Brits have humour and strength…it helped in the Blitz and it’s helping us now

I’VE got no time for celebrity grumbling – being even a little bit famous means you’re on the receiving end of the most incredible set of treats and privileges.

But now that 2020 has tottered off into history, I can’t help but feel a little reflective about some of its joys, as well as its tougher times.

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It’s certainly been a journey getting here.

A year of lockdowns amid the constant threat of serious illness was — of course — unbelievably gruelling.

My situation was actually better than many. I wasn’t in any immediate financial trouble, I’ve got easy access to outdoor space and, unlike many of my friends, wasn’t suddenly running an entire school out of my kitchen (although I did teach some online classes, dressed as Anne Boleyn, singing songs about the Reformation, but only for a few hours a week).

I had friends and doctors and food delivery at the end of a phone.

I’ve been damn lucky and I know it.

But even with all those advantages, I hit a wall round about May. The bleakness set in hard. The world just felt a little bit smaller, a little bit darker. No matter what your personal situation is, when you feel immersed in that, it appears impossible to claw your way out.

It felt as if all of humanity was on a dimmer switch and someone had turned it right the way down.

But then, as the year drew on, a handful of things restored my sense of joy.
A big one was thinking about my beloved late grandfather and what he had gone through in his life.

He passed through the atrocities of the Holocaust and escaped here to the UK. He was part of a group — known as The Boys — who were given refuge in the Lake District in 1945. It changed his life for ever.

Thinking about him and his journey — how he survived and thrived — helped rekindle my faith in humanity.

He also adored this country absolutely, for everything it gave him and for everything that’s great about it.

His love of Britain is something I feel, too, with every fibre of my being.

TAKING PRIDE

In fact, during that strangest of years, it was recognising all that’s finest about the UK that got me through.

I found myself contemplating that magical combination of humour and strength and persistence that feels uniquely British.

It was there in the Blitz, and with the sailors in the little boats at Dunkirk — and it’s still here now.

It also shone through in the two big things that dominated so many lives in 2020: Brexit and Covid.

On Brexit, no matter how you voted, we can all take pride in the fact that, for all the intense feelings whirling around, there was never a time when we descended into violence.

It’s easy to forget that this wouldn’t be true everywhere in the world.

Protests here were civilised and arguments were (fairly) courteous. We’re a country willing to argue until the cows come home (and continue arguing while the cows have dinner, a bath and go to bed) but we never pitched up waving iron bars, only ironic barbs. The same will be true whatever the deal brings.

And after all the grimness of Covid, we finally have a vaccine — in fact, we have a veritable smorgasbord of them.

 

It’s a sign of a global effort not seen before in human history and we’ve also got one made right here in the UK.

It’s unbelievably good news.

I was also continuously awestruck at how communities of every kind — Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and those with no faith — showed themselves at their very best during the past year.

When I saw the Sikh community providing thousands of free meals to stuck truckers, my heart soared. People came together to deal with uniquely testing crises, and always did it with gladness and humour.

I am not usually one to drape myself in flags. Much as I love the Union Jack, it’s just not slimming when worn off the shoulder. But I do feel that there’s something special about this nation.

It’s something my grandpa felt and I feel, too — a sense that if we in this island act together, calmly and kindly, good things can and will happen.

In the end, this is what has given me hope for 2021. Happy New Year!

Brilliant Matt's a ray of sunshine

ANOTHER great joy of 2020 was making a brand-new friend in the shape of the glorious Matt Lucas.

I knew him from an admiring distance back when he was about to break into television, and it was obvious then that he would be a star.

But we only really became friends during lockdown. We often manage late-night telephone calls and it’s always the high point of my day when we do.

I’m happy to report that not only is he infuriatingly talented (not that I am jealous), he also has an almost childlike capacity for delight and happiness.

He truly is one of life’s most wonderful humans.

Lido high

GOOD friend of mine in her near-70s has been extolling the virtues of cold-water swimming for years.

She’s part Joan Collins and part Boudicca, draped in effortless black.
The type that last had a cold in 1972 (germs don’t seem to bother with her, as they don’t need the hassle).

So, inspired by her, I headed to London’s Parliament Hill Lido in mid-December to give it a go.

I pretended there wasn’t the piercing pain of the freeze, by swimming ten lengths of granny-breaststroke. As soon as I got out, I was hit by a wave of orgasmic euphoria I have never felt before – and I was married for a long time.

The only downside is that the chill doesn’t just shrink things, at those temperatures, it makes them disappear.

But a cup of tea and, a few hours later, everything seems to return to normal – except my mood, which has been on a happy high ever since I took the plunge.

Beans means… war

ON Christmas Eve I had fish and chips with my support bubble (it consists of an old pal who lives a few streets away).

Fish and chips the night before Christmas is an old tradition in his family.

I ordered haddock, as I always do. I’m a strong believer that it’s the finest and meatiest of fish. Coat it in perfect gold batter, lay it on a bed of chunky chip-shop chips and you’re halfway to high-calorie paradise.

I also ordered baked beans. To my mind, they’re significantly superior to mushy peas (which look like something unfortunate The Grinch left behind) and a perfect complement to everything else on the plate.

Then I made my mistake – I took a photo of my meal and posted it to Twitter.

In a short space of time I discovered that, in the eyes of the Twitterverse, adding beans to fish and chips was a crime equivalent to blowing up the Tower of London – then covering the Crown Jewels in tomato sauce.

Hundreds of messages arrived telling me I’d made an unforgiveable culinary error.

I’ve said and done some controversial things in my life but I never thought beans would cause the biggest hullabaloo.

I’m not backing down . . .  I’m ready to fight this one to the last chip.

Whisky business

NO one ever wants me to endorse anything except balaclavas these days.

I once got a big box of Monster Munch. Finally, I thought, someone wants me to back a crisp. It turns out it was just a friend who thought I needed a pickled onion pick-me-up.

But given just how much whisky I’ve been drinking over lockdown (I’ll stop when everyone is vaccinated, I promise), I’ve actually been hoping one of the big distilleries might sign me up as an official spokesdrinker.

They don’t even need to pay me, I’ll take my fee in drams. Laphroaig, I am waiting for your call.

Poshos high on misery

OF all the serious cases I have defended in over the past two decades, from high-profile murders to serious fraud, the ones that have stayed with me are not those you might expect.

The defendants I remember (the ones I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night thinking about) are the drug mules I would be called upon to defend at the start of my career.

They were nearly all women who had been brutalised beyond description. In one case my client’s child had been murdered while the other was held hostage by the drug cartel as an insurance policy to keep my client silent.

These women were usually carrying cocaine intended for the artisanal nostrils of the sanctimonious middle class who would then go on to lecture us about their privileged worldview.

I wonder all the time what would happen if these posh hypocrites were forced to meet my old clients and look into the faces of the lives that they have helped to destroy?

I doubt it would have any effect at all.

Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

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