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A new civility, thanks to Covid

I’ve always hated officialdom.

Feared it too, on occasions. The apparatus by which government policies are executed (the word doesn’t seem inappropriate). That faceless body of (un)civil servants: pen-pushers, bean-counters, above all cheese-parers, whether at national or local level. Unyielding and unbending – yet, conversely, well able to turn on a sixpence if the rules need to be changed in response to the latest governmental wheeze.

But one positive that has emerged from the current Covid-19 crisis is that – guess what? – our administrative overlords are not so soulless after all.

Moving house, in the teeth of this thing, has been even more nightmarish than it should have been; but my dealings with the local council, over council tax, parking permits and so on, have been (almost) a pleasure.

Ditto communications with national bodies. Unfortunately, for reasons I won’t bore you with I fell through the cracks as regards business grants and the 80%-of-income scheme; and I didn’t (and don’t) want to take out a loan – from the government or anyone else. (I know myself too well!) But my efforts to find out what I was (or in most cases wasn’t) eligible for have been met with empathy – and sympathy, where appropriate.

As I write, we seem to be returning to something like normal – that, or we’re getting used to living our lives according to an altered set of rules. As far as I’m concerned, normality – real, “normal” normality – can’t come soon enough; I’ve missed it, and I want it back. But if a legacy of the pandemic is a kinder, gentler bureaucracy? Well, perhaps that’s one nugget of positivity we can take from a year which, to my mind, has been almost all slurry.

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Why going back to school is more than going back to school

Talking of normality…

The Department for Education has been getting it in the neck over the last few days for its failure to come up with a fair means of awarding grades for A-level exams that, because of Covid-19, students were unable to sit. A flawed algorithm created by exam regulator Ofqual meant that students’ grades were not just based on their teachers’ recommendations, but on the past performance (according to numerous criteria) of whichever school they attended. The system was manifestly unfair, and the government has belatedly and humiliatingly climbed down.

This government has been slow on the uptake throughout the pandemic, and has made a lot more wrong decisions than right ones. Where I think they are right, however, is in that same department’s insistence that all school-age children should return to school next month.

Because this is not just about our children’s education – vitally important though that is. I believe that one of the reasons that Covid has had such a damaging effect on the nation’s psyche is that it has disrupted what we’re used to as the rhythm of the year. Okay, we might have good years and bad years – as individuals, as families, as a country – but broadly, our 12 months follow a pattern. Sport has a major part to play in this: you may not be interested in football, or tennis, or horseracing – but I bet you know roughly when the FA Cup final is, or Wimbledon, or the Grand National.

There are other markers, too; but “back-to-school” is a biggie. It’s when, with a heavy heart, we pack away the garden furniture and the barbecue, put the roof-rack luggage box back in the attic, and get back to work. Next stop: Christmas.

Of course with the economy apparently tanking so badly many of us may not have work to go back to; I don’t know about that, though I hope that much of the panic is down to media scaremongering. Don’t get me started on that subject…

But what I DO know is that we need structure in our lives; and this year, that – more than loo roll, or pasta, or pulses – has been in seriously short supply.

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