Poor Alice. After falling down a rabbit hole into a bizarre world of contradiction and threat, she was totally confused in Wonderland — and who can blame her?
By the time that funny old Caterpillar asked who she was, Alice had stopped believing in anything at all. She told him: ‘I hardly know, Sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
That’s just how I felt, when I heard the bad news this week. I woke up on a cold, misty morning, surveyed the peaceful fields all around our farm and began to plan Christmas shopping (not online) next week when lockdown ended. Then my son strode in to tell me that the rural homestead we share with him and his family is now in Tier Three.
I woke up on a cold, misty morning, surveyed the peaceful fields all around our farm and began to plan Christmas shopping (not online) next week when lockdown ended. Then my son strode in to tell me that the rural homestead we share with him and his family is now in Tier Three
Yet Liverpool and London (where I have family and friends) are Tier Two, for heaven’s sake! One morning you think you’re a sensible, conservative grandmother. Then an illogical diktat changes you into an anarchist rebel.
Welcome to our world of nonsense, where (as bewildered Alice was told): ‘The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.’
Yes, we can celebrate Christmas. Yes, there’s the Oxford vaccine. But do not feel optimistic — oh no, don’t you dare! Make sure you’re more careful and afraid than ever, even though infection rates are falling. Don’t believe anything at all — not when the Government spouts empty pledges and changes the rules with all the arrogant authoritarianism of the Red Queen.
Our own situation is mad and baffling. We have a Bristol (Tier Three) postcode but live further from Bristol than from Bath (Tier Two). My grandson goes to primary school in Keynsham — Tier Two — a seven-minute drive away. So will my son and his wife be able to take him, when the rule is not to leave our ‘very high risk’ tier? We don’t know.
Meanwhile my parents, as well as my daughter and her family, live in Bath, just five miles away. I’ve said it before and I will shout it from the rooftops — nothing in this world can keep me away from loved ones who need me. Yes, I will be leaving this ridiculous Tier Three — and they can stuff advice not to hug.
But like countless families all over the country we are supposed to obey the latest rules and submit to being torn apart by government diktat. There are millions of stories out there of fractured families and broken businesses and ruined lives and addiction and mental health crises. And (as my unwell daughter said bleakly) this is likely to go on until late spring.
According to Bel, there is little problem in social distancing in the village of Bitton, pictured, near her home. Though, because it has a Bristol postcode, it has been placed in Tier Three – even though it is nearer Bath, which is in Tier Two
More confusion. More despair. As much as 99 per cent of England will be in Tiers Two and Three when lockdown ends next Wednesday — but there is madness embedded within that sentence. Lockdown is not ending! Not when only a postage-stamp-sized part of Britain is in the ‘medium risk’ Tier One, in which life can have a semblance of normality.
The Government is putting everyone into these arbitrary tiers. But then, so Boris can be seen to ‘save Christmas’, for five days anyone from any tier will be allowed to pour out of their homes, travel at the same time and have a maximum ‘three household’ celebration. That is, unless they change it all again.
Most people will willingly obey rules when they make sense. The virus tore through the world with shocking speed and we needed no convincing that this situation was very serious indeed. As responsible citizens we believed the first lockdown was necessary — so willingly complied.
But as time passed, and we were encouraged to snitch on neighbours and despise young people who longed (shock, horror) to socialise, many of us started to feel dubious about the draconian rules emanating from a Government with (let’s face it) a pretty poor track record of knowing what it is doing.
Nobody but a fool would be a ‘Covid sceptic’ — because so many people have suffered and died. In fact, I have answered many heart-breaking letters from the bereaved through my Saturday advice column, so please don’t tell me I do not understand how real this all is.
But being a ‘lockdown sceptic’ is very different. Hundreds of eminent scientists have questioned the usefulness of lockdown, while those who work in the hard-pressed field of mental health have warned that the true pandemic of despair is already upon us.
Since my passionately personal article in September, excoriating the ‘rule of six’ at Christmas, I’ve received many angry emails calling me selfish, irresponsible, uncaring — and worse. Somebody accused me of ‘killing people’ while another kind soul hoped that I or a family member would catch Covid and not get NHS treatment. Nice.
There are millions of stories out there of fractured families and broken businesses and ruined lives and addiction and mental health crises. And (as my unwell daughter said bleakly) this is likely to go on until late spring
Like members of a strange doomsday cult, the people who wrote attacking me were utterly convinced that we are all going to die unless we stayed home, washed our hands, kept our distance, wore our masks, opened our windows — and obeyed any other doom-laden pronouncement dreamt up by the powers-that-be.
Who would have imagined that British people (‘Land of Hope And Glory’) would turn into such compliant, brainwashed wimps?
Now, of course, all their righteous criticism has become outdated — because new rules allow family Christmas. Oh, phew!
I know, of course, that when people are afraid they will take it out on any convenient scapegoat.
I myself have shouted in exasperation at the lugubrious league tables of death offered with few questions by the BBC news. I splutter when I read that Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government’s SAGE panel, has warned that loosening coronavirus restrictions over Christmas is akin to ‘throwing fuel on the Covid-19 fire’.
How can people avoid the dread that destroys individual choice when (for example) chief medical officer Chris Whitty warns us not to embrace our loved ones this Christmas ‘if you want them to survive to be hugged again’?
What did we do to deserve being spoken to like naughty, careless children who need to be told the bogeyman will get them if they don’t obey?
Far from being ‘irresponsible’ and ‘selfish’, I am devastated by this new, tiered lockdown — not for myself but because it loads yet more confusion on people already in despair.
As the Mail’s advice columnist I read it in letters each week. The UK is facing a protracted mental health crisis as the ongoing shock of Covid-19 triggers serious problems. Couples forced together have seen the cracks widen in their relationships; children face a perfect storm of interrupted schooling, no friendships and tense homes; while ‘All The Lonely People’, from The Beatles’ song, have been brought face-to-face with their sadness in isolation.
One older lady wrote to me: ‘For the first time, I have nightmares about dying all alone, and nobody finding me.’ The Samaritans has been working flat out, dealing with over 7,000 calls a day and offering support through its website.
I am actually afraid to find out the latest suicide rates. Make no mistake — this is far more serious that any dodgy dossier offered up by Sage. More dire than all Chris Whitty’s doomsday dramatics.
A group of 24 leading academics warned in The Lancet Psychiatry journal that the pandemic could have a ‘profound and pervasive impact on global mental health now and in the future’, with children, adolescents and the elderly most at risk.
Even at the beginning of lockdown, mental health practitioners found that people were experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress as a result of coronavirus. Why? Because of being cooped up, worrying about finances, fear of catching the virus and, of course, loneliness.
The point is: the latest rules will make all that so much worse — because people cannot tolerate being so confused.
This newspaper has been tireless in evaluating the terrifying economic results of lockdown — and through social media we can all hear the voices of people enraged as well as in despair. When I shared my frustration at being dumped into Tier Three on Facebook, the reaction did not bode well for obedience. Just listen to these voices, Mr Hancock! These are normal, intelligent people — not anarchists.
‘I’m in Tier Two even though half my garden is Cornwall so in Tier One. I live in a village in the middle of nowhere, in one of the most remote places in the country, and am in the same tier as London — why did it use postcodes? Counties are too big and varied!’
‘Birmingham is in Tier Three as well. Already had people messaging me, calling me in tears. Not sure what they can/can’t do. Not sure what to say to them, they’ve been shielding and abiding by rules for months and see no end to this madness.’
‘We’ve gone up to Tier Two in Hastings despite having pretty much the lowest cases of Covid in the country — because we have been lumped in with East and West Sussex. It’s all complete nonsense.’
‘I’m driving to Wales to see my mother to spend half an hour stood outside her window. Eight-hour round trip but worth it. Fine me or fight me. She will die of a broken heart if Covid doesn’t get her first.’
Yes, people do die of despair — and there have been moments when I have been genuinely worried. A young woman who lives alone asks me what is the point of living — skint having lost her job in hospitality, no hope of another one, and only her cat for company. She tells me she would rather get the virus than continue with her non-life.
An older Facebook friend writes: ‘I don’t think I’m going insane but I have not actually touched a human being since March. Not from choice, I may add, but that’s how it’s been … It is a deprivation that I’m not sure humans have ever experienced before.’
But like countless families all over the country we are supposed to obey the latest rules and submit to being torn apart by government diktat
There is real loss and despair in those words. People need to believe in the common good and to trust, above all, that we are governed with the three Cs; calm, compassion and common sense. But how can we avoid the inescapable feeling that current policy stems from a mixture of bullying, panic, utter lack of logic and lofty ignorance of the way real people live their everyday lives?
No wonder there is such a strong sense of rebellion abroad — within the House of Commons as well as the streets and fields of this country. How much longer will we submit to our homes being turned into prisons?
When the elected Government issues confusing, contradictory and downright stupid diktats which challenge both reason and morality, people began to say: ‘No!’ We start to suspect that this is less about ‘keeping us safe’ and more about the kind of control that keeps weak leadership in place.
But the Prime Minister should be careful. At the end of Alice In Wonderland there is a mad trial where hapless little animals watch powerlessly as witnesses are bullied, contradictions accepted, evidence dismissed, threats made and the King splutters: ‘If there’s no meaning in it… we needn’t try to find any.’
But in the end Alice grows tall and cries: ‘Stuff and nonsense!’ — as the whole pack of cards comes tumbling down.