Everyone seems quick to share intimate or traumatic personal experiences or the nature of their sex lives these days, but I regret that, being of a stoical generation, and not being required to awareness-raise for any cause or hashtag or beat any drum other than my own (which would be for individual liberty, freedom of choice and speech and several other mostly classical liberal values), I will not be sharing anything of the sort. 

You will have noticed, however, that I cynically introduced that hot word, ‘sex’, and a vague intimation that secrets may be forthcoming to grab your attention at the end of what has been a wearying and sometimes frightening year.

I must confess I was inspired to do this both by a recent article by South Africa’s twitter-troll magnet, Helen Zille, and by exposure to the clickbait practices of much of our media.

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an ironic English saying (often erroneously said to be the translation of an ancient Chinese curse). We have lived in those times for almost an entire year, now, as a result of a virus that may or may not have (purposefully) emanated from China (no disrespect intended to Africa’s masterful best friends in dam- and road-building and plastic gimcrack supplies) and which was quickly moulded by flailing politicians and sloppy journalists into an anthropomorphic bogeyman intent on destroying both humankind and our world.

But here we are, at last, in what – in politically correct ‘inclusive’ parlance – is now referred to as the ‘holiday’ season, but has been known for much longer, even by the unbaptised like me, as the Christian period of goodwill to all men (in the inclusive sense), which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the spirit of this ‘jolly’ season, and, of course, for the sake of the children, I propose that now may be the right time to recast Covid as ‘The Grinch who stole Christmas’ (or, at the least, much of the year’s pleasures) rather than the devil incarnate.

Live happily together

If you haven’t read Theodor ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel’s 1957 American classic, it goes like this: The curmudgeonly and mean Grinch creature lives alone and steals Christmas food, gifts and decorations from the people of Whoville. But eventually, many rhyming couplets later, he and they learn that Christmas is not about the material trappings that go with it but about love and belonging, and so the people of Whoville and the Grinch go on to live happily together in the spirit of Christmas.

There you have it. A seasonally suitable tale to spin to the tinies as an illustration of the future in which we will all learn, with the help of vaccines, to happily coexist with a not-so-lethal-after-all virus. Perfect for the little ones made so glum by the deprivations of these past 10 months (although they’ve possibly brightened after hearing of the ‘passes’ Santa Angie is handing out).

At present, however, the virus, the talk of a ‘second wave’ and the additional restrictions in hotspots are still draining our Christmas spirit – that peculiarly #keDezembaboss cheer –  even as the weather heats up and a good chunk of the population prepares to head off to their ancestral homes in disintegrating municipalities, or their ‘beach shacks’ on expensive strips of coast. More cheer may dissipate as we look around at the crumbling infrastructure and services on our journeys and at our destinations.

If, unlike various local snollygosters (lovely – officially ‘unparliamentary’ – word, that one), tender fraudsters and what Johannesburg City Council coyly labels ‘errant’ officials, one possesses just a gram of compassion or a modicum of morality, it is going to be a little more difficult this year to spoil oneself and one’s family, even if one has the money, without pangs of guilt.

Possibly those are best offset by acting on Johannes Kerkorrel’s Afrikaans exhortation to ‘Gee, gee, gee’.

Done and dusted

But still, the silly season has got under way as it always does after the Black Friday deals are done and dusted. Halls and malls are decked with colonial tinsel and many homes are bursting with tree angels laboriously crafted out of the inner cardboard tubes of all those hundreds of toilet rolls we’ve used since the start of lockdown level 5.

This year, as we have in previous years, we will probably buy too many toys or pointless things, eat too much food, drink too much alcohol despite the best efforts of our ministerial minders, and, in many cases, watch too much mind-numbing television. 

Which segues (smoothly, I hope) to the silly subject of The Crown television series on which every commentator, reviewer and talk-show host seems to have had their say. 

My household was also among the 29 million-plus other households who watched the latest series (Number 4) last month. We were on Episode 3 when we were confronted with the ‘sensitive content’ we’d been warned about.

I’d heard something in the pre-publicity about scriptwriter Peter Morgan boldly including Diana’s bouts of bulimia in the storyline. I was interested to see what could justify ‘trigger warnings’ in this age of gory television and movie grossness. When the scenes unfolded I was astounded. 

Anodyne portrayal

A more anodyne portrayal of this eating disorder is barely possible. Emma Corrin as Diana, looking unhappy, gobbles fancy pastries in quick succession then vomits into a toilet or the nearest bowl. There were slight variations of this in subsequent episodes.

Like Camilla Long of the UK Sunday Times in a recent rant on the slightly different topic of what she calls ‘woe-is-me’ feminism, I have to ask: Who are these enfeebled ‘Victorian consumptive dolls’ who it was thought would be triggered or traumatised by such mild scenes so far removed from the ugly reality of anorexia and bulimia? I know of what I speak. My teenage years were dominated by wraith-like Twiggy and I was an up-close witness to the eating disorder agonies of many of my peers.

My own response to The Crown also prompts me, at the risk of sounding rather like that magnificent social problem-solver and etiquette doyenne, ‘Dear Mary’ of The Spectator,  to suggest a useful conversation opener if your family or friend bubble is expanding or intersecting with bubbles containing other Netflix customers this Christmas. The seemingly innocuous question, ‘So what did you think of The Crown?’ would work well as a sort of litmus test, providing an immediate and fairly dependable indication of wokeness levels (perhaps even stoicism levels). Just as I have.

As the figure of Maggie Thatcher is fairly central in the saga, your bubble interlopers’ responses will also enable you to quickly place them on the political spectrum (as the lefties do with such certainty) and so anticipate and steer around possible conflagrations over touchy topics. Like politics, the weather, sport, food, masks and, of course, gender and sex.

Writer Lionel Shriver suggested recently in a podcast interview that liberals dump the directional political spectrum in favour of one that employs libertarian and authoritarian as its opposing end points. You could try advancing this more accurate labelling approach should you find yourself, despite your best efforts, in any heated ideological or political exchange in this season of goodwill, peace and joy.

Stay off divisive subjects

But my advice and approach is to simply stay off divisive subjects altogether this Christmas. Of course, it’s important to fly the liberal flag and advance liberal ideas in the ongoing battles around identity politics and ideology. But it is also Christmas.

Time for some tolerance and downtime. Also time to switch off from the litanies of victimhood and of corruption, stories of malevolent conspiracy and the utterances of all the social media-amplified crazies out there. Time to grab a good book that preferably has nothing to do with the fractious here and now and find a quiet corner in which to see out this annus horribilis.

Vaccines are on their way, it’s not yet a legal requirement to have a certain number of people of other colours at your Christmas table or your New Year party, so there’s no need to be out press-ganging hapless strangers in the street, and there’s still an outside possibility that we’ll cobble a way out of the mess we’re in. Breathe deep. Relax. Give yourself over to absolute leisure. 

[Picture: monicore from Pixabay]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend


Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.