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The Gareth Roberts Column: Christmas Present

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In his latest fortnightly column, Richmond Council’s leader shares a Christmas message:

One of the more difficult things about the Covid crisis is that just when you think you’ve got one issue sorted, a new challenge pops up, like a game of whack-a-mole, to take its place. Sisyphus himself would probably take a step back from his eternal task of pushing the boulder up the hill, whistle and admit that, all things being equal, he had it easy in comparison.

Even Christmas has not been immune to the cold touch of the fickle finger of coronavirus fate and we now find ourselves in Tier 4. For many people the prospect of a Christmas surrounded by family and friends has vanished like a frost in sunlight. Once again, we find ourselves placed under additional restrictions and our already struggling local businesses will have to face yet more uncertainty as we move into the New Year.

And, of course, with further restrictions come more lightly hectoring videos from me, either encouraging people to wear masks and wash their hands, or to impart the latest grim statistics about the local spread of the virus. As somebody who has something of a reputation as a Political Pollyanna, who is well known for walking on the sunny side of the street with my hat firmly on the side of my head, I have to say that being asked to play the panto villain doesn’t sit particularly comfortably. However, it’s part of the job and it would be churlish in the extreme to complain too much having spent a fair part of my life asking people to let me do it. So that’s enough with the self-pity.

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While this year may well be one that most right-thinking people will be all too happy to forget, we mustn’t lose sight of the, I hesitate to use the phrase, sunlit uplands which lie in the future.

The vaccine is undoubtedly good news, in fact I’d go further and suggest it represents the best news of the year, narrowly pipping the fact that in just a few short weeks Joe Biden will take the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But it will be some months before we’re all vaccinated, so we must look to more immediate reasons to be cheerful.

And for me, and this may seem counterintuitive, I think that the way in which the pandemic is forcing us to rethink how we do Christmas is an opportunity. I know that there will be many businesses that will be hit hard, and I hope that the Chancellor will make sure the support is there to help them recover; but the idea of a quieter Christmas, a more reflective Christmas where perhaps we allow ourselves to forego the traditional orgy of consumerism, where we draw those things and those people who we cherish all the more close is an opportunity that we shouldn’t let slip through our fingers.

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As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If that lemonade can be mixed with a glug of advocaat and a drop of lime juice to make the perfect Christmas snowball then there’s no harm whatsoever in that, is there?

I wish you all a very peaceful Christmas and a restful, optimistic new year

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