Instead of railing at our useless leaders, we’re doing the British thing – twitching the curtains and blaming the neighbours

I don’t know if you remember early March 2020 but there was a very tangible moment when, in the UK at least – we had not locked down in any significant way, not stopped flights from entering or departing the country, not closed bars or schools or even restaurants at all, and, in fact, still looked at each other strangely for wearing masks or using hand sanitiser in public – and we held Italy up as the poster child of Covid mismanagement and infection rate disaster. “Those Italians!” we all said, while shaking hands and spitting in each other’s mouths outside garden centres. “They have no idea how to control a deadly virus!” Then we would watch videos of Florentines embarking on singalongs across their balconies, and think distantly that we would never stoop so low.

That was my major fear, nine months ago: that we would all engage in public singing. And I suppose we did, in a way – the NHS clap went from touchingly useless tribute to Competitive Respecting Event faster than you could say “poppy”, a public performance entirely tinged by the complicated structure of the British national psyche; Italians had balcony opera, and we had clanging a pan for deliberately underpaid nurses and doctors. But while we’ve managed to shake off a lot of the symptoms of the first lockdown – clapping, banana bread, crayoning rainbows on sheets of A4 and putting them in our window – we’ve managed to keep one trait humming in the background, and that is the British propensity for snitching.

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