I hope 2021 gives you respite, although it has to be said, its beginning does not bode well. Who would've predicted in January 2011, that in 10 years the UK economy would be suffering its worst recession in 300 years, that it would have left the EU led by a bunch of posh English nationalists because of 'sovereignty', that the entire population would be locked down in house arrest as a result of an invisible, destructive virus which has killed almost 100,000 and counting, of our fellow UK citizens, or that a half-crazed mob would storm the Washington Capitol incited by a deranged US President?
Even the black swan metaphor much touted by strategists, but strangely never taken too seriously, doesn't fit our current malaise. The black swan is regarded as a singular, unpredicted disruptive event, not a litany of catastrophes worthy of a place in Dante's circles of hell.
It's of little comfort to realise that we will figure prominently in future history books as the generation that brought forth the decline and fall of the United Kingdom as we knew it. An independence referendum in Scotland will not halt the decline of these islands, to whom we are permanently hitched whether we like it or not. Frankly, independence matters little one way or the other for now. The great arc of history will sweep over us before long and we'll be lucky to survive with a footnote. Perhaps that's a good thing. Too many politicians clamour for first/best in the world, or the dreaded 'world-beating'.
Yep, I'm starting 2021 with a sense of deep foreboding that I didn't feel during the first lockdown in March 2020. Then, to be honest, it was a bit of a novelty, an unplanned social experiment soon to be over. Of course, that wasn't to be. What was once novel, even refreshing, has become jaded, worrying and wreaking havoc on the lives of far too many people.
Still, there are crumbs to be had. Self-awareness, it has been reported, is one such crumb. With the demise of any activity worthy of describing a social life, my gaze turned inward. Am I emotionally intelligent? I checked. Guessing I'm probably not, I was shocked at just how 'not', at least according to a precis of Daniel Goleman's popular book Emotional Intelligence
There are five key components to emotional intelligence, none of which I have: self-awareness (no idea what my true self is); self-regulation (nope); motivation (barely); empathy (not enough); and social skills (patchy). I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that I'm an emotional ignoramus of the lowest order.
Plight of the young
Emotional inconveniences are as nothing compared to the mental health disintegration of others in real difficulty. I refer specifically to young people from 19 to 29 years of age. Our 23-year-old daughter lives at home and we also have taken in a similar-aged lad who found himself in difficult economic circumstances. Both are musicians. Both have seen their hopes, dreams and work in live music collapse around them. They believed this nightmare would be over soon and they could meet up again with their musician friends in the clubs, venues, recording and rehearsal studios across Glasgow. Instead, they're watching Netflix with us month after month.
It is slowly dawning on them that there will be no return to 'normality' for a long time. Gone are the days of a highly-charged, crushing King Tut's gig. By the time this pandemic has passed, they'll be at least two years older – a long time in a young life – years of missed opportunities, musical development, the excitement of establishing themselves on an unforgiving, largely unpaying music scene, trying to catch a break. Then they are told that even if they had the wherewithal to tour Europe, playing their souls out in some Dutch basement, Boris Johnson has denied them that too – because it's 'free movement'. Only those with a recording studio in their parent's converted barn, with a Brexiteer's French passport, will thrive. It is truly heartbreaking to witness.
Optimism has been sparked by a vaccine developed by ingenious structural biologists and puzzle-solving researchers. There is hope for humanity after all. Or is there? If by humanity we mean rich countries, then we can relax. Our most recent squabbles are over the vaccine roll-out, and vitriolic abuse directed at those who suggest different priorities from the largely age-based hierarchy of the most vulnerable. If it were up to me, I'd shield the likes of me and vaccinate young people to get them back out working, along with essential workers who do not have the privilege of working from home. A good thing it's not up to me, then.
Indonesia is an interesting example of a 'youth first' vaccination programme that targets working people from 18 to 59 years old. The government's strategy is to prioritise working people 'who go out of the house and all over the place and then at night come back home to their families. We are targeting those that are likely to spread the virus'. Makes sense to me. Get younger people vaccinated, out and back to work, protect the elderly and crucially get the Indonesian economy going again. Indonesia doesn't have the economic luxury of following, for example, the UK's JCVI priority list.
Finally, what's going on in the world's poorest countries as the rich squabble over who's first for life-saving vaccines, or how quickly they are being rolled out? The world as a whole is 'on the brink of catastrophic moral failure' according to the Director-General of the World Health Organisation yesterday, because 'the promise of equitable access is at serious risk. 39million+ doses have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country'.
It's worth repeating: just 25 doses of vaccine have been given in one of the world's lowest-income countries. It is morally deplorable. Next time I catch myself moaning about the grimness of our restricted lives or whether or not I'm emotionally intelligent, I'll remember that number.