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Is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set in the time of the French Revolution, as relevant now as it was when it was written in 1859?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

Surprisingly, I have heard from many people that the lockdown of 2020 has been the best of times for them, but most report how it has been the worst of times. The Arts are on the brink of annihilation and the NHS is being pushed to breaking point. The queue for food parcels from a food kitchen in the heart of London now stretches halfway down London’s Tottenham Court Road on a daily basis. My hunch is that it’s only going to get worse.

Bond Street’s luxury just a stones throw from food queues.

This particular food kitchen lies just a stone’s throw away from the glamour of Bond Street where, for many, spending £1,000 on a new pair of shoes is not uncommon. The queues for Primark and other high street stores with hungry buyers mirror those desperate for food. Never in my lifetime have I seen the dividing line between those who have and those that don’t so obviously visible on our streets

2020 has been a year for many to reflect, think and reevaluate their lives and place in the world. There must be a time in most people’s lives where they stand still, look up at the sky and wonder “how did I get here?” What is my purpose on this planet? Can my existence make a difference to anything and will I be remembered in years to come?

Thinking about how we all came to be here is quite a scary thought. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, and if you choose to not look around too much or analyse things too closely, you may glide through life with little or no stress. For some people, religion offers an easier explanation for some of the big questions in life.

There is no doubt in my mind that our forefathers created religion not only to keep us all in line, but to pacify us and explain just why we are here, otherwise we might all start screaming at some point.

Many people believe that if we are “good” during our time on Earth, when our time comes, we float up into the clouds with wings to a place called Heaven. However, if we have previously stolen from the pick ’n’ mix stand at the cinema we will be sent to the fiery pits of Hell (talk about terrifying kids): this idea is clearly preposterous.

Hell. Reminiscent of an OutNewsGlobal works outing.

It is said that religion is the root of evil. It has harmed many with its prejudices, hate and hypocrisy. If sending your prayers to help others is your idea of doing good, then great, but positive action always seems more productive and prayers seldom  — if ever deliver anything practical.

I see religion like a gun: in the right hands it can protect and can bring calmness, while in the wrong hands it can be misused to spread intolerance and hatred.

One thing is true, whatever our incredible journey on our little blue planet brings, none of us is getting out alive. Will it matter whether for not we’re remembered when we are gone? Let’s face it, we come into this world alone and we leave it alone. How will we know that people are still talking about us in 3030? Is that not just feeding the apparent sin of Ego?

More now than ever people are talking about longevity, mental health, what it means to love thy neighbour, how our journey here could end any day without warning, how our loved ones could be taken from us in a split second, and how our whole life could change completely and uncontrollably.

2020 came upon us like a scene from a horror movie. We were at war and it tested us all. This was unlike previous wars that have affected British soil, where the sirens went off and our grandparents would evacuate their homes in the middle of the night, dashing off to shelters hoping they would come out to find their home intact.

For us, we were simply asked to stay at home, wash our hands, wear a mask, and not to go out with a temperature or any signs of Covid-19. We were told to do what was possible to help keep others stay safe and protect the jewel in the British crown, the NHS, to support the doctors and nurses on the front line.

For many, this was too much to ask. Some were fools and their foolishness saw them unable to wear a mask to the shops or even clean their hands. Many carried on partying in an irresponsible manner. A bomb would have needed to drop on their heads to get them to notice the silent killer in the air.

HM The Queen knights Sir Tom Moore (image: @RoyalFamily via Twitter).

Real heroes have emerged, not in the form of “influencers” or pop stars for a change but scientists who worked around the clock to help with the fight. I remember reading about the nurse who could not get anything to eat after a 24-hour shift as stockpiling idiots had stripped the shelves bare in her local supermarket, but despite this she kept going. Resilience and determination were personified by Captain Tom Moore, who inspired us all. 

People young and old came together in the community to show solidarity in this war against the virus. Even if it was just clapping at 8 pm on a Thursday night, it made the lonely that were on lockdown not feel alone anymore. It sent a sign to the doctors and nurses of our support.

Aston and Dawn Avery.

There is so much light in the world and so many great people who inspire others. My friend Dawn Avery is a mother of two and a surrogate to so many in the autistic community. Her son, Aston Avery, was diagnosed with autism at age 8 and he now hosts his own show on Gateway Radio. With wonderful human beings like Dawn behind him, together with his father Keith, he has become a huge success. Education and helping one another I feel is the way forward.

The darkness in the world is spinning out of control with highly-spun PR and fake news everywhere. How do you tell your children what is true or false? Some papers do not even check the facts and I have lost count of the number of articles that I know to be completely untrue that are being fed by the PR machines. And what of entire series such as The Crown, sold as entertainment but based on apparent fact: it is very often highly inaccurate and that should have been made clear.

Our leaders sometimes do not lead by example. Many people wanted to know why we are locked down when Dominic Cummings was doing the Durham dash. When we are all trying to come together be kind and stamp out bullying, Home Secretary Priti Patel was exposed as a bully. Neither Cummings nor Patel stepped down from their posts.

Home Secretary Priti Patel.

We no longer have to work hard at our crafts as with some good PR and clever marketing you can claim to be an expert. Take a ten-day course instead of the usual two and a half years and you’re quids in. As the old phrase has it, “It takes seven years to train as a doctor and two seconds for the receptionist to think she is one.” 

Our government can refuse to be a guest on our number one breakfast show, Good Morning Britain, all because Piers Morgan may ask some difficult questions and they may be challenged if they do not answer. A dear friend of mine who is a high-ranking journalist said to me when she turned 60, “I do not have any children but if I did I would teach them how to tell bullshit. Those are the ones that are getting on these days.”

Everything is now about how it looks on the lid of the tin, not the contents. Let’s face it,  a reality star made it to the biggest job on the planet when The Apprentice  star Donald Trump  became President of the USA. What’s next? Gemma Collins as Secretary-General of the United Nations?  If we do not put an end to the vacuous hype and PR who knows what will happen to the concept of truth? 

With Trump scheduled to step down on 20th January and his supporters crying foul, let’s hope a new revolution is not about to unfold. I would not get too comfortable yet. It could be winter in the United States for longer than you think. Watch out for the “Children of the Revolution”.

Back in the United Kingdom, let’s hope 2021 sees everyone pulling together as more and more of us become vaccinated. Let’s find a new appreciation for what my generation has taken for granted like the arts, the museums and eating out. 

But most importantly, let’s give thanks for our amazing National Health Service: free, high quality healthcare is something that so many of our friends around the world are unable to access and we should count our blessings every day. 

Have a wonderful 2021, with love from Steven.

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Steven Smith

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