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ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: 20 things I really miss during the coronavirus lockdown

A mural in Dublin as the UK and Ireland continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL has compiled a list of what he misses the most about normal life, from Pret to Burnley Football Club.

Scottish Celtic rock band Skerryvore have topped the charts with fundraising single Everyday Heros. Alastair Campbell plays bagpipes on the track. Picture: Alan Cruickshank – Credit: Archant

Easter Monday. I woke up, sat down to write my column, full of ideas for another piece fulminating on how badly both government and media are doing in this crisis.

A government that made so many mistakes early on. A government day after day telling us how hard they are working as they fail to meet one promise after another. A government out clapping the nurses even as they gag them if they dare speak the truth about working conditions. A government talking the talk about loving nurses, care workers, refuse collectors and cleaners while sending them to work without equipment promised a month ago. A government that gets tests for the daughter of a cabinet minister but not for doctors and their families. A prime minister who, whatever sympathy we feel for him for becoming ill, has to take responsibility for, and be held to account for, the failure to take the issue seriously as the crisis approached, the cavalier approach even to his own government advice.

Yet a media which, even before his illness, was failing to ask the right questions or cover the unfolding catastrophe with the urgency adopted when the story was Spain and Italy. And some of whom have adopted, since his illness, a style to make North Korean spin doctors and Mills and Boon romanciers blush. Daily briefings at which the questions are woeful and the answers often worse. Scientists and chief nurses ever more speaking for the government not about the truth.

An opposition too that is so much better with Keir Starmer at the helm but still not holding the government’s feet to the fire. Most MPs virtually silent. While around the world we can see governments doing better, media doing better. The Canadian who tweeted that he sees the Canadian press full of stories of the awful death toll in the UK and the failures on equipment, then sees British front page stories about the prime minister’s choice of puzzles and films. ‘Now that’s a Good Friday’, splashed the Sun as the death toll soared. I was pleased that the NHS with its dedicated staff from around the world saved the prime minister’s life. I would be even happier if home secretary Priti Patel now revised her definition of who and what essential workers are and how much they need to earn to be classed as such; and Boris Johnson disowned the right-wing think tank whose launch at the Foreign Office he got the taxpayer to fund, and which is dedicated to breaking up the NHS to allow the American market greater access to it – ‘a noble fight’ as he put it at the time.

Jesus Christ alive – they were even making comparisons with him as Johnson spake to the masses on Easter Sunday, rising from the dead, miracle like – there is a lot to be angry about. There are a lot of questions the media are not asking and that parliament and a subsequent public inquiry surely must.

So I got up, sat down and started banging away at the laptop. Then into my inbox popped an email from a friend in America. ‘I’m worried about you. I’ve been reading all your blogs and articles. I understand why you’re angry but you need to slow down, take more pictures of trees, try to think of something else. I know you know how government and media work, and you see the failings. But take a day off. Take a chill pill. Slooooow dooooown.’ I showed it to Fiona. She agreed. ‘But I’ve got my column to write for The New European.’ ‘Write about something different.’

So… deep breath… again… again… I have a lockdown game you can all play: 20 things I really miss in the lockdown. The only rule – you must put them in the order you miss them.

I have found the exercise therapeutic, but also quite challenging, knowing some people might feel their nose out of joint at the choice, and the order.

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1. Burnley Football Club. By a mile. Not just the football, but the rituals, the rhythm of the week. Paul Fletcher, friend and former player, picking me up at Preston, and bantering all the way to the ground. The pre-match sticky toffee pudding, my one pudding of the week. Going completely crazy when we score. God, I miss that…

2. Parliament Hill Lido. Outdoor swimming had become a habit, Lido followed by poolside sauna. It’s been hard to give up, made harder by walking past its locked gates every day with the dog.

3. Trains. I miss long train journeys, and London Overground. I even miss the Tube, a little bit.

4. Abroad. I feel a little bit ashamed to admit it, Greta, but five weeks is the longest I’ve gone without being on a plane since I was a young journalist. Though I don’t miss airports, I do miss travel.

5. New places. I was due to go to Ivory Coast, for a speech (last week), and Nashville, for another one (next month). Nashville has always been on my bucketlist, for music reasons. The organisers of the cancelled event want me to go next year, but it is going to be in North Carolina. Big blow.

6. France. I really miss France.

7. Albania gets its own mention too. I go there regularly in the work I do with their prime minister, Edi Rama. We’ve kept in touch, (not least for his candid observations of the UK Covid-19 strategy – aaaargh again), but it is not the same as face to face. Albania went hard and early into lockdown, has had just 23 coronavirus deaths, and has now sent many of its doctors to help in Italy. Just sayin’ HMG.

8. Restaurants. I am not a big foodie. But I do miss going out for dinner now and then. I worry our favourite non-chain restaurants won’t return.

9. Pret. I’ve realised I need to add Pret-addiction to my lists. Breakfast/and or lunch five days a week at least!

10. Live sport on TV. I just cannot get used to turning to Sky Sports or BT Sport after the (aaaargh) daily government briefing, and finding nothing I want to watch. I miss Match of the Day too.

11. Cinema/theatre. You can have all the telly and streaming you want, but the big screen remains the best place to watch a great film, and good theatre is better than good TV drama.

12. Live music. One of my favourite Scottish bands, Skipinnish, was due to play in London soon, and that has gone, though two of their number, Angus MacPhail and Rory Grindly, were part of the team organised by another Scottish band, Skerryvore, which made a No.1 single to raise money for NHS Charities. Everyday Heroes is out now, and if you spot me playing the bagpipes on the video, yes, I am now a chart-topping musician.

13. Lucrative speaking engagements. 
I am not asking for sympathy, but I 
have seen a lot of money fly out of 
the diary. Al Gore once called the ex-politico speaking circuit ‘white collar crime’. Covid-19 has brought home to 
me how financially dependent I was on it!

14. My Albanian barber, Palushi’s of Malden Road. Fiona did a pretty good job considering she has never cut hair before. But it is growing back in a very weird, uneven way.

15. Relatives and friends. I’m speaking to the key ones every day, so for the rest, just don’t take it amiss that you’re not top 10, and below the barber. We can do all that Zoom-Skype-FaceTime stuff. Though I do miss…

16. …Real meetings with real people. Even once a day, it would be nice to sit down with other human beings and say things like ‘is there an agenda?’ rather than ‘is everyone on?’

17. Random strangers. I miss those totally random strangers who just come up and talk to me, on buses, trains, walking down the street. I especially miss the ones who want to talk about mental health. It still happens a bit walking the dog, and yesterday we had a wonderful if sad chat with awoman who had lost her brother to suicide some years ago. But far less frequently than when I am buzzing around the place.

18. My trainer, Keir. We are doing FaceTime sessions, and they workfine, but the banter is better face to face.

19. Having a book launch. My next book, on depression, was due to be published in May. I have been resisting the inevitable, but now I have bowed. So September it is, and the one that was due in September, volume 8 of my diaries, slips to next year. Pain. And I’ve written two more to fit in some time too.

20. La Bise. Might coronavirus signal the end of the little double and sometimes (in Provence) triple peck on the cheek? I would miss that, and not just in France. Will flirting be added to the long and grisly death toll?

Meanwhile… if you have missed my previous rants about the more serious subject of political and media failure on Covid-19, I have collated them all neatly in one blog on my website,

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