Jonny McCambridge: Giving thanks for our Covid Christmas

These are the quiet days.

By Jonny McCambrdige
Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 30th December 2021, 12:22 pm
Christmas Eve night: my son, pyjamas, a roaring fire and the Muppet Christmas Carol
Christmas Eve night: my son, pyjamas, a roaring fire and the Muppet Christmas Carol

The panic and bustle of the pre-Christmas rush is now a fading memory. The new year celebrations and subsequent return to work, school and the stress of normality are yet to come.

I find myself in a rare situation of having time with very little responsibility or duties that are required to fill it. It is pleasant, but the novelty always stirs a little bit of anxiety within me; a feeling that I should be more productive. I often yearn for a slower pace of life but can’t quite relax into it when it comes.

Such moments naturally lead to some reflection on what has gone before. I find myself dwelling on recent experiences of human nature, both the best and worst of it.

The days immediately prior to Christmas can be stressful for us all. I saw a number of incidents which reminded me of this as the holiday approached.

There was the traffic jam in the village where I live on Christmas week. One motorist’s ill-judged attempt to join a stationary queue of cars resulted in her blocking the traffic attempting to move in the opposite direction. I waited in the resulting logjam for some minutes as several cars angrily blasted their horns and one man rolled down his window to howl abuse.

There was the altercation in the corner shop later the same day when one woman angrily demanded to know the identity of the driver of the blue BMW which, she judged, had parked too close to her and was impeding her vehicle from easily leaving the car park. The driver was identified but, perhaps affronted by her accusation, refused to move until he had completed his shopping. She told him he could expect his car to be scratched and he warned he would summon the police if this occurred.

And then there was the ugly scene at the greengrocers on Christmas Eve when one woman was accused of jumping the queue by another shopper. A row followed in which the woman was called an ‘old bat’. I was there with my young son because he wanted to get a carrot which we could leave out for Rudolph that night.

Perhaps it is my innate antipathy towards confrontation which resulted in my extreme discomfort when I witnessed all of these encounters. The strain of trying to get sorted for Christmas led people, who may otherwise be reasonable and patient, to behave in a brutish fashion.

I can understand a little part of this. My least favourite part of the festive period is going to the supermarket to do the Christmas shopping. I struggled up and down the packed aisles, my trolley bumping and prodding against others.

At the end of the ordeal I heaved my trolley to the back of a long queue for one of the checkouts. I waited miserably for almost half an hour. When I eventually reached the till, the man working there asked me had I not noticed the sign which read ‘no alcohol’.

I had not. I forced down spasms of frustration and despair, thanked the man for pointing it out, wished him a happy Christmas and then went to join another queue.

The obvious conclusion from these anecdotes is that a holiday which is supposed to bring out the best of us, instead forces some of the worst aspects of our personality to the surface. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in this, although, as is often the case, it is only part of the story.

There was Covid in my home this Christmas. Both my wife and son were infected with the virus, forcing long periods of isolation within the house at the very time when they would usually be meeting with loved ones. My boy missed some days of school and the end of term Christmas party.

Thankfully the symptoms for both were mild, but our plans to spend Christmas with extended family had to be abandoned.

I avoided the infection, although I still had to stay at home on two occasions while I waited for PCR test results. Even when they proved negative, I didn’t feel comfortable going very far. A short trip to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk necessitated a lateral flow test before I went past the front door.

While this all led to some inconvenience and frustration, it was overcome by our appreciation for the generosity which was demonstrated towards us.

Once our situation became known, both my wife and I were swamped by messages and calls from people offering to help. There were those who brought food or treats for our son and left them on the front doorstep. There were those who called and offered to do shopping. Colleagues jumped in and covered work commitments that I was unable to fulfil. Many, many people simply messaged to ask if we were ok and if we needed anything.

Some of these messages were from good friends and family. Some were from people I know well but would not have considered to be close friends. Some were from people that I know just a little. All were appreciated and all went some way to restoring a little bit of faith in the inherent goodness of people at just the time when it was needed the most.

On Christmas Eve night the rush and stress had finally passed, and we were settling down for the holiday. As I reclined on the sofa in my pyjamas, I heard my phone buzz once again.

I checked the message. It was similar to countless ones I had received over the preceding hours and days.

‘How is everyone? Let me know if you need anything.’

I looked around. My son, excited beyond description, was lying on the floor in front of a roaring fire. My wife was entering the room with three mugs of hot chocolate. ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ was beginning on the television. There was a large plate of cookies and mince pies, which my boy and I had baked together, left on the table waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus. Rudolph’s carrot was also there. The rain was pattering against the window panes. The front door was locked.

I quickly typed out a message in response.

‘We are perfect. I have everything I need right here.’

Happy new year to everyone.