From David Maughan Brown in York: Kilometre-long queues

June 6th

Another York family birthday, this time it’s grandson James turning 12.  Another expedition across town along ‘half-known roads’ to go through the increasingly familiar ritual of putting a bag of presents on the doorstep and wishing him a socially-distanced Happy Birthday when he appeared in the doorway.  Definitely no hugs.  The sense of loss that comes with not being able to share the special days in person rather than via Zoom doesn’t lessen with the repetition.  This time no lingering either as it was raining and an ‘unseasonal’ North wind was blowing.  ‘Unseasonal’ is another word that could do with some scrutiny these days.   After the wettest February on record and the driest May on record, it feels as if we could be in for the windiest June on record, if anyone tries to keep that particular record.  It is almost as if the 2020 weather is as discombobulated as the rest of us by what is, or more probably isn’t, going on. When everything becomes ‘unseasonal’ it might be time to consider what it means to be ‘seasonal’.   In the meantime I would appreciate it if somebody could work out how to lock the wind down, as my roses are not enjoying it one little bit, welcome as the rain is. The drought-breaking shower I celebrated a few days ago didn’t even begin to penetrate the rock-hard soil on the allotment.

At least the weather in Cape Town appears to be doing what it should, the winter rain is back and had we been locked down there, which we came very close to being, we wouldn’t have had make do with the 35 litres of water per adult per day which was our allowance on our last two water-restricted visits.  That relatively close shave lends itself to ongoing comparisons of lockdown experiences in our Zoom chats with our family in Cape Town.  

Yesterday my son mentioned that a couple of days after the South African government had lifted its lockdown ban on alcohol and tobacco sales he had driven past a not very rigorously socially-distanced kilometre-long queue outside a local liquor store.   The South African government, which in general responded to the pandemic vastly better than ours has, banned alcohol and tobacco sales when it imposed the lockdown, arguing that alcohol and social-distancing were not good companions.  That may well be true, but it doesn’t take any account of addiction, and although the profits of online wine merchants increased dramatically in the first weeks of lockdown in the UK, the lockdown regulations here were generally adhered to reasonably well.  The tobacco ban took no account of the history of such prohibitions and instantly created a thriving black-market for criminal gangs to exploit. An abrupt ban on a previously legal and easily accessible addictive substance is not well advised, to put it mildly. 

When it came to kilometre-long queues, however, I wasn’t in any position to brag about the wisdom of our recent performance on that front.  People who queue outside a liquor store for a couple of hours at least have something to show for their patience when they finally get to their destination.  Our democratic representatives in the House of Commons have recently been forced into a kilometre-long, socially distanced queue in order to be able to cast their votes on our behalf.  The infinitely more sensible casting of votes electronically has been stopped; Members of Parliament have been forced to ‘set an example’ by returning to London from the far-flung corners of the UK, often having to risk taking public transport, which we are all advised against, to do so; MPs who for one reason or another can’t return to London are thereby disenfranchised.   When those who could get down to London eventually get to the front of the queue, all they have achieved is the opportunity to cast a largely meaningless vote: it isn’t parliament that is making our Covid-19 policies up on the hoof.  And all because the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, the inimitable Jacob Reese-Mogg, formally titled even more risibly as ‘Leader of the House’, thinks the raucous baying of the Tory backbenchers – better suited to a dogfight than the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ – might help our chaotic shambles of a Prime Minister to look a little less pathetic as he is humiliated week after week at Prime Minister’s Questions.

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