SARAH VINE: Sorry, I can’t give thanks for this sliver of freedom 

The sun is out, the birds are tweeting, the dulcet tones of next door’s scaffolders are drifting through the open window of my sitting room — but, for some reason, I’m not full of the joys of spring.

I know I’m supposed to be grateful. After all, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter for so many, and I am one of the lucky ones.

Far too many souls have not made it through, and there is a deep and lasting sadness in that knowledge.

Thousands fill Hyde Park, Leeds, this afternoon as warm temperatures hit much of the country

Thousands fill Hyde Park, Leeds, this afternoon as warm temperatures hit much of the country

Thousands fill Hyde Park, Leeds, this afternoon as warm temperatures hit much of the country

But there is something about the notion we are all meant to feel delirious because some tiny crumb of freedom has been bestowed upon us by our Covid overlords that irritates the hell out of me.

Oh, whoopee. I can share a Sainsbury’s Meal Deal with someone in the park. I can sit in my own back garden with a friend. Five friends, to be exact. Gee, thanks.

Excuse me for not doing little jumps of delight because, for once, I’m not risking a hefty fine or an Asbo just to engage in what is perfectly normal human behaviour.

So what if this Easter Sunday we’ll be allowed to sit shivering in the rain with a few mates eating wet sausages off soggy paper plates? Are we supposed to be happy about this state of affairs?

I can’t say this prospect thrills me. After all, it’s pretty thin gruel compared with the freedoms that, little over a year ago, we all enjoyed.

And that was before we had a vaccine and half of us had Covid antibodies because of it.

People were keen to take advantage of first relaxation of lockdown rules in Hyde Park, Leeds

People were keen to take advantage of first relaxation of lockdown rules in Hyde Park, Leeds

People were keen to take advantage of first relaxation of lockdown rules in Hyde Park, Leeds

I don’t care if this brings down the wrath of the lockdown evangelists upon my head. All I can say, when presented with these pitiful scraps of liberty, is: ‘Please sir(s), I want some more.’

Is it so wrong to want to stand in the Post Office queue without someone glaring at me if I stray 0.05 of a centimetre off the sticker on the floor?

To want to eat in a restaurant with friends? To want to book a holiday without being forced to cancel at the last minute?

To want to go to Italy to visit my parents, who I haven’t seen since 2019 and who, quite honestly, could really use my help?

I know there are those who believe we should never go back to normal. Who think we should all work from home in perpetuity, conduct our relationships in cyberspace, homeschool our children and continue to swell the coffers of Amazon and Deliveroo by never stepping out of our front doors.

But we have to reclaim our liberty. We simply don’t have a choice.

As of Monday, people are allowed to meet outside in groups of six. Pictured: Hyde Park, Leeds

As of Monday, people are allowed to meet outside in groups of six. Pictured: Hyde Park, Leeds

As of Monday, people are allowed to meet outside in groups of six. Pictured: Hyde Park, Leeds

Lockdown is a disaster not only for our sanity, but also for our economy. As we report today, the economic cost of Covid is £521 million per day; furlough alone is costing £139 million a day; and the Government’s borrowing costs are £973 million per day.

It is a fantasy to think these figures won’t have dire, long-lasting consequences that will dog us for decades to come.

And that’s not all. Lockdown’s been disastrous, too, for the very thing it was designed to protect: our health service.

True, the NHS was saved from being overwhelmed by Covid cases this winter but, in the months and years to come, other diseases will take their toll because tens of thousands of patients suffering from them have been neglected for the past year.

Cancers, heart disease, depression: they will all, eventually, claim their victims. Why do these people’s lives matter any less?

As I say, we have a vaccine. It may not be 100 per cent effective, but it’s good enough.

And we are in a far, far better position than many other countries, whose roll-outs have been hamstrung by bureaucracy and political incompetence. Indeed, on this it is fair to say that Britain has led the way.

So let’s continue to do so — speed up our road to freedom and show the world how to live life to the full again.

A Duchess who will rival Bridgerton

Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more crazed British aristos to dig up, another emerges from the vaults of history.

Step forward Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Bristol — the subject of a new book.

Supposedly the inspiration for Thackeray’s Becky Sharpe, she was attention-seeking and manipulative, and her antics make Daphne and Simon’s behaviour in Bridgerton look like Woman’s Hour on a wet Wednesday.

I can’t wait for the Netflix version. Now, who could play a Duchess with an eye for publicity and an insatiable hunger for the finer things in life . . ?

Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Bristol will be the subject of a new book and her antics will make Daphne and Simon’s behaviour in Bridgerton (pictured) look like Woman’s Hour

Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Bristol will be the subject of a new book and her antics will make Daphne and Simon’s behaviour in Bridgerton (pictured) look like Woman’s Hour

Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Bristol will be the subject of a new book and her antics will make Daphne and Simon’s behaviour in Bridgerton (pictured) look like Woman’s Hour

Why have the unions, who were so vocal about the need to keep schools closed to ‘protect’ teachers from Covid, said and done nothing in support of the Batley Grammar School teacher who has been forced to go into hiding with his young family after showing an image of the prophet Muhammad to his class?

Surely when one of their own is subject to death threats simply for doing his job, the unions should be the first to stand up for his rights. But so far, nothing, not even a message of support. Cowards.

Toxic culture that infects our young

Back in 2015, I spent a very uncomfortable afternoon with a man in an office in Windsor.

As chief executive of the now defunct Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), set up by Ofcom in 2010 to monitor the editorial content of services available on-demand on the internet, his job was to watch hard-core pornography and identify any potential acts of criminality that might lead to prosecution.

Some of the stuff I saw haunts me to this day: girls with tears streaming down their faces as the most horrific sexual violence was visited upon them in the name of ‘adult entertainment’.

One film I watched involved one woman and five men and lasted 55 minutes. At the end of it she was barely conscious and had to have her head held up by her hair by one of the men for the parting shot.

A report by the Authority for Television On Demand in 2014 found that 44,000 primary school children aged between six and 11 had visited an adult website in one month alone (file image)

A report by the Authority for Television On Demand in 2014 found that 44,000 primary school children aged between six and 11 had visited an adult website in one month alone (file image)

A report by the Authority for Television On Demand in 2014 found that 44,000 primary school children aged between six and 11 had visited an adult website in one month alone (file image)

This video alone had clocked up half a million viewers, 86 per cent of whom had clicked the ‘like’ button.

Even more disturbing was the number of children who would have seen such a recording: according to a report published by ATVOD in 2014, in one month alone (December 2013), 44,000 primary school children in Britain, aged between six and 11, visited an adult website.

Those 11-year-olds are now, of course, the 17 and 18-year-olds of today; it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them may well be caught up in the schools sex scandal.

It is time to acknowledge what this toxic culture has done to a generation of young minds — and act before it infects the next.

Clean sweep of the street

Yes to a chewing gum tax. Disgusting stuff. And while we’re on the subject of cleaning up our streets, how about installing poo bag dispensers in parks and on street corners?

That way no dog owner would ever have an excuse for leaving behind their animal’s mess, and parks and councils could make a nice little profit from actually doing something useful.

A friend of mine got taken in by that Post Office scam the other day; you know, the one where you get an email purporting to be from Royal Mail saying you owe a fee on a package.

He was busy and not really paying attention, so he put in his card details.

Before he knew it, he’d received a text thanking him for his purchase and saying his new mobile was on its way to Manchester (he lives in London).

Luckily, the phone company smelled a rat and intercepted it; but there’s no doubt these things are on the rise.

The latest to get me was a Zoom invitation from a friend to her online wedding anniversary celebration.

I texted her to say how much I was looking forward to it, and she replied telling me she’d been hacked and it was a scam. But, by then, it was too late: I’d already sent her flowers!

I have a feeling Laurence Fox is going to turn out to be the Nigel Farage of the London mayoral race. Or the Donald Trump, depending on your political proclivities. 

By that I don’t mean he likes a pint and a bit of arm candy (although both may be true);

I mean, he speaks for a certain group of people who feel marginalised and ignored by mainstream politics.

I still don’t think he’ll win; but Sadiq Khan and the rest underestimate him at their peril.

Lawrence Fox speaking at a campaign event during the London mayoral election race

Lawrence Fox speaking at a campaign event during the London mayoral election race

Lawrence Fox speaking at a campaign event during the London mayoral election race

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