SARAH VINE: This has knocked the stuffing out of all of us


Had things been different, the kids and I would have been on our way to Italy this morning, to see my parents (my husband was always going to be working over Christmas because of Brexit).

I booked the flights back in July, in a moment of ill-fated optimism.

In my folly I, like so many others, thought that things were heading in the right direction, Corona-wise.

I fancied that the combination of better treatments, a vaccine and the positive effects of the restrictions would have made some sort of normal Christmas possible.

I have several friends and colleagues who, they tell me, have absolutely no intention of respecting the restrictions. They call and text me several times a day to rant, as though they think I might be able to do something about the situation [File photo]

I could not have been more wrong. As I write, Italy has just announced that it is joining Belgium and the Netherlands in closing all air traffic with the UK. 

Dreams of drinking thick hot chocolate in the piazza and reuniting with the dear relics after more than a year have, along with everyone else’s hopes of a traditional family Christmas, long evaporated.

Upstairs in his study, my husband sits ashen-faced on yet another interminable Cabinet Zoom call.

My daughter is frantically texting her friends as the realisation grows that none of them is going to be able to see each other for the foreseeable future, and that New Year’s Eve – something they’ve been planning for months – is also cancelled.

She is fairly sanguine about it all, but she is also 17, in her last year of school. A memorable year in any young girl’s life, fast turning into one to forget.

Only my son seems unaffected by the situation. But then again, being a 16-year-old boy, if it doesn’t involve football or girls it doesn’t really cross his radar.

Even my father, not a man generally given to overt displays of affection, rang me to say how sad he was at not being able to see us.

If the Government had not been so adamant that Christmas would be ‘saved’ we might not feel this way. But time and time again they assured us, forgetting that expectation is the enemy of all happiness and that in raising all our hopes they were risking disaster, writes Sarah Vine

If the Government had not been so adamant that Christmas would be ‘saved’ we might not feel this way. But time and time again they assured us, forgetting that expectation is the enemy of all happiness and that in raising all our hopes they were risking disaster, writes Sarah Vine

‘I’m even going to miss your ghastly beasts [his quasi-affectionate term for my children], S.’

I will miss him too, incorrigible old rogue that he is. And my mother, of course.

But I’m one of the lucky ones. Both my parents are alive and healthy, despite living in one of the parts of the world hardest hit by Covid.

They may not have me or my ‘beasts’ for company this Christmas, but they do at least have each other.

There are far too many who will be completely alone at Christmas, unable to leave their houses because they find themselves in the extremely vulnerable category.

People who have spent months on end removed from normal life, for whom this brief respite over Christmas represented a genuine lifeline.

One friend, a severe asthmatic who is separated from his partner and lives alone in a Tier Four area, can’t even now travel to drop off his children’s presents. Because of Covid he hasn’t seen his 11-year-old for months, although they communicate via Facebook.

Unable to work, his business has all but evaporated. He is alone and broke, with only his dog for company (thank God for dogs, eh?).

This is a father in his forties we’re talking about here, by the way, not some elderly widower. Covid – whether directly or indirectly – has spared no one.

Others are more defiant. I have several friends and colleagues who, they tell me, have absolutely no intention of respecting the restrictions. They call and text me several times a day to rant, as though they think I might be able to do something about the situation. 

I can’t, of course, but – as for the many readers who email me for the same reasons – I seem to act as a vaguely soothing lightning conductor.

Like many, they are absolutely furious, not just because their Christmas plans have been ruined, but because they think the Government’s handling of the situation has been wrong right from the start.

They think the current strategy will kill more in the long term than it will save, through depression, loneliness, job losses and economic catastrophe.

They point out that lockdowns clearly don’t work, or we wouldn’t be where we are. They want to know why, if the justification for closing everything down is to ‘protect the NHS’, the Government didn’t use the summer to build more Nightingale hospitals and vastly increase capacity.

For others it’s not the inconsistencies and confusion that infuriate them so much as the underlying insidiousness of lockdowns and the threat they represent to daily freedoms.

On this, I must confess, I wholeheartedly agree. I understand how difficult it is for ministers to get the rules right, and what a fine line it is they are having to tread between controlling infection and keeping the economy from flatlining.

But I have always felt deeply uneasy about the way restrictions have allowed the state to interfere with people’s lives at a level which I consider completely beyond their remit.

Encouraging neighbour to rat on neighbour, issuing draconian fines for breaking social distancing rules and guidelines governing people’s sex lives sit very uncomfortably with me. 

And it’s very hard, when there’s talk of patrolling the borders with Scotland and Wales and prohibiting travel between different tier levels, to not feel the creeping sense that we are moving inexorably towards a quasi-police state.

As I write, Italy has just announced that it is joining Belgium and the Netherlands in closing all air traffic with the UK. Dreams of drinking thick hot chocolate in the piazza and reuniting with the dear relics after more than a year have, along with everyone else’s hopes of a traditional family Christmas, long evaporated. Travellers are pictured at Gatwick

As I write, Italy has just announced that it is joining Belgium and the Netherlands in closing all air traffic with the UK. Dreams of drinking thick hot chocolate in the piazza and reuniting with the dear relics after more than a year have, along with everyone else’s hopes of a traditional family Christmas, long evaporated. Travellers are pictured at Gatwick

But perhaps the thing I find most worrying is the way that all the confusion, all these conflicting emotions and all these repeated blows to the collective psyche of the nation, have, in the space of just a few months, knocked the stuffing out of all of us.

Because, for all the different views expressed, that is the one sentiment that seems to unite everyone I know: people are just gutted.

Gutted that they can’t slump next to their mother-in-law on the sofa on Christmas Day, wishing the old bat would stop snoring and stealing all of the purple Quality Streets.

Gutted that they won’t be able to sample Grandma’s famous thrice-boiled Brussels sprouts or unwrap yet another lurid hand-knitted jumper. 

Gutted, in short, that the one moment of normality that had been promised them in an abnormally abhorrent year has been taken away.

If the Government had not been so adamant that Christmas would be ‘saved’ we might not feel this way. 

But time and time again they assured us, forgetting that expectation is the enemy of all happiness and that in raising all our hopes they were risking disaster.

I don’t seek to justify their actions; I always thought this obsession with Christmas was puerile and ill-advised. 

But while it’s normal for all of us to feel angry and upset at the way things have turned out, in the long run, none of those emotions does anyone any good.

We need to focus our energies on finding the positive wherever we can, or else we will drive ourselves over the edge.

And that is why Christmas, even though it will be very different this year, is still relevant. Arguably more relevant than ever. 

Because, let’s face it, the festive season has, in recent years, become about little more than rampant commercialism. 

Yet it’s really about a far more precious commodity than any shiny trinket or Louis Vuitton handbag: hope.

Fragile, flickering hope, made flesh in a tiny, helpless child. That, in the end, is the true gift of the season. And I, for one, intend to cling to it.

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