The longer the lockdown lasted, the more I retreated back into the things that give me comfort. Many of us felt the same urge.
So, there was a return to the comfort food of my childhood (how could I have forgotten the simple joy of a fish finger sandwich?). I watched lots of my favourite old movies. I listened to a lot of bands I hadn’t thought about in years. Then there were the books.
Last weekend, I went rooting through my bookshelves, looking for some forgotten novel and I found a cracker – I Am Legend. Richard Matheson’s 1954 horror classic seemed the perfect choice.
Set in a post-apocalyptic society where a mysterious pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, it features a man who has to withstand nightly attacks on his house from his fellow survivors, who have now turned into a weird band of mutant vampires.
Interestingly enough, the book has enjoyed a resurgence among the anti-vax campaigners, who seem to think the whole pandemic has either been a hoax or is some sort of man-made concoction to turn us all into the strange creatures from Matheson’s book.
As it happens, around the same time as I was reading I Am Legend, a mob of anti-vax demonstrators had gathered outside Leo Varadkar’s home in Dublin 8 to protest against his policies.
Not only that, they proudly captured themselves on video shouting homophobic abuse, with one of the mob insisting the Tánaiste was “gay, Indian Muslim” and a “paedophile”.
The group involved in the protest is called We The Sovereign People and they seem to be a ragbag collection of far-right activists, Catholic extremists and, of course, anti-vaxxers.
Leo hasn’t had a good summer, as his downward spiral in the opinion polls proves; but can we all at least accept that going to a politician’s house and shouting abuse at them isn’t really the done thing in a civilised democracy? Is that too much to ask of these people?
The answer would appear to be yes, it is too much to ask. The same group had earlier pulled similar stunts outside Stephen Donnelly’s home twice in a week, including one late-night visit to the house, which must have left his family feeling terrified.
Neither Donnelly nor Varadkar or, indeed, any of their cabinet colleagues are going to be winning any popularity contests at the moment, but that doesn’t give any of us the right to harass them and their families.
Rather than apologise for any distress caused to Varadkar or his partner, they simply doubled down, with one member of the group boasting that “this is just the start of a people-powered movement. We’re going to start bringing it to their doorsteps, peacefully and lawfully”.
There is nothing peaceful about gathering outside someone’s home and shouting abuse through the window. This is what happens when the mob feels it can get away with whatever it likes.
We’ve seen occasional house protests in the past. Simon Harris had experience of it, as did numerous other TDs. But this latest round of house-protests is different, because it’s part of a wider, global descent into anti-vax conspiracy theories and madness.
It’s a grim reminder that, since the start of the pandemic, many people have completely lost faith in political and official institutions and now feel they have the right to do anything they want.
That’s because they think they have what psychologists refer to as “moral licence”.
That’s what happens when someone thinks their cause is so righteous and just that they can behave abominably in the name of the greater good.
We saw that in Washington DC last January, and we’re currently seeing such moral licence being played out on the motorways of England as the extremists of Insulate Britain glue themselves to the road and do their best to shut the traffic down.
As much as we should all cherish the right to protest and the right to freedom of assembly, these rights come with a basic responsibility to behave in a civilised manner. The fact We The Sovereign People have now boasted that they intend to bring this form of anti-social thuggery to the homes and offices of GPs who are administering the vaccine is even more sinister than their tactic of hassling politicians. After all, at least ministers have access to security and gardaí. The average doctor doesn’t.
Mobs are always dangerous because mobs always think they’re in the right and everyone else is either stupid or evil. But I was particularly interested to note the statement that they are a “people-powered movement”.
Well, if that was the case, they should run for election.
Of course, whenever these cranks do stand for office, they’re usually humiliated by the only people power that matters – the voters.
But there’s one element of that gathering outside Varadkar’s house that is proof of just how dense and politically ignorant these people are – they made people sympathise with the Tánaiste.
Even those who can’t stand Varadkar have been appalled by the group’s behaviour, and there’s a simple reason for the revulsion – anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows mobs are a bad idea at the best of times, and when it comes to this particular shower of protesters there’s a genuinely nasty and sinister edge to them.
We’ve already seen numerous online threats against politicians and even President Michael D Higgins in recent weeks, so who’s to know if one of them gets carried away outside a politician’s house and decides to physically carry out those threats?
They should be treated with the contempt and derision they deserve.