“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Boris Johnson, multiple times, before adding that, you know, hopefully, it’ll be all over “in time for Christmas”.
Johnson is an optimist, of course, and what better evidence of that than to revive that jolly slogan still associated with the small scale skirmish with the Germans that kicked off in the summer of 1914 and was all done after a few tricky months?
Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Not exactly a plan, as such, is it? Indeed while we are still on a festive theme, perhaps it might be an appropriate moment to recall the words of that Billy Bob Thornton’s equally Bad Santa: “Wish in one hand kid and s**t in the other, and see which one fills up first.”
Still, who needs a plan when you’ve got Christmas to aim for? Football stadiums will be back open by then, for reasons best known, which is to say only known, to the prime minister.
Maybe plans are already in place for a great national Christmas truce match, the nation creeping tentatively out of its trenches and shaking hands with the coronavirus, as only one man has ever been brave enough to brag about doing before.
Move quickly and there might even be time for the prime minister to star in the John Lewis ad. Soft strings. Christmas eve. A deserted children’s playground. A lonely Sars-Cov-2 virus creaks into view on the handle of a steel rail roundabout. Its glycoprotein spikes wilt beneath the winter sun.
But, wait? What’s that flaxen haystack rising above the Tarmac horizon, with hand outstretched like the flame on the lamp of Lady Liberty?
The breathy Brit school pop voice reaches the climactic chorus of its soft rock cover version and there’s Boris in his man boy bermuda shorts, lolloping forward like a half-filled Durex water bomb made flesh, out for his daily 800-metre jog.
Palm and coronavirus touch, a tousle of the hair, and suddenly we are all round the Johnson family Christmas table for a marathon afternoon of utterly unimaginable dysfunction. What the viewer chooses to read into the terrified cell’s last furtive glance toward the camera is up to them, but there’s no going back to the playground now.
Think it can’t happen? Well, that’s just because you’re not optimistic enough. You’re too busy preparing for the worst and not doing enough hoping for the best. You’ve been told to believe, so just get on with it. Now is not the time for the doomsters and the gloomsters.
Now is the time to “look ahead with optimism”, said the prime minister. And now definitely isn’t the time to point out that the chap telling you to look ahead with optimism is the same one who bragged about going to hospital and shaking hands with coronavirus patients and ended up in intensive care.
In the meantime, by the way, Johnson has decided the government won’t be telling you not to go to work, he’ll now be leaving that up to your employer to decide. Only the most pedantic would mention at this point, that the city of Leicester remains under lockdown, which is commonly agreed to have been caused by employers, in this case garment factory bosses, telling their workers to come to work, even though it quite clearly wasn’t safe to do so.
So whether you head back to the office or not now seems to be a matter for your boss to decide. Johnson happened to mention the “miracle of zoom” and “the joys of muting and unmuting colleagues”. That must be a joy he knows more about than most. We must assume he had his own Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, on mute yesterday, when he warned that there was no reason whatsoever to change the guidance on telling people to work from home if possible.
Johnson, it turns out, must be paying for a premium subscription, because he was also able to press a button and not just mute Sir Patrick’s audio alongside him at the announcement, but obliterate his presence altogether. Some lessons in life must be learnt the hard way. Sir Patrick – if you’re trying to get back into the meeting known as Doing Your Actual Job, the password is Whatever Boris Johnson Wants You To Say.
Ah, the joys of the mute button. And Johnson must know them better than most. Though one wonders if he now regrets muting his entire panel of scientific advisers on 16 March, when they told him unanimously that all lockdown measures should be introduced immediately. At least he won’t have to regret it alone. There are an estimated 25,000 or so grieving families with whom to share the burden.
Still, you know, maybe there is some actual optimism to be found. It is now pretty clear that, in the early days of the pandemic, the UK made several huge mistakes: sending people with coronavirus into care homes, not locking down early enough, and not having any real kind of test and trace capability whatsoever.
If, or, you know, maybe, when, the virus returns, even the government’s most determined critics, of which I have occasionally been one, must acknowledge that a return to the miseries of March and April might just be somewhat unlikely. We cannot possibly be as ill prepared as then.
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Things can only get better. And maybe, on this one occasion, it’s actually true. It is almost impossible to see how they could get any worse.