The C Word

In her final column, Claire Calman reflects on a tumultuous year

January 15, 2021 14:30

Welcome to my 43rd and final C-Word column. Although I never shut up (husband and teenage son nod vigorously at this point — they don’t say anything because it is not yet their turn to speak (take a ticket, I told you! I operate a perfectly equitable queuing system for when someone wants to speak) — I am running out of things to say about the pandemic…

When I started this column way back in March last year, I thought it might carry on for a couple of months. Who could have imagined then that, at the beginning of 2021, we’d be in a third national lockdown, that something so prosaic as popping to the shops would feel like a risky undertaking, or that we would have to develop strategies to co-exist with our families without killing each other?

In the midst of horrific statistics, a never-ending diet of bad news, not even slightly leavened by side-dishes of Brexit angst and Trumpian craziness, having to write a weekly column about this dark time has provided a rhythm to my weeks, and — most unexpectedly — has even helped keep me sane. It’s offered me an outlet to release my anxiety, mostly by making light of it, by questing for the ridiculous, the peculiar and the irrational in among the alarming news, and finding ways to lampoon it.

Most of all, it’s been a treat to have so much freedom to write whatever I like. So, I have been able to give you access to the little-known cabal of Jewish women who, while fond of Evelyn Rose recipes and a tiny touch of bling in the décor, secretly pull the strings behind global events — all from a well-appointed semi in Bournemouth.

I’ve been a whistle-blower, revealing the redacted minutes of the government committee whose aim is solely to confuse the public about coronavirus restrictions.

I’ve written about my session with a SpAd (special advisor) as part of my training to become an MP, a plan now consigned to the scrapheap due to my total unsuitability for the job (not that that seems to have been an impediment for a significant percentage of the cabinet). I’ve unveiled my ambitious plans for when I become Supreme Leader: sending Jacob Rees-Mogg back to 1821 where he came from; fining people for taking selfies; banning celery. I’ve confessed that I have failed to wash my shopping, and that I let my son’s friend indoors to use the loo because, as he was 16, I didn’t think I should make him wee in the front garden or on the street.

I’ve confided about my inability to make the man in the post office understand me when my voice is muffled by my mask, and offered you a simple guide on how to host Friday night dinner while sticking to the government’s guidelines: drink your chicken soup via a straw inserted at the side of your mask. Do not attempt this with mashed potato or gravy.

I’ve played being an agony aunt to recycle those useless government strategies into constructive advice for troubled readers, and explored the self-defeating oddity of the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme running at the same time as their facing up to the crisis in obesity levels and type two diabetes.

I’ve shared how fatigued and feverish I felt when back in April I came down with Covid-19 (as far as I know — long before the “world-beating” test-and-trace system we have today) and, many months later, how I had to “milk” my stabbed finger downwards for drops of blood to have a postal antibody test.

I’ve offered you two quizzes to test your coronavirus knowledge and given you a guide to the language of lockdown, offering rival theories as to why joggers are unable to judge a distance of two metres with any degree of accuracy, and a clarification on “essential supplies” (yes, of course they include wine and chocolate – need you ask?)

I’ve even occasionally talked about faith and attending shul via Zoom and about my plans to organise a Covid-secure shooting party as a way for my extended family to break the fast on Yom Kippur.

This week, I had planned to give you a sneak preview of the Tiers we might have to look forward to, Tiers 5 to 10, with increasingly draconian measures of strictness, so at least you’ve been spared that.

Now, I’ll be grateful for the rest. I have always filed my column on a Thursday, a whole week before it appears and, when I have still had no idea what I might write about by the end of Wednesday evening, I have been prone to panic. It’s given my week a pattern but also a certain amount of stress. Now I return to my “old normal”, working on the edits of my next (sixth) novel. No, it isn’t set in the midst of a pandemic. I’m sure most of us are thoroughly fed up of it by now and the last thing I’d want is to read a novel set in a pandemic, never mind write one. If I can work out what I want to write about after that, I know I will try to offer at least a glimmer of hope at the end, if not a perfect fairy tale ending. Perhaps, now, that’s as good as it gets — for any of us. Stay safe, keep well. Keyn-eyn-horah!


Claire Calman’s latest novel, Growing Up for Beginners, recommended by both epidemiologists and conspiracy theorists everywhere, is available online now


January 15, 2021 14:30

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