A Hogmanay Tale From Central Edinburgh

We’ve been sent a semi-autobiographical, satirical short story by one of our Scottish readers who, for understandable reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. We hope you enjoy it.

It was the night before Hogmanay 2021 and all through the silent Edinburgh streets bored tourists walked past closed pubs, shuttered nightclubs and barely-filled restaurants. Lured by promoters’ tales of “legendary” Scottish hospitality in the alcohol-fuelled, self-styled capital of the New Year party world, they had risked quarantine at an airport hotel with a daily diet of Tunnocks tea cakes in the hope that the spontaneous Princes St kiss with a hairy highland stranger as the bells struck midnight might not turn out to be a snog with another South East Asian tourist under a wee Jimmy wig. Too late, these disappointed visitors, who in a parallel world might have contributed to the needy coffers of the Caledonian economy in fair exchange for “a guid time”, had come to realise that the entire country was under the iron, liberty crushing, control of one woman, Scotland’s very own Old Nic.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, favoured residential suburb of precious professionals seeking proximity to the cathedral of lockdown virtue-signalling, Waitrose, the McAllister family returned home from the last of the annual Christmas visits to Ma McAllister’s relatives which Pa McAllister and daughter, Dotty, had for once been unable to avoid as their conveniently essential prior engagements had been cancelled by Old Nic. “Please tell me I don’t need to see any more of these people for another year,” came the cry as they stumbled through their own front door adorned with its tasteful, homemade holly wreath. “That’s definitely it,” Ma assured them, yet at the back of her mind was the niggling doubt that someone had been missed, somebody, or indeed several somebodies, who had come to play such a central part in their lives that it would be shocking if, as the year drew to a close, Ma did not let them know how much, for good or ill, they meant to the McAllisters.

It was then that Ma noticed Pa slipping off up the stairs into the bedroom with that dreamy smile on his face, softly closing the door behind him. Of course, how could she have forgotten…

It had all started about 21 months ago. Alarmist news flashes were warning of an apocalyptic illness sweeping the globe, as journalists salivated that the rerun of the Spanish flu story they had been preparing for (some might say longing for) every time an exotic bird sneezed, could finally keep them all gainfully employed. In Pa’s study it was business as usual. “How do I save a document again?” he was asking for the 156th time. “Click on File, then on Save,” replied Ma without drawing breath as she continued the daily rebalancing of the McAllister’s global equity portfolio whilst making two rounds of french toast. There was silence from Pa. Then: “It says on my phone that Boris is closing the country for three weeks, no one is to move, shops and schools will shut, but you’re allowed out for an hour to exercise or get essential food.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Ma, as she recalibrated the chain saw whilst mentally debating the risks and benefits of a small cryptocurrency position. “Only a mad man would do that, and anyway, we don’t live in North Korea.” But for once, Ma was wrong.

Three weeks, and as it turned out, six months later, ostensibly not much had changed in the McAllister household. Pa still dressed immaculately in suit and tie and left for work every morning, although now he was the only one at the office. Unsurprisingly to Pa and Ma, he gained many new customers during this period, as actually undertaking a job one is contracted to do usually goes down well with those who pay for it. Ma carried on doing the many, many things Ma had always done, but on top of this did all the work of Pa’s support staff, who had bizarrely gone to a resort called Furlough, all kindly paid for by Pa, Ma and their ilk. Yet all was not well. Young Robbie, the McAllister‘s son, pined for company his own age (18) while being told he was selfish for not welcoming what was to become 21 months in solitary broken by only four days (c’est vrai) of in-person teaching. Back at St Andrews, Dotty meanwhile worried about the scapegoating of students such as herself as they returned to university where contemporaries were locked up, fenced in, fined for fraternising, sent down for socialising and paid to report on each other in best East German style. Pa was anxious that lockdown might not be over before the end of the shooting season while Ma, who had initially been nervous about the medium and long term effects on the economy, productivity and education now realised that these concerns were dwarfed by the immense psychological damage being wrought on both young and old as a result of Old Nic’s and other leaders’ repressive policies and relentless propaganda. Indeed, the McAllisters noticed that Ma was even grumpier than before, particularly if interrupted whilst considering the Letters section of The Daily Telegraph (Scotland edition) whilst consuming breakfast. “It seems, Pa,” she said one day, “that quite a lot of people are worryingly in favour of lockdowns. That’s not good, not good at all. Don’t they know that liberties, once surrendered, are hard to reclaim? Don’t they understand that in two world wars brave people died to give future generations freedom, not so that freedoms could be removed to pretend that ill people needn’t die and in a failed attempt to preserve a structurally ill-conceived healthcare model? What do they think happens to a society that prioritises the very elderly and infirm but throws its young people under a bus? Don’t they realise that every freedom we have in this supposedly liberal democracy that our friends, neighbours and fellow Scots claim to love had to be fought for over centuries and involved sacrifices by many good men and women? Weren’t they taught their history at school?” Ma and Pa looked at each other. “Of course not”, said Pa. “This is Scotland.”

Pa looked glum. Again. With the unprecedented attacks on civil liberties continuing with no obvious end in sight Ma was beginning to worry about Pa.

“Anyway, while I’ve got your attention,” said Pa, “remind me again, how do I save a document?” Although, as she put it, Ma had neither applied nor was qualified for the position, Pa had appointed her in-house ICT support during the first lockdown.
“Click File, then click Save,” Ma replied, as she put the finishing touches to her satirical epic poem highlighting the inherent inconsistencies and contradictions in the objectives of the so called ‘green’ movement, whilst also worming the cat. After some 20 minute’s silence during which no technical query had been forthcoming from Pa’s study, Ma looked up from completing the assignment for her 18th Century Russian Literature (now online) ‘class’ wondering what was amiss.

“Exactly!” she heard Pa exclaim. “Of course, that’s so true!” he enthused. “I knew it,” accompanied the sound of the table being thumped. “Ma, Ma, come and see this! There are people who think like us!”

Pa showed Ma what he had found. By accident he had stumbled upon a webpage of Lockdown Sceptic. For both Pa and Ma it was a revelation. There were references to actual statistics not just modelled projections. Articles by others who loved liberty and understood how much has been taken from us. Humorous accounts and moving testimonies. Journalists actually trying to hold governments to account. Reasoned pieces pointing out the immense damage of lockdowns. Articles from a wide range of contributors with both humanity and common sense. A link to Ivor’s dreamy Irish accent. Confirmation indeed that the McAllisters were not alone.

Ma thought for a minute. “Remember your precis, Pa. Never use seven words if five will do. It’s not: ‘There are people who think like us.’ It’s: ‘There are people who think’”

“This Toby chap’s brilliant,” said Pa. “And brave,” said Ma. “I think I’ll donate to the webpage,“ said Pa. Ma hesitated… but only for a moment. “Go on,” she said. “I will too.”

Over the next few weeks Pa’s devotion to Toby and his website grew. Now, every morning, often before she was awake, Ma’s phone would ping with the latest article that Pa had forwarded from Lockdown Sceptic. Although Ma repeatedly told him that she had the website on her iPad on an open tab and read it most mornings, Pa couldn’t contain his enthusiasm to share the latest common sense from Toby and friends. Yet more was to come.

One autumn day in 2020, avoiding the county border road blocks manned by Old Nic’s henchmen, Dotty sneaked home from university, keen to further her understanding of Ma’s recent masterclass on debt and cash flow management with some real life examples. She took Ma to one side, looking concerned. “Pa’s been shut in the bedroom for some time. I can hear other voices. Brace yourself Ma, I think he might have a man in there.” Ma smiled. “Don’t worry, that’s just London Calling, Pa’s weekly treat where Toby and his pal James, both like Pa in their mid-50s prime, chat through recent events and comment using that particular strain of common sense found in many of us who were at university in the 1980s. Pa’s found his tribe again. Sometimes I even think he wants to be Toby or James! It’s a bit worrying, I admit, when you hear them say that Scotland is finished (there are in fact still quite a few of us who are sound up here). But you can’t deny, Pa’s so much happier.”

The months went by, yet under Old Nic’s icy grip, little changed in Scotland. “I’m just being cautious,” she would repeat, relying on the “it’s for your own good” justification favoured by coercive abusers everywhere.

“Well I ever get out of the dining room?” wailed Robbie as a second ruined Christmas loomed. “I hope so,” soothed Ma. “It can’t go on. What we need to do is keep spreading common sense. Like Toby and his friends do every day. Keep telling your friends. Keep sharing the figures. Keep forwarding links to the Daily Sceptic website. Keep posting the satire. Remember that humans are mortal and many have always died every day just as many are born every day. Remember that whilst sad for the families concerned, the frail and elderly succumb to nasty winter respiratory viruses every year and will always do so. Remember that the wisest minds of the hunter gatherer tribe all agreed that the earth was flat. Remember that the finest scientific minds at the Court all agreed that the Emperor was warmly and elegantly dressed. Remember that whatever silly rules Old Nic comes up with, whether it’s wandering around the streets with a dirty handkerchief across your mouth or declaring that viruses can’t be transmitted on certain days or at certain times, the Covid virus isn’t actually paying any attention to her. Trying to control a virus with these authoritarian measures is almost as silly as man believing he can control, say, the weather. Point out the illogicality of vaxx-shaming to those who campaign against fat-shaming. Just keep spreading the message and have faith that in the end, common sense will prevail.”

Ma recalled this conversation as she realised what a debt was owed to Toby and his friends. Their bravery, commitment and indeed sheer hard work had inspired and encouraged many, many people throughout the land and brought hope during some of U.K. Liberty’s darkest days.

As she looked at her lengthy list of things to do before 2021 reached it’s end, Ma realised there was one more important task to complete before nightfall. Could she fit it all in? Yes. Dotty and Robbie would happily make her New Year’s Eve visits to the chronically lonely elderly neighbours who had suffered so much during lockdown. The preparation of their Old Year’s Night Carnivore’s Feast could be left in Pa’s capable hands. Ma resolved that without delay she would pen a brief note of thanks to Toby and through him to Luke, James, cartoonist Bob and the many others who have appeared in the Daily Sceptic for all they have done and hopefully will continue to do in the year ahead…

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