‘I have of late — but wherefore I know not — lost all my mirth, forgone all customs of exercises and, indeed, it goes so heavily on my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.”
The moving closing speech from the classic Withnail And I has been playing on my mind a lot recently. Yes, I realise that those words weren’t actually written by Withnail or the director Bruce Robinson but by some old dude from Birmingham who apparently wrote a couple of plays back in the olden days.
But I’ll always associate it with Withnail and the sentiments he expressed in that scene seem to sum up how a lot of us are feeling at the moment (as an interesting aside for Withnail fans, the original screenplay saw him deliver the speech and then go back to his flat to shoot himself in the head. I’m rather glad that didn’t make the final cut).
We seem to have lost our mirth. I’ve certainly forgone any exercise. Ultimately, it feels as if we have all just lost our mojo. That’s understandable. After all, we’ve endured nine months of massive disruption to our lives and the question is no longer about whether you have been affected by lockdown, but more a case of just how bad the impact has been.
Energy levels are low. Routines have been tossed out the window. Certainly, one thing I’ve noticed is that everyone’s sleeping patterns have become a bit wonky. It’s now rare that I go to bed before 5am and I feel like I’ve had a bad case of jet lag for most of the second lockdown.
Which is why we should all be looking forward to Christmas even more than usual.
I have to admit, I love Christmas in normal times and I’m especially excited about enjoying it in these extremely abnormal times.
We all need a break. We need something, anything, to take our mind off the chaos and panic we have experienced for most of 2020. And what better way to distract yourself than plunging into the holiday spirit?
You could see people’s appetite for diversion back in October. Halloween decorations seemed to go up much earlier this year and it has been the same for this Christmas. People openly admitted to putting the tree up at the start of the month. While I’d normally be the first to sneer at such premature behaviour, this is not a year to be sneering at anyone: if it makes you feel better, then just do it.
This is the first year we won’t have a tree but at least we have a happy reason — our two crazy young dogs destroy everything they see and the thoughts of them chewing through the lead for the lights are too horrible to contemplate. I like seeing little faces light up at Christmas time but not because they’ve just electrocuted themselves.
The grim reapers of the public health lobby have developed an almost Cromwellian opposition to this year’s Christmas. One of them even suggested postponing the whole thing until the middle of June, which shows that while they are obviously experts in epidemiology, they don’t have such a strong grasp of basic human nature.
Because there’s only the two of us, the dinner plans will be the same as always. I’ll stick the turkey on early enough and then sit down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with a glass of Buck’s fizz before scurrying back into the kitchen after the final scene because, ahem, there’s something in my eye.
I can’t wait.
Hell, this year I’m even looking forward to doing the shopping. Well, ‘looking forward’ may be a step too far but I’m not dreading it as much as usual. I’m also going to avoid the mistake I made two years ago when I left everything until Christmas Eve.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this time of year. You just need to have a bit of optimism about you. Indeed, one of the unintended benefits of Covid is that at least those of us who do venture out to our local pub to meet some friends won’t have to put up with those eejits who like doing The 12 Pubs.
This is going to be a much quieter Yuletide than most of us have ever experienced. For younger people, that’s going to be a burden but for old farts like myself, I’m quite happy to have a more sedate affair — there are no office parties, we all have the perfect excuse to stay at home and avoid meeting people if we’re not in the mood and we can all look forward to kicking back a bit.
A week ago, I was worried that I wasn’t getting the festive vibe — that would be in keeping with the general miasma of apathy that has covered me like a shroud for the last few months.
But now? Well, now I’m beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. In fact, I really got in the mood when I watched Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Christmas Cinema on BBC4 the other night. I was even more delighted when he definitively proved that Die Hard is, indeed, a Christmas movie.
God knows we’ve all earned a break from the incessant doom and gloom and — whisper it — we all suspect we’ll be back in lockdown in the new year.
So we better make the most of the limited freedoms we have at the moment.
Remember that line from The Usual Suspects? “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
That’s where we are at the moment when it comes to the pernicious so-called cancel culture. Interestingly, the main purveyors of cancel culture claim it doesn’t even exist and that the whole thing is a right-wing myth.
Yes, those who complain about cancel culture are stereotyped as racist bigots who can’t face the consequences of their actions — which is a reminder that the old principle of being able to speak freely without fear or favour has long been kicked to the kerb.
Jordan Peterson’s Canadian publisher recently faced a revolt from its younger staff when it announced his latest book. Rather wonderfully, at the staff meeting to protest against the publication, many of them even started to cry. One of them wailed that Peterson had ‘radicalised’ her father — a father who must now be wondering what sort of spoiled, emotionally incontinent and entitled ninny he has raised. Their hysterical tears, which I imagine were more performative than sincere, were probably a good indication that they’re in the wrong business. How can you work in publishing and have a freak-out over the idea of someone writing a book?
Now Julie Burchill has been given a belt of the censorious crozier.
Following an online row she had with Ash Sarkar, a Muslim activist and Corbyn supporter, the publishers Little, Brown pulled her new book.
The topic of the book she was writing? Um, it was called Welcome to the Woke Trials and was all about the rise of...cancel culture.
Now that is the definition of irony. Burchill has since found a new publisher for the book. I look forward to reading it.