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the year that's been

Illustration by Toby Triumph

It’s been… well, we all know how it’s been, don’t we? Laura Craik looks back on the highs and lows — mostly lows, obviously — of 12 months like no other


A new decade! A time to look ahead, make plans! This is the year you’re definitely going to travel more, see more gigs, eat out more frequently and get that big promotion. Life is good. Apart from the Australian bush fires. And the volcano that’s erupted in the Philippines.

And the earthquake in Turkey. And the floods in Indonesia. And the freak migration of hundreds of millions of desert locusts across East Africa. Still. There’s so much to look forward to. Not even the vague, nebulous, WTF threat of some sort of bat flu can bring us down. It’s in China, right? China is miles away.


Donald Trump is found not guilty in his impeachment trial, making history as the first impeached president to seek re-election. Harvey Weinstein is found guilty of rape and sexual abuse, in a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement.

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons announce they’ll work together at Prada, Phillip Schofield comes out as gay and Parasite sweeps the Oscars, becoming the first non English-language film to win Best Picture. The weird bat flu now has a name — the coronavirus — and doesn’t feel quite so far away any more. Five hundred have contracted it in Italy and there are 15 confirmed cases in the UK. You’ve even seen a few people wearing face coverings on the Tube.


You start the month belting out ‘I Will Survive’ with 20 friends clustered round a microphone in Lucky Voice. You end the month at home alone, disconsolately eating crisps while watching the news. Turns out the coronavirus is more serious than everyone imagined: deadly serious, in fact, as the global death toll rises sharply.

On 23 March the country goes into lockdown — a strange, new word, the first of many 2020 will spawn to describe a strange, new world of restrictions. Shops, offices and schools are shut; gatherings of more than two people are banned and you can only leave your house once a day for exercise. Or crisps. Every Thursday, you stand on your doorstep clapping for carers. Bar your immediate family, it’s the only human contact you have.


The 100-year-old former British army officer Captain Tom Moore becomes a national hero by raising more than £32m for the NHS by walking laps in his garden, while you can’t even manage to home-school your kids. In defeat, you resort to making up stupid dances with them and posting them on TikTok, a platform you’d never even heard of until now. Educational? No, but it passes the time. Of which there is a lot.

Easter comes, but the eggs you ordered online do not. Every day is the same: get up, don exercise gear, walk dog, eat crisps, #WFH, make pasta pesto, find out another notable person (Idris Elba, Boris Johnson, Prince Charles) has contracted Covid-19, which is the new name for the coronavirus — oh, God, there are so many new words and phrases to learn, like ‘flatten the curve’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘covidiot’. Which is what you are, for being unable to work Zoom. You can’t hear them. Is your camera on? And why do you have so many chins?


No matter that the UK’s death toll is more than 32,000, passing Italy’s to become the highest in Europe: you are determined to remain optimistic, even in the face of killer bees. The new £220m NHS Nightingale hospitals are up and running. Britain has got this. You throw yourself into the virtual world conducting Zoom meetings by day and dreading Zoom drinks by night, because raising a glass to your friends from the remove of a laptop screen only makes you miss them more.

To cheer yourself up you do online yoga classes, immerse yourself in the National Theatre’s production of Jane Eyre on YouTube, drink wine and dance around the living room to Fat Tony/Jodie Harsh/the Hacienda livestream, drink more wine and binge-watch Normal People, cry a bit, eat more crisps, try to bake sourdough but it tastes bogging, cry a bit more, try to remember that we’re all in it together, read reports that Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules by travelling to Durham while infected with Covid-19, bang your pots for the NHS then resist the temptation to throw them at the wall.


It’s official: Britain has run out of memes. If you see the David/Covid statue meme again, you will smash up your phone, though admittedly it only makes you angry because your body so greatly resembles the one on the right. You blame the crisps. You try to buy a bike but they’re sold out everywhere. So too are dogs, Fitbits, hot tubs and inflatable pubs.

There’s no Glastonbury, no Wimbledon and no hairdresser, though there is some good news as primary schools partially reopen, along with shops, places of worship and zoos. With clubs closed and gigs off the menu, this is the summer of illegal raves, with crowds gathering everywhere from Woolwich to Tottenham and Primrose Hill. Crowds also gather for more political reasons than to get nutted, as Black Lives Matter protests sweep the city. After a campaign by Marcus Rashford, the Government agrees that 1.3 million children in England will be allowed to claim free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays.


The hairdressers are open again! On the same day as the pubs! It’s a social dilemma. Say what you like about 2020 but at least the weather has been good: July is the second-hottest month on record. But why restrict yourself to British sunshine when you can now travel abroad?

A list of 73 countries that English tourists can visit without self-isolating is published: those lucky enough to have more than £19.99 left in their bank accounts hot-foot it to Spain, France and Italy, though airports remain freakishly empty for peak season. In more woe for the airline industry, BA announces the early retirement of its iconic 747 jumbos. Face coverings become mandatory in shops and the month ends with gyms and swimming pools reopening. Arise, Captain Sir Tom Moore, who is knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle.


Despite gyms being open, your summer body hasn’t yet materialised. Still, it’s nothing less than your civic duty to take full advantage of Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme: for three weeks straight, you dine on pizza, burgers, Greek and Indian, as government debt reaches £2 trillion.

After thousands of A level and GCSE results are downgraded by an algorithm, Ofqual announces they’ll be based on teachers’ assessments instead. On 7 August, with temperatures in the high 30s, you drive to Brighton beach, along with everyone else in London who isn’t, at this point, too hot/lazy/fat to move. You tut at the crowds, failing to recognise you’re part of them. Yes, you have missed people. Just maybe not this many people.


After a summer of crowded beaches, packed beer gardens, busy restaurants and illegal raving, strangely, Britain is warned that a second wave of the coronavirus has arrived in the UK. This ushers in a second wave of new phrases, like ‘R number’, ‘rule of six’, ‘hands face space’ and ‘fines of up to £10,000’.


London Fashion Week is digital-only, but some designers in Milan and Paris opt to invite RL guests to RL shows. Both secondary and primary schools eventually open, but the month ends with a 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants, with face coverings made mandatory indoors in all public places.

Is that a cough you have? But what kind of cough: dry or hacking? Everybody thinks they have Covid. Nobody can get tested. Unless they travel 300 miles to their ‘nearest’ centre. This is not a month of good news. Unemployment reaches 4.5 per cent. The Government announces that trade talks with the EU are effectively ‘over’.

Britain records the wettest day on record. Covid-19 cases in the UK exceed 1 million. So thank God for Halloween, which falls on a Saturday, meaning… well, nothing. Trick or treating is effectively banned and the entire night is overshadowed by Boris Johnson being three hours late for a televised address to the nation in which he announces a new four-week lockdown for England. Is it too early to put up the Christmas tree?


In what feels like the longest November on record, the month kicks off with the US election. Londoners become addicted to CNN, staying up for nights on end watching the vote count unfold. Joe Biden wins. Trump refuses to concede.

Biden-Harris become the most hope-filled team on the planet, tying with Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, the married couple who invent a Covid-19 vaccine. Honourable mentions to Fielding-Lucas, as Noel and Matt bring more laughs than usual to the return of Bake Off, which is greeted with more enthusiasm than a SEISS grant. Locked down once more, TV will save us: other shows giving us life include The Crown, The Undoing and Small Axe, a peerlessly acted series of love letters to black resilience directed by Steve McQueen.


Rejoice! Regroup! But only in a maximum of six! Unless you’re Rita Ora or Kay Burley! On 2 December, Lockdown 2.0 is finally lifted and Londoners take to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, beauty salons, log cabins, chalets, igloos, roof terraces and shops again

More optimism ensues on the eighth, as 90-year-old Margaret Keenan becomes the first person in the world to be injected with Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. Coronation Street turns 60 and Brexit negotiations rumble on and on. Come on, 2021: we’re ready for you.