TOM UTLEY: Our turkey is big enough for a battalion. But we’re in the epicentre of the unjabbed and our guests aren’t coming… so we’ll be eating it for weeks
And then there were six. As I write, Mrs U is off to our local butcher to pick up the massive and murderously expensive turkey she ordered many weeks ago, when we didn’t know how many to expect for lunch tomorrow.
We reckoned we’d be catering for an absolute minimum of a dozen, as in the past — and perhaps many more, once we’d totted up our four sons, their WAGs, the grandchildren, the odd in-law and one or two of my siblings and their young.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see we would have been wise to delay ordering the bird until we had a better idea of numbers.
But all those weeks ago, if you remember, the BBC was putting out reports of an acute shortage of turkeys this Christmas (and blaming it mostly on Brexit, natch).
As I write, Mrs U is off to our local butcher to pick up the massive and murderously expensive turkey she ordered many weeks ago, when we didn’t know how many to expect for lunch tomorrow
As everyone now knows, those rumours have proved as baseless as all the earlier scare stories about nationwide shortages of loo paper, petrol and bottled water. But how were we to know this at the time?
Better safe than sorry, we thought (which seems, incidentally, to have been the Government’s dismal motto throughout most of this pandemic).
After all, it would be awkward if the entire tribe turned up on the big day and we had nothing to offer them but baked beans and takeaway pizzas.
But no sooner had we paid the deposit on that gigantic bird than, name by name, our guest list began to grow shorter.
Before we knew it, our family gathering of as many as 20 was down to ten. Then Omicron struck — and this Tuesday, our married son rang to say that he, his wife and both our grandchildren had just tested positive for the bug, and they’d all have to self-isolate until next week.
So now we are six. With 24 hours to go, who will be next? At any moment, another phone call could bring news of another cancellation.
Indeed, the next to test positive could be any one of our remaining half dozen, living as we all do in the London borough of Lambeth, which emerged this week as the national capital of Covid, with the highest infection rate in the land.
We reckoned we’d be catering for an absolute minimum of a dozen, as in the past — and perhaps many more, once we’d totted up our four sons, their WAGs, the grandchildren, the odd in-law and one or two of my siblings and their young
If the worst comes to the worst, it could be just the three of us — my wife and I and our one remaining resident son — sitting down to a turkey big enough to feed a battalion.
Like so many other families, trapped in this lockdown-in-all-but-name, I see January and February stretching ahead, with nothing to eat for every meal but turkey sandwiches, turkey risotto, turkey curry and turkey stir-fry. We’ll have turkey coming out of our ears.
You don’t have to look far for those who deserve the lion’s share of the blame for ruining so many family Christmases this year.
For it’s surely no coincidence that my borough, with that record infection rate, is also the local authority area with the highest proportion of anti-vaxxers in the country.
Indeed, an astonishing 32.4 per cent of Lambeth residents have so far refused to have the jab, for whatever reason or none, while the unvaccinated fill our local hospital beds.
Leave aside the baffling question of why the whole country should suffer because of the abnormally rapid spread of Covid in parts of the capital.
Forget, too, that for the overwhelming majority of the vaccinated — every adult in my family included — the new Covid variant seems no more serious than a nasty cold.
(Speaking for myself, triple-jabbed as I am, I wouldn’t worry a bit if my infected son and his family were to join us for Christmas; but then they’ve always been less irresponsible than me.)
For once in my life, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Tony Blair, when he said on Wednesday that anyone who is eligible for a vaccine, but hasn’t had one, is an ‘idiot’.
At first, I even had some sympathy with the Government of the Australian state of New South Wales, which has been toying with the idea of charging the unvaccinated for their Covid treatment.
That was before I reflected that I had no right to be smug and should be very careful indeed what I wished for.
Once politicians start charging unvaccinated Covid victims for having made the wrong lifestyle choice, after all, how long before they extend the principle to the overweight — or, God forbid, to heavy smokers and drinkers like me?
Best, perhaps, to let the increased severity of the disease the refuseniks suffer be punishment enough for their antisocial stupidity.
But of the course anti-vaxxers are by no means the only villains of this pandemic.
I’m thinking particularly of the relentlessly gloomy BBC — though other broadcasters are almost as bad — which has done so much to put the wind up the public.
Even on Wednesday, the day when no fewer than five studies reached the happy conclusion that the Omicron variant isn’t nearly as dangerous as everyone had feared — the Corporation led its bulletins with the almost meaningless news that daily Covid ‘cases’ had topped 100,000 for the first time.
Nobody told us, of course, how many of the very few who are said to have died with the Omicron variant were unvaccinated. Nor have we been told how old they were, or what other illnesses they may have been suffering.
The official line remains: ‘We don’t comment on individual cases.’
Oh, give us a break. We’re not asking for names, or anything else that might identify the people who have died with Covid. But is it really too much to ask if they might have died of something else — old age, for example, like my adored 99-year-old mother-in-law — so that we can make up our own minds about the severity of the risk we face?
But no. When it comes to reporting the pandemic, the policy of broadcasters, officials and Ministers alike is to turn the old song on its head: ‘Accentuate the negative/ Eliminate the positive.’
Now, I won’t pretend it breaks my heart that, once again this Christmas, I’ll be denied the joys of a house jam-packed with screaming, over-excited children and fractious aunts and in-laws who may have drunk more than is strictly good for domestic harmony.
Believe me, I know countless people are suffering far worse than the Utleys from the current scare — not least those who will be alone this Christmas and workers in industries such as hospitality whose livelihoods are in jeopardy once again.
But I want to make one special plea. Next week, politicians permitting, I’ll be at my mother-in-law’s funeral in Oxfordshire. You mustn’t take this the wrong way, when I say that I’ve been much looking forward to it.
Of course it will be a very sad occasion — that should go without saying. But a well-attended funeral, in a church packed with people united in love and grief for the dead, can also be hugely uplifting — a celebration of a life well lived, as much as an occasion for mourning.
Please, please, my old friend Boris, don’t lose your nerve. Don’t give in to the doom-mongers who urge you to repeat the cruel policy of the earlier lockdowns, when so many mourners were forced to witness the funerals of their loved ones via Zoom. It’s not the same thing at all.
Let us give my mother-in-law, and so many like her, the send-off they deserve.
With that, I wish my long-suffering readers as merry a Christmas as the Government permits — and a prosperous, happy and healthy New Year.
Oh, and if any of my friends or family fancy a bit of leftover turkey, well, they know where to come.
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