Jeremy Paxman: what a difference a year makes...

18 December 2020

It’s 12 months since Derek the dog starred on Saga Magazine’s cover, alongside owner Jeremy Paxman. The Saga Magazine columnist reflects on the events that followed in 2020



I write from Cornwall, which may once upon a time have had a white Christmas, but right now seems a bit preoccupied with rain. But I know it’ll soon be Christmas, because the teabags we bought in Truro (in early October) had ‘Merry Christmas’ on them. I suppose it’s possible that the teabags are left over from last year. I wonder how long ago the leaves left the plant.

But my business is crabs.

At the influx of emmets over half-term, great numbers of children could be found dangling whatever bits of bacon Derek had not eaten over the harbour wall, hoping to catch a crab. Crustaceans swarmed from all directions to be bombed by bits of pig. It was as if someone had yelled, ‘Do come by for Christmas lunch’.

What goes through the mind of a crab? ‘Oh good, another bit of that greasy meat that we only see when it’s been dropped into the water by a small child. Looks tasty… oh what’s happening? I’m being lifted off the seabed. I bet I get dropped into a bucket next...’

And so it goes until the next time he and his friends are astonished. They reminded me of my trip to the Co-op the other day, from which I returned home triumphantly brandishing a bottle of cheap wine, an apple and an avocado, and vaguely wondering why it reminded me of the absence of facts at a Number 10 press conference about Covid.

What a difference a year makes! One year ago, Boris Johnson was a clown who couldn’t quite believe he’d become Prime Minister. Now he’s the nation’s misery-guts-in-chief and no one doubts it.

Was it only last year that my mutt Derek and I attended a photoshoot in West London to talk about why dogs are good for you? We were fawned over by a Saga team (velvet jacket for me, antlers for the dog). Attempts were made to apply make-up.

Now, no one wants to come near us. Antlers are absent. Masks, though, are compulsory.

Who would have imagined that after all that bloviating about ‘world-beating apps’ and ‘test and trace’ we’d still be in this mess in December? The virus has laid low the human pretence of omniscience. Politics is based on the idea that you can bend the world to your will. Now, not only are we not in control, we’re running scared.

There is a consolation, I suppose. Our leaders’ responses to Covid-19 have demonstrated how much the scales are still tilted in favour of the old. The rules imposed affect everyone, but the main beneficiaries are people old enough to read this magazine. Someone tried to cheer me up the other day by suggesting that the rule of six meant there was comfort to be had in not having to put up at Christmas with Auntie Betty (not that Auntie Betty, of course) wearing a paper hat while her face looks as if someone has stolen her teeth. Or Sid James during an attack of piles.

Like the absurd rule about shutting bars at 10pm, the ‘rule of six’ is an entirely arbitrary judgement. Why not five, or seven, or eight? Yet we are supposed to adopt this rule as if Moses had brought it down from the mountain.

Christmas lost its religious significance when it was grafted on to a midwinter pagan ritual. Gathering together and loving one another is one of its delights. The rest of the event – the cooking marathon, the family squabbles, the awful cracker jokes, the opening of the parcel that inevitably contains a wrong-sized jumper are a vital part of it.

It’s true, Auntie Betty does sometimes look like a wet weekend under her party hat. But inviting her in is what Christmas is about. Let’s hear it for Auntie Betty.

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