The Daily Telegraph
Hands up who’s just had enough?
With Freedom Day delayed again is it any wonder #Imdone is trending? While some understand the need to buy time, Miranda Levy reports on why she’s one of many who can’t take any more of this stop-start life
Two images from the weekend speak louder than any charts and graphs and rumours of doom. A heaving Southend beach, with not a speck of sand to be seen. Then, a leaping crowd of lobster-red football fans, beer a-spraying, celebrating Raheem Sterling’s corker that led to a 1-0 victory over Croatia in the Euros.
They think it’s all over, and maybe it is.
Mr Prime Minister. We are done. Our summer’s arrived, and you aren’t taking any of it from us.
#I’mdone is trending on Twitter, and maybe the Government should take note. Here’s a sample tweet from one Julie M Lowe. Maybe Julie speaks for the rest of us? “I had Covid, I have antibodies, I have had both vaccines, I’ve worn a mask, I’ve sanitised to within an inch of my life,” she wrote.
“I didn’t see my daughter for 3 months last yr, my son for 6 (due to our jobs).
“I’m not an expert, so had to trust others. But now, #I’mdone no more. It’s over.”
Lowe may not be an expert, but the experts are starting to agree – at least on the psychological impact of this limbo. Professor Cary Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health at the Manchester Business School at Manchester University. “We’ve come to the point where we’ve all had enough,” he says. “The situation is affecting everyone emotionally. ‘I’m done’ could mean ‘we can’t accept any more restrictions’, or it could mean: ‘I’m going to live my life, now.’ My feeling is that both are true, but the latter is the louder voice right now.”
It’s not as if we haven’t done our bit. We complied. The vast majority of us willingly gave up most of 2020. We “got it”, of course – especially after, Mr Johnson, you were taken into intensive care on April 5. Anyone with a heart was genuinely worried. That evening, the Queen bade us remain stoical til we met again. We obliged.
We knew it was serious, that people were dying. We didn’t need rules to make us stay indoors. We wanted to help. We clapped, and we cried at the images coming out of ICUS
On July 4, Independence Day, we went roaring back to nail salons and restaurants. But then the “in-out-inout” Hokey Cokey began. Rule of Six, Covid marshals, that ridiculous carrot of a Christmas “if we behaved” that was always going to be cancelled.
At the start of this year, we were thrown the scraps. April 12 (when non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, nail salons reopened, with an outdoor rule of six) in bars. Then, again, on May 17 (30 people outside and – er – Officially Sanctioned Hugs). But now – surprise, surprise – The Big Bang June 21 Freedom Day has been kicked back yet another month, to roll out the vaccine to more adults.
Many of us never quite trusted this finishing line. Those hints and rumours and circumspect voices on Radio 4’s Today were clearly preparing the soil. When we woke up to those doom-mongeringly careful scientists, we prayed they’d be overruled by the freedom-loving and economically concerned. But deep down, we knew.
According to Prof Cooper, this constant vacillation has been psychologically no good for us, at all. “As long as there is stability, people can cope with negative things,” he says. “We coped well with the lockdowns. But what we can’t handle is the insecurity. It seems as though our Prime Minister had a strong need to please the public. But being overoptimistic can be damaging if something goes wrong.”
Dr Sheri Jacobson is a retired senior therapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the founder of Harleytherapy.co.uk.
“We like a view of the future we can stick to,” she says. “There is a motivational business book called Who Moved My Cheese, by Dr Spencer Johnson. He tells of a parable where there are mice and humans running around a piece of cheese. The cheese is taken away. The mice adapt, but the people expect the cheese to be there, the way they wanted it. We are a bit like that with our ‘old’ freedoms, which we rather got used to.”
But this isn’t just a matter of a lack of adaptability on our part, nor only a matter of Candide-style overoptimism. The continuing restrictions for many just don’t make sense. Recent figures from Public Health England have shown that only three per cent of Delta variant cases had received two vaccinations. Yes, it’s true that cases are rising. But 97 per cent of us are fighting it off pretty well. And the vaccination programme continues apace – 71 million doses have been given to date, and 31 million of us are double-jabbed.
Then there’s the fact that people are dancing and hugging at Wembley while the rest of us are being told we can’t have more than six people over for dinner. And bizarrely, remember this time last year when we didn’t have the vaccines and could trip away to a Greek island; with the filling in of a passenger locator form being the only requirement for entry.
So will the Government have an uprising on their hands? Polling shows the country is split down the middle on supporting Boris’s last heave for freedom. But, it won’t take long for even the supporters to start to wobble – with psychologists believing we’ll start ignoring government edicts and making our own decisions. In fact, it’s already happening. “People will increasingly make their own risk assessments,” says Prof Cooper. “For example, we’ll hug our relatives if we know they’ve been vaccinated and the chance of anyone catching anything is low.” Dr Jacobson agrees. “There is a growing feeling of ‘we’ve done our bit’,” she says. She describes it as “a sense of fed-up-ness”.
We are lamenting our postponed holidays and cancelled parties, but, for many working in those businesses, the continuing delay is disastrous. The Institute of Economic Affairs yesterday estimated the cost of postponing the end of lockdown could amount to £1 billion a week. Seventy-six per cent of those in the retail business say they will be badly affected by the postponement. That’s before you mention the 5.1 million people on NHS waiting lists – the worst situation in its 73-year history. Of course we need to be sensitive to the worried and the hesitant, many of whom will have suffered with serious Covid or lost loved ones.
But do we really need to “make one last sacrifice”, as Nick Robinson put it on yesterday’s Today? Or are we done with Carrying On? We’ve certainly had our fill of Keeping Calm.
And so, we stealthily grab our freedoms. Face coverings are hanging from ears on public transport. We no longer mask up to visit the loo from our restaurant tables. Thirty-two people at a barbecue? I won’t tell if you won’t.
One last thing, Mr Johnson. A standout feature on the #Imdone Twitter feed is a general annoyance about the G7 drinks you had on Carbis Bay this weekend. We all saw your officially socially distanced photo before you scrunched together in cheery conviviality. Dominic Raab tried to excuse it. ”It’s always been different principles for social entertainment and weddings than for government business,” he declared. Says it all, really.
But, then again, perhaps you world leaders are just like the rest of us: showing one face in public, then doing what you damned like when (you think) the cameras are off.
And so, with respect, we are hashtag “done”.
Many of us never quite trusted this finishing line. Deep down, we knew
Are we done with Carrying On? We’ve certainly had our fill of Keeping Calm
Turning 40 this year – and with a birthday in early July – the stars appeared to have aligned for me to have one of the first big parties of regained freedom. It wouldn’t have been just a celebration for me, but a celebration for all my friends and family, many of whom haven’t seen each other for a year and a half.
We’d planned a big daytime bash in a small pub near us; an independent business which – despite lots of innovation and pivoting – has had a tough year.
We’d designed the invitations, asked our 70 guests to save the date, planned how many bottles of chilled beer and rosé to order and booked a DJ. We’d even dared to look forward to it after a stop-start year for our holiday plans, theatre bookings and all the other things that make life worth living.
At our last meeting with the pub owner, we joked about a Plan B, as he sketched out some menu plans.
Initially, I wasn’t that up for having a big party for my 40th, mainly due to my own laziness and love of a quiet life, but my wife managed to persuade me it was a good idea, and I was starting to agree. Now that we can’t go ahead as planned, and while I’m resigned to accepting the word of the scientists on why Freedom Day needs to be delayed, I’m surprisingly disappointed.
We’re faced either with postponing the party until August, when I feel as if the moment to celebrate may have passed (it is only a 40th, after all), or whittling down our guest list from 70 to 30, which is essentially asking me to choose between marking the milestone with my friends or my family.
Part of me wants to can it completely as all this to-ing and fro-ing does your head in after a while and certainly sucks the fun out of the party planning.
While I believe that another year on earth is something to celebrate, a birthday party should be a joyful project and not an exercise in frustration.