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Best in Show
This week The Friday Read was meant to be cleverly structured around the widely-shared recent photograph of a yellow penguin as a symbol for a new, post-Covid reality. But then I forgot about the idea until now. Which may or may not be a shame.
And with the sun came the hope of something better.
No one knows exactly just how early in our history humanity developed the ability to think symbolically but you can be sure it was pretty near the beginning; millennia before wheels, the written word or amateur anthropologists looking for a new ways to open weekly news summary columns. Even our most primitive ancestors, themselves exposed to the natural world in a way that we only glimpse during the grimmer hours of a medium-scale music festival, when feeling a warm lick of sunshine on their faces following a harsh, vengeful winter, likely thought to themselves: “You know what? I feel better today. I think everything might just be okay after all. Now, who’s up for chucking some spears of mammoth followed by a game of Uno?”
And so it was this week when Bingo, the God of Luck, conspired to set the Prime Minister’s unveiling of his “roadmap out of lockdown” to a visual symphony of yellows, oranges and pale, benign shadows. Or to put it more prosaically, the sun came out and it was nice. All praise to you wise and merciful Bingo; for a while at least, until the doubts, cynicism and memories of previous hopes dashed began to sully the mood, your goodness and grace was just what we needed.
June the twenty first. What will you be doing on June the twenty first? Hitting the pubs with a scrum of mates, necking pints and dancing and kissing like it was it 2019? Gathering your extended family in small room and laying on a finger buffet of gloriously brown food before engaging a game of Twister? Perhaps you’ll be attending a sporting event, shouting “SPORT” from the terraces during a match of something in which you have absolutely no interest simply for the joy of being in the presence of strangers? Or maybe you’ll still be inside your house, nervous, scared and scarred, wondering if you’ll ever feel safe enough to embrace the spirit of national hedonism in a world where Covid still exists. And let’s be clear, Covid will still exist on June the twenty first.
However you’re feeling, not since the end of the Second World War has a single date been imbued with significance, such emotion. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole. After what will be sixteen months of restrictions, sixteen months of families separated, friends exiled, social lives confined to video calls and a relentless hum of death and despair in all our ears, it’s only to be expected that the thought of the country back to “normal” is almost overwhelmingly appealing. We deserve this. We’ve earnt this. We need this.
Not that Covid cares what we deserve or what we want. And amongst the hope this week, amongst the headlines – “The end is in sight” (The Times); “Midsummer’s Dream” (Metro); “118 days until freedom” (Telegraph); “We’re on a one-way road to freedom” (Express) there were plenty of voices expressing caution, doubt and warning us not to let our hopes inflate too much because there’s every chance Covid will side-step us once again and the glorious summer of 2021 will go the same way as “it would be inhuman to cancel Christmas . . . . oh, well, right, um, listen we’re going to have to cancel Christmas.”
As ever, ideology defines the debate and for all of those that urge prudence, and it was a very different Boris Johnson that spoke to the nation this week than the one who locked us down last March with the suggestion that we’d have the virus in check within three months, there are plenty that believe that the vaccine roll-out combined with falling infection and death rates mean that the UK should be reopening much more quickly. And if you’re a business owner, holding on to solvency by the most tenuous of grips, then I’m sure you have sympathy with such a position. “The wait escape” said the Sun’s front page on Tuesday while the Mail, with typographical emphasis on the second word, demanded to know “What ARE we waiting for?”
Talking of vaccination, Friday’s headline writers were clearly delighted that the Queen spoke yesterday of her own experience, suggesting that the jab “didn’t hurt at all” and that vaccine sceptics “ought to think of other people rather than themselves.” So, cue the front pages: “One is not immune” (Metro); “Do one’s duty” (Mirror) and, as ever leading the way in the pun race, The Sun has given us “Right as reign”, although it doesn’t score maximum points as it needed to be prefaced by “One’s had one’s job and one’s . . .” for it to really land.
With schools returning on March 8th, there are going be millions of parents sighing with relief that they’ll no longer have to suffer the indignity of bafflement in the face of primary school maths. And I know whereof I speak in this regard, having been completely stumped recently by some Year 6 algebra and being told with some force that no, the teacher would not prefer a nice poem about animals instead. But whatever the risks of the return to school, regardless of the noise that was generated yesterday about teacher assessments replacing exams this year (here’s a tip: trust teachers to do their job and know what’s best for their students), getting children out of their houses and back with their friends is second only to vaccinations on the nation’s list of things we should care about most.
I don’t know if it was the sunshine or the route out of lockdown but I got a little emotional this week at the news that Daft Punk were hanging up their helmets. I don’t quite know why it hit me like it did, after all it was hardly a surprise, the French electronic music duo haven’t released any music of their own for eight years, their final album being the Grammy-winning Random Access Memories (featuring the ubiquitous Get Lucky) in 2013. But on closer examination of my thoughts during a restless hour at some silly time of Tuesday night, I realised it troubled me so much (and let’s be clear, this “troubled” is relative, I mean I am fine, really) because the hope of a new Daft Punk release was something that had been ever-present in my life for several years. Part of me believed that Daft Punk were just biding their time until the technology had reached to a point where it matched their ambitious new plans (much like the years they waited before playing beneath an illuminating pyramid at Coachella in 2006) and that at any moment now they’d be broadcasting their new album to the world from the MOON with music so brilliant, so powerful that it wiped out Coronavirus.
That’s a lot to ask I realise.
In reality, the retirement of Daft Punk is just two rich, middle-aged Frenchmen not wanting to carry on with something that they hadn’t been doing much of anyway for nearly a decade. But what a legacy they leave. Music is both intensely personal and by its very nature universal; it is made to be heard, to be felt, to be our secret and to be shared. And in our atomised existence right now, it reminds us to hold on. We will be back. We will dance again. We will sing.