Such glorious weather, isn’t it? Perfect for popping to the pub for a quick drink. Well, maybe not “popping”. Or quick. Definitely not quick.
Using your pub app, ladies and gentlemen, please follow the bookings process and reserve a slot for a date after 4 July. On that day and no sooner, after donning your Hazmat suit (can’t be too careful!) or mask, go to the pub, register your details at the door, proceed to your table, sit down as safely as you can. Do NOT face your friend! Try to sit back to back. Try not to speak – droplets! Do not approach the bar. Place your drinks order using the bar-coded menu card on your table. The menu card will be destroyed after you have touched it.
If you are wearing a mask you may maintain a one-metre-plus distance from your companion, although drinking could be tricky. Maybe forget about the drink. It might be quicker to go to Portugal.
If you are not wearing a mask - what’s wrong with you, haven’t you read our easy-to-comprehend, 35-page booklet of guidelines, How To Go To the Pub Safely? – you should maintain a two-metre distance as not recommended by the World Health Authority or, indeed, by anyone else except British scientists, who have clearly never been to the pub.
Honestly, you would need to be utterly desperate to go to a pub or a restaurant under the glum circumstances outlined by the Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday. Fortunately for the hospitality trade, many of us are desperate. Desperate for human society, desperate for mingling and merriment, desperate for the lovely life the Government pulled the shutters down on three long months ago.
Of course it was welcome to see the PM announce a lifting of some of the restrictions which have made lockdown so lonely and maddening for millions, but it was also a disappointment. This was Boris’s chance to cast off the precautionary principle, to tell the truth about the virus (only ever a severe threat to the elderly and the vulnerable) which has almost disappeared so the chances of getting it outside of a hospital or care home are now practically nil. He could have acknowledged the punishing costs of lockdown, both economic and emotional, promised we would never lockdown again, and given a huge thumbs up to business, telling companies to get back to normal ASAP. Above all, he could have urged the British people, as President Macron so eloquently urged the French, to embrace life to the full. He didn’t. “Caution will be our watchword,” said the PM grimly. Forget la vie en rose, welcome to la vie en gris.
Our pleasures are still throttled by miles of red tape, nearly all the joy squeezed out of them. Pubs are an assault course. Shops laid out like a penitentiary. Hairdressers can open – highlights-a-go-go! – but staff must wear alienating visors while fewer people being allowed in could yet see salons close. There was even an alarming rumour that stylists would not be permitted to talk to clients (droplets!). Surely, it’s a violation of a fundamental human right not to be asked by your hairdresser, “Going anywhere nice on holiday?”
As for the creative industries, which make the UK an extraordinary £306 million every day (£112 billion in 2018 alone), not a dicky-bird of comfort for theatres or concert halls. (If cinemas are allowed to open why can’t theatres?) The entire artistic team at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, one of the best-attended venues outside London, are about to be made redundant. It even looks like panto, the mainstay of theatre’s annual revenue, will be off the bill this year, although that’s five whole months away. By which time the cultural life of the country will have collapsed. Unforgivable.
Truly, we have reached a surreal point in our history when a Conservative leader gives the people back small portions of their freedom with the proviso that they must be good boys and girls. They are our freedoms not his. He had them on loan and now we want them back.
“The fewer social contacts you have the safer you will be,” warned Boris. Not so. The vast majority of people can enjoy as many social contacts as they like and still be perfectly safe. Why is such scaremongering necessary, now that we have nothing to fear but fear itself? I suspect there is an element of the Government scrabbling save face, staving off the Corona Day of Judgement. It’s almost as if this “new normal” suits them, giving the illusion of control over a populace which is no longer certain what the rules are, and isn’t much minded to follow the more idiotic ones.
You only have to look overseas to see that many of the restrictions which will still apply in England after 4 July are considered wholly unnecessary abroad. Over the weekend, I caught up with the latest news from Denmark and Vietnam. In Copenhagen, my singer friend is rehearsing for a production of West Side Story at the opera house. (No alarm about droplets, strangely enough.) The Danish capital is back to normal, with schools fully open and only nightclubs closed. No spike in Covid cases. The same is true in Hanoi where my friend has reopened her restaurant without any distancing measures to an excited clientele.
Meanwhile, Boris tells the British people, “Slowly but surely we will restore a sense of normality.” Why does it need to be slowly? Everything could open perfectly normally tomorrow. Why, when actual pantomime is forbidden, does this political pantomime continue?
Sorry, I will not accept the new normal. It is a joyless abomination. It frightens our children, it damages what’s left of our economy, it restricts our liberty, it puts a bridle on happiness. Arbitrary and tyrannical, it is fundamentally unBritish. There should be normal pubs for people like me who will happily run the risk (when no risk exists). If you care to come along, the drinks are on me. But only if you promise not to wear a mask. And give me a hug.
Read Allison Pearson at telegraph.co.uk every Tuesday, from 7pm