Over the last year certain key freedoms have been deemed so important that they've been opened up faster than they might otherwise have been. What can this tell us about what it means to be a typical Brit?
The right to go to the pub
In March last year the Prime Minister left it until the very last minute to close down pubs. Epidemiologically this was stupid and dangerous and undoubtedly led to numerous additional deaths. But Boris knows his electorate and understood their inalienable right to go to the pub, so discounted closure until the evidence was overwhelming... and even then allowed publicans the rest of the evening to wind things down. Reopening has similarly been pub-fixated - can we go? must we sit outside? when can we drink indoors? - as if this is one of the things Britons most obsess about. Perhaps it is.
The right to meet up at Christmas
Throughout the autumn there was a growing obsession with whether or not we'd be able to meet up with family at Christmas. It looked possible at one point, then less likely, then the intended duration shrank from hopefully five days to sorry only one day (and in certain parts of the country no days at all). Scientifically speaking this was a ridiculous relaxation that would undoubtedly kill people, and probably kickstarted our second spike, but the political need to permit family festivities overruled medical common sense. Other religious festivals weren't so lucky, nor other indoor gatherings of any kind, but the divine right to Christmas was somehow deemed essential.
The right to a foreign holiday
This one's always been bubbling under the surface, like a glimmer of hope at the end of a very long tunnel. Apparently what the average Briton needs to validate their existence is the right to travel abroad for a summer break, and anywhere that doesn't guarantee sun and heat somehow won't do. A holiday in Blighty just doesn't cut it, as evidenced by the inexorable reappropriation of the word "staycation" to mean a somehow-substandard not-foreign holiday. Nobody genuinely needs to hop on a plane for solely leisure-based reasons this summer, risking bringing back who knows what from abroad, but for some reason the approved next step after 'stay at home' and 'stay local' is 'a fortnight in the Algarve'.
The right to hug others
This one's crept to the surface recently, the need for extreme physical contact rather than just human proximity. This week we're not allowed in other people's homes but next week not only can we go indoors we can additionally hurl ourselves at our loved ones with respiratory abandon. Admittedly subsidiary guidance advises us to hug responsibly, avoid going in face to face and keep it brief, but that's not the overall message which is "hug everyone again because they deserve it". An emotional response is being allowed to dominate the science, and all because it's supposedly a human right rather than right in itself.
I don't feel bereft or personally blighted if I'm not allowed inside a pub at the weekend. I coped with not seeing the rest of the family at Christmas because it was no harder than not seeing them on any other day. I'm capable of not going abroad this year if it helps to keep my fellow citizens safer. And I don't come from a family of huggers so I look on the rest of you with a degree of emotional incredulity. I consider this entirely rational behaviour. I suspect it also makes me culturally abnormal.
None of this is about whether easing lockdown is right or wrong, but instead the fact that certain key activities have been allowed to deviate from the norm, accelerated ahead of others because they're deemed more important to our national psyche. Our populist government knows what the wider population wants, which is beer and Christmas and foreign sun and hugs, and maybe this is indeed what it means to be British.