My parents are in their late seventies now and it’s one job we don’t let them do. In a year in which I’ve seen some bizarre sights, this was one I had never even imagined. As we pulled down the loft ladder and started unloading boxes, mum and dad, also wearing masks, stood several metres away in the living room.
When we had placed all the boxes in the conservatory, we retreated to a safe distance to say our goodbyes, reminding mum and dad to spray everything with disinfectant immediately.
This is Christmas 2020. Boris Johnson can say all he likes about bubbles and households, but this family won’t be meeting up on Christmas Day. Instead, we will cook turkey and all the trimmings at our house and take portions round in mother’s famous ‘insulated dishes’.
I did mention investing in a hostess trolley – my parents only live a six-minute walk away from our house – but we’re worried it would be a waste of money if it snows unless we could fit it with skis.
You’ve got to keep your sense of humour, somehow. We might joke grimly about Matt Hancock saying don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and passing it on, but it would be no laughing matter if either grandparent contracted it.
Almost two million British people have been infected and more than 64,000 individuals have died from the disease; these are the stark facts, not just lines on a graph. It doesn’t take a government scientist to tell us that if it’s really so infectious, six of us hunkering down for the day together could potentially put us all at risk. My 18-year-old son works in a supermarket for heaven’s sake.
So far, thankfully, he has stayed fit and well. How he would feel if he turned out to be an asymptomatic carrier and came home from his shift on Christmas Eve, then gave the virus to his cherished grandparents? It’s one gift he would regret forever.
I’m not prepared to put the mental pressure on him, or his sister, who will have just broken up from school (where there are countless Covid cases), or my husband, who works in other people’s houses. And me? I’ve lost count now of friends and acquaintances whose parents have died with ‘Covid’ on their death certificate.
This was no cowardly decision. It’s a pragmatic acceptance that we have to do things slightly differently this year. We rehearsed several alternative scenarios; going into voluntary quarantine for 14 days before the 25th (financially ruinous), or assuming we were all non-symptomatic, paying for six private coronavirus tests a couple of days before (almost as financially ruinous).
If we lived in warmer climes – imagine that this cold and drizzly December – we could have a garden barbecue, only my mother doesn’t like charred meat. So we decided that this year, just for once, we could all survive – possibly literally – by being mature and sensible, whatever Mr Johnson says is allowed.
Put it this way. If one of us had a raging case of the sickness and diarrhoea bug norovirus, we wouldn’t be going near anyone else on Christmas Day, would we? And we all remember Christmases when someone was poorly with flu and took to their bed.
One year, as a child, I developed glandular fever and started hallucinating as I performed my role as narrator in the Sunday school nativity play. I don’t remember much after that until about the beginning of January.
I wouldn’t say that we are an over-cautious family. Mum and dad are confident enough to do some shopping, wearing their matching face shields of course. They are still greeting the newspaper delivery man and the postman from their doorstep and keeping up their medical appointments.
However, at the weekend, they learned that the husband of my mother’s best friend has contracted coronavirus. At 72, he’s really quite seriously ill. His wife, so far, is testing inconclusive.
Worryingly, this couple visited and stood, albeit socially-distanced, in the garden on December 11 when it was dad’s 77th birthday. When coronavirus strikes so close to home – literally in your own front garden – it shifts up the ante several gears.
My parents are ultimately law-abiding, but in the past few months they have questioned authority like never before. The conduct of most of the Government, and the confusing edicts over tiers and bubbles, has left them cold.
Like us and the rest of their close family – my sister lives down in Kent and is staying put – they’re dealing with this weird new world with a massive dose of realism. That’s why we’re taking matters into our own hands. We won’t be cancelling Christmas. We’ll just be using our common sense.
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