nation with a strong degree of inner team spirit and community.
And then the coronavirus pandemic came along.
From the outset in dealing with the crisis – and in explaining same – the Tory Government (and Boris Johnson in particular, no doubt seeking to summon echoes of the tone and leadership style of his hero Churchill) have made brave assertions as to how we as a national population will rise up and defeat this medical/scientific threat through our inherent determination to pull together and not give in, our teamwork and our willingness to make self-sacrifices in the public interest.
Throughout the progress of the crisis – before the lockdown began, during it and indeed since Boris has announced our gradual emergence from it – successive ministers of the Crown have persistently queued up to praise the outstanding performance of the public in adhering to the rules and guidelines issued by the Government.
But the truth isn’t quite like that, is it?
Some of us – including those over 70 and/or with underlying health conditions – have been ‘sheltering’ according to the letter of the rules.
But others (I’d suggest the majority), whilst doing their level best to keep to them, have on individual or multiple occasions breached the rules – whether inadvertently, or on a one-off basis when faced with a social-distancing-compromising situation, or on a ‘pick and mix’ basis.
And then there is a sizeable minority – apparently 500,000 of them hitting the beach at Bournemouth yesterday – who are seemingly hard-wired to be incapable of behaving responsibly.
As 4th July fast approaches, when the Government has decreed a significant opening of pubs, hotels, shops and businesses in England can resume business operations, as things stand it now seems almost certain the UK is going headlong into the unknown as – from both personal observation and everything I see or read in the media – the blob of the Great Unwashed returns straight to ‘life as normal’, apparently without a thought for the implications because they just don’t care about the good of the nation, other people and indeed themselves (or so it seems).
Call me a curmudgeonly old git if you wish, but given the above it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if at least 25% of those who visited the Bournemouth beach yesterday acquired serious cases of Covid-19 infection. And then also suffered health complications as a result when and if hospitals and NHS workers become overwhelmed by the scale of demand.
Arguably, it would serve them right.
The only downside I could possibly foresee is that – if by any chance that did happen – those affected (plus their loved ones and families) will be amongst the first to castigate and blame the Government for their predicament and mental anguish – “Why, oh why, didn’t you stop us going to Bournemouth beach?”
It’s ironic how often those who demand – or take – the freedom to do whatever they feel like, irrespective of the consequences, are also first to bleat when those consequences come home to roost.
Or at least it ought to be.