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.
#ImDone has been 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 anti-bodies, I have had both vaccines, I've worn a mask, I've sanitised to within an inch of my life.
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, #ImDone no more. It's over.
— Julie M Lowe 🇬🇧 (@julowe) June 13, 2021
Lowe may not be an expert, but the experts are starting to agree. 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 spring and summer 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 same evening, the Queen bade us remain stoical til we met again, and we obliged.
We knew the Covid situation 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 and care homes.
On July 4, Independence Day, we went roaring back to nail salons and restaurants. But then the “in-out-in-out” 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, when 30 people could meet outside. But now – surprise, surprise – The Big Bang June 21 Freedom Day has been kicked back yet another month, with Boris saying, “I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”
Many of us never quite trusted this finishing line. Those hints, 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 over-optimistic 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 over-optimism. 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 – 71million doses have been given to date, and 31million 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’ 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 £1billion 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 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.
When asked about pictures of G7 leaders mixing at close quarters at a barbecue on the beach, Dominic Raab says "it's outside" and "it's very well-ventilated" and insists "there was social distancing"
Follow the show live here: https://t.co/XiWXWDFuaW pic.twitter.com/hh4tdRKTEA
— Trevor Phillips on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) June 13, 2021
We all saw your officially socially distanced photo before you scrunched together in cheery, closer-than-one-metre-plus conviviality. Foreign Secretary 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”.
‘Have we missed the chance to have one last big family holiday?’
Emma Reed, husband Edmund and their children Ben, 17, Harry, 14, and Isobel, 11
Two years ago, on a bucket-list trip with my family in South America, I remember pausing often to savour the many special moments in the knowledge that our holidays as a tight-knit family unit had a shelf life. Complacently, I took comfort in the knowledge that we still had a couple of years to squeeze in some more exciting travel before our eldest fled the nest for adventures of his own. I scroll through those holiday photos now with a measure of disbelief that we even did that. A weirdly parallel universe in a time of travel freedom.
This year, as last, the criteria for a family holiday has been “anywhere that is not our house and preferably where we’re not going to constantly bump into people from school or work” (out went Cornwall). It’s a measure of our pandemic-nurtured realism that we haven’t dared to book anything for this summer, a summer that for us is bang in the sweet spot of familial rites of passage, with one child finishing their school career and another finishing primary school.
It’s a summer where, in another landscape, we would be pushing the boat out, eagerly dipping our toes in other cultures and exploring together. This could have been the summer of our last big holiday with all the children, and we’d have been making the most of the time before they become adults and only want to come on holiday with us because we’re paying. The dynamic will be very different then.
We had hoped that this summer would be a celebratory one, a reward for the kids for their forbearance and an opportunity for us as parents to attend the myriad of summer-term events to ceremoniously mark their passage into the next chapter of their lives. Instead, everything will be cancelled or on a very much reduced scale. Over time, we’ve found ourselves inured to things being taken away.
Another “freedom day” postponed. A year of lost opportunity. That’s the saddest thing of all.
‘I’m about to turn 18 and should be enjoying my freedom’
Ben Reed, 17
Our school prom was due to take place in a couple of weeks. There has been so much excitement and anticipation surrounding it. For us, it wasn’t just about marking the end of our school career, it was also about properly marking the end of lockdown.
One of the effects of all these restrictions on socialising means that people have become used to meeting up as a group of six – and now they tend to stick to the same small groups. This has made my year group as a whole feel more fractured where it hadn’t been before.
I was hoping that a prom would bring everyone together again so I’m devastated, as a result of the latest delay, it’s not going to go ahead.
Each year, we usually have a formal A-level graduation ceremony, which parents attend. It looks like that will still go ahead for my year – but with no parents in attendance. They will have to watch it being livestreamed instead. That will feel odd, especially as we’ve all faced such a challenging year and worked so hard.
I’m at an age where we should be enjoying our freedom, but it just hasn’t been possible to do very much. I have friends who had booked holidays abroad to celebrate the end of their A-levels, but they’re now having to make other plans. Lots of us turn 18 this year, which is usually a time for big parties – but not this year. After living through a long period where we could only see one other person, we’re just so happy that we can go out with a handful of friends again.
My 18th is at the end of August. I’m really hoping that by then I can finally celebrate properly after missing out so much.
‘To pay the rent, we turned our comedy club into a Covid testing centre’
Ophelia Francis, head booker at 2Northdown, north London
Credit: Adam Kang
When we first heard about the roadmap back in March, this June 21 reopening date for my comedy club seemed so long away – but at least it was a “back to normal” moment we could aim for.
With the vaccine rollout seemingly going well, we planned to open the smaller of our two venues, 2Northdown in King’s Cross, in July. It only has a 100-person capacity but, with social distancing, that goes down to 14 – including staff and the comedian on stage.
I’d got acts scheduled to appear from July 5 and August is fully booked: without the Edinburgh Fringe this year, we’ve had five times as many applications for slots as normal.
A four-week delay to the end of lockdown means cancellations – and a financial hit. It’ll cost us about £8,000 a week: that’s ticket sales (two shows a night, seven nights a week) as well as takings from the bar and cafe.
The frustration is that we’ve followed all the protocols and our venues are surely safer than a pub or football match. We do e-ticketing, Track and Trace, temperature checks… so why are we being penalised?
It was also a big upset to be told that we weren’t culturally important enough to benefit from the Culture Recovery Fund. Comedy is just as important as anything else. If ever we all needed a laugh, it’s now! And all those comedy shows on TV that got us through lockdown, where do you think they came from? Writers and performers hone their craft in venues like ours.
It’s tough on the comedians, too. Lots of them – the likes of Olga Koch, Alfie Brown and Fern Brady – have autumn tours booked and they need venues like us for warm-up shows.
Right now, we’re under huge pressure from our landlord, even though we’ve been doing everything possible to pay the rent, even using the building as a Covid testing centre.
Audiences want to return – our new shows have sold out – but for now we’re back to the waiting game.
As told to Marianka Swain
‘Hundreds of people depend on my summer festivals – what are they going to do?’
Jez Lee, events impresario
With this new four-week delay, I’m set to lose another eight events this summer. As the founder of Fake Festival, the UK’s only touring event featuring covers bands, I put on two marquee festivals every weekend in the summer months. We’ve already lost half of our season – around 20 events – and will now have to refund the 14,400 tickets we’d already sold for those four weeks. The money we’ve spent promoting those festivals since March is money we’ll never get back.
My business is based on specific numbers – that’s why we do 40 festivals a year, to lessen the overheads. Any less than that and it becomes very difficult to make any profit. My business plan doesn’t work if I have to halve the number of tickets. I wish I’d known about the delay earlier in the year because then I probably wouldn’t have bothered putting Fake Festivals on at all this year.
We have a lot of loyal people that work for us who fit Fake Festivals around their daily work because we are a Friday, Saturday, Sunday operation. People have already juggled around their regular gigs or even quit their main job because they make enough money throughout the summer from us. We employ about 100 staff on temporary contracts every single weekend and we hire lots of people locally, so it has a huge knock-on effect on them. We’ve also got six bands playing every weekend: what are they going to do?
The delay to lifting doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t see the data being that strong. We’re all sick to the back teeth of this but I can’t do anything about it. If I go ahead with the events, I’ll get fined. So I just have to roll over.
Boris said he wasn’t going to go back on his word and that we would be rewarded if we waited. But he has – and where is our reward?
As told to Eleanor Halls
‘If England fans can sing together, why can’t we?’
Jennifer Harper-Jones, president of Hedgerley’s Women’s Institute
The Women’s Institute has been an important part of my life for decades – and for dozens of others around our small Buckinghamshire community. Our 38 members are all over 70, and some are in their nineties. Quite a few of them are widows.
But deprived of our monthly meetings – of the summer garden party, the Christmas bash and our Pancake Day celebrations during the Covid crisis – we have lost a key social lifeline and, in some cases, have been left very lonely.
Hedgerley has played its part and followed the rules. We couldn’t wait to finally gather for our first meeting in 16 months, which was scheduled a long time ago for June 24. But with lockdown set to be extended again, we have had to postpone once more.
My bitter disappointment has been joined by a sense of anger and injustice when I saw England football fans hugging, shouting and singing together at the weekend. The congregation are not allowed to sing in our church (which only reopened a few weeks ago), even in a quiet and socially distanced fashion. It feels as if the rules are different for some people.
Unlike the younger football fans, everyone in the Hedgerley WI are all doubly vaccinated. We want to live again but we seem to have been forgotten. A third of our members don’t have computers, so moving their social life online simply hasn’t been possible. They need to meet others in person.
Last year’s long-planned centenary celebrations of the Bucks Federation were cancelled. Rescheduled for July 6, we had booked a coach to take us to Waddesdon Manor to celebrate – but this now may not be allowed to go ahead, causing more disappointment and frustration.
The weather is too unreliable for us to plan outdoor meetings, but we’re as safe indoors now as we’re ever going to be. We’ve waited for long enough. Our isolated, elderly members need face-to-face WI meetings back in their lives again.
As told to Rosa Silverman
‘If I want to celebrate my 40th I’ll have to choose between friends and family’
Turning 40 this year, with a birthday in early July, the stars seemed 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 day time 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 rose 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 bully me into it. I was just getting used to the idea and even looking forward to it. Now we can’t go ahead as planned and, while I’m resigned to accepting the word of the scientists on this, 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 choosing between my friends and 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.