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Best in Show
Every Friday, The Friday Speed Read, gets knocked down but gets up again; you’re never going to keep us from writing vaguely about the news and then sharing it on LinkedIN.
Sorry to bang on about the weather again but this story starts with the sunshine. Last Sunday, the air thick with spring, I went for a walk in the countryside near my house. The fields were an excitable green and the verges and byways popped with the near-golden splendour of daffodils; as we crested the top of the hill, the view down to the coast was what my parents would have called “chocolate box”- not that I’ve ever seen a box of chocolates with a pastoral scene on the lid but I presume they did once exist. In a moment that would have seemed cliched in even the most lowbrow of Hollywood movies, the sun slit through the grey clouds as if wielding a knife and the land glowed. Nature’s way, perhaps, of proving that in a world seen through the rose-tinted filters of Instagram, that there’s nothing, nothing better than the real thing.
At the bottom of this hill sits the village of Bleadon. A pretty little place; its ancient centre clustered around a modest church is straight out of the notebook of location scouts looking for appropriate backdrops for wedding scenes in Jane Austen adaptations. Regardless of any religious preferences that I may have, I’ve always enjoyed wandering around churchyards. This isn’t some fetish and has nothing to with listening to The Cure or dressing up for Halloween but I find them comforting; there’s something about a place that’s been the focus for centuries of hope, memory and faith that gives, for me, a spiritual buzz. The stones sing. Anyway, in the corner of Bleadon churchyard, next to the crooked teeth of tombstones stands a large wooden cross. Even from a distance it looks new and coming up close to it you could see that it was indeed freshly constructed, the wood smooth and un-weathered. In the intersection of the two pieces is a small silver plaque which reads as follows:
“In memory of a lost year. To lost loved ones. Lost time. First UK COVID-19 Lockdown. March 2020”
At the foot of the cross is host of daffodils and a pile of smooth round stones on which local people have written the names of friends and family lost to the pandemic.
It’s such a simple, unpretentious act of remembrance, free of hyperbole and spin; one that speaks only of grief, love and faith. And to be honest, I’d defy even the most fervently atheistic not to be moved by it. I spent several minutes just standing and thinking, my eyes watering as the spring sunshine warmed the side of my face.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to write much about the one-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown. I mentioned it in passing last week but felt that it was more productive to look forward than it was to dwell on the past. It felt that the time was ripe for optimism rather than reflection. When of course, I realise now, it’s a time for both.
As you know, Tuesday this week marked an exact year since the Prime Minster imposed the first national lockdown and we entered the parallel world of Zoom, box-sets and brief dashes to the supermarket only to find shelves stripped of essentials. The shortages didn’t last, fortunately, but the lockdown did and it was a very different Boris Johnson that appeared at the Downing Street press conference to mark the one year anniversary. Pummelled by events, his own near-death encounter with the virus and an acceptance that he got a lot wrong, Johnson’s eyes have lost much of their sparkle; he admitted that the pandemic will “haunt me for as long as I live”. The same can be said for 126,000 families in every corner of the country.
Should anyone have needed a reminder that although things are looking considerably rosier in the UK the pandemic is a long way from over, infection rates in Europe have shot up again in the past week. A third wave of the virus is raging in France, Germany, Poland and elsewhere and following very real fears of new mutations arriving in the UK and undoing the incredible progress made by the vaccination programme, there’s now little chance of foreign holidays being allowed this summer. “£5000 fine for holidays abroad” (The Mail); “Third wave fears” (The Mirror); “Boris warns third wave will hit the UK” (The Express). Oh great.
Away from the pandemic, but certainly connected to it, there’s been a lot of talk about flags in the news this week. And as any jobbing vexillologist (yes, I had to look that up) will tell you, any debate about flags is actually a debate about politics. Let’s be honest, the Union Jack is not the best flag in the world . . . . okay, quick Friday diversion: what’s your top five flags of the world. Here’s mine (it might have changed by tomorrow):
Anyway, the Union Jack was a compromise from its very inception, combining as it does the three national flags of England, Scotland and Ireland and it’s pretty hard to draw. But there’s a lot of love for it at the moment. Particularly among the government. Now I need to check my instinctive unease about flag waving; if you go to France (although don’t go at the moment) you’ll see the tricolore flying above every national building and no one thinks twice about it. Flags aren’t inherently a bad thing. But there seems to have been a Conversative Party arms race taking place in recent weeks as ministers appear on news programmes from their home offices with ever bigger and more numerous Union Jacks in their backgrounds. If it continues at this pace, you’ll not be able to see Robert Jenrick or Nadhim Zahawi on BBC Breakfast as they’ll be lost in the folds of a Union Jack that takes up most of the downstairs of their homes and must be a magnet for dust.
This week, the government made it compulsory to fly the Union Jack on all state buildings and in another case of not really having a punchline at the end of rambling anecdote I don’t really know what to think about it. But fortunately nobody’s asked me. So let’s move on. Unlike the stranded ship that’s currently blocking the Suez Canal. (and yes, I am pleased with that one).
With people now celebrating anniversaries and birthdays for second time lockdown – remember last year when we all said – “well, we’ll make up for it with a proper party next year?” – we can begin to believe that the worst could, might, may be behind us. From Monday you can meet up to five other people in your garden. That’s something. It really is.
Next Friday is Good Friday so there won’t be a Speed Read but we’ll be back after Easter. In the meantime, thanks for reading and yes, stay safe.
Oh and music! Yes. Well, this track was played to me but a certain filmmaking (and amateur rapper) colleague and I’ve been hooked ever since. There’s something about imagining you’re in a field and singing along to “FREEDOM!” that’s incredibly emotional. One day we’ll be back, one day . . . . Plus I’m having my first vaccine injection today so I feel like I want to dance.