Were those weekend tourists really so wrong? – David Behrens

Don’t forget to put your clocks forward this weekend. I’m putting mine on by three months.

Shoppers queue outside a Morrisons supermarket

There have been many parallels drawn between the Second World War and the dystopian world into which we have been transplanted this week. In particular, the rush by manufacturers to supply ventilators to meet the expected demand has been likened to the turning over of car factories to make Spitfires.

However, the Blitz Spirit mentality of the 1940s is the very opposite of what passes for community spirit today. This is partly by design; we are required to keep away from each other, not huddle together in communal shelters. But it is also a symptom of a society in which watching each other’s back is the exception rather than the rule.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This was most evident last weekend, when, as I noted beforehand, the National Trust threw open the doors of its outdoor properties, with free passage through the turnstiles.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at 10 Downing Street

Thousands took them up on the offer, taking advantage also of the first decent weather since the punishing winter. People flocked to Scarborough, Filey and Whitby, too, and long queues formed outside the seafront cafes.

The resulting condemnation sent everyone scuttling back home and forced the National Trust to pull up the drawbridges – literally, in some cases. But were the visitors really to be blamed? The Trust is hardly a fringe organisation; on some issues it is an official voice of the nation. Nor had it overstepped the Government guidelines in place at the time – which was a mere seven days ago but already a lifetime away.

It can’t be right either to criticise small business owners at seaside resorts and other tourist honeypots for trying to cater to the trade which is their bread and butter. Yet the instruction to visitors from Town Hall and Trade Association alike was to stay away – a message that seemed at odds with everything they stand for.

The resulting lock-in has put me in mind of the 1950s more than the Forties. We have returned to a Tony Hancock world of tedious afternoons at home, with neither shops nor places of entertainment open and nothing to do except put the clock forward and watch it count away the hours until it’s time to go to bed and begin all over again.

If last weekend achieved anything, it was to instil a sense of guilt in those who believed, with some justification, that they had done nothing wrong. As a result, we have begun behaving like characters in a zombie film, avoiding the gaze of others as we step outside for our permitted period of exercise. Half an hour, in my case, which is less than I’d get in an open prison.

Is all this necessary? And does the benefit justify the cost? Yes, and yes, I am told by people more knowledgeable and less misanthropic than I, though privately I’m not so sure – and can say so even as someone of an age for whom one of those ventilators might come in handy, were the virus to strike me.

It just doesn’t fully add up, at least not to me. Society has been brought to its knees by a virus so feeble that it can be defeated just by washing one’s hands for as long as it takes to sing God Save the Queen. In the great continuum of life, it has taken a Noah’s Ark moment such as this to remind us of how little we still know about ourselves.

I wish now that I had read more than just the flyleaf of the book I bought my son for Christmas, when we still had bookshops. It was called The Mathematics of Life, and postulated the theory that numbers underpinned all of biology and that unlocking the secrets of evolution was only a matter of finding the right equations. I may have oversimplified this, but I am not a mathematician. My son is now entitled to say that he is, and I shall get him to explain it to me when I next see him. But that might not be for months now, even though he is only two hours away.

That is a minor inconvenience, of course, compared to the real hardship many are suffering, a burden made more difficult still by the absence of tangible explanation, mathematical or otherwise. Only our conviction that there will be light at the end of the tunnel will sustain us through it.

And so, as we observe the beginning of British Summer Time from behind our blackout curtains and draw solace from having one less hour to bear, the best we can do is turn for salvation to the NHS, the principal beneficiary of all this, and to its leader, the Health Secretary, Mr Hancock. Matt, not Tony.