It’s New Year’s Day and we’re watching “Dunkirk” a film so full of dramatic trauma that, midway through, I have to go off to the toilet and look at the latest COVID figures on my phone for light relief.
Often it’s been hard to see the benefits of a year most people are happy to turn their back on but I have felt the upsides of being confined to my own home or walking in solitary union with a dog.
Most of us are pretty lucky really.
There can’t have been too many periods in history where we have not been mired in some sort of struggle against war, literal or metaphorical, and watching a film in which thousands of men younger than my son are spending their lives perpetually moments from certain death puts the pubs being closed into some sort of perspective.
On the radio this morning a number of BBC correspondents are being asked what they think 2021 holds for us and the first question posed is, “When do you think we’ll be able to get back to normal?”
What was so good about “normal” anyway that we’re so desperate to get back to it?
There are certain things I won’t miss about 2020 but there are also parts of it I’ll cherish.
For example, I cannot imagine when I’ll experience another New Year’s Day on which I get texts from my respective children’s bedrooms at 7.10 (AM) to tell me that they are coming out to walk the dog with me in the freezing cold.
An hour later, as I am holding the arm of my teenage daughter to ensure she doesn’t fall up a muddy slope, the beautiful significance of this family moment is not lost on me.
I don’t care if it’s a one-off but I’m grateful to 2020 for giving me that little gift.
I’ve been struck too by the polarisation of people’s attitudes.
There are plenty of depressing stories like this one if you choose to look for them, but there are other stories too. Stories of hope and connection, community, and support.
There’s a young couple who live a few doors away. We’ve never spoken but I think they might be Italian.
She often does a workout at the end of the road under the tree by the dog bin which is frequently overflowing with bags of dog poo because the council doesn’t empty it frequently enough.
When people walk past her doing star-jumps and lunges or stretching on her yoga mat they look at her as if she’s got a screw loose.
To me, she always seems as if she’s gone to a place in her head where she is oblivious to the judgement of strangers.
She is a care assistant or something similar, but certainly a frontline worker.
On the day that we finally left the European Union, a day on which one imagines people like her feel less welcome in their own homes, I was walking with the dog and we passed her on the street.
“Hi,” I said
“Hello” she replied.
Then she turned and called, “I have something for you. Can I bring it in a few minutes?”
We’ve never really spoken before.
She returned with some pieces of Cozonac, a delicious Romanian New Year bread made with chocolate and walnuts and Turkish delight. It turns out she’s Romanian and her name is Esther.
As I gratefully received her wonderful gift it reminded me of the time, long before the pandemic, I offered a loaf of sourdough to my English neighbour.
“What is it?”
“What kind of bread?”
By that stage, I’d lost my enthusiasm for benevolence.
After “Dunkirk” there is a suggestion at dinner we watch “1917” next. I’m going to give that one a miss because I need to make my friend Esther a loaf of sourdough bread.