We’re almost close enough to touch freedom. But is the end of lockdown a mirage?

t’s very like a mirage, そうじゃないですか, the route out of lockdown? From April’s distance, “freedom day”, 21 六月, seemed likely to the point of being inevitable. It was so obviously going to happen that there wasn’t much else to be said, beyond: “Oh ho, that’s convenient, そうじゃないですか, so close to the prime minister’s birthday on 19 六月?」

I was planning a housewarming, delayed since November. Mr Z absolutely loves parties – gigantic ones. His ideal scenario is to pack a room so tight that somebody will definitely get set alight – because, 最終的には, with enough candles and enough bodies, it’s just a numbers game – and the only creature who can move around freely is a cat (which we don’t have), like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You can raise any objection – 200 人? 本当に? What will they all eat? – and his answer is always: “Frazzles.”

By May, we were talking about the Delta variant and Boris Johnson was saying there was nothing to worry about, which is a very decipherable code for: “This is the point to start worrying.”

The mirage was still very much intact, for me. It’s just the orientation of my character. There was the bright, sparkling pool – though, OK, it was starting to shimmer suspiciously and maybe those distant wildebeest were looking a bit hazy. 先月, we were still very much having a party – we just hadn’t invited anyone. Your basic Kevin Costner play: if you build it (in your mind), they will come. They just don’t know it yet.

It wasn’t the only event hanging on the road map. A young relative is getting married at the end of June and counting on the government lifting the 30-person limit on English weddings. It’s my family reunion at the start of July, when all the core Williamses from across the country congregate in a house and go: “This was much more convenient when we did it in Nottingham,” and: “Ah, but when we went to Newport, the Isle of Wight contingent was there – and they’re the funny ones.” Then we start to rank branches of the family in order of conviviality and then we have a fistfight. I’m least worried about the reunion, as we didn’t do it last year, for the first time that I can remember, and relations between us all have never been better.

I’m most worried about the wedding. In your middle years, on your second or third marriage, you have quite a lot of flexibility around nuptials. They can be delayed, or the wedding breakfast can be replaced with a scone at the last minute, and nobody minds, because it’s more or less what they expected of you.

In the first flush of youth, a wedding is like a planet: loads of satellites hanging off it, hens and stags, honeymoons and rehearsals, post-match analysis barbecues. Six months ahead of the event, you’ve already been arguing about the guest list for what feels like half your life. If you have to knock down the numbers, you will inevitably lose untold deposits to marquee suppliers and macaron-mongers, whose contracts are so watertight they ought to have a side-hustle in international law.

The UK Weddings Taskforce estimates that 50,000 weddings have been planned for the four weeks from 21 六月. It helpfully calculated the number of individual stems of flowers that would go to waste if the lockdown doesn’t end (300m), the amount of food in tonnes (275). If you picture the volume of cake, the tragedy of cancellation becomes mountainous. But it’s so much worse than that – it knocks the stars out of alignment. Some time soon, there’ll be a plague of mice.

By the start of June, the government was still gung-ho, but key newspapers – broadly speaking, the ones that you should always take with a pinch of salt except when they are delivering bad news while the official line is still good news – were speculating that, on a “data not dates” approach, the data wasn’t in our favour. Rishi Sunak signalled to this paper that he was comfortable with a four-week delay, which is chancellor-speak for: “If anyone makes the wrong call and we end up in a third wave, don’t stick it on me.” At least someone’s thinking ahead.

今, we’re almost close enough to touch the freedom. The most up-to-date rumours are that the full lifting is unlikely, but the rules for weddings will be eased, so maybe the prime minister is of my mind about the cake (and the mice). People up and down the country are making the best choices they can with the information in front of them, of which there isn’t any.

Johnson is in Cornwall for the G7 summit, nosing up to the hardest of hard deadlines to make the decision. He took a plane there, which doesn’t have the best optics – the carbon profligacy of air travel and all that – but he probably didn’t mean to. Most likely, he meant to get a train and missed it only after a cascade of other, also missed, appointments. You should beware of thinking about this too deeply, since you’ll land on: “A man who finds it this hard to say whether or not a party will be allowed next week … realistically, how useful is he going to be on the global challenge of the climate crisis?” And then you’ll really be spooked; freedom or no freedom, mirage or no mirage, you’ll forget you were even thirsty.

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