In the Deep Midwinter

I was expecting trouble. I went armed with an out-of-date diary and an LGB Alliance pen. I was going to prick ’em down if need be. Yes, I’m talking about The List. I was prepared – and sad that I had to be. Being an unpaid fulltime carer with three PT jobs doesn’t make any sense, nor does having to prepare for battle just to pop into town to meet up with an old friend at a concert. But this is 2021; not many things make sense anymore. So I had all the legal arguments ready, about the anticipatory duty of disabled access and the privacy of sensitive (health) information under GDPR. I was prepared to shout and stand my ground and call the police…and even leave a nasty review on TripAdvisor!

I got to the venue, an old church building in the trendy West-End, smiled at one of the performers warming up at the door and nipped into the loo, mentally preparing myself. If they asked for the Nazi Vaxx Pass I’d demand my ticket as my paid-for property and then start to cause a scene. I’d rehearsed my lines while walking the dog that morning. Ben seemed impressed, so I hoped it would be alright on the night.

The queue was full of smiling people. Yes, some did wear masks but their eyes crinkled. The cool young guys (“Gamer Twink” and “Hipster” as my urban ornithology classified them, automatically) at the desk were having the usual problems with paperless tech. The one thing the plutocrats in charge of The Great Reset have forgotten is the perennial good-natured ability of human beings to f*ck things up. I don’t know if they actually found my name or not but the Hipster (unmasked) eventually waved me through. After what may or may not have been a wee bit of flirting.

I was slightly surprised (and mildly disappointed TBH) as I mentally shredded my right-of-access lines and prepared to do battle with the bar staff. The thing is, I’ve worked behind the bar and I’ve waited tables a lot too, so I have instant empathy with serving staff. And it comes across. Trust me, ask anyone who’s ever worked in Hospitality how many nanoseconds it takes them to identify a friendly customer or an AH. Not many! So I got my birra Moretti with an exchange of smiles and friendly words. Of course I left a tip. Small acts of kindness are our lifeline ATM.

And then I prepared to negotiate with the audience. Readers who are religious will know the politics of pew placement in church; readers who aren’t will understand the quick calculation needed at the threshold of a flat party: who’s fun, who’s a bore, who’s hot, who’s unhinged? It’s exhausting to survey a crowd nowadays and have to factor in all the parameters:

  • masked (paranoid) or unmasked (normal)?
  • grouped in households?
  • view of the (raised) stage?
  • distance from the front?
  • distance from possible paranoids?
  • any sign of my mate?

I sat down on the right, three rows back (so around the middle) and left 5 empty chairs between me and the folk at the centre aisle, diagonally behind the end of a group of older men not wearing masks. Made it so far. I hadn’t seen my mate for years: what if she was mental? I sipped the Moretti and relaxed as the band, all 11 of them, took the stage, said hello, thanked us warmly for turning out, and started to play. Then a woman started to sing.

I hadn’t expected to be moved. The dress code of the band was eclectic and she was on the conservative side (the other extreme was heavy metal rock chick). But what a voice. Breathy and warm, “you won’t be alone at Midwinter” she sang. It was what we all needed to hear. By the time my mate arrived (I recognised her instantly) we’d had a taste of the full range of the repertoire. There’s an anxiety in meeting up with old friends. Try as we might, the checklist comes out: job? relationship? house? Our jobs hadn’t changed and we bonded over boats (she’d lived on one and I’d just bought one) we didn’t really get to houses or partners but, as the night went on, I realised she’d brought hers along and they seemed happy.

Sharing the music and glances and whispered phrases, graciousness over drinks and seats and admiration for the first singer – whom she knew well – all this was a departure from the usual catching up interview. Well-accompanied, I was free to enjoy the music (and the interpretative dancing of a wee sprite in the side aisles). After a while, helped by the architecture, I realised the sentiment I was feeling: this was White secular gospel and the audience were, if not at worship, at least in a state of mindful compassion. I’m not being snarky. I experienced the same sensation listening to the political comic Mark Thomas preach (against Coca-Cola, among other murderous corporations) in the same venue. It didn’t surprise me to learn he was the son of a Methodist minister. And, in snatched conversation with my friend, easier over the interval, I realised something else. Actually, a few things:

  • everyone, vaxxed or unvaxed, wants to be saved
  • many of the vaxxed are prepared to be in the mushy middle (it’s more dangerous for some, like kids and expectant mothers)
  • no-one wants to be alone at Midwinter (apart from me, cos I could really do with a break)
  • Hospitality venues are desperate for our custom – as are creatives for our appreciation

So here’s my tuppenyworth:

The resistance needs to be a broad church, not a cult (it also need to be sane). So “come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor 6:17, KJV, if you must know) isn’t going to work. We need to form alliances with people who simultaneously say “I got it cos I work with vulnerable people” and “it could be the new Thalidomide”. Replying with “are you f*cking crazy!!!” isn’t going to help – but advising them to up their Niacin levels to avoid ADE might.

The 4th Industrial Revolution isn’t quite set up yet – and people are doing various things to f*ck it up (including printed exemption cards and simply disabling QR codes with a permanent maker pen) so it never will be. The plutocrats in their top-down imperial visions have forgotten that it won’t be set up without the collaboration of the people – and the people are really f*cked off ATM. Hospitality venues will welcome customers with open arms. We don’t have to lecture them or demand total ideological conformity (with whatever branch of the resistance we happen to be in). We can accept their inconsistency and just-turn-a-blind-eye approach to our adherence to fascist government regulations of medical surveillance.

It’s the recusant unvaxxed, the regretful vaxxed and the semi-awake in the mushy middle who are the only ones who will venture out to pubs and cafes and concerts – Nazi Vaxx Pass or not. The others will be too busy wetting their bed to dare the company of strangers. But, if you don’t want to be alone this Midwinter, and if you don’t want to be a slave – or dead – in the near future, then keeping strange company, and exchanging unexpected kindness, is our wisest move.

Outside view of English pub on a snowy night

Thanks to Colin Woodcock who has released his image English village pub on a snowy night into the Public Domain.

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