I went off spring for a while. When you’re a kid, spring is a time as thick and ripe with ritual as Halloween or Christmas – pancake day, then daffodils, becoming very obsessed with lambs being born for some reason, then Easter itself, where your school takes a brief trip to a local church (“That guy got murdered, look! That guy got murdered in the gothest way possible. Anyway, here’s some chocolate – ”), and then sunlight ripples through the cold and you forage in the garden for Easter eggs. But in adulthood my springtime has basically just been “finding out what wacky flavour of hot cross bun Aldi has invented this year” and “arguing with my housemates about why the fluted special edition mug they got with their Yorkie Easter egg does not deserve pride of place in a carefully curated mug cupboard that features many, many stouter and superior mugs”. The dazzle, it’s safe to say, was gone.
But then the sun came out where I live this week, and I was alive again. Dunno if you’ve noticed this, but it’s been the longest year since records began, and the timing of lockdown restrictions easing this week coinciding with warm weather in parts of England – which the press was more than happy to call a “heatwave” – has me feeling quite hopeful. I can hear a bird tweeting as I type this sentence! The sun is in the sky! Life begins anew!
Is it very sad to be hopeful? On one hand, undoubtedly, yes – not only is having hope incredibly uncool, but it’s also something very fragile, because the idea of hope has been beaten out of us repeatedly by the push–pull of Boris Johnson’s government policies enacted over the last 12 months (go to the pub! Don’t go to the pub! Eat at this restaurant or it will never open again! You infected 20 people by going for pad thai! Celebrate Christmas! Don’t celebrate Christmas! Go to the office again! Wow don’t go to the office! Book a holiday! You’re never going to leave this island again!). Having hope feels intolerably naive, a character flaw almost, but then if you don’t have it there really seems no point going on.
This sort of anti-hope has led to a movement of critical doom-mongering, where every tentative announcement made by the government or in newspaper headlines is met with a sort of all-knowing, see-you-all-in-lockdown-four-then feeling of pre-disappointment, a process that takes any joy out of the slight easing of lockdown (realistically, you can’t do a whole lot as of Monday that you couldn’t do the day before – you can swim in a lido, hit a few golf balls at a driving range, and go to someone’s garden without the neighbours calling the police to come and batter you to the ground with riot shields, but still!).
I understand this tendency: it’s to protect your feelings from being hurt when the government inevitably has to reverse again, Johnson behind a podium quickly apologising then mussing his hair up and telling you you can only go to Tesco once over the next nine weeks so you better make it count. The act of becoming an adult is quite often about creating a shell around your emotions so nobody else can hurt them for you, so in a way I see how not allowing yourself to get carried away by the new guidelines makes sense in the long run. In a way, it’s very mature.
That said: come on. Loth though I am to praise the government for anything it has done over the past 12 months, in this roadmap easing it has played a masterstroke. Weeks ago it promised us next to nothing to look forward to, and that is exactly what it delivered. Setting expectations an inch above ground level then actually giving us that thing is a zag from its usual playbook (remember when they sent kids in England back to school for exactly one day?), but this time it seems to have worked. The newfound ability to legally drive golf balls a few hundred yards feels, finally, like a watershed: it will never go back to being as bad as it was yesterday again. It only gets better from here.
That said, I might just be giddy on vitamin D – once it’s raining again next week, and Matt Hancock is appearing on Good Morning Britain and explaining how he accidentally spent the entire NHS budget on face masks that don’t have ear loops, maybe my cynicism will reign again. But for now, and I’m touching wood while I’m saying it, it just about feels like progress is being made: people I actually know are getting vaccinated, the dreaded R rate is down, on Sunday there were zero Covid deaths in London for the first time since September, they moved that boat in Egypt.
There is a tingling, bright feeling in the air that feels alien to a lot of us – anticipation, maybe, the idea that lido visits will soon lead to pub visits that will one day lead to music festivals and cheap summer holidays. I have a haircut booked in for 12 April and, after a full year without anything to anticipate, it might be the most excited about anything I’ve ever been in my life. Spring is a season of green shoots. Being able to go to someone’s garden and interact with five other people who have spent a year forgetting how to make small talk finally feels like one of them.