Monti’s letter to Johnson… and calling last orders on our pubs…

THE other day Boris Johnson tweeted a letter from a boy called Monti asking whether Father Christmas would be able to make it this year. Suspicions arose that Monti was an invention. Had an eight-year-old really written this politically convenient note?

Turns out Monti is real and comes from Cockermouth. This news kicks the shins of any passing cynic. I’ve just given mine a consoling rub.

Johnson told Monti that he’d called the North Pole and Father Christmas was “ready and raring to go”. Santa talks just like Boris Johnson, which is alarming.

The holly-prickled business of Christmas this year is down to Johnson not wanting to be seen as the prime minister who cancelled Christmas. Instead, he is the Tousled Tinsel Toff Who Made Christmas So Complicated Nobody Knew What To Make Of It.

As the second lockdown ends next week, we return to the tiers system. And that seems to continue the lockdown by calling it something else.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many people are going to stick to the small-scale Christmas they’d already planned before Johnson plonked his Santa’s sack of poorly wrapped presents before us.

New scraps of advice keep blowing through the door, like soggy autumn leaves. Don’t hug granny to death, eat your dinner in the garden, sleep in the shed; it’s possible I wasn’t giving those warnings my fullest attention.

But I have concentrated on what’s happening to our pubs, and it’s not good. Do you think any of the people making these decisions have ever been inside one? I’m beginning to suspect not.

Pubs were told to take certain safety measures, and that’s exactly what they did. They showed that they could operate in this constricted new world, and their reward was to be shut again – or face ridiculous rules about having to serve “substantial meals” with drinks.

What is a substantial meal, aside from something Boris Johnson appears to have indulged in more than once? Still, at least we’ve discovered that Covid-19 is scared of pie and chips or a good pork pie. Whereas to swallow an unaccompanied pint is to dice with death.

The chef and pub owner Tom Kerridge has just finished a BBC2 series that was starkly sobering for something about pubs. His brief was to explain the many difficulties and inequities of the job. He visited pubs around the country, where pub owners sat before him in tears. And that was pre-Covid-19.

The final programme chimed with the end of the first lockdown. All the pubs, having peered into the cellar of despair, had managed to reinvent themselves. Everything seemed almost optimistic, except that now it’s all happening again.

Early in the crisis that never ends, the government said it was following the science, and that always sounded like a ruse to eventually blame the scientists. Anyway, with pubs they seem to have followed their nose to scrappy bits of science that support their argument for closure or restriction.

The scientific paper backing the policy seems to have been written on the back of a beermat, or possibly the label from a bottle of claret. It’s short and seemingly based on anecdotal evidence trawled from Japan, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

Pubs matter and I say that as a once-a-week man at best. Pubs are social centres; pubs are threads running through the fabric of national life.

Yes, tackling the virus is about more than whether we can go to the pub. But this government’s behaviour could see off our pubs. Never mind Boris Johnson wanting to be the man who saved Christmas; at this rate, he’ll be the man who called last orders on Britain’s pubs.

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