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Best in Show
Fifty-five years of hurt have never stopped us opening our notebook on a Friday morning and writing about the news
To begin in an unlikely place, the Roman god Janus had two faces. You can often see his double-likeness carved above doorways of ancient buildings in Rome, or at least you could if international travel was feasible right now. Which it might be again soon but only if you’ve got plenty of cash. Anyway, Janus’ portfolio of divine responsibilities included doorways, beginnings, time, transitions, and endings. Not as high-profile as some his godly contemporaries, Janus likely didn’t have as much fun in his day-to-day work as say Bacchus, god of wine, Eros, goddess of love and procreation or Lidl, god of discounting, but he did (does) occupy a special place within the pantheon by capturing that deeply human concept of duality. Of things being both good AND bad. When you’re both happy AND sad. Drunk AND sober. Excited AND scared.
In later times, Janus’ double-visage was adopted by those of a theatrical leaning and morphed into the familiar masks of comedy and tragedy that you see above proscenium arches in theatres. Anyway, if you can forgive a little bit of a stretch, the two faces of Janus have hung large over the past week (and not just because he is / was Italian) and if you were able to look him in his four eyes, you’d see that one of his faces was Boris Johnson and the other looked very much like Harry Kane.
And so that’s what I’m running with this week.
BORIS JOHNSON JANUS
On Monday the Prime Minister announced that the pandemic was no longer his problem. Or at least it felt like that. To the delight of some, including many of his own MPs and the Daily Mail, Johnson said that England was on track to remove pretty much all Coronavirus restrictions on July 19th. So no more social distancing, no more masks in shops, no more school bubbles, no restrictions on numbers in pubs, theatres, weddings. It will all be gone. As will, although not until a couple of weeks later, isolating if you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive, as long as you’ve been double-vaccinated. It’s going to be a huge change. “It’s now or never” said the PM, convinced that the tremendous success of the vaccine roll-out has “broken the link” between Covid infections and deaths.
It’s strange. So much of this is strange. So much of the past what, fifteen, sixteen months has been strange but I’d imagined feeling jubilant at the lifting of restrictions after so long of living a life necessarily curtailed. I’d imagined rushing out and hugging strangers or gathering a load of my dearest friends together and embarking on a weekend of gleeful hedonism (Scrabble, a cheese course, maybe a modest hike up a nearby hill) when in fact I just feel trepidatious. With the numbers of Covid infections climbing steadily due to the particularly beastly Delta variant and with hospitalisations and deaths creeping upwards too (albeit, thank goodness, nothing like during the unvaccinated times) it does seem a very problematic moment to throwing caution to the four winds. When new Heath Secretary Sajid Javid suggested this week that daily infections could reach around 100,000 EVERY DAY by later in the summer, it caused scientists and leaders around the world to exclaim in capital letters: GOODNESS ME WHAT ON EARTH IS THE UK PLAYING AT?
Maybe Johnson’s right. We do need to get back to living. We need the economy to recover, to overcome the massive hit inflicted by Brexit and it’s going to be wonderful to do the things that we’ve not been able to do for so long. But it’s a gamble. A massive, libertarian gamble so let’s hope the much-referenced “vaccine wall” manages to hold back the tide.
HARRY KANE JANUS
Okay, I understand that a lot of this is annoying. For a lot of people, the constant refrain of “it’s coming home”, which is now even being used by people as a sign-off in their WhatsApp messages and a greeting in the street –
Yoda May the Force by with you Luke.
Skywalker It’s coming home.
– is almost as irritating as the endless, tenuous links to the success of the England football team whenever you switch on the telly or pass a billboard. I’ve lost count this week of the number of desperate hitchings to the England wagon by shops, financial services, supermarkets (obviously) and pretty much everyone else. “Support England by buying our dog food – anything is PAWsible with proper nutrition! Just ask the German (shepherd) defence” . . . . . I understand it grates. It grates me too.
But how do you explain the reaction on Wednesday night following England’s nerve-rattling, Kane-scoring, penalty-diving (?) semi-final win over the brave and brilliant Danish team? How do you account for the primal explosion of pleasure with people clambering up lampposts, dancing on sofas, spraying lager over their friends as if from some giant booze hosepipe: throngs of jubilant fans writhing around each other like snakes in a barrel? Where does all this madness come from? What does it possibly mean?
For the record, here’s the complete set of Thursday morning headlines:
FINALLY! / KANE YOU BELIEVE IT? / AND FINALLY / ENGLAND MAKE HISTORY / PROBABLY THE BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD / IS THIS THE GREATEST DREAM EVER? / FAIRYTALE FOOTBALL / THE HISTORY BOYS / ENGLAND’S DREAMING
The facts are simple: England (‘s men’s team) are in the final of a major football competition for the first time since 1966. It’s not the World Cup but the European Championship is a very close second in terms of prestige and significance for anyone who cares enough to have an opinion about it. My earliest England memory is of the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 (Maradona’s hand of God etc) and so it’s been a very, very long time to wait to see them reach a final. Finally, finally we’ve (they’ve) reached one and have done so playing a style of football that’s intelligent, sometimes attractive and seemingly unburdened by the many, many failures of the past. It’s refreshing, it’s different. It’s new.
Those who’ve criticised the England manager Gareth Southgate must now be quiet. The man brings dignity, humility and acumen to the job; he’s been able to wrestle England’s success away from the greasy hands of politicians who’ve tried, as politicians always do, to co-opt the triumph of others for their own ends. He’s a man who expresses pride in being English but rejects the poisonous nonsense that often accompanies it; if you’ve not read his open letter published ahead of this tournament then I urge you to do so. It’s a balm. It’s a rallying call.
But as for meaning? Well, it’s all back to two-headed Janus. It means nothing but it also means everything. It’s banal but it’s fresh. It’s only a game but for some, for me, it’s also so much more than that.
And after a year and a half of darkness it is, for a few glorious days at least, pure brilliant light.
(Caveat – we may still lose. Italy are really, really good)
To play us out, well . . . . altogether now . . . . . SWEEEEEEEET CAROLINE …..