The cancellation of Bridgwater Carnival in November can seem a detail of the current crisis, something without a great significance. For the thousands of people who participate the cancellation represents the loss of an activity that brought them together for countless hours on evenings and weekends throughout the summer and autumn.
The carnival season is a major feature of social life in Somerset. Dozens of carnival clubs around the county spend the summer building floats and making costumes. The result is a memorable evening’s entertainment, completely free for the tens of thousands who attend. The season begins in late summer with the smaller carnivals, clubs may enter more than one event as the calendar progresses and leads to Bridgwater for its culmination.
Typically, the Guy Fawkes Carnival in Bridgwater will feature a hundred floats, involving two thousand people, and will attract 150,000 spectators. It is a major event.
Even a brief online search for “Bridgwater Carnival” will reveal the extraordinary amount of work that goes into the building of a typical float, the imagination and dexterity of those who planned and created it. The costumes alone would be sufficient colour for many parades around the world, the floats and costumes combine to create a spectacular impression on those who line the streets on a chill November evening.
Concern to maintain social distancing prompted the organisers to cancel the carnival, not because they necessarily believe that the rules will still be operational in six months’ time, but because the months of preparation presented a risk of spreading infection.
Carnival clubs that might have met for hundreds of hours over weeks and months have had their season cancelled. There will be some among those clubs for whom the loss of an entire season will be a great blow to their psychological well-being.
When the government talks about the relaxation of the rules on lockdown, how much weight does it attach to the intangible effects of its measures? Somerset has the lowest infection rate in the country, a county of 559,000 people and 500 cases leading to 100 deaths.
Is there a danger that the remedy is worse than the illness? Is the prohibition of normal social and economic life in the county going to lead to a greater shortening of life than the virus? Perhaps people will not die instantly, but under stress and struggling with depression, they live lives that are years shorter than they might have been.
The loss of the carnival season is not an unimportant detail.