Last night I was looking for deals on Malbec on the Majestic wine list when a voice yelled up the stairs.
“Turn on the news,” said my father (I live with him temporarily). “The government has banned gatherings of more than six people. I think you have to cancel your birthday party. “
My heart sagged. What again? I had already postponed my garden party in Great Gatsby once with “whispers and champagne and stars” – from mid-May due to closure. Thought mid-September would be a safe bet (and warm enough to be socially distant in my father’s big garden), I’d paid a caterer bail, bought the sloe gin for the cocktails, and found a three-piece jazz band.
The guest list of 30 legally permitted persons (self-cut from 40) had booked hotels. The men were already assembling their flies. This party should mark a major “life event”. I turned 50 in May 2018, but I didn’t celebrate this milestone because I felt uncomfortable. So May 2020 would be the big one.
I have accepted and fully understood the blocking reason for the move. I mean who wouldn’t? After postponing the celebrations to September, I marked them as my “Unbirthday, Back to Life” party. Unbirthday as I was going to be 52 and a half which wasn’t exactly a noteworthy occurrence. Back to life for me after an illness – but also for my friends and family after the misery and six months of self-denial.
My surge of disappointment last night initially subsided. I shrugged my shoulders stoically, as I often do these days with disappointment. This was a deus ex machina – a virus-induced shift. It was the same for everyone. All Jewish New Year celebrations and the freshman events had to be canceled as well.
But then I looked at the fine print. There should be some exceptions to the rule of no large gatherings, it seemed. Funerals: well, fair enough. But also sports teams, households or “support bubbles with more than six people”. And weddings.
Weddings? My first thought was to laugh at the stupid lack of logic here. How on earth would an invading microbe know whether someone was wearing a white dress or not and decide to move on? Then I started to get angry. It wasn’t the virus that was discriminatory here. It was the government. Against individual people.
It was like that all along. Right at the start, the government warned that couples who did not live together would move in together or not have to meet at all. “Dating couples should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether to live in a different household permanently,” said Jenny Harries, the deputy chief physician.
Which, let’s face it, isn’t ideal when you’ve only been together for three months or even a year. It was heartbreaking for my soon to be 18 year old daughter to be in that first love frenzy and not being able to see her boyfriend. But also for me: My boyfriend lives in New York. How should that work? Coincidentally, I haven’t seen my boyfriend since mid-March when I was on one of the last flights to the UK outside of the US.
And he’ll be properly quarantined with me the night my party would otherwise have been held. Although I see a disaster here too: With my luck, I assume that the government will find a way to stop transatlantic flights before next Friday.
Aside from my personal problems, there seems to be a lack of consideration for individuals in the UK right now. Much of the government discourse revolves around married people, “family bubbles” and “households”. Ok, whether I count as “single” or not is up for debate. But I’m single and it’s the same in every way. And the government is also showing itself to be out of step, because we singles are in large numbers and in good company.
The number of people living alone has increased by a fifth over the past 20 years, from 6.8 million in 1999 to 8.2 million in 2019. According to the Office of National Stastics, most of that increase is due to the increase the number of people attributed to men living alone (plus 72.1 percent), who are predominantly between 45 and 64 years old. Almost half of all single-person households in the UK are made up of people aged 65 and over.
According to Age UK, women in this age group are more likely to live alone than men. It’s not just a problem with princess women who want Great Gatsby parties. So for now it will be Neflix-and-Chill for my boyfriend and me. See you all for my 53rd “Honestly, it really is going to come back to life this time” party next year!